Sempre caro mi fu quest'ermo colle,
e questa siepe, che da tanta parte
dell'ultimo orizzonte il guardo esclude.
Ma sedendo e mirando, interminati
spazi di là da quella, e sovrumani
silenzi, e profondissima quïete
io nel pensier mi fingo, ove per poco
il cor non si spaura. E come il vento
odo stormir tra queste piante, io quello
infinito silenzio a questa voce
vo comparando: e mi sovvien l'eterno,
e le morte stagioni, e la presente
e viva, e il suon di lei. Così tra questa
immensità s'annega il pensier mio:
e il naufragar m'è dolce in questo mare.
In one of his most appreciated works, the poem L’infinito, Giacomo Leopardi narrates an experience he often has when he sits in "his" secluded place on a Recanati hillside. His eyes cannot reach the horizon, because of a hedge surrounding the site; his thought, instead, is able to imagine spaces without limits. The silence is deep; when a breath of wind comes, this voice sounds like the voice of present time, and by contrast it evokes all times past, and eternity. Giacomo's thoughts drown in new and unknown waters, but il naufragar m’è dolce in questo mare, "my drifting shipwrecked in this sea is so sweet."
The Marche region can be defined as a food confederacy: influenced in the north by neighboring Romagna, southerly Abbruzzo and by Umbria, Toscany and Lazio to the west. The region's capital is the mountain-locked city of Ascoli Piceno. And the typical specialty there is Olive Ascolane, known to restore hope to even the rockiest, despondent pessimist.
|Stuffed, breaded and fried olives from Ascoli: actual size|
A blow to the liver, but incredibly tasty and original: green lightly brined olives that are rolled into perfect balls of ground veal and pork meat, then breaded and deep fried into crisp and tangy bite-size morsels of steaming nirvana. If buying the frozen supermarket kind doesn't appeal to you, assemble:
1 kg (2.2 lbs) green Ascoli olives (large, salted)
1 small onion, minced
1 carrot, minced
1 celery rib, minced
150 g (3/4 cup) lean veal or chicken
150 g (3/4 cup) lean pork
100 g (1/2 cup) prosciutto
A fistful of Pecorino Romano, grated
A fistful of Parmigiano, grated
50 g (1/4 cup) tomato concentrate
400 g (2 cups) breadcrumbs
400 g (2 cups) flour
1/2 glass dry, white wine
Extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Vegetable oil for frying
Salt and pepper to taste
Put meats and prosciutto through food processor. Brown the meat mince, onion, celery and carrot in a skillet with the olive oil, adding very little salt and pepper and moistening with the wine. When the wine evaporates, cover and continue cooking until the meat is thoroughly browned, but not dry. In a large mixing bowl, incorporate cooled meat mix and cheeses, a dash of breadcrumbs, nutmeg, tomato and 2 eggs. Combine all by passionately blending with your hands, and cool off from the sensual kneading with a nicely chilled glass of Falerio dei Colli Ascolani.
Remove the pit from the olives. A good way is to carve them away with a sharp paring knife, starting from the top and working your way down, obtaining one single long strip like when peeling an apple. I've seen folks use a cherry pitter, and it works just as well.
Stuff the pitted olive pulp with the meat mixture, rolling each into 1-inch globes. If during the pitting phase some break, you can reconstruct them during stuffing.
First tumble them in the flour, then plunge them in the remaining beaten eggs and finally roll them in the breadcrumbs. Let the orbs rest a little before frying. So after a short nap, heat your vegetable oil in a large frying pan, or better, start the electric fryer (this will avoid the crust from falling off the olives during frying). Drop the balls in the hot oil and deep-fry for a few minutes.
Briefly dry on paper towel and polish off at luciferine temperature.
Planning to visit Ascoli Piceno?
WHAT TO SEE
- The Roman Bridge of Solestà, built in the age of Augustus, and almost perfectly preserved. It can be visited inside, which offers rare insight on Roman bridge architecture.
- The historical center of the city, built in grey travertino marble, extracted from the surrounding mountains.
- The central Renaissance Piazza del Popolo is considered one of the most beautiful in Italy.
- The cathedral of Sant'Emidio, period.
- The Malatesta Fortress, rising on the site of ancient Roman baths, and reconstructed under Galeotto Malatesta, the lord of Rimini. The fortress was used as a prison until very recent times.
- At Castel Trosino, there's an ancient necropolis, that dates back to the 6th century AD.
On the first Sunday in August, the historical parade for Sant'Emidio, the patron saint of the city. Fifteen-hundred citizens, outfitted in impressive Renaissance costumes, march down the corso to the sound of a steady drum-beat, and several file past on horseback. The parade is followed by a jousting tournament, called Quintana, during which six knights–each one competing for one of the six historical quarters in the city–in turn and armed with heavy lance astride their steed, thunder around a racetrack lunging forward, trying to pummel a cardboard figure of a Saracen warrior, Il Moro.
|Image © Massimo Carradori|
If you attend the Quintana festival, be prepared for a hot and exciting afternoon. The crowds get wildly involved in the scores of the jousts, cheering for their sestiere, much like the Palio held in Siena twice a year. For an out-of-town visitor however, an hour or two of parade and jousting might be enough, especially if traveling with children. It might be wiser at that point to repair to an air-conditioned room, lots of gelato under a leafy canopy, and plan dinner and more activities for the cool of evening.
A rental car is your best bet. From the autostrada A14 (eastern coastal toll highway), take the exit San Benedetto del Tronto. There are easy to follow road signs that direct to the Ascoli city center from there on.
Ascoli Piceno can also be reached by regional trains, which run quite frequently and leave every 30 to 40 minutes, from either San Benedetto del Tronto or Porto d'Ascoli; both are stops on the Adriatic rail line. But be aware that the train station is just outside town, so you'll need to take a taxi to get to the centro. There is also a bus service from San Benedetto del Tronto that leaves from the train station and arrives in the center of Ascoli Piceno.
For more ideas and travel tips in Le Marche, be sure to swing by my friend Valerie who lived in Ascoli for a number of years before moving further south to Basilicata.