The Abruzzi

Pescara and its province

The city of Pescara is situated on the Adriatic coast of the Abruzzi region, on the two sides of the mouth of the river Pescara. It is a fishing town of great importance and is the main city of its province which includes a large part of the river Pescara basin, from the gorges of Popoli al mare, and the Tavo-Saline basin. From the high outcrops of the Maiella and the Gran Sasso (where two types of rearing are practised: both the non-migratory and the transhumance, with the seasonal transferral of livestock to new pastures), the land lowers downwards with a series of hills (cultivated with vines and olive trees) to a narrow coastland plain.
Since this is an area with plenty of mountains and also of sea coastline, the cuisine is divided into two trends: that of the inland specialities and that of seafood which is undoubtedly the most characteristic of the area.
The first boasts mostly meat dishes, pasta and timbales as well as desserts which do not, however, differ very much from those of the region as a whole. Amongst the meat dishes, we bring to mind lamb which is prepared in a variety of ways, pork and that of farmyard animals. But it is above all lamb which offers itself to the preparation of many varieties of dishes; some which can also be found in other areas and some which are more decidedly tied to local traditions. An example of the latter is lamb «"casce e ova"» style, that is, gratinated with beaten eggs and cheese, a kind of fricassee with a generous sprinkling of lemon, or «a catturo», a dish tied to ancient customs which have almost disappeared today: the lamb, cut into pieces, is cooked in a large, copper cauldron suspended from a chain attached to an iron tripod which is erected outside. The meat is dressed with oil, lard, parsley, sage, onion and the ever-present chilli pepper; it is cooked very slowly, producing a flavoursome stew which is eaten on top of large slices of bread.
Country practices, those of simple folk who had known poverty and made use of all the parts of the animal; as in other areas of central Italy, choice dishes are made, for example, with lambs’ intestines which are cooked in many different ways: they are exquisite «a treccia», cooked in the pan over high heat, sprinkled with lemon juice, turning on all sides allowing them to loose some of their juices, but without burning them. Then there are the "cordule" (= plaits) sautéed in oil with plenty of onion and parsley. Allow the intestines to brown well so that they reduce significantly in volume. Then add some puréed tomato (or tinned tomatoes), salt, pepper or chilli pepper and cook very slowly for about two hours. Just before the end of the cooking time, add some peas. One variation foresees sautéing the plaits of intestines in a mixture of finely chopped garlic, onion, rosemary, wild fennel seeds and sprigs, pancetta (Italian spiced bacon) and olive oil. Then the mixture is sprinkled with wine and lemon juice, so that the pasta strips should be “as thin as a hair, as light as a feather and scented like a flower”. The pasta should be thrown into plenty of salted, vigorously boiling water. As soon as the pasta is cooked, throw in some cold water, drain and dress with the following sauce: beef, pork and a small piece of mutton, olive oil, onion, bottled tomatoes preserved by previously being cooked in a bain Marie. Finally, a sprinkling of grated pecorino cheese and some fresh or powdered "saettino" (hot chilli pepper).
The timbales – reserved for important occasions – are exquisite; we bring to mind the one made with «scrippelle», that is, thin crepes arranged in layers in an earthenware dish, dressed with a very flavoursome meat sauce made with different meats and cheese and baked in the oven; a dish which requires many hours of preparation but which can rival with dishes of the most refined cuisine of all times. And then, finally, there are the sausages and salamis and the cheeses deriving from the numerous flocks – both the non-migratory ones and the ones transferred to and from their seasonal pastures - even though this area does not vaunt typical specialities as do other areas of the Abruzzi.
As far as seafood cuisine is concerned, there is a vast variety of proposals: pelagic fish, shellfish, crustaceans, red mullet and all the fish typical of the Mediterranean are cooked in various different ways along the Adriatic coast of the Abruzzi.
Pescara can boast of a «brodetto» which fears no comparison, refined and spicy, cooked in the tiella (dish) which must be kept covered so that the pieces of fish in it remain whole. For making this «brodetto» the following seafood is required: angler, scorpion fish, small octopuses, dogfish, saddled bream and, if possible, John Dory, mussels and clams. Pelagic fish, cod and other types of fish are not used. The old recipe gives the following instructions for its preparation: plenty of oil with thinly sliced onions in which the sailors sauté dried sweet peppers which are then left to cool and then crushed to a powder with pestle and mortar and are then poured into the pan into which little by little the fish are added to be cooked according to their size. Instead of the sweet peppers which are used to give flavour and colour, tomato can also be used, but the flavour is different.
The «cozze gratinate» are presented as an hors d’oeuvres and are made with: mussels, breadcrumbs, garlic, oil, parsley, lemon and tomato sauce, baked in the oven. They can be served “in bianco” by leaving out the tomato. Another excellent hors d’oeuvres is the «crudo di calamaretti», for which the following ingredients are used: small, tender squids, extra virgin olive oil, salt, vinegar and very thinly sliced onion, dressed with hot chilli pepper. It is a typical dish of the sailors of Pescara.
The red mullets are known as «agostinelle» and are preferably fried after having been dipped in flour.
Pelagic fish is present in abundance and it is widely eaten because of its low cost. It is cooked on the grill, but also baked in the oven covered in breadcrumbs and a mixture of finely chopped parsley, chilli pepper and garlic. They may also be presented raw, marinated in lemon juice and in this case they are an excellent hors d’oeuvres.
So, the proposals of this coastline are numerous, an area with old traditions where beliefs, superstitions and magic meet together in correspondence with the various occasions and their relative traditional foods.
The cake which is typical of Pescara is the «parrozzo», a cake with a base of flour, butter, eggs, sugar and almonds, covered with chocolate. This is a cake which is a century old and which owes its name to Gabriele D'Annunzio: the word parrozzo derives from «pan rozzo» because its shape is reminiscent of that of the traditional bread made in the countryside. Today, this cake is found all over Abruzzi, packed in an artisan way in small moulds like a large-sized chocolate, and called «parrozzini». Widely diffused – but also found elsewhere – is the «pizza dolce» (‘sweet pizza’), usually used as a wedding cake and made with trifle sponge cut into four slices and soaked with rum or alchermes liqueur. It is made up of three layers of different creams, one made of chocolate, one almond-flavoured and the last made with eggs. The surface is spread with a white sugar icing decorated with silver and coloured sugar cake decorations arranged in writing or in designs of best wishes.
The cuisine of this area – which obviously includes some of the typical dishes of the whole region – offers a panorama mixed with poor dishes and rich dishes, all tied to the local products of both the land and the sea.