There is no love sincerer than the love of foodGeorge Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950)
Many first-time visitors to Abruzzo, and of course that includes Sulmona, are surprised to find that the highlight of their trip is the food. It may sound a bit obvious as Italian food has a worldwide reputation, but the food here isn’t just good… it’s exceptionally good. What you get are simply well-prepared dishes made from fresh, local produce according to traditional recipes, at very reasonable prices.
In order to make the most of your trip, here is our top 10.
Sometimes we get carried away with the iconic status of confetti that we forget that their principal purpose is to be eaten (oh, and if you still think confetti are tiny pieces of coloured paper, think twice, and read our “what are confetti” blog post!). The classic confetto is a sugar-coated almond but there are dozens of different varieties available and a huge range of non-nut centres too. Why not just buy a small bag of mixed confetti and work your way through the different shapes, sizes, colours and centres.
Our personal favourites are Cuore di Amarena by Pelino (chocolate covered cherries) but they are difficult to come by as particular climatic conditions are required for their production. If you see them, grab them!
The Aglio Rosso di Sulmona is an important DOP (protected designation of origin) product of our area. In addition to being a particularly attractive pinky purple colour, its cloves are larger than standard garlic and it has a particularly smooth flavour too. Dubbed the Viagra of Abruzzo, we are unable to corroborate and suspect that it is a myth designed to counteract the more popular notion that garlic eaters don’t make good bed fellows.
You may not wish to buy a full braid of 52 heads (one for each week of the year) but you can buy a small bunch attractively packaged as a gift to take home.
Also known as garlic scapes, zolle are a bi-product of the garlic growing process and have a very short season just before the garlic is harvested in the summer. They are the long, tender green shoots which grow from the top of the garlic bulb and they must be removed to ensure the bulb reaches maturity. They have a subtle garlic flavour and make an excellent side dish for both fish and meat dishes.
You can serve them in any number of ways but it’s popular here just to steam them and serve with a little oil and salt, or preserved in olive oil to last over winter.
Forget any ideas of a low-fat, non red-meat diet – our arrosticini are worth falling off any wagon for. Tiny, tender cubes of flavoursome ewe’s meat and sheep fat, they might not sound appetising but you’ll be coming back for more we can assure you! Served on short wooden skewers, they come in bunches of 5 with most people easily putting away up to 20 skewers over the course of a meal.
They are cooked gently over a special barbecue called a ‘canaletta’ which allows you to twiddle the sticks as they cook ensuring they cook evenly and remain juicy. Often served at summer sagras or outdoor food festivals they are a quintessential Abruzzese dish and should be top of your list.
Pasta alla Chitarra
This is our local pasta shape and it’s a bit like flat spaghetti. You can buy packets in all the supermarkets, get it freshly-made from the neighbourhood pasta shops or even make it yourself without too much effort if you have the right equipment. The name means ‘guitar’ because the frame used to make the pasta lengths has strings like a guitar. This pasta is best served with a meat ragu – traditionally made with local lamb.
Learn to make chitarra like a pro at one of our Cooking Experiences.
You can buy Pan dell’Orso all over Sulmona but for the best and most authentic experience you need to go direct to the bakery adjacent to their bar in Scanno. Essentially it’s a chocolate-covered, dome-shaped cake made with almond flour and flavoured with honey. It’s a great teatime treat too. If you do make it to Scanno, ask for Angelo and tell him that you were recommended by the Welcome to Sulmona team!
Saffron (called Zafferano in Italian) is the traditional crop of the Navelli plain, about 40 minutes from Sulmona on the way to L’Aquila. Each precious gram of saffron is made using over a hundred crocus flowers and they are harvested quickly and all by hand. It has a gentle perfume and an attractive yellow colour and is used in a variety of both sweet and savoury dishes and it is especially good in combination with chick peas.
Abruzzo is a cheese-lover’s heaven and there are many to choose from locally. It is the Pecorino however that is perhaps the most noteworthy and usually plays the lead role on the platter. Made with sheep’s milk it was the favourite of the shepherds making the long Transhumance journey to market from Puglia though Abruzzo and up to the markets in the North. It is excellent served with honey and paired with a good glass of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
You will taste plenty of different varieties when joining us on an Aperitivo Experience, or try your hand at this fabulous and super easy recipe of pan-fried Pecorino from Hang on to the Vine.
As you would expect from a primarily mountainous region, pulses such as chick peas, beans and lentils feature heavily. Lentils are popular particularly during winter and at New Year symbolise good fortune and prosperity for the year ahead. The lentils grown in and around the village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio are especially prized due the optimum climactic growing conditions and are smaller than usual with a stronger flavour.
Plain lentil soup is a classic dish here although you’ll also find them served in a variety of different and imaginative ways. Bring some abruzzese taste into your home with this delicious quinoa and lentil recipe by our friend La Macchiarola.
Bread made from Solina flour is typical of the region particularly the area around Caramanico Terme within the Parco Nazionale della Majella, but it’s widely grown also here in the Valle Peligna. It’s a darker-coloured sour bread with a unique taste and texture. Solina wheat grows well in mountain regions especially where the soil is of poor quality and has been cultivated here for over 1,000 years. It can also be used to make pasta and for baking.
Enjoy this wonderful recipe for traditional solina and potatoes bread courtesy of our friends at Taste Abruzzo and have a go at making it at home: fun and easy!