Oct 3, 2009


I love Abruzzo's not entirely undeserved reputation of being something of an undomesticated land.

The region's inland is mostly all rugged mountains, snow caps, small villages and valleys, and until not too long ago the primary economic activity was shepherding. It was even more important in the past, when herdsmen would transfer their flocks from winter pastures in the lowlands further south to summer pastures in the Abruzzo mountains–a twice yearly migration of millions of animals over numerous trails as wide as modern day highways.

This drive obviously helped the shepherds keep their flocks fit and alive (some pastures parch in summer). It also served to secure interdependence between the Abruzzo region, which was among the most isolated provinces of the country.

It's no accident then that the Transumanza–as the migration was called–began to decline following the unification of Italy. In 1864 a law was passed that recognized the rights of the farmers whose lands were crossed. Many of these forbade the passage of herds on of their property to prevent destroying the fields, or to charge tolls; and in 1908, Parliament reduced the number of migration routes to a mere four.

With the decline of the Transumanza, Abruzzo became more sequestered than it had been previously, an isolation that has only been broken since WWII, in part through the construction of highways, and in part through the development of tourism.

One very special Transumanza tradition fortunately survived the erased pasture routes, and that's spit-roasted arrosticini, the Abruzzi’s own delightful sheep-meat kebabs.

The ovine meat is carved in small, 1 cm cubes, about 1/2". Nowadays, arrosticini are commercially sold using emasculated sheep meat and prepared ready to be grilled, but with a little patience and skill, they can be easily made at home too.

The traditional arrosticini are cooked on the "rustillire" (or "furnacella"), a special narrow brazier built especially for the small 25-30 cm skewers, which can be easily turned and grilled without spilling onto the wood-burning coals.

If you do not have a grill or barbecue, arrosticini can be cooked on a griddle or in the oven, provided they be well seasoned with oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Here's how:

A minimum of 800 grams (4 cups) lean lamb, diced
Extra virgin olive oil
Rosemary in sprigs
Salt and pepper
The juice of 1/2 lemon

Start your coals or light the heat under your griddle, and keep at a medium temperature, for the cooking.
Skewer the meat cubes neatly on well-oiled metal skewers or tiny disposable wooden kebab sticks (which you’ll have soaked briefly in water, so the heat won’t burn the wood). Marinade your kebabs in olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper. Turn them over to ensure all sides soak up the flavors. Dribble over the lemon juice and roast them on the barbecue quickly, 2-3 minutes, turning a couple of times to ensure even cooking, while basting the arrosticini with more olive oil, using your rosemary sprig.

The shepherd's tip:
Cosimo, my new shepherd friend from Calascio, tells me that arrosticini meat should not be too lean, the fat marbling should be about 25% of the total used, this will avoid the preparation to become too dry and toughen on the chew during roasting. Arrosticini should be mild flavored, not "muttony", and if properly cooked, will melt in your mouth. Also maintain the flames (or the heat) low so that the arrosticini won't char. And always keep a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo handy when grilling arrosticini...
Landscape and vintage images courtesy of Regione Abruzzo


  1. I love the tip about leaving the fat on. I tend to ignore these days that fat has a function and it's not always bad!

    Loved learning about Abruzzo. Grazie to you!

  2. That photo of the grills reminds me of a high plateau in Abruzzo where there are little "restaurants" out in the middle of nowhere where they grill meat like this. The landscape looked like the moon!

  3. Beautiful post, mixing up wonderfully so many things. I also love Abruzzo and heartily drink to its health with Montepulciano d'Abruzzo!


    (could be an idea for our next bevuta)

  4. What a lovely post and great recipe!

  5. So pleased I called in ... but now I am hungary!! Your photos of the mountains and valleys is fantastic, oh I think another place to visit is on my list!! :-)

  6. Yumm.... I am getting hungry looking at those skewers!! Yes, the meaning of the "hills are alive" comes true in this region! :)

  7. Ciao Lola, I’m delighted that you are blogging about your stay in Abruzzo for 8 weeks, being a big fan of that region. Love the way you write, the beautiful pictures and the wonderful recipes!
    Looking forward to your future posts from the province of L’Aquila!!

  8. Hi,
    thank you for those wonderful pictures. They send a taste of italian autumn to Germany.....have a great weekend Myriam

  9. Oh, I can smell them now as they sizzle away on the 'furnacella'! I shall use that recipe when we have our last (sob) braai of the summer next weekend. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

    Embrace that wonderful sweet mountain air, Lola. I do so love Abruzzo - I can just picture you there. xx

  10. Food grilled outdoors always tastes better. Simple but delicious.

  11. Your landscape images are gorgeous and these skewers are surely delicious. A big intense looking at the sheep happily grazing and then cut up. But I use to be a vegetarian, so I lean that way.

  12. That food looks so delicious but I bet the lady with the flat stomach in the clinging white trousers doesn't eat much of it.

  13. yum! undomesticated land calls to me...almost as much as the food on the grill. ach, we need to change our dinner plans now...

  14. I love your blog I find so many good things to eat and read here!

  15. This recipe looks absolutely fab!!! And I so enjoyed reading the history of this region!! You are terrific! I love the culinary tours you host!! I always thoroughly enjoy our visits! ~Janine XO

  16. Hm, my first comment seems to have disappeared....
    I wrote about Transhumanza, how and when it ended (1990s-financial reasons).
    For now just some greetings from the wonderful Abruzzo!

  17. Thank you for your lovely comments! I greatly appreciate them.

    Sujatha~ Fat is good. My mantra every day in the mirror...
    Saretta~ That's the place where I had mine today...
    MoR~ Cin cin! Alla prossima ENOTECA.
    Ruth~ Thank you very much!(blushing)
    Anne in Oxfordshire~ It is indeed a gorgeous land.
    Chuck~ ...with the sound of sizzling deliciousity!
    Eleonora~ Oh, there will be many! Ciao omonima.
    Myriam~ Thank you, you have a great weekend too!!
    Tessa~ I love it here. I have brought your painting of the mountains with me, had I told you?
    LoriE~ So true! No news in the mail...
    Tammie Lee~ The two images back to back ARE perhaps well... too back to back. But I'm a carnivore, so I sometimes do not make those connections. I apologize for not considering those that don't eat meat. Sorry!
    Julie~ Thing is eating this stuff is actually healthy. Hence the flat stomach. I believe it's the QUANTITY that fills my curves so abundantly!
    Brian~ Start the coals then...Smiles.
    Pattee~ I am flattered, thank you!!
    Janine~ It's such a pleasure to share what I love! Thank you!
    Lizette~ I wonder where the previous comment went? Hm... Can you re-publish it? I am fascinated by the details of this unique tradition. I want to learn more!

  18. Love the history, the topographical fotos, the easy-to-achieve simple, good food. Happy sojourn.

  19. I loved the history and photos, but who can resist the tip of a shepherd?!

  20. Thsnk you for this beautiful trip back to these beautiful region! Sulmona, here I come, in my dreams.
    Have you read Nathalia Ginzburg's account of "Winter in the Abruzzi"?

  21. MMMmmm.... What a great peice!

    I don't go into the Abruzzo without getting some Arrosticini... and I miss them when I'm back here in Napoli!

  22. Do I keep the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo handy for:

    1) sprinkling on the kebabs
    2) drinking while grilling
    3) to drink with meal
    4) all of the above

  23. Rosaria~ Grazie, Maestra!
    Meredith~ A handsome fellow, too...
    Merisi~ Dreaming is gratis! I emailed you...
    Peter~ Glad you liked it!
    Pouty Lips~ the answer is all of the above except #1) Tee hee

  24. I get such terrible pangs of hunger while reading your blog that I end up heading straight for the kitchen... just wish I had some lamb to grill ! Will have to wait for market day...

    Beautiful country side too... you are one lucky lady !

  25. Slurp! What a good idea for a barbecue... I haven't eaten any bbq for ages... I hope you are having some good time there! Looking forward to reading about your new film set. xxx

  26. Such a beautiful post, I love your photos and the history you share. I hope you are not working too hard! take good care ♥

  27. Isn't that interesting....the Thai's also have a type of “rustillire” (No idea what they call their's) which some of the street sellers use to cook satay on!!

    They look delicious...I can almost hear them sizzle

    C x

  28. Yum! Few things I like more than roasted lamb/sheep/mutton. Lovely shots of the pasture lands, too.

  29. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I love all your comments, they make me blush.

    Owen~ I am indeed!
    Valeria~ The grilling's become somewhat of an addiction these days.
    Lori ann~ Ciao sweet friend! All's great. And you?
    Carol~ Sorry I couldn't reproduce the smell of the meat here... divine.
    Suldog~ I know me too, love eating grilled ovine.

  30. Hi Lola...
    I just popped in to grab your badge to put on Blog Link List

    best wishes and love to you
    ribbon :)

  31. Oh that looks so good.

    Is it wrong that I'm starving and it's only 11:15?

  32. Ribbon~ thank you, that makes me happy!! Grazie
    NYC~ Absolutely not, it's perfectly right!! That's the time to begin snacking on these delights...

  33. I am much too late - number 33 in fact! But had to say how beautiful your pictures always are, and how inviting your recipes! I am amazed at how you find the time to DO all this! And be all the while so pretty...
    Hug E. for me!

  34. I love lamb. This offers a way to prepare that I haven't in a long time. Enjoyed the tales of the hills there, the shepherds.

  35. Hi. That looks a lot like the Greek lamb slouvaki. Looks delicious!

  36. We became addicted to arrosticini, living just a few miles from the Abruzzo border, they are popular in southern Marche, too. It's definitely the fat ratio that makes them so moist and flavorful! Did you see the clever boxes they have for making them? You put layers of meat in the cubo, put a lid on it with holes to guide in the skewers, then slice the knife through the slots of cut perfectly formed skewers. Ingenous!

  37. Just returned from a business trip to Chieti in Abruzzo. My Italian coworkers took me to a restaurant in the hills around Chieti and arrosticini was the highlight of the meal. The fat in the meat coated my tongue. A sip of montepulciano wine released the lamb flavor in this fat and when combined with the montepulciano it was an incredible combination of flavors. Every trip to Italy seems to provide an opportunity for new incredible food!

  38. I would gladly enjoy some red wine along with these kebabs.

  39. Plug in and invite friends for a rooftop barbecue, or relax with a drink while steaks grill o read this

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