The Best Italian Food of the Abruzzo region in Italy
- Matt Colangelo
Arrosticini and their meaty goodness remain off many people’s radars, likely because they come from Abruzzo, one of the nicest regions of Italy that the fewest people know about. Apart from its eastern Adriatic coastline, which is more metropolitan, Abruzzo is a region of undomesticated hills and mountains about an hour northeast of Rome. With a third of its land set aside for parks and preserves, it has the honor of being the “greenest region of Europe,” and its cuisine reflects that with mountain food like lentils, gnocchi, lamb ragù, and other various sheep products. The most popular of those sheep products? Arrosticini.
The origin of Arrosticini
In the Abruzzo region there is the Gran Sasso, a massif of about 3,000 meters high, where the main activity is sheep farming.
When shepherds were far away from their homes the only food in abundance was sheep meat. They ate older sheep to save the meat of the dead animals. The meat was pierced with little logs founded along rivers.
In the half of 19th century there was the first public document regarding the purchase of the Arrosticini in Civitella, but the very hometown of Arrosticini is Villa Celiera (750 inhabitants), recognized as the main place where to taste high-quality Arrosticini.
The Arrosticini started to become popular in the 50s when they were served in the local trattorie.
What are Arrosticini?
Arrosticini are 20 cm long skewers with 1-1,5 cm high meat cubes. The cubes are from 4 to 5. The name in the regional dialect is ‘rustelle‘ or ‘arrustelle‘ because the object used to cook Arrosticini is called ‘rustellara‘. This is something between a grill and a brazier and is narrow and long.
The real Arrosticini is prepared with sheep meat. The best type of sheep that can be used is called Ciavarra, which is a young sheep who has never been pregnant. The industrial Arrosticini are made of mutton. The procedural guideline says that high-quality Arrosticini is exclusively made of ovine meat. The sheep have to be born and bred in companies located in Abruzzo and slaughtered in the same area within 48 hours after exiting from the breeding farm.
How to cook and eat Arrosticini?
There is not only a specific way to cook this dish, but also a way to eat them.
Normally Arrosticini is eaten with a glass of red wine (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo) and the wine is often mixed with gassosa (typical Italian fizzy drink similar to soda). If you would like to feel like a real local, eat Arrosticini together with a slice of toasted bread dressed with a bit of olive oil. Usually, Arrosticini is not dressed but at most they can be seasoned with rosemary and/or chili pepper.
The presence of the fat meat cubes (25% of the total meat) is necessary to make the Arrosticino soft and not dried. That’s why is cooked on a brazier and not in the oven. They need to be eaten when they are still warm. For that reason, they are wrapped up with tinfoil or put in a special terracotta container.
The special brazier used to cook Arrosticini is perfect because the wood skewer doesn’t get burnt. The meat is not dressed. Some people say to salt it after putting the Arrosticini onto the rustelliera. Some others say to salt them when they are completely cooked. There are many different procedures to cook them and every family has its own secret.