Friday, May 25, 2012

Edible Treasures of Ascoli Piceno

Ascoli Piceno is the southernmost province of Italy’s Marche region, about 2 hours north of Rome. It borders the region of Abruzzo to the south, is caressed by the Adriatic Sea to the east and protected by the Apennine Mountains to the west. This little-known province is home to some wonderful delicacies. Food historian and author, Francine Segan, educated us all at a recent event held in NYC’s Princeton Club. For instance, Olive all’Ascolane is a taste sensation. These olives were already famous during Roman times for their pleasing, mild flavor. Start with the tender, succulent green olives that grow only in Ascoli Piceno. Knife peel each one by hand. Simmer 3 types of meat together and season to taste. Squeeze the meat into a small ball and wrap an olive around each one. Tap this stuffing into the olive 10 times. Dip each rotund olive into egg, flour and bread crumbs, then fry in hot olive oil. Yes, it takes hours. Yes, it’s worth it. Perfect for an antipasto or side dish, you’ll never think about olives the same way again. An unassuming little town in Ascoli Picenco, called Offida, is home to Cantina del Picchio, a restaurant where Francine swears she had the best meals of her life. The Cantina has an outstanding chef, Emilio Pasqualini, who serves up heavenly dishes on a daily basis in this out of the way place. Chef Pasqualini recently spent some time in NYC and, just before returning to Italy, prepared the olive all’ascolane for our Princeton Club event. According to Francine, he made 800 of them. Delicious.
Olive all'Ascolane ready for tasting. An award-winning egg pasta also comes from this region, Spinosi Pasta. Made with fresh eggs, superfine flour, salt and Spinosi’s own full-bodied olive oil, this pasta is rich in protein, Omega 3 and Vitamin E. It cooks in 3-4 minutes and is very porous, meaning that a little goes a long way and it quickly soaks up any sauce you serve with it. The flavor of this dry pasta rivals that of fresh pasta from other brands. You can find Spinosi Pasta at Di Paolo’s in NYC’s Little Italy or online. Ascoli Piceno not only offers food, but it is also a great source for wine. The Ciu’ Ciu’ Winery produces Kurni, which Joe Bastianich lovingly describes in his new book, Grandi Vini, An Opinionated Tour of Italy’s 89 Finest Wineries. I haven’t tasted that particular wine, but I have tried Oppidum from the same winery, and it has become a favorite of mine. It’s a smooth red with just the right amount of body. This winery is an organic operation and the reds have extremely low sulphite levels. If you prefer white wine, I highly recommend the Ciu’ Ciu’ Pecorino. It tastes like apricots, dandelion and honey, and I loved it. Ascoli Piceno has a colorful Carnevale in February and a Renaissance Faire in August that has the whole town dressed in period costumes. One of its landmarks is Caffe Meletti, voted among the Most Important Cafes in Italy. Not only is it an architectural masterpiece, but its guest list includes Ernest Hemingway and Jean-Paul Satre. To order from DiPaolo’s, visit For the wine, visit To learn more about Ascoli Piceno, visit

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