Thursday, August 23, 2007

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.

Saved comment(s)

You're going to have to travel with a little cushion for Maddie! :-)

I love the sounds of that sapa - particularly served overtop some panna cotta. Yum! I was looking around and looks like it is sometimes called saba. I wonder if the product from Le Marche is much different from others?
Cathy | Homepage | 08.24.07 - 2:52 am

Rowena, I can't believe I haven't seen your blog before this! It won't be my last visit. Great reporting and writing on Le Marche. My husband is Marchegiano, yet I have learned many things through your Marche posts that I never learned through him. Hmmmph! (I'll let him know.) The pictures are lovely and inviting...especially of the beach and the salumi. :-)
Jeni | Homepage | 08.24.07 - 2:37 am

Dining by the sea...that's so Shirley Valentine! About your cicerchia, my grandfather used to call my grandma "chi chi". Do you think he was calling her a little bean? hehe
Maryann | Homepage | 08.23.07 - 6:14 pm

Hi Rowena,
As it is with some foods, you just have to try. If they are this "out of the world" in taste, I could readily forgive their strange shapes! You have a nice day.
barbara | Homepage | 08.23.07 - 2:39 pm

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Le Marche in mid-August

Blue dragonfly (out of many!) under the roman bridge at St. Vittore Terme (Genga)

...was HOT. At least in the opinion of our host in Serra San Querico, the high temps were exceptional, and the first sure sign could be felt as early as 8 in the morning while taking the dog out for a walk. Exposed to the sun's rays, an almost prickly, burning sensation became immediately apparent on bare skin. There wasn't any need to see the mercury in order to realize that it meant bad news for hiking (we tried once and did an about-face after only 30 minutes) and resigned ourselves to the fact that much of Marche would be experienced within the confines of an airconditioned vehicle. This actually worked out in our favor as it enabled us to do a lot of "drive by" touring through each of the five provinces: Pesaro-Urbino, Ancona, Fermo, Macerata, and Ascoli Piceno. All in all it was a great getaway even if the bathroom scale proves that frequent indulgences at the gelaterie and reduced physical activity does NOT do the waistline good.

Panoramic view as seen from the main piazza at Sirolo

If I were pressed to describe Marche in a few words, I'd say that it has a quiet, if not gentle sort of grace. From what I read somewhere - it's the "new Tuscany". We found the landscape of this region to be surprisingly varied, from the Adriatic shores to the Sibillini mountains, north and south of this slice of Italy, were endless expanses of hills - "undulating hills" as they are so described - with fields (many were already harvested with the soil turned over) bearing corn, olive trees, and grapes that make up the regional wines. Minutes from home base of Serra San Quirico emerged yet another dramatic feature owed to mother nature - Gola della Rossa e di Frasassi - an impressive gorge which houses the subterranean caves of the Frasassi Grottoes. Medieval villages pop up all over the countryside, one in particular - Pierosara - named after a fated young lass and her betrothed. The people we came across were open and friendly, but I'm sure most of this could be attributed to Maddie who is always one to seek attention from anyone. I haven't had so many buongiornos and buona seras from complete strangers within a week!

The only other thing to mention here of course, is the food. But I must point out that August, especially during the week of Ferragosto, is a period when many businesses close shop for holiday. Often 1 - 2 weeks, or even more. This applies to all of Italy, so it was no surprise that a couple of noteworthy restaurants were chiuso per ferie. It only means that we'll return another time of the year. In any case, even if there were no worthwhile trattorie to speak of on this visit, we had more than our fair share of tasting the local cured meats, cheeses, snacks, and sagra eats. I'm going to venture out in saying that the marchigiana cuisine is not terribly vegetarian-friendly. Meat and cheese in some form or another for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Obviously, seafood and fish on the coast. Not that we ever complained, but I'm sure that our cholesterol levels were on red alert by mid-week. It'll take time to set my system straight on fruit and veggies before attempting to replicate a few of those very delicious and interesting dishes.

Selection of sliced meats and cheese

Saved comment(s)

Hi Rowena,
It's great reading your travelog of Le Marche. Beautiful photos. You said heat? It's been quite the opposite in most of France. Rain & grey skies.. like today! Sorry to hear about the all the good restaurants were closed. It's the same in France.
barbara | Homepage | 08.22.07 - 1:29 pm

The pictures are wonderful. It must have been a lot of fun :-)
piccola | 08.22.07 - 11:06 am

Welcome back! It looks beautiful - that photo of the sea is just gorgeous! How wonderful to have Maddie to break the ice wherever you go - who can resist that happy face? Now, are you off to Sicily soon?
Cathy | Homepage | 08.22.07 - 4:15 am

Aaa, leave it to Maddie to get all the attention! Sounds like a wonderful place (even if you did have to tour a lot on the airconditioned car).
farfallina @ a roam to Rome | Homepage | 08.22.07 - 2:42 am

We have red dragonflies and blue dragonflies here. They usually come out in force when a storm is approaching. I hear you on the prickly heat, ours is prickly with a thick layer of humidity! Happy that you were able to eat lots of gelato.
Kat | Homepage | 08.22.07 - 12:57 am

Happy to see you back :-) The dragonfly and blue ocean photos are beautiful. Thank you for a nice description of the area.
Maryann | Homepage | 08.22.07 - 12:49 am

Welcome back Rowena! I can already feel the heat from Le Marche just by your descriptions...but am glad all the gelato made up for it, hehe. Cheers for another make-you-oh-so-happy picture of Maddie! =)
Kathy | Homepage | 08.21.07 - 11:12 pm