The Ultimate Guide to Eating Out in Abruzzo
A guide to eating out in Abruzzo. Touring Abruzzo.
Before my first ever holiday in Abruzzo, Italy, I thought I had a pretty good grasp on what Italian food was all about. After all, I was an enthusiastic cook, a lover of Italian food, and even more importantly- I was married to an Italian! I had bought the recipe books, and watched my mother-in law cooking the Abruzzese regional dishes that were much loved by the family, in Australia.
Within a few days however, and at my first ever dining out experience in Abruzzo, it became apparent that I had A LOT to learn. And how exciting it was! So many dishes seemed so foreign and daring, like gnocchi with scampi, and seafood with beans and zucchini.
Even the dishes I was familiar with had different names here, such as pasta allo scoglio, which is basically “pasta marinara” and the “pasta marinara” doesn’t even have any seafood in it here in Italy!
I had a lot of help from Marco and his family in the beginning, when it came to ordering out at restaurants in Italy. I think if I didn’t, I would have had a difficult time of it, and I may have missed out on some of the best dishes that Abruzzo has to offer.
In this article, I have listed the most common dishes available at the restaurants in Abruzzo Italy, and some that you must try if they are available. Most restaurants are either going to be seafood, or non-seafood. They rarely mix. Even at home in Italy, you are either going to eat seafood for the entire meal, or meat, but never both! So, I’ve broken up the seafood options for easy reference.
I hope this guide to eating out in Abruzzo Italy helps you when ordering out at restaurants in Abruzzo. Let me know all about your experiences in the comments below.
Bombe, oh my gosh these are a God given piece of heaven in your hand! As you may know, Italians like to have sweets for breakfast. It may seem strange to some but I like the guilt-free feeling of knowing I’ve got all day to burn off the calories. After years of eating like an Italian at breakfast time, I now find I’m quite adverse to anything really savoury before 10am.
A Bomba is a rounded, whole doughnut, and the traditional and most common filling is Italian custard. Chocolate custard, and cream are also used to fill the bombe (plural for bomba). They should be a little crusty on the outside, soft in the middle, and heavy with the amount of custard inside.
It’s not just the French who eat croissants. In Italy, croissants are called cornetti and they are an everyday breakfast option at the bars (cafès). They are a lighter version to the French type and there are many different varieties of flavours and fillings. I really like the custard filled cornetti.
There are many types of pastries and cakes available for breakfast, which are just as delicious as bombe. Try as many as you can. Remember, if you aren’t putting on at least ½ a kilo each day, you simply aren’t doing your tour of Abruzzo any justice!
Abruzzo Street Food
Porchetta – Not in the mood for a sit-down meal? Keep a look out for the porchetta vans on the side of the roads for some Abruzzo street food. The vans are usually white, yellow, blue and red in colour and you will see the huge roll of pork behind the glass, waiting to be sliced up and put between a crusty roll for your Italian lunch on the go.
In Loreto Aprutino, where Marco and I have our home, market day is Thursday, which means Thursday is Porchetta Day. A handful of porchetta vans show up every Thursday and we don’t miss the opportunity to walk down and enjoy one of these genius Italian “sandwiches”. Also, if the van sells chicken, it’s very good too!
Antipasti “starters” are essential when dining out in Abruzzo and anywhere else in Italy for that matter. A selection of tasters are bought out, not only to whet your appetite, but to sample some of the restaurant’s prized cold cuts and preserves.
Pecorino – A staple Abruzzese hard cheese made from sheep’s milk.
Fior di latte – Fresh mozzarella! I love the texture of fior di latte, and each bite seems to contain a cup of fresh milk, squisito! For more intense flavour, try the mozzarella di bufala “buffalo mozzarella”, my favorite!
Prosciutto, pancetta, and salami – Cold cuts of meat.
Ventricina – A huge salami made of pork and peppers. The southern Abruzzo variety is hard and is served “broken up” instead of sliced. The Northern Abruzzo type is spreadable and has an orange accent.
Salsiccia di fegato – Liver sausages.
Fungi – Mushrooms are in abundance in Abruzzo. Have them anyway they come!
Anything sott’olio – Anything preserved in oil is absolutely delicious. Order anything from the menu that has sott’olio in the title.
The Japanese are famous for eating a lot of raw seafood, but what most people don’t realise is that the coastal-dwelling Italians are big lovers of it too! Raw seafood, known as pesce crudo in Italian, is served at all seafood restaurants as the antipasti (starters). Usually, seafood restaurants will offer a selection of delicately prepared seafood dishes for antipasti, with raw and/or a cooked options.
Even if the thought of eating raw seafood makes you feel a little queasy, I highly recommend you try it! You might be surprised, especially by those dishes which are slightly “cooked” in lemon or vinegar. My favourites are the raw scampi which are usually quite sweet, and the crumbed cannolicchi (razor clams).
Spaghetti alle vongole
My all-time favourite! Spaghetti with clams is an everyday kind of dish in Abruzzo, lucky us! There’s something about the flavour of the clams that is so delicious. It is usually made in bianco, which means that the base or ‘sauce’ is extra virgin olive oil (instead of tomatoes, for example). Once the spaghetti are cooked, some of the cooking water is added to the pan of vongole and garlic, and it creates an almost creamy olive oil sauce. Delicious!
Pasta allo scoglio
Simple seafood pasta but with the freshest seafood you could possibly get and the sweet tomato passata used, makes this dish incredibly good. Italians believe that the high salt content on the Adriatic Sea is what makes the seafood on the East Coast of Italy especially tasty.
Brodetto di pesce
Brodo in Italian means broth, and brodetto means little broth. A broth is made using small seafood such as small fish, scampi, vongole, mussels, and the like. In the Southern parts of Abruzzo, the brodetto is usually served without tomato but closer to Pescara tomato is added. Brodetto di pesce is eaten all year round and served with bread to soak up all the tasty broth. The little fish will be whole and full of bones, so fillet them on your plate by separating the fillets from the spine with your cutlery. Fish are mostly served with the heads on. Just leave them to the side once you have removed the fillets.
Gourmet-sized seafood lightly dusted in flour and fried in oil. This is the ultimate Italian version of fish and chips and just as common place here in Abruzzo. But, oh so much better!!
Hands down the most famous Abruzzese dish and also the most loved by the Abruzzese people. Arrosticini are simply skewers of sheep’s meat (not lamb) salted and cooked over coals. The older sheep meat is extra tasty and the flavour from the coals makes arrositicini something special.
Some arrositicini are machine-cut and the pieces on the skewers are quite small. The hand-cut variety might be slightly more expensive but the pieces of meat will be larger. Try both and see which you prefer!
Also, try them at different establishments because although they are all good, some arrositicini are better than others. Order them by the dozen! Abruzzese men all have a record of the most arrositicini they have ever eaten in one evening; the highest scores are up around 100!
As a guide, If I’m enjoying arrositicini along with other food, I’d probably eat about 8, and if I’m only having arrositicini and some salad, I’d eat about 12 – 14. Marco would eat 20 regardless!
If you like liver, as we do, you can’t go past the arrositicini di fegato. Onion slices are placed in between the pieces of fegato (liver) and it becomes nice and sweet as it cooks and is the perfect match for the fegato. If you’re not sure about eating liver, I’m Australian and I find the liver in Italy much less “gamey” and more enjoyable than liver served in Australia. So, give it a go!
All over Italy, the cinghiale (wild boars) are plentiful and hunters do what they can to keep the numbers down, in turn, providing restaurants with delicious organic meat. Unlike domestic pig, wild boar is a red meat, so the mince or diced meat in your sugo is likely to look more like beef rather than pork. In the inland areas of Abruzzo, you will find cinghiale on the menu at most restaurants.
Sange e ceci
Even if you aren’t very keen on ceci (chickpeas) I believe this dish will win you over. Sagne is an Abruzzese pasta made without eggs and cut into short rectangular shapes. In the past, this pasta was often made out of the leftover cuts of pasta. These days however, sagne is made for the sake of wanting sagne. This dish is a bit of a cross between a pasta dish and a soup with only a little bit of tomato added. Sagne e ceci is a true Abruzzese traditional dish, so make sure to try it!
Spaghetti alla Chitarra
Chitarra is Abruzzo’s signature pasta type. Chitarra (guitar) gets its name from the wooden contraption used to cut the pasta with wires, which resemble a guitar. Sheets of pasta are laid over the wires and a rolling pin is used to push down the pasta sheets to cut the pasta into a square-cut spaghetti.
You can order pasta alla chitarra with a meat sauce if you like, but a plain tomato sauce really shows off the texture of the pasta and the quality and sweetness of the local tomatoes.
I remember once on a research trip for our tours of Abruzzo, we stopped off for lunch at a rural restaurant. I can’t remember why it was such a quiet day for the restaurant, perhaps it was some festival day, but the restaurant only had chitarra with tomato sugo and fried scamorza (cheese). I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t anything less run-of-the-mill available (by Abruzzo’s standards). But let me tell you, this ended up being my highlight meal of the entire three weeks! The simplest dishes made with the freshest local produce are often the most satisfying and memorable.
Ravioli – con funghi e tartufo
Ravioli is a popular dish all over Italy, and Abruzzo is no exception. The ricotta cheese that is used to fill the ravioli in Abruzzo, is so flavoursome, especially the ricotta di pecora (sheep’s milk ricotta).
Ravioli is often served with a tomato sugo, and it’s delicious. However, if it’s available, don’t go past the funghi e tartufo (mushrooms and truffles). 80% of Italy’s truffles are found in Abruzzo and most country agritourismi make good use of them. Truffles are much more affordable in Abruzzo than if you were to order them in a restaurant elsewhere, so take advantage and eat your fill of truffles while you can!!
The Abruzzese really know how to make humble greens taste incredible. Whatever verdure (green leafy vegetables such as rape, chicory, spinach and chard) are on the menu, order a side of it. It could well be one of the most delicious dishes on the table.
Try pannacotta in agriturismi especially. An agritourismo (agri “agriculture” turismo “tourism”) is a farm usually run by a family, where they also have a restaurant. The dishes are made out of ingredients from the farm or within the immediate area. They also usually have accommodation and can make for a lovely stay.
Pannacotta is usually offered with a selection of toppings such as coffee syrup, vinno cotto (cooked sweet wine), caramel, and frutti di bosco “fruits of the forest”.
The best pannacotta I’ve had, have been at agriturismi (plural for agriturismo) where the pannacotta has been made out of the farm’s own fresh milk, often sheep’s milk. When recalling one pannacotta experience in particular to an Australian friend, I simply said “it tasted like milk flavoured milk” because the flavour was so strong and flavoursome.
Yes, the name is French, but creme brulee is a staple Italian dessert and available in most restaurants.
House wine in Abruzzo doesn’t mean the cheapest mass-produced bottle of wine or box wine available. Most house wines in Abruzzo are either homemade (especially if you are at an agritourismo) or local wine that is served either in 1/4, 1/2, or full carafes. It’s very affordable and the wine is often great and always good. It’s what the locals drink most of the time, so do as the locals do.
Try some of the excellent local wines with your more elaborate meals. I’d ask the waiter for their recommendation and you can’t go wrong.
Here is the run-down on the main wine types available in Abruzzo:
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – The signature red wine of Abruzzo.
Pecorino and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo – Both are white wine varieties. Pecorino is a denser wine than Trebbiano.
Cerasuolo – A very good rosè variety.
You have to finish off the meal with a digestive in Abruzzo. Why? Because you’ve probably eaten so much that you can’t hardly move and need something to help digest everything. And also… it’s just what you do.
Most restaurants will provide a digestive free of charge, especially when it is made in-house. Generally, ratafia and genziana are served (providing both a sweet option and a bitter option) but you can also ask for any if the following:
Ratafia – A sweet liquor made from wild cherries.
Genziana – Made from a root which grows here and is bitter tasting.
Centerbe – A famous liquor from Abruzzo made from 100 different herbs grown in the mountains, according to an ancient Benedictine recipe. The Enrico Toro centerbe made in Tocca da Cassauria is the most recognised brand. There is a standard version or a stronger version. I prefer the forte (the stronger one).
Nocino – A liquor made from green walnuts.
Limoncello – Famous all over Italy and the world. This liquor made out of lemon peel and sugar is the best way to end a meal on a zesty, sweet note. Be sure to try the crema di limoncello (cream limoncello) too!
Grappa – Another famous Italian digestive made from distilled grapes.
By Katri Pagliaro
Italian Provincial Tours