The Abruzzi

Teramo and its province

The small city of Teramo is situated thirty kilometres from the Adriatic, 265 metres above sea level at the confluence of the stream Vezzola into the river Tordino. Its province extends along part of the basin of the lower Tronto, those of the Vomano, the Tordino and of the Salinello and, inland, up to the Laga and Gran Sasso mountains. Almost half of the territory is mountainous, whereas the rest of it is generally hilly. The economy is tied to the forests, the pastureland and the agriculture which is made up, amongst others, of olive groves and orchards.
The cuisine of this area, which makes use of the excellent oil produced in the Tordino and Vomano valleys, is not distant from that of Pescara even though – as far as the first course dishes are concerned – it is of note that, in this area, the «scrippelle» (those famous local crêpes made with eggs, milk, grated pecorino cheese, salt, flour, parsley and a pinch of nutmeg) are often served «mbusse», that is, wet. In fact, the «scrippelle» are sprinkled again with more pecorino, rolled up and placed on the plate where they are covered with boiling hot hen’s broth, if customs and tradition are to be respected.
Amongst the first course dishes we note a speciality linked to the world of the mountains which characterises this territory. It is the «sweet chestnut ravioli» which have a stuffing with a base of chestnuts mixed with ricotta, egg, sugar and cinnamon; these ravioli are dressed with a tomato sauce made spicy with plenty of chilli pepper.
Sweet chestnuts are also the main ingredient in a tasty soup in which they are mixed with lentils and served with small cubes of fried white bread.
Another speciality are the gnocchi (small dumplings) which are prepared according to the following recipe. Shell one kilogram of sweet chestnuts, boil them, peel them and purée them. Mix up the purée with two eggs, a pinch of salt, white flour and enough wholemeal flour to obtain an even-textured and elastic lump of mixture. From this, break off the small gnocchi the size of a finger and roll them as you prefer, with a fork or with the index finger. Cook them in boiling salted water and dress with a good tomato sauce.
The use of sweet chestnuts is also part of some second course dishes and more especially used in the stuffings of courtyard animals: guinea fowls, turkeys and capons which take on a special and very delicate flavour.
But the dish which can be found only in this area is the «sweet chestnut souffle' with medallions of dried scamorza cheese» which is made following this old recipe which is still in use: peel five hundred grams of chestnuts, boil and mash with a potato masher. Beat the purée with one or two glasses of broth, five hundred grams of butter, a pinch of salt to obtain a smooth and velvety mixture. Whisk into peaks two egg whites which should then be folded delicately into the purée and put into the oven in a buttered and floured oven dish, making sure that the level of the mixture comes two thirds of the way up the sides of the dish. Cook at a moderate heat for about twenty minutes. Remove from the oven and turn onto a serving plate surrounded by slices of Rivisondoli dried scamorza cheese decorated with fresh parsley.
The meat dishes here are also dominated by the use of all the parts of lamb and sheep, both used for many dishes, from the meat sauce for the «sagne» pasta prepared with lard, onion, celery and carrot, to boiled meats and meat cooked on the spit. The «sugo di pallottine» is also a typical sauce, being small meatballs made from lamb or beef, eggs, grated pecorino cheese, breadcrumbs, parsley, onion, celery, carrot, nutmeg, salt and pepper, all cooked in tomato sauce.
A traditional dish which takes its origins from the abundance of vegetables is the one known as «lu ciabbotte», prepared as follows: Take some aubergines, courgettes, sweet peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, chilli pepper, basil, oregano, salt. In a large frying pan, sauté in the oil and browned garlic, the aubergines, the courgettes, the sweet peppers and the potatoes cut into pieces, taking care to keep them crunchy. Halfway through the cooking time, add the ripe tomatoes which have been skinned and chopped into small pieces. Adjust for salt, add the finely chopped herbs and the chilli.
The desserts are the same as the ones which are typical throughout the Abruzzi, so we shall limit ourselves to mentioning some sweet chestnut desserts belonging to the haute cuisine, whereas those of countryside origins are common to many of the other Italian regions.
The «sweet chestnut charlotte» is very refined. This exquisite and enticing dessert is also easy to make and is made up of two parts: a chestnut cream and a vanilla mousse. To make the cream, peel five hundred grams of sweet chestnuts and boil them. When they are cooked, remove the skins purée them. Put the purée into a casserole dish and stir over a low heat with the addition of a glass of milk until it has become quite firm. Add five tablespoons of sugar and allow to cool. To make the mousse, put two hundred grams of sugar and five egg yolks into a casserole dish. Beat with a wooden spoon until you have obtained a smooth and light and airy mixture. Add a drop of vanilla essence and put over a low heat, taking care that the cream thickens without coming to the boil. Remove from the heat, add a packet of gelatine (for sweets), mix and add a quarter of a litre (half a pint) of whipped and sugared cream. Line a charlotte mould with baking paper and pour in the sweet chestnut cream, forming an even layer on the bottom and up the sides. Fill the mould with the mousse, even off the surface and cover with baking paper. Put in the fridge for at least two hours. Turn out the dessert onto a serving plate and garnish with chopped up almonds and chocolate.
But we can also bring to mind the «zuppa inglese» (a kind of trifle) prepared with sweet chestnuts, «souffle'», the «bigne'» (cream puffs), the «flan» (steamed puddings) and a large variety of tarts. The jams made from sweet chestnuts, both at home and by artisans, are also quite special and delicious.
Local products and personal commitment make the dishes of this land particularly tasty, very characteristic and quite protected from external influences and methods which would detract from the product’s authenticity.