If you’ve read Merna Menessi’s article about what the Mediterranean Countries have in common , you’ll already know that the Mediterranean cuisine or Mediterranean diet is something (somewhat) shared by all the countries in the geographical area of the Mediterranean Sea, be it for the particular usage of one kind of spice or the other or the consumption of one kind of fish or the other, for example.
However, as it’s true that we all share a large variety of culinary ingredients, it is also true that every nation has its own typical recipes. And it is also truer that every smaller geographical region has its own typical recipes.
Today I’ll talk to you about some typical dishes which you can find in the Marche region, my native region.
First of all, let’s start with the region itself. The Marche region is located in central part of Italy, overlooking the Adriatic Sea to the East. The administrative centre of the Marche region, Ancona, located in the central part of the region, faces more or less directly the Croatian city of Zadar. To the west of the Marche region we can find the region of Umbria, hosting cities like Perugia and Assisi; on the north we have the region of Emilia Romagna, of which we all know the city of Bologna; to the south we have the Region of Abruzzo, which administrative centre is Pescara.
The Marche region itself is divided in five provinces: from north to south we have the province of Pesaro-Urbino, the province of Ancona, the province of Macerata, the province of Fermo and the Province of Ascoli Piceno.
Every province has its own typical dish; to be completely honest, thanks to the rich culinary tradition of those five provinces, there are more than one typical dish per province. The dishes you’ll find below are the ones that I found most significant for each province.
Starting from the southerner province of Ascoli Piceno, we have the olive all’ascolana; the most used english translation is ‘stuffed olives’, which unfortunately doesn’t pay homage to their place of origin. Those olives, once freed of their inner ‘bone’, are filled with minced meat; they’re then covered with a layer of flour, beaten eggs and bread crumbs, before being fried in boiling oil. This recipe dates back to 1800, when the cooks who were working for local nobles devised this recipe to not let go to waste the large amount of meat they were receiving from the farmers after a tax increase.
Moving up north to the province of Fermo, we have the fregnacce; the term is quite hard to properly translate, as it holds two different meanings: dire fregnacce would be (loosely) translated in ‘talking nonsense’, while fregnaccia as a noun can be translated as ‘rubbish’. This last term, however, is as closer as we can get to the original meaning of the dish’s name. You’re probably wondering why. The fact is that this dish was originally typical of poor families, which used leftover sheets of pasta (the one used to cook lasagne) and leftover ragù sauce to cook something to eat. In a way, it’s not entirely incorrect to say that they were using rubbish to cook! Those pasta sheets, once cooked, were covered with leftover ragù sauce and then they were “closed”, assuming a somewhat conical shape. Due to its peculiar name and origin, it’s now impossible to trace back a date of birth of this dish.
As we arrive in the province of Macerata, we absolutely have to eat at least once the vincisgrassi alla maceratese. The term vincisgrassi is literally impossible to translate, as it evolved from the word, no longer used nowadays, princisglasses, which it’s itself a corruption of Principe di Galles, meaning ‘Prince of Wales’. It is believed that this unusual name derives from the fact that the dish itself is both very rich in calories and its ingredients were, at the time of its first appearence in cookbooks (XVIIIth century), very expensives, thus avalaible only to rich people. Hence, it was considered a dish for princes! The recipe for vincisgrassi includes several sheets of pasta, each one covered with a layer of tomato sauce, enriched with four different types of minced meat: duck, rabbit, calf and pig. This sauce must also includes chicken entrails, which is the main feature of the dish. Between each layer of pasta sheets we must also add bechamel and parmesan. You’ll probably understand now why the vincisgrassi alla maceratese were, and are still considered, a very rich dish!
In the province of Ancona we can then taste the stoccafisso all’anconetana. The term stoccafisso probably derives from the Dutch word ‘stocvisch’, wich was later literally translated by many languages, including English (‘stockfish’) and Norwegian (‘stokkvisk’). The stockfish dish itself is not native of Italy; in the XVth century, a Venetian merchant named Pietro Querini, while sailing back to Italy from the Scandinavian region, was met by a storm and his ship drifted away towards the Lofoten Islands, in Norway. There, he discovered the stockfish dish, which recipe he brought back to Italy. The stockfish dish was extremely well received in Ancona and it also received some additions. The stoccafisso all’anconetana recipe, in fact, includes potatoes and tomatoes as dressings, which gives the stoccafisso its typical flavour.
Lastly, in the northerner province of Pesaro-Urbino, we shall eat the crescia urbinate. The term crescia is, once again, untranslatable, as it denotes a certain kind of flatbread, typical of the Marche region. The Urbinate “variant” of the crescia, similarly to the piadina from the region of Emilia-Romagna, has an ancestor in the flatbread brought by the Byzantine Army that was stationed, from the Vth to the VIIIth century, between the norhtern part of the modern Marche region and the southern part of the modern Emilia-Romagna region. The modern crescia urbinate, however, was probably born during the Italian Renaissance, as we have the first mentions of it in the XVth century. The egg and the lard used to make its dough gives the crescia its characteristic golden colour, its layered structure and its crunchy texture. The crescia is usually eaten while still hot with sausage, wild herbs, ham, loin or cheese.
And that’s it. I hope you liked this gastronomic trip in my native region. And I also hope that I just gave you one more reason to visit the Marche region, as soon as this Covid situation improves. Remember to stay safe and stay tuned for more articles!
BY Andrea SERRANI