Last updated on November 17th, 2023
You know how spaghetti and meatballs is an American invention, a dish created by Italo-Americans to satisfy America’s pallet?
What if I told you there is actually a version of this in Italy? This traditional dish from Abruzzo is the one exception to the Italian steadfast rule of “no spaghetti and meatballs!”
Abruzzo is fast becoming one of Italy’s most popular regions to visit partly because of its amazing food scene. Although not quite as overrun by tourists as places like Florence or the Amalfi Coast, it is quickly gaining momentum, especially within the culinary world.
Let’s take a look at:
- Exactly how Abruzzese cuisine differs from other Italian food
- Abruzzo’s most popular foods (and why they are popular)
- Regional liquors and wines
- Abruzzo’s native crops
- Pronunciation of traditional Abruzzo foods and dishes
- Our top foodie tips
When you finish reading, I bet you’ll try including Abruzzo in your next Italian itinerary!
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Food from Abruzzo vs Italian Food
Abruzzo is a rich and fascinating region characterized by its rustic cooking, which draws upon ancient traditions of sheep herding, fishing, and local agriculture.
Like every region in Italy, the culinary traditions are influenced by the region’s geographical location and landscape. Abruzzo extends from the Apennine Mountains across to the Adriatic Sea, priding itself on three national parks, towering mountains, and incredible seafronts.
As you can tell, Abruzzo is a very diverse region, and so is its food. Besides numerous native crops, local seafood, and hundreds of herds of sheep, Abruzzo embraces simple yet creative culinary traditions rooted in the cucina povera (poor man’s cooking) just like all of central Italy’s regions, meanwhile striving to preserve regional agriculture and farming practices.
Salame di Ventricina
(Pronounced sah-lah-meh dee ven-tree-cee-nuh in Italian)
This dark red Abruzzese salami is known throughout Italy as it’s often considered one of the best out there. Made from pork leg, loin and shoulder, this sausage is cured with sweet and spicy pepper, fennel seeds, black pepper and salt.
(Pronounced sahl-see-choh-toh in Italian)
This is a very “slimming” sausage (if such a thing exists). It’s made with the highest quality lean pork and seasoned lightly with only salt and pepper, which is a great way to appreciate the meat’s quality.
Mortadella di Campotosto
(Pronounced mohr-tuh-dell-uh dee cahm-poh-toh-stoh in Italian)
This is Abruzzo’s take on an Italian favorite. This version is made with lean pork and bacon. It is then smoked and aged for at least two months.
Salsiccia di Fegato
(Pronounced sahl-see-chuh dee feh-gah-toh in Italiano)
Not for the faint of heart, this liver sausage is also made with heart, lungs and tong with some pork meat as well. Seasonings such as orange peel and bay leaf are added and it’s left to mature for at least 30 days. You also see it preserved either in olive oil or lard.
Learn More: Read all about the Different Types of Italian Sausage.
(Pronounced coh-zeh ree-pee-en-ee in Italian)
You will find these little stuffed mussels along the Trabocchi coast. Mussels are stuffed with breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, olive oil, Parmesan, eggs and a bit of tomato sauce, baked and ecco fatto, they’re ready!
(Pronounced peez-zuh shee-muh in Italiano)
Scima stems from the Abruzzese dialect azzimo, meaning unleavened and this pizza-type bread is exactly that. Made with just flour, water, salt, olive oil and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo white wine, this pizza bread is less of a pizza and more of a thin focaccia that is eaten with almost every meal.
Pecorino di Farindola
(Pronounced peh-cohr-ree-noh in Italian)
Made only in a small area between Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park, this sheep’s milk cheese differs from any other because of its secret ingredient: pig rennet. This cheese is slightly sweeter than other pecorinos.
Learn More: Study up on all types of Italian formaggio with our Complete Guide to Italian Cheese!
Canestrato di Castel del Monte
(Pronounced cah-neh-strah-toh dee cah-stehl dehl mohn-teh in Italian)
Pastoralism has historically played a big role in Abruzzo’s culture and at Castel del Monte the ancient cheese-making traditions live on with their sheep’s milk cheese that is aged anywhere from two months to a whole year and then finished with a coating of local olive oil.
Pallotte Cacio e Uova
(Pronounced pahl-loht-teh cah-choh eh woh-vuh in Italian)
A great example of the cucina povera we see over and over in central Italy. Meaning “cheese and egg balls” these were made when meat was scarce but because they are so good, people still enjoy them today as a vegetarian option. These meatless balls are made from cheese, eggs and bread crumbs which are then gently simmered in tomato sauce or fried.
Tip: Keep your eyes out at gastronomie (delis) for these premade meatballs. If you are renting a house and want to do a little Abruzzese cooking you can pick these up and then just simmer them in tomato sauce. Grab some pizza scima, a simple green salad and you have a meal!
(Pronounced rah-vee-oh-lee dohl-chee in Italian)
If you have a slightly sweeter palate, these are for you. Ravioli dolci are Abruzzo’s favorite stuffed pasta, typically made during Carnival and made with ricotta, egg yolks, sugar, lemon and cinnamon. This is not a dessert – the filling’s sweetness is balanced with a savory tomato sauce and the dish is served as a primo or first course.
Spaghetti alla Chitarra
(Pronounced spah-gheh-TEE all-luh kee-TARR-uh in Italian)
Spaghetti alla chitarra con pallottine (also known as Chitarra alla Teramana) is a typical pasta dish found only in Abruzzo. Though you will never catch an Italian eating what Americans know as “spaghetti and meatballs,” this is the one exception. Spaghetti alla chitarra is a handmade thin and long square-shaped pasta made from durum wheat and eggs. Its name comes from the ‘chitarra’ tool (literally meaning guitar), a wooden frame with parallel wires running from top to bottom, that is used to shape this pasta. It is then dressed in a tomato-based sauce packed full of tiny beef meatballs about the size of a small olive.
Where to Find It: this is a favorite in rural areas so you will be able to find it in most places but we recommend Il Tholos (Roccamorice, PE) where the pasta is made by hand and the setting is absolutely gorgeous.
Spaghetti al Cartoccio
(Pronounced spah-gheh-TEE all cahr-tah-choh in Italian)
Al cartoccio refers to the method of cooking food wrapped in foil or parchment paper. This pasta, originally from Chieti, is made with a variety of seafood, tomatoes, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo wine, parsley, lots of garlic and of course, spaghetti. A very fun dish to eat!
Sagne e Fagioli
(Pronounced sahn-yay eh fah-joh-lee in Italian)
Another great example of poor man’s cooking, this is a rustic and hearty soup made from cooking beans in a well seasoned tomato sauce. Fresh homemade pasta is added at the end. Typically, pancetta or pork rinds were added if they happened to have them to give an extra depth of flavor but it was a luxury item in hard times.
What to Drink: Try a glass of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine if you order Sagne e fagioli.
Pasta alla Pecora
(Pronounced pah-stuh ah-luh peh-coh-ruh in Italian)
“Shepherd’s pasta” also known as Anellini alla pecorara are large rings of fresh pasta that are combined with a rich vegetable sauce consisting of red bell peppers, eggplants, zucchinis, carrots, onions, tomatoes, olive oil and sometimes guanciale (similar to pancetta). It is finished with a crumbling of ricotta cheese and a sprinkling of pecorino.
Where to Find It: although you will find this throughout Abruzzo, we suggest heading to the towns of Elice and Atri (province of Pescara) towards the coast for the best of the best.
(Pronounced scree-peh-leh moo-seh in Italian)
Scrippelle are a kind of thin crepe made of flour, eggs and water that are then served in a hot broth made from chicken or beef. Originating from the Teramo region, there is nothing quite like it in Italian cooking.
(Pronounced nyawk-kee cahr-rah-tee in Italian)
These potato dumplings from Aquila are flavored with guanciale, eggs, and traditionally ewes-milk cheese – but nowadays made with pecorino. If you like creamy, rich food, you’ll love gnocchi carrati!
(Pronounced pah-stew-chaw in Italian)
A simple yet filling polenta stew served with sausage, egg and grated ewe’s-milk cheese or pecorino.
(Pronounced pahp-peech-chee in Italian)
From Teramo, this thin, wide homemade pasta is made with just flour and water, again rooted in the cucina povera and traditionally served in a tomato sauce. It is also served with beans or sometimes with bacon and fava beans.
(Pronounced leh veer-too in Italian)
Translating to “The Virtues”, this very old dish is more of a guideline than a recipe as it changes from province to province depending on what is available. Seasonal legumes and vegetables are mixed together with different types of pasta into a sort of thick soup.
This dish, originating in Teramo, is eaten on May 1st to celebrate spring.
Pecora al Cotturo
(Pronounced peh-cohr-uh ahl cot-tur-oh in Italian)
This recipe originated from the shepherds who would make this lamb stew while moving their sheep across Abruzzo every year. To tenderize the meat, the lamb is cooked for a long time with plenty of herbs over an open fire in a copper pot. Today, it is made similarly indoors on the stovetop or in the oven.
Agnello Cacio e Oro
(Pronounced an-yell-oh cah-choh eh oh-row in Italian)
This is a sort of lamb fricassee that is stewed in a sauce made from eggs, onion, white wine, parsley and pecorino cheese.
(Pronounced cahn-zahn-ehs-eh in Italian)
From the province of Teramano, this is a turkey and gelatine dish served cold. After the turkey is cooked (traditionally in a brick oven) it is chilled in its broth until a gelatin is formed.
Capra alla Neretese
(Pronounced cahp-ruh ahl-luh nehr-eh-tehs-eh in Italian)
While lamb is certainly more popular you will also find goat on the menu in some areas. This secondo or second course is made by sautéing onion and cloves until fragrant. Goat meat is added along with tomato, red peppers, white wine, salt and pepper.
(Pronounced cohr-ah-tel-luh in Italian)
This is Abruzzo’s way of using up the insides of an animal, in this case lamb. The lungs, kidney, heart and liver are pan-fried with onions and sometimes eggs. This dish is typically eaten for breakfast on Easter morning with a type of cheese bread, cured meats and hard-boiled eggs. How’s that for a breakfast of champions!
(Pronounced ahr-rohst-ee-chee-nee in Italian)
Definitely one of the most popular foods are these sheep skewers grilled on fornacellas, a narrow grill that is used in Abruzzo. The pieces of meat are cut small, so it’s hard to have any manners while eating these. Just use the best tools you have, you’re hands!
Brodetto alla Vastese
(Pronounced broh-deht-toh ahl-luh vah-steh-seh in Italian)
As its name hints at, this fish soup is typical of the Vasto area and has become beloved throughout Italy. Made from at least seven different types of fish, it is cooked in a big terracotta pot known as a tijella. The people of Abruzzo say the secret is to shake the soup, rather than to stir it so as not to break up the fish.
Where to Eat: Trattoria Da Ferri (Genova-Rulli) makes the best brodetto so be sure to book ahead of time!
(Pronounced fehr-rah-tel-leh in Italian)
Sometimes called pizzelle, ferratelle look similar to waffles, but they are actually thin aniseed wafer cookies cooked in a very hot iron mold.
Tarallucci Olio e Vino
(Pronounced tahr-al-loo-chee oh-lee-oh eh vee-noh in Italian)
Also known as celli ripieni, these are small pastry shells, similar to pie crust but made with flour, olive oil, and white wine. They are either baked or fried and filled with almonds and grape jam.
(Pronounced bohc-cohn-oht-tee in Italian)
These pastries are also common in other parts of Italy, but the filling changes from region to region. In Abruzzo, these little tarts are stuffed with a filling of almonds and chocolate, and cinnamon.
(Pronounced moh-stah-choh-lee in Italian)
Hearty chocolate and almond cookies sweetened with cooked grape must and warm spices like cinnamon. They are then covered in chocolate.
(Pronounced fee-ah-doh-nee in Italian)
This is a sweet or salty treat with cheese served during the Easter celebration. Little dough balls are filled with a cheese center, either sweet or salty and baked until golden.
La Pupa e il Cavallo
(Pronounced lah poo-pah eh eel cah-vahl-low in Italian)
Two big-sized decorated cookies made for the Easter holidays. La pupa is the shape of a girl and il cavallo is the horse-shaped cookie. Traditionally little girls are given la pupa and little boys il cavallo on Easter.
(Pronounced pahr-rohz-zoh in Italian)
This is the most well known cake from Abruzzo, shaped into a dome, flavored with almond and citrus zest and covered in a luxurious chocolate glaze.
(Pronounced kee-chehr-kee-ah-tuh in Italian)
This traditional sweet is made during carnival by frying dough balls and dowsing them in hot honey. The balls are then shaped into a hollow circle form. Once the honey hardens, the balls stick together to form a beautiful cake ring.
(Pronounced cah-gioh-neh-tee in Italian)
These are ravioli made with a paper-thin dough filled with chickpeas, chocolate and must. I haven’t tried anything quite like it!
Confetti di Sulmona
(Pronounced cohn-feht-tee dee Sool-moh-nuh in Italian)
Not to be confused with American confetti that you throw in the air, these colorful candy-coated almonds are an ancient treat from Sulmona dating back to the 15th century.
Tip: In Sulmona there is a whole museum dedicated to these candy almonds, their history and production.
(Pronounced tohr-rohn-eh in Italian)
This is a chocolate and hazelnut nougat from Aquila that is enjoyed throughout the regione. There is also the Aelion torrone from Guardiagrele which is not as soft but rather crunchier and made from toasted almonds, candied fruit, vanilla and cinnamon.
Tip: Torrone and confetti are great gifts to bring back with you. They are easy to come by and you can’t replicate them quite the same at home.
(Pronounced rah-tah-fee-ah in Italian)
Called visciole by the locals, is a liquor made from the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine and cherries.
(Pronounced ghen-zee-ah-nah in Italian)
Made from the dried roots of the gentian and then macerated in white wine for around 40 days, this liquor is one of the most popular in Abruzzo. Many families still make their homemade versions adding anything from cinnamon and coffee beans to lemon zest or bay leaf. The taste is quite bitter and is said to have powerful digestive properties.
(Pronounced ah-marh-oh ah-broo-zeh-seh in Italian)
A classic digestive liquor made from local herbs and roots. It can include an infusion of fresh citrus fruits.
(Pronounced vee-noh coh-toh in Italian)
A strong, semi-sweet wine from the Ascoli-Piceno province. It is typically served in small glasses with dessert or pairs well with cheese.
(Pronounced chehn-tehr-beh in Italian)
Meaning “one hundred herbs,” this high alcohol content digestive is made from various wild herbs that grow on the Mariella.
(Pronounced awoo-ruhm in Italian)
This very sweet orange liqueur from Pescara has only one rule: you must eat it with desserts! It pairs well with chocolate and is used a lot in baking.
- Reds: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo
- Rosè: Cerasuolo
- Whites: Pecorino, Passerina and Coccociola
Abruzzo’s Regional Produce
Abruzzo’s territory is bountiful with native crops, farming land and foraged goods.
Zafferano di Navelli
Considered some of the absolute best in the world, this saffron from the Navelli plateau has been awarded DOP status. The saffron is harvested and sold all over the country, where it is used to make risottos and fish dishes.
Liquirizia di Atri
This local licorice is refreshing and used as home remedy for many things but not only. It is used to make various candies, medicine, and also cosmetics.
This purple-skinned potato is snow-white on the inside, making for a great presentation. It is also versatile and can be grown in the mountains, making it a very important crop historically for local mountain villages.
Lenticchie di Santo Stefano di Sessanio
Records show that this variety of lentil has been cultivated since before the year 1000. It is a sturdy crop, holding up well to harsh winters but it is also so small and tender that it needs no soaking before heading into the pot!
Other Notable Produce from Abruzzo
- Tartufi – truffles
- Carciofi di Cupello – artichokes from Cupello
- Peperone dolce di Altino – sweet pepper from Altino