The traditional Abruzzo cuisine features dishes conceived from both the coast and inland hills and mountains. Many of its recipes were unique and it was only during the twentieth century that influences from other regions began to find their way into the Abruzzo dishes.
Spaghetti alla Chitarra with Classic Abruzzese Ragu
A symbol of the cuisine of Abruzzo, spaghetti alla chitarra (“guitar spaghetti”) is also known in Abruzzo’s dialect as maccarune or maccheroni alla chitarra. The reference to the guitar comes from the traditional tool – the carrature that is used to make these noodles – a large, rectangular wooden frame, with many thin wires stretched across the long side that makes the frame look like a stringed instrument.
The pasta dough is made of white flour or semolina and eggs. It is rolled into a not-too-thin, long, rectangular sheet and then placed on top of the carrature frame. A rolling pin is then pushed over the top, forcing the pasta sheet through the wires, which cut the pasta into perfectly shaped noodles.
|For the pasta
For the ragu
|Place the flour on a clean surface, create a well in the middle of the flour and add the salt and eggs. Using a fork, whisk the eggs together and, still whisking, slowly begin to incorporate the flour until the mixture becomes creamy and eventually becomes too thick to continue whisking. With floured hands, finish combining the flour until the dough no longer sticks to your hands. Knead on a floured surface for about 5 minutes or until it becomes smooth, elastic and a finger poked into the surface of the dough bounces back. Let the dough rest, covered with a damp cloth, under a bowl, for at least 30 minutes. Divide the rested pasta dough into four pieces and keeping the pieces that are not in use covered, roll out the pasta into thin sheets with a rolling pin to about 1/8 inch thick. Let the pasta sheet “dry” for a few minutes before laying it along the top of the carrature and rolling with a rolling pin to cut the noodles. Dust the spaghetti with plenty of flour and remove from the carrature, shaking off any excess flour and transfer to a floured plate or board. Continue with the rest of the dough.
In a wide skillet, heat the olive oil over low heat. Gently sauté the onion with the guanciale until the onion is translucent and the guanciale melts (don’t let it burn or crisp). Season with a pinch of salt. Add the meat and let it brown evenly. Add the wine and bring to a simmer; let it reduce slightly. Add the tomato and half of the water. Cover and simmer on low heat for at least an hour until the meat is tender. Check the ragu occasionally and if it is reducing too quickly, add more water as necessary. Taste for seasoning.
Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water for a few minutes until al dente. Drain and toss with the ragu, served with grated Pecorino cheese.
Sagne e Fagioli all’Abbruzzese
||In a mixing bowl mix the salt and flour together and add the warm water. Mix the water and flour with your fingers, gradually incorporating all the flour. Add a little more water if necessary to bring the dough together. Place the dough onto a work surface and knead for 10 minutes to achieve a firm but elastic dough. Wrap in a moist towel and let rest for an hour.
To make the tomato sauce, sauté a minced clove of garlic in EVOO for two minutes. Add ½ a small onion and continue on gentle heat until softened. Add the crushed tomatoes, salt, a few basil leaves and simmer over a medium heat until nicely thickened. Reserve.
Rinse the beans well, place in a pot and cover with cold water. Add two sage leaves, a clove of garlic and two tablespoons of EVOO. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer gently until tender, 20 minutes or so. Add salt and reserve.
Cut the dough into four pieces, flatten and cut using the carrature as described in the recipe for Spaghetti alla Chitarra. Flour well and transfer to a tray. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.
Heat some EVOO in a wide sauté pan. Remove the sausage from its casing and crumble into the pan in large pieces. Cook over a medium heat. Do not stir the mea; rather, gently squash them with a wooden spoon to create a nice crust on the sausage. Add some chopped garlic, hot chili flakes to taste and a pinch of the wild fennel. Add the wine and scape to deglaze the pan. Add the tomato sauce and the beans with some of their cooking broth. Simmer all together for several minutes.
Drop the sagne into the boiling water. When they have all risen to the surface use a large strainer to transfer them to the pan with the sauce. Continue to cook, mixing everything well together with a wooden spoon. It should be nice and soupy. If necessary, add some extra pasta cooking water. Add a handful of Pecorino cheese and a tablespoon of EVOO. Pour into a large bowl to serve.
The Wines of Abruzzo
The wines of the Abruzzo region were internationally known as early as the 17th century, when the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes praised the high quality of the region’s Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. One of Italy’s largest producers of wine, Abruzzo is home to a number of first-class wines.
Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo – the region’s second most important wine. It is a rosé that is fruity, intense and dry. The wine is often served with grilled fish, white meats and mixed pasta salads.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – Abruzzo’s most important red, vinified from 85 percent Montepulciano grapes; plummy, velvety and dry, it ages well, but is often enjoyed while the wine is young. It is ideal alongside red meats and aged cheeses.
Trebbiano d’Abruzzo – Delicate, dry white wine vinified principally from Bombino Bianco grapes. This wine pairs wonderfully with cheese and fruits.
Pecorino – This classic wine is becoming very popular. It is dry with an elegantly floral bouquet of acacia and jasmine. It pairs well with Pecorino cheese, any steamed fish and vegetable dish. It also goes well with roast chicken.
The Abruzzo – the Cheeses
Whether you enjoy mild, creamy cow’s milk cheeses or tangy, firm sheep’s milk cheeses, Abruzzo offers something for everyone. Unfortunately, as in most of the less-traveled regions, the most interesting cheeses are only available in Italy. Scamorza is the only one widely sold in the U.S, but specialty Italian shops will often have a selection of the other cheeses, especially around the holidays.
Cacio Marcetto (“Little Rotten Cheese”) – Pecorino fermented in sheep’s milk until tiny flies (still at the larval stage) develop; production is now banned. A similar cheese is found in other regions.
Caciofiore Aquilano – Sheep’s milk Caciotta coagulated with vegetable rennet obtained from wild cardoons; colored and flavored with saffron.
Cacioricotta Abruzzese – Sheep’s milk ricotta; flavored with coffee and lemon zest, eaten on feast days.
Caciotta d’Abruzzo – Cow’s or sheep’s milk cheese; can be young or aged and is sometimes flavored with chili pepper.
Pecorino d’Abruzzo – Sheep’s milk cheese, enjoyed as a table cheese or cooked; older specimens can be aged two years and are quite pungent.
Scamorza – Pear-shaped plastic curd cheese (same family as Mozzarella) made from cow’s milk; buttery and delicate, it is meant to be eaten within three days of production. The best Scamorza is said to come from the town of Rivisondoli. The smoked version is usually grilled or spit-roasted.
Abruzzo and its Cured Meats
Many families in Abruzzo still raise pigs and every winter the pig slaughter yields succulent hams, salamis and sausages. Families who don’t raise their own pigs stock up on savory cured meats at their favorite salumeria, the Italian equivalent of the delicatessen. All of the cured meats listed below are available only in Italy, since they don’t meet FDA regulations; most are made of pork, but some, like the famous salami of Anversa, are made of sheep’s meat.
Fegato Dolce (“Sweet Liver”) – Pork liver in casings; flavored with honey.
Fegato Pazzo (“Crazy Liver”) – Pork liver in casings; flavored with chili.
Fiaschetta Aquilana – Smoked pork salami.
Lonza – Sausage from the shoulder and neck of the pig; spiced, salted and hung to dry, aged for a minimum of two months. Called Capocollo elsewhere.
Mortadella di Campotosto – Finely ground pork sausage threaded with a wide strip of lard; also called Coglioni di Mulo.
Prosciutto di Basciano – Ham that benefits from the fresh mountain breeze of the Gran Sasso; flavored with chili and aged one year.
Salame di Pecora – Salami made of sheep’s meat; rare except in Anversa degli Abruzzi.
Ventricina Vastese – Pork salami spiced with chili and wild fennel; aged at least three months.
Ventricina Teramana – Spreadable pork sausage similar to the Marches’ and Umbria’s Ciauscolo; spiced with rosemary and chili.