The Historical Regional Cuisines Of Italy - Abruzzo Part III
Of course, the dishes offered today outside of the region to an urban clientele have to some degree lost the distinctive strength and aggressiveness of its traditional flavor profiles. For example the prized red chili peppers, a constant presence in all the recipes from Abruzzo, is implemented with a light hand in many urban Abruzzesi restaurants. Allow me to assure you that if you were to dine at a traditional gastronomic festival known as a sagra anywhere in the Abruzzi, your mouth would be blown clear off of your face. The extensive use of chilis puts the traditional spicy cuisines such as Mexican, Indian, Thai and Szechwan to shame.
One of the most amazing sagre in the entire region is the Sangro Festival Of Chefs, always held the second Sunday of October. Countless gourmands dedicated to the art of cooking all over the world meet at Villa Santa Maria to savor the special display stands which are set up in the main street by international Abruzzesi restaurants of great prestige, featuring the spectacular regional delicacies of their respective menus.
Sagre festivals devoted to products typical of the region are to be found throughout the year in virtually every corner of the region. Vittorio, in the Peligna valley, devotes its October sagra to grapes and wine for a Bacchanalian feast unlike any other. Pollutri, a populous village in the province of Chieti, has traditionally held on December 5 and 6 an ancient festival glorifying the local fava bean where nine large boilers filled with that valuable legume boil all night in the streets of the town. In the province of Pescara, Raiano celebrates on the first Sunday in June that delicious fruit product that almost single handedly supports the local economy: the deep dark red cherries of the region. Carsoli, on the border between Abruzzo and Lazio, holds its sagra to commemorate its savory and earthy chestnuts on the first Sunday in October. Capistrello in Marsica holds a summer festival devoted to its juicy crimson strawberries. Macchia da Sole, a town known for its dairy products in the province of Teramo, holds its sagra around its sharp and delectable pecorino cheese. Also in Teramo province, the town of Basciano brings crowds of visitors on the second Sunday of August to feast on its spectacular cured prosciutto ham.
Not all sagre are focused on a particular ingredient as some of the finest culinary festivals celebrate a particular recipe. in Teramo region's village of Arsita, the festival held in September celebrates coatto, a traditional dish that is prepared by boiling a leg of mutton for several hours. But the repertoire of food festivals honoring favorite local delicacies is long: it includes the ciambella donut (Goriano Sicoli); shrimp with trout (Popoli); chickpeas (Navelli); grilled castrated goat (San Vincenzo Valle Roveto); porchetta rotisseried pig (Fresagrandinaria); skewered kabobs (Montereale and Martinsicuro); blue fish (Giulianova); and honey (Tornareccio).
Saffron is found in greater abundance in Abruzzo than anywhere else in Italy, but strangely it is not utilized almost at all by the local cuisine, most likely since it is one of the very few high priced cash crops grown in the region and represented a source of export income far too elevated to be applied to feeding the local population. The only traditional, popular dish in which the saffron is used is the scapece of Vasto, a marinade of fish cut into pieces and fried, which is kept in special wooden mastelletti bowls handed down in families from generation to generation. In the province Dell'Aquila the saffron produced is of the absolute highest quality with a multi-dimensional flavor which often puts Spanish and Iranian varieties to shame. The vast majority of this saffron is exported to be refined and unfortunately blended with other less valuable and savory varieties. In Abruzzo refining plants suitable for this processing are absent, therefore most of the saffron originating in the mountains of Abruzzo goes to flavor risotto Milanese, Spanish paella, and French bouillabaisses.
Continued in Abruzzo Part IV
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