My food discoveries there are ongoing, even where I spent the summers of my youth. Abruzzo is a ruggedly beautiful, diverse region of craggy mountains, soft hills and coastline in the middle of Italy’s boot that extends from east of Rome to the Adriatic Sea. It is famous both for its superior dried pasta and for its maccheroni alla chitarra — the long egg noodles cut square on a wood-frame “guitar” strung with metal wires.
But it wasn’t until I was doing cookbook research a few years ago that I came across one of the most spectacular pastas I’ve ever encountered, in a corner of the region I’d overlooked.
Maccheroni alla molinara (maccheroni alla mugnaia in the Abruzzese dialect) is an ultra-long, fat, loopy noodle that is rolled and shaped by hand. It is fantastic in the true sense of that word.
I found it entirely by accident; in fact, I nearly missed it.
My family and I had rented a small house in the hills beyond Teramo, one of Abruzzo’s four provinces. It looked to be in a great location: not too far from the seaside where I had spent my summers, and also close to the mountains and to neighboring Le Marche, another region I wanted to explore further.
Our little place was situated halfway up a sparsely populated hillside. The only way to get there was to leave the paved road and drive deep into a valley along a rutted, gravel strada bianca, or white road, and up the other side of the hill. By the time we arrived, late at night, it was pitch-black (no street lamps, of course), and rain was pouring down. The valley looked as if it might flood. The power was out.
My husband and kids seemed to take the situation in stride, but I was ready to ditch the place immediately in favor of more familiar territory. How, I wondered, was I going to be able to do any research when it took us nearly 20 minutes just to drive out of the valley to the main road, and another 10 minutes to reach Bisenti, the nearest small town in the Fino Valley — which didn’t seem to have all that much to offer?
We arranged to meet the caretaker in town the next day. I looked forward to handing her the keys. Instead, after listening to my concerns, she flagged down a friend who was walking by, who flagged down another friend. And within a few minutes we had been introduced to Marcello De Antoniis, a local real estate agent and Bisenti native who turned out to be an authority on the area’s culinary specialties.
Over the next week, Marcello acted as our guide and quickly became a friend. It was through him that I learned of the vibrant food scene in and around the Fino Valley, much of it happening in small agritourism restaurants, places where old culinary traditions are being preserved and new ones are being born.