One of Italy’s hidden gems is the Le Marche region, which has historically played third fiddle to its more popular neighbors, Tuscany and Umbria. Much of the region remains relatively tourist-free and unknown, including its deeply traditional food – blessed with bounty from the mountains, farmland and sea. Le Marche produces a varied, seasonal cuisine and truly distinctive wines. To fully appreciate the charms of this undiscovered region, combine an off-the-beaten-track tour of the region’s coastal scenery, breathtaking mountain views and evocative history with an exploration of some local culinary highlights. All of the recipes featured are best accompanied by a white wine.
From the quaint village of Mogliano comes this recipe for stuffed olives. As you can read from the ingredients, this is an extra special recipe, usually prepared for Festival della Tradizioni.
30 large green olives, pitted
4 eggs, plus extra if needed
2 cups plain flour
⅔ cup dried breadcrumbs
sunflower oil, for deep-frying
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1 small carrot, roughly chopped
1 small celery stick, roughly chopped
6 oz. pork sausage meat, removed from its casing
4 oz. chicken thigh fillet, cut into cubes
5 oz. white wine
2 tbsp. fresh breadcrumbs (see below)
2 tbsp. freshly grated Parmigiano or Pecorino cheese
1 tbsp. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
finely grated zest of ½ lemon
Place the olives in a bowl of cold water for 30 minutes. Dry them and set them aside. To make the stuffing, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat, add the onion, carrot and celery and cook until softened. Add the pork and chicken meat and brown well. Pour in the wine and cook over high heat for 1–2 minutes or until the alcohol has evaporated. Reduce the heat to low, season with salt and cook for 15–20 minutes or until the meat is cooked through. Remove from the heat and stir in the breadcrumbs, then set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and puree for 10–15 seconds until it is a paste. Scrape the paste into a large bowl and add the cheese, parsley, nutmeg and lemon zest. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.
Beat the eggs in a separate bowl, then mix 3 tablespoons of the beaten egg through the stuffing (reserve the rest for later). Rest for 30 minutes. Cut a slit in each olive and fill with ½ teaspoon stuffing. Roll the filled olives in the flour, then in the reserved beaten egg and finally in the breadcrumbs. Roll them one last time in egg and breadcrumbs if you prefer to have an exceptionally crunchy double coating.
Half-fill a large frying pan or deep-fryer with sunflower oil and heat over medium-high heat to 350°F. Add the stuffed olives in batches and fry for 3–4 minutes or until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with paper towel. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
Ravioli with Pignoli Sauce
This simple sauce is indicative of the cuisine of the hills of Le Marche, but don’t confuse this with an Alfredo sauce, this has a flavor all its own. Try a vegetable filled ravioli and serve with a dry white wine.
8 oz. pine nuts (pignoli)
1 box of ravioli
2 oz. extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic
1 cup of cream
1 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
1 cup arugula
salt and pepper
a pinch of nutmeg
In a blender, puree half the pignoli, cream, salt, pepper, nutmeg and cheese until it is thick and almost smooth. Cook the ravioli according to the directions. This dish works well with cheese ravioli, but in Le Marche, often the filling is a vegetable, such as spinach or pumpkin. In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil and then brown the garlic. Once the pasta is cooked, strain the cooked pasta into the pan. Remove the pan from heat and pour cream mixture over. Toss and adjust the consistency with pasta water and taste. Place into serving dish and top with arugula the remainder of the pine nuts. Serve hot.
Cappellacci with Chicken and Mushrooms
Not to be confused with the better known “cappellacci di zucca,” the stuffed pasta of the Emilia-Romagna region. Cappellacci in local dialect refers to a large floppy hat – that is the shape of the pasta. It is normally filled and left open. This recipe uses chicken and a cream sauce, but closer to the coast, you will find a fish stock base and a seafood filling.
3 tbsp. olive oil
3 chicken thighs
½ cup chicken stock
½ cup cream
¼ cup white wine
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
20 leaves spinach, diced
4 oz. fontina cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
2 handfuls fresh sage, to serve
Preheat oven to 400°F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the cappellacci pasta and cook following the instructions, but drain 3 minutes before the time specified. Pasta should be nearly cooked and still firm. Drizzle over a little olive oil and gently toss with your fingers, then lay close together in a greased baking dish.
In a medium-sized pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and lightly brown the chicken on both sides. Pour the chicken stock, wine and cream and season with black pepper. Cover and lower the flame to low. Heat gently for approximately 10 minutes. In another pan, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and heat over a medium flame. Sauté the mushrooms for 2-3 minutes. Remove and add the spinach, stirring for a minute until wilted. Assemble the dish by dividing up the sliced chicken, mushrooms and spinach between the cappellacci. Dot with pieces of fontina and pour the sauce from the chicken in between the pasta. Bake for 15 minutes until golden and bubbling. Scatter with sage leaves and add a grind of pepper before serving.
Lamb in White Wine
This delicious lamb recipe is a favorite for special occasions and should be served with a white wine local to Le Marche.
A shoulder of lamb (4 lbs.)
1 medium onion, sliced
4 sprigs of rosemary
2 cloves of garlic, sliced very thinly
24 sage leaves
A handful of fennel
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
24 hours before you intend to enjoy your meal, slice open the parts of the skin of the lamb using a sharp knife. You will want to have deep grooves in the meat to soak up the other ingredients during cooking. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Insert the thinly sliced garlic into the grooves of the meat. Rub the skin of the lamb with the sage leaves and then coat with olive oil. Lay the rosemary on top of the lamb. Season with salt and pepper. Add herbs and spices. Place the lamb into a deep baking pan. Add white wine, the onion slices and wild fennel to the pan. Cook for two hours, turning the lamb after one hour and basting occasionally. Remove the lamb to a cutting board. Tent with foil and allow to rest for 12 – 15 minutes. Serve hot.