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East of Rome, nestled between the Adriatic and the Apennines lies the rugged green region of Abruzzo.
With a history of transhumance that stretches back thousands of years, a varied landscape from mountains to coastline and protected national parks, Abruzzo has great gastronomic wealth that it has kept comparatively secret compared to neighbouring Rome in Lazio or Italy's other more notable cuisines.
When it comes to local foods, Abbruzzo's offering is just as wide as the landscape, characterised by rustic dishes through to the highly sought after saffron from Aquila.
Choosing a favourite is difficult, given the quality of the culinary heritage of the region, but we managed to select 10 typical regional products just waiting to be gorged upon.
1. Mortadella di Campotosto
Even Abruzzo has its own regional spin on the popular Italian cold cut, mortadella. Campotosto is prepared from lean cuts of pork, with a small addition of bacon. The typical lard mixture is then added after the smoking process (15 days) and ageing (at least three months).
2. Patata turchesa
Photo: Slow Food Foundation
Purple skinned (which of course is full of antioxidants and best not removed), lumpy in shape and with a pure white interior, the turchesa is an unusual and hugely versatile variety of potato. They are grown succesfully at high altitudes, making them the main livelihood in many mountain communities.
Photo: Towards the Eagle
Historically, ferratelle take their name from their form, however, the biscuit can be in different forms, depending on the molds used to cook them. They have always played an important role in celebrations, both religious and non–religious, and even the iron molds used to make them were often once part of a bride's dowry.
Image: Agricoltura Oggi
A grape jam made using only the grapes from Montepulciano D'Abruzzo. The name comes from the manual operation of crushing. Despite being popular as a filling in various sweets, its bitter aftertaste makes it equally enjoyable on its own.
5. Pecorino di Farindola
Photo: Gran Sasso Laga Park
A lingering aroma, with herbaceous flavours and very little spiciness: pecorino of Farindola is made strictly from raw milk, and is suitable for use in many traditional recipes. If you've never tried it, try out Strapizzoni or the very tasty meatballs made with bread and cheese.
Photo: Rescue Fornelli
In any respectable Abruzzo home you will find this liquor, better known as "gentian." It's largely homemade and derived from the roots of the shrub, which are easy to come by at the market and can also be used for herbal teas and infusions.
7. Zafferano dell'Aquila (L'Aquila Saffron)
Photo: Treasures of Abruzzo
This DOP from the Aquila province lends itself to many recipes, from lamb to Canon risotto. And it was even mentioned in Ratatouille, the 2007 animated film (Oscar) in which L' Aquila saffron is described as "excellent."
8.Liquirizia di Atr
Photo: Abruzzo Vivo
The Natural Reserve of the Badlands of Atri is known for plant growth of liquorice, which monks used to extract in the Middle Ages. The technique has not changed much, but now we also know the many benefits of liquorice, including its use as a natural anti-inflammatory.
9. Canestrato di Castel del Monte
Photo: Gran Sasso Laga Park
Historically speaking, the culture of transhumance has always been important for Abruzzo. At Castel del Monte a long tradition of cheese production includes that of aged sheep's milk – for a period of two months to a year – which is then anointed with olive oil.
10. Lenticchie di Santo Stefano di Sessanio
Photo: Terra Mè
As small as they are tasty, this variety of lentil has a special quality: it is so permeable that it doesn't need to be soaked before cooking. A perfect legume for the mountains, as it is well suited to harsh climates and barren lands, it was cultivated from before 1000.