The Historical Regional Cuisines Of Italy - Abruzzo Part II
Given the historically peasant nature of the area the ingredients of Abruzzese cuisine were originally very poor. For many centuries the economy of the region was struggling to survive: agriculture was hardly easy or profitable in the mountain valleys and plateaus of the Appennino range and even pasture was insufficient to provide a satisfactory living.
On the other hand, the social composition of the population of Abruzzo has been for many centuries of modest extraction, both economically and culturally. Abruzzo was never an area for large aristocratic family estates or castles with sumptuous banquets. It is extremely telling that in the most famous historical accounts which trace the history of Italian cuisine century after century, the cuisine of Abruzzo essentially does not appear. This historical omission is clearly resulting from the obvious fact that the cuisine of this region had not been able to cross boundaries: the geographical boundary of its mountainous isolation as well as the discriminatory boundary of much of the rest of Italy which has for centuries considered the Abruzzi region one exclusively inhabited by dusty slope-foreheaded grunting proletarians suited only to sheepherding.
In fact, the Italian derogatory term of cafune to indicate backwards peasantry comes from the mountain dwellers' habit of visiting the Roman Empire cities with their children tied to each other "ca fune" (with ropes), so that they wouldn't get lost!
The traditional habit of the people of region to celebrate solemn occasions and holidays with those interminable lunches that are known as panarde originally arose from the intractable poverty of the area: the peasants of Abruzzo would look forward to them in order to renourish their bodies after long protracted fasts forced upon them by the scarcity of good foods in their everyday lives.
A truly respectable traditional wedding lunch could not have less than twenty courses, and the Abruzzese wedding lunch feast which was specially offered to the head table could easily reach thirty courses. Those guests who were not able to savor the entire spread risked to irreparably offend those who had organized the gut-busting meal and history is rich with family feuds that were sparked by just such culinary violations.
Things have changed somewhat and only very recently. As the region was admitted to the table of well-being by the industrialization and modernization of the entire nation, the Abruzzesi surprisingly did not veer off on the common tangent of gluttony. They began to rely on the philosophy of a great modern writer of this region, Ignazio Silone, to eat sparingly and with significant attention to healthy, nutritional ingredients and preparation.
The modern panarde are organized now purely for the purpose of maintaining folkloristic traditions and religious as well as historical festivals. The Abruzzesi are always aware of their great traditions through a series of characteristic products that belong to the history and culture of the region. It is indeed the Abruzzi region which has given rise to a disproportionate number of chefs who have led the world in their art through their creativity, precision and inspiration.
Abruzzese restaurants in cities like Rome and Milan have won a secure place in the gastronomic landscape: their formula is almost always that of a prix fixe menu featuring a dazzling number of small courses. This traditional panarde concept has captured the taste of gourmands around the world with its wholesome and spicy flavors, and the richness of its "accessories" such as sweets, liqueurs, and digestives.
Continued in Abruzzo Part III
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