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The Cooking and Cuisine of Abruzzo and Molise


Kevin72
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I'm recycling intros again, using the writeup I did for Abruzzo originally back in '05.

In cooking from Abruzzo on his show, Mario Batali pointed out that the descriptor "forte e gentile" (strong and kind) is often applied to the Abruzzese character, but was also a perfect descriptor of the cuisine as well. These two seemingly contrasting terms play out a number of ways in the Abruzzese cooking traditions.

Abruzzo is commonly considered where Northern Italian cuisine meets Southern Italian cuisine, using the qualities of both. Also, Abruzzo has a wild contrast of geography: gentle, herb blanketed meadows, rocky beaches and coastline with a wealth of bivalves, and steep, staggering, snow-capped mountain heights. This contrast in geography translates to a contrast in the cooking styles and ingredients: subtle herbs from the meadow top seafood caught at the coastline, but then this condimento is used for polenta and finished with chilies to create a more robust, rib-sticking dish necessary for living in the mountains.

Abruzzo combines the very best of pasta traditions as well: it is home to the Rustichella, Del Verde, and De Cecco pasta factories, three of what are often cited as the top brands dried pasta in Italy. Yet even with so much top-quality dried pasta, the Abruzzese do not shy away from handmade pasta traditions: there is the region's unique maccheroni alla chitarra, sheets of semolina pasta that are rolled over a wired instrument that cuts the dough into square-shaped noodles.

Finally, Abruzzo is home to the Scuola Alberghiera, a 400 year old hotel management and cooking school in Villa Santa Maria. Chefs from this school have been employed throughout the ages in Rome, Naples, and as far away as Russia, giving Abruzzo a reputation for turning out top-quality chefs. So here is another contrast: the refined, professional level cuisine of a cooking school 4 centuries old against the robust, rustic cuisine of isolated mountain villages making the most of their meager supplies through long, cold fierce winters.

One famous food-centered tradition in Abruzzo is la panarda. As usual with writing on Italian cooking traditions and customs, you’re hard pressed to find two authors who agree on origins. Marlena di Blasi gives the quite plausible explanation that la panarda has its origins in the slaughter of the village pig, when all would come by to contribute to helping butcher the pig and put it up for the winter. As a sort of communal rite of passage, the villagers would smear a piece of bread (pane) with some of the rendered pig fat (lardo) for a simple snack to mark the occasion. Thus the fusion of the two terms, pane e lardo, to eventually through the ages become panarda. Then of course, Anna Teresa Callen, in her all-too-brief-for-an-Abruzzese description of the event, specifically dismisses this history.

Regardless of its humble roots, la panarda has over the years become a Herculean feast still observed (but less and less frequently) in the small mountain towns of Abruzzo to mark major celebrations: a birth, a wedding, a family reunion, anything. The typical number of courses for a panarda starts at 30, usually averaging out at 40. And you have to at least try them all, or you risk severe insult to whichever family that made the dish you refused. Family feuds lasting generations have begun this way.

Le virtu is a soup made on or near the start of May. The idea, according to di Blasi, is to clean out one’s larders from the winter and combine all the dried beans and bits of salumi left over with the first crops of spring. It's getting balmly down here already, but I'd imagine our northern posters with winter storms still fresh in their memories may want to give this a spin.

Chief reference besides the usual suspects (Batali, di Blasi, Culinara): Food and Memories of Abruzzo: Italy's Pastoral Land, by Anna Teresa Callen.

As I said in the Marche thread, this book presents some frustrations in that it isn't always entirely specific to the region and offers recipes from Emilia-Romagna and Venice, among others.

Still, her framing device for the cookbook: an autobiographical account of her upbringing in Abruzzo amongst her immediate and extended family, her travels elsewhere, and ultimate appreciation for and return to her homeland, makes for charming reading. As long as you go in looking at it more as a general Italian cookbook (despite what the title implies) and less as a specific regional treatise, it makes a good addition to your cookbook collection.

Poor Molise, recently independent from Abruzzo, is often entirely left out of literature on these two regions. From what I gather, as an even more mountainous inland region than Abruzzo, it uses alot of goat for its meat basis. A few authors have a approximated its cooking to that of the mountainous parts of Campania, which it borders.

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Now that is an excellent write up Kevin!! I don't think I need to do a write up this month!

An odd ingredient from Abruzzo, or at least a surprising ingredient, that I adore is the saffron. There is a small amount cultivated, when it is steeped it is the color of compari, and it's taste is full and smooth and just incredible. If you happen to come across Abruzzo saffron....snap it up. It's worth it.

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An odd ingredient from Abruzzo, or at least a surprising ingredient, that I adore is the saffron. There is a small amount cultivated, when it is steeped it is the color of compari, and it's taste is full and smooth and just incredible. If you happen to come across Abruzzo saffron....snap it  up. It's worth it.

I didn't know this, and just spotted it in a bit of Googling action. Apparently its flavor is quite different from the saffron found in Spain.

The saffron from the town of Vanelli, near Aquila, has a different flavour from the saffron used in Spain. The first saffron bulbs were brought to Italy in 1400 by a Domenical friar named Santucci who brought them to his birthplace Navelli from Spain. He planted them in his convent with success, and saffron was used not only to flavour food but as a curative herb.

Unfortunately it is getting more and more difficult to find the pure saffron from Aquila as it is difficult and costly to gather and dry the flowers neccesary for the extraction of the pistils. Strangely enough, the valuable flavouring is used much more in cuisines far from Aquila than in Aquila itself.

The pages I found list spaghetti aglio olio (with peperoncino, of course) and bucatini all'Amatriciana as Abruzzi dishes...should be a good month. :smile:

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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Now that is an excellent write up Kevin!! I don't think I need to do a write up this month!

An odd ingredient from Abruzzo, or at least a surprising ingredient, that I adore is the saffron. There is a small amount cultivated, when it is steeped it is the color of compari, and it's taste is full and smooth and just incredible. If you happen to come across Abruzzo saffron....snap it  up. It's worth it.

this is true. i was given some of it a couple of years ago -- it's fantastic stuff. unfortunately my stash is gone now. fortunately they grow great saffron here in pennsylvania, if you can find it.

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  • 2 weeks later...

A recent conversation in our house:

"...Mommy, is tomorrow Monday?"

"Yes..."

"...So is Passover over tomorrow?..."

"Yes..."

"...Can we have pasta again when Passover is over?"

"Of course!"

I won't lie to you all, it's been a tough week. I try to limit pasta to twice a week, but that coupled with the lack of bread, and I went into real withdrawal. It's the first time that's happened to me, so I decided to go with it, and give myself a real rest from it all (normally by day 5 I have had enough and get back to eating as usual). As you can see, I brought my family along with me for the ride!

Dinner from Abruzzo - I actually collect pasta from Rusticella D'Abruzzo. I love them for their texture, quality, toothiness... really, discovering this pasta forever changed the way I look at pasta. I have tried to convert many people, but mostly they just look at me like I'm crazy.

Here is our first pasta for awhile. I had half a pack of chitarra that I mixed with spaghetti. I made a nice ragu with pancetta, hand-chopped steak and spicy Italian sausage form the farmer's market, made without those annoying (to me) fennel seeds. It was really tasty, and extremely welcome amongst some in the family. :raz:

gallery_41870_2503_34731.jpg

Parozzo - Mario's Chocolate Cake from Abruzzo - this cake is dense and not too sweet, just my kind of cake. It's made from ground almonds, and the eggwhites are whipped and folded in so it rises quite a bit. My older guy took the opportunity to make the meringue with no help from Mommy.

gallery_41870_2503_9250.jpg

I must make a point of looking for the saffron you mention. It sounds like a parallel tasting is in order.

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Thanks for the compliments, all. I really have missed my Italian meals.

Beautiful as always, Shaya!

The spaghetti in the photo, is it as thick as it looks in that shot? I'm asking because it looks like 'pici' or umbrecelli from Umbria.

They do look thick, don't they? I think this pasta absorbs a lot of water, and yes, I would say it's as thick as it looks.

For comparison sake, here is the pici I typically make (shown here with my eggplant ricotta sauce):

gallery_41870_2503_465583.jpg

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Wow Shaya, I think you've convinced me about the Rusticella d'Abruzzo. I've seen it at the market, looking gorgeous and deadly expensive, and never really considered that it might be worth it. This could be the month I break through that barrier!

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I'm a big fan of the rustichella d'abruzzo as well...runs about $4 a pound here. It does seem to absorb a lot of water - and sauce as well.

Looking forward to doing some cooking as the month progresses - wish the farmer's market was showing some more spring vegetables, but it is taking a long time to warm up here in the northeast!

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Shaya's off and running! Great stuff. I also like Rustichella when I decide to splurge for it. Unfortunately, it also seems more brittle than normal dried pasta and often when I do get it, the pasta seems to have been pulverized.

At any rate, I'm afraid my cooking is about to get more limited in the near term at least. Baby Dowling has arrived 5 weeks early, so I have some adjusting to do to take care of them both!

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Kevin, congratulations!!! :smile: I hope you're all doing well and settling into the new life..You realize we'll need a baby pic soon... just put a box of dried pasta in the crib to keep it food related.. :laugh:

Dinner from Abruzzo - I actually collect pasta from Rusticella D'Abruzzo.  I love them for their texture, quality, toothiness... really, discovering this pasta forever changed the way I look at pasta.  I have tried to convert many people, but mostly they just look at me like I'm crazy.

Shaya, you convinced me to buy a pack of this pasta today.

gallery_21505_2929_48637.jpg

It cost 3.75 Euro for 500 grams. When we were eating, I said to Dennis: "you know, this is really expensive pasta," and he said: why, did you use the whole pack? And I said, no, only a third, and he said, "so, we're only eating about 60 cents worth of pasta per person, you call that expensive??" :laugh:

Anyway. This is the ragu d'agnello alla Abruzzese from Marcella Cucina. A very simple ragu from chopped (not minced) lamb, pancetta, onion, rosemary. It was delicious! Topped with pecorino sardo. The only thing I changed about the recipe is that I simmered the sauce for 45 minutes instead of 15 as stated, because after 15 minutes the sauce really hadn't come together.

gallery_21505_2929_26438.jpg

This was so good, rich and flavorful yet simple, that I'm even contemplating making it for my birthdayparty in 2 weeks!

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Kevin, congratulations!!! :smile:  I hope you're all doing well and settling into the new life..You realize we'll need a baby pic soon... just put a box of dried pasta in the crib to keep it food related..  :laugh:

When we were eating, I said to Dennis: "you know, this is really expensive pasta," and he said: why, did you use the whole pack? And I said, no, only a third, and he said, "so, we're only eating about 60 cents worth of pasta per person, you call that expensive??"  :laugh:

That's one smart guy!! And the pasta looks delish.

Kevin - Congrats to you and the Mrs.!

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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kevin -- let me add my congratulations to everyone!

last night i made the lamb with sweet peppers dish from ada boni's book. except i made it as a much longer stew since i was using bone-in chunks of lamb shoulder. and we didn't eat it.

i had bought several pounds of lamb shoulder that i wasn't sure what i wanted to do with, so i split it up and made that with with half of it.

with the other half, i made hui stew with chickpeas and star anise from hot sour salty sweet . now that was a real mix of cooking smells all at once.

but we're not going to eat either of them till tomorrow at the earliest. i have a chicken i have to roast tonight. and the reason i'm telling you all this is so that kevin can get a glimpse of how i have to cook now and he may in the future: wait till sunday evening when the kid goes to bed, and then spend nearly three hours cooking lamb several ways to have throughout the week...

it's still good fun, but the satisfaction of making and then eating something immediately is lost. On the other hand, considering how stews and ragouts and other braised/stewed things get better for a couple of days, being forced to make something ahead of time could be an advantage in disguise...

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I'm living off of freezer food for the time being and taking a bit of a break, so I'll definitely be limited in my contributions this and next month.

Still, before everything went down, I did cook something I think that seemed Abruzzese: pork and lentil soup:

gallery_19696_582_718266.jpg

This is cribbed from Italian Two Easy(?), the new cookbook by the River Cafe team. I really enjoyed their PBS show a few years back (featuring a then unknown Jamie Oliver on the cooking line!). The recipes, though prose-free, are compelling and have very basic, but effective combinations of primo ingredients. Certainly worth checking out if you can.

At any rate, it's a soup of chickpeas, garlic, chilies, tomato paste, rosemary, and bacon standing in for pancetta, then with pork country-style ribs tucked in and cooked slowly. Nice, rich, and full of fatty goodness to chase off the evening chills that even we're still having in Dallas.

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Congrats to you and your wife Kevin!

Chufi- The Pasta with ragu is picture perfect.

I should finally manage to get in an Abruzzese (sp?) meal this week finally. It's funny how some of these regions are just not that...intuitive. I mean I have to actually think hard and do research to make a meal that sounds good unlike the foods from E-R, Sicily, Lazio....among others.

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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I seem to remember there was a brief discussion here about artisinal versus factory pasta - Rustichella being artisinal, De Cecco from a factory.

Can somebody explain the difference to me? Doesn't the Rustichella D'Abruzzo come from a factory too, what makes it artisinal? Moderators, let me know if this is not appropriate for this thread then I'll start a new thread about it.

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I seem to remember there was a brief discussion here about artisinal versus factory pasta - Rustichella being artisinal, De Cecco from a factory.

Can somebody explain the difference to me? Doesn't the Rustichella D'Abruzzo come from a factory too, what makes it artisinal?  Moderators, let me know if this is not appropriate for this thread then I'll start a new thread about it.

Hmm, I don't know if this answers your question, but I remember someone mentioning one brand of pasta that varies somewhat throughout the year (colour and taste) depending on local wheat production vs. another brand that imported wheat from all over the world in order to ensure that their product remained consistent year-round.

Cutting the lemon/the knife/leaves a little cathedral:/alcoves unguessed by the eye/that open acidulous glass/to the light; topazes/riding the droplets,/altars,/aromatic facades. - Ode to a Lemon, Pablo Neruda

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I seem to remember there was a brief discussion here about artisinal versus factory pasta - Rustichella being artisinal, De Cecco from a factory.

Can somebody explain the difference to me? Doesn't the Rustichella D'Abruzzo come from a factory too, what makes it artisinal?  Moderators, let me know if this is not appropriate for this thread then I'll start a new thread about it.

The differences lie in 3 key factors:

(1) quality of ingredients - variance in the quality of flour and water; artisanal manufacturers tend to have their own wheat supplies that they have been using for generations;

(2) extrusion method - the artisanal pastas are extruded slowly through bronze dies, lending them a rough texture that leads to a product that soaks up sauce beautifully when cooked; you may notice that supermarket pastas have a completely smooth surface which becomes slippery when cooked, and thus does not soak up sauce the sauce in the same way;

(3) drying method - artisanal pastas are dried long and slowly, which contributes to the wonderful texture, because these soak up a lot of water when cooked; supermarket pastas are dried more quickly and don't gain the same textural quality in the process.

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I seem to remember there was a brief discussion here about artisinal versus factory pasta - Rustichella being artisinal, De Cecco from a factory.

Can somebody explain the difference to me? Doesn't the Rustichella D'Abruzzo come from a factory too, what makes it artisinal?  Moderators, let me know if this is not appropriate for this thread then I'll start a new thread about it.

Shaya, that was an excellent explanation, but maybe I can contribute a bit more info.

De Cecco considers themselves to be a sort of bridge between classic artisinal pasta and mass produced pasta. DeCecco actually uses bronze dies for extruding the pasta, but they also use heat to dry their pasta. In my opinion, what makes DeCecco not artisinal is the wheat that they use. They strive for a very consistent product and will use wheat from all over the world to maintain that consistency. And for anyone in the US, the DeCecco product that is exported to the US must be vitamin fortified, so it is not the same product that you eat in Italy.

I was fortunate to have toured the DeCecco plant, and it is truly something to see; but there is no doubt that it is a mass produced product.

True artisinal pasta would be made in small batches, using the wheat from one location and one season. This pasta would be made using classic bronze dies and would be air dried.

I doubt that there is any 'official' definition of artisinal.

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Thanks. Looks like I stumbled upon another of my favorite 'questions that with every answer, only will raise more questions'. :smile:

If the major distinction is production output, I can understand the difference. With al other factors, it seems much more complicated.

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And for anyone in the US, the DeCecco product that is exported to the US must be vitamin fortified, so it is not the same product that you eat in Italy.

And the neurons are suddenly connecting; that's why deCecco here (France) is so much better than in the US of A. Thanks Judith.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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