East of Lazio on the Adriatic coast lies Abruzzo, among the most mountainous regions in Italy and home of some of the most interesting cooking in the country. Due to the mountains themselves, much of Abruzzo was relatively cut off from the influence of international commerce and civilization up until the 20th century. As a result, it was for a long time considerably more pagan than Rome, the home of Christianity, just to the west. One of the national treasures of Italian cookery, Anna Teresa Callen, hails from Abruzzo and her book, Food and Memories of Abruzzo
, is often my guide through the complex and delicious world of la cucina Abruzzese. My grandma's family came from Chieti, and it was only later in life, when I lived in Bologna, that I heard the Italian praise for all cooks from Abruzzo. I realize now that it is due to the presence in Chieti of the Scuola Alberghiera, the City of Cooks University. Gastronomically, Abruzzo is nearly heaven. Along the coast there are beautiful little port towns with incredible seafood, served raw, or simply boiled and dressed with oil and lemon. Among my faves are Villa Vignola
in the summer tourist town of Vasto and L'Angolo da Filippo
in San Vito Chietino where an incredible array of hot and cool antipasti di mare are the way to go. The gnocchi with scampi at da Filiipo are clouds floating over the sea and the monkfish alla cacciatora is as delicious as it is inexpensive. Both spots are simple trattorie and comfortably set up with predominately local wines and great prices.
In the modern port city of Pescara, my fave is Taverna 58, where there are a couple of great tasting menus set up to help you understand and feel a part of la tradizione. Cantina del Jozz and La Lumaca both serve excellent cucina Abruzzese. The former accommodates up to one hundred, while the latter seats a more intimate 45.
My grandmother's region of Chieti sits at the foot of the mountains of the Parco Nazionale della Maiella. Located right in the centro storico is Venturini, where, if you're lucky, a mixed grill may include a piece of coratella. About 10 minutes outside of town you'll find Guardiagrele, home to the classic trattoria Villa Maiella. There, meat, grains and produce from the local gardens dominate the menu and prices are almost a steal.
L'Aquila and Carsoli
The town of Sulmona is regal and refined, a quiet and stately mountain town famous in Italy for the production of confetti. There you can also find gorgeous blankets made with local wool. They make excellent gifts.
In L'Aquila, home of the best saffron in Italy, there are many good dining choices. Two simple trattorie, Elodia and Salette Aquilane
, are my faves. Both are perfect expressions of the local flavor, and are run by families whose lifeblood is their love for the restaurant. A half hour drive west from L'Aquila will bring you to what many consider the best Roman restaurant in Italy, L'Angolo d'Abruzzo
in Carsoli. Here foraging reigns supreme with ovoli and porcini in season, game and lamb almost year round, and a cellar that can hold its own against many fancy city restaurants. Even the desserts are wonderful here... dinner here is worth the trip alone.