Unique food finds of the Marche region
I like to think that we scratched the surface on eating well in Marche even if there are no restaurant experiences worth mentioning save one: Da Marcello - on the bay at Portonovo (12 km from Ancona). The location which adjoins a pebbly beach of smooth, sunbleached stones is a gem...but it wasn't the meal that made the evening — it was the 4 euros each that we had to pay for having a table right next to the water. Dogs aren't allowed in the building, but no mention was made of the extra fee when we agreed to be seated out on the beach. Fine by us, although I don't believe Ms. Maddie found the hard stones to be all that comfortable. Touristy indulgences are a delight every so often and it was very sublime to witness the growing dusk give way to a starry night sky while dining on... what was it now?
On with the subject of unique foods, here is where sapa, cicerchia, lonza di fico, and ciauscolo come in. As we were very much interested in buying items particular to the region's traditional cuisine, our host become a font of info at breakfast each morning. He introduced us to sapa, the reduction of grape must (freshly pressed grape juice). It is a strong, sweet syrup that reminds me just a bit of molasses and I was surprised at how many ways there were to enjoy this truly cultural foodstuff: on polenta, panna cotta, pecorino, toast...basically anything that would benefit from an added hint of sweetness. Signor Felice Orazi reminisced, "In the winter, grandparents would drizzle a little of sapa over scoops of snow for the kids." Snowcones in the old days. He did one better by swiping one of the restaurant desserts from the fridge and presented it as a breakfast treat - panna cotta with a thin coating of sapa on the top. It was fantastic! The sapa perfectly complimenting the dense cooked cream quite like caramel flan. I absolutely love this stuff!
The remaining items, cicerchia, lonza di fico, and ciauscolo, can be found at the shop Delizie Alimentari in Moie (a few kilometers east of Serra San Quirico). Sapa can be found at Ristorante Le Copertelle and the macelleria (next to the fountain) up in the medieval old town of Serra San Quirico itself. Here are brief product descriptions:
CICERCHIA - Translated almost verbatim from my resources, [la cicerchia is a legume and comes from a plant similiar to that of chickpeas. Ancient origins hold Greek ties who called it lathiros, while with the Romans it was cicercula. Diverse varieties exist, not all of them pleasing to the palate.] — I haven't yet found any recipes using this, but will start with anything requiring chickpeas. Falafel!
LONZA di FICO (or lonzino di fichi) - If there can be such a thing as chocolate salame then why not one made with dried figs? A ground mixture of figs plus finely chopped walnuts and almonds make up the main part of this traditional product which is wrapped in fig leaves. We were served thin slices of these daily. That's what you call getting in some fiber at breakfast. Way better than fig newtons.
CIAUSCOLO - Another staple each morning. This is a soft, spreadable salame which has a consistency that of coarse pate. Made with pork, lard, garlic and spices. Great on toasted slices of rustic bread.