Abruzzo and Molise are mountainous regions where agriculture is difficult and sheep farming dominates. Consequently, lamb tends to feature strongly in the local cuisine. You’ll come across abbacchio, unweaned baby lamb that is usually cut into chunks and roasted or grilled; arrosticini, tiny pieces of lamb skewered and flame grilled; and intingolo di castrato, lamb cooked as a casserole with tomatoes, wine, herbs, onion and celery.
In Abruzzo, a crucial ingredient is olive oil, a product that has gained international acclaim in recent years. Around Sulmona aglio rosso (red garlic) is believed by many locals to be a cure for ailments ranging from neuralgia to arthritis; around L’Aquila in particular saffron (zafferano) is also found widely in sweet and savoury dishes, grown in fields southeast of the city.
Probably Abruzzo’s most famous dish is maccheroni alla chitarra, made by pressing a sheet of pasta over a wooden frame, and usually served with a tomato or lamb sauce. Cheese tends to be pecorino – either mature and grainy like Parmesan, or still mild, soft and milky.
The wines of Molise are rarely found outside the region. The most interesting is the Biferno DOC, which can be red, white or rosato. The best-known wine of Abruzzo is Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a heavy red made from the Montepulciano grape with up to 15 percent Sangiovese. Pecorino, a local varietal and DOC, produces a fresh and mineral white. One of Italy’s most important wine events, Cantine Aperte (Open Cellars) was born in Abruzzo and takes place the last Sunday in May. Hundreds of producers open their doors to enthusiasts for free tastings and gastronomic events (w movimentoturismovino.it).