We spent a magical couple of days in the countryside of Le Marche recently and although it was much too short, it was a great little taste of what to expect — now I cannot wait to plan a longer trip to explore further. The aim of this quick getaway (only a three hour drive from Florence!) was really to relax with the family and spend time with friends, a couple of lazy, high summer days, cooking together, playing around the pool and catching up and it was perfect place (and pace) to do so — quiet, slow, with never-ending views of vast landscapes of hills and mountains and woods, and pretty little cobblestoned villages with nothing open but a bar. Perfect.
Part of the joy of this little escape from Tuscany was the beautiful restored country house we were staying in, Villa Castelplanio. It was once part of the nearby Abbey of San Benedetto di Frondigliosi, lovingly and respectfully restored by the South Tyrolean owners, Nikolaus and his wife Walli, who retained all the original details such as the wooden beams and even the ceramic wood burning heater and poured their energy into working the land around them sustainably and organically.
Every morning we were greeted to an enormous basket of freshly picked organic vegetables that became that evening’s dinner on the terrace — gazpacho, pappa al pomodoro and Olia Hercules’ Eggplant butter. Nikolaus also left us bottles of his own verdicchio and grape juice, made from his tiny quarter hectare vineyard.
Here, not far from the town of Castelplanio and, a little further on, Cupramontana, we were in the heart of verdicchio country so it was only natural that we squeezed in some time to taste some wine. The standout was a visit to La Staffa, which, simply put, have some of the most delicious, hand crafted white wines ever. As Marco, my sommelier husband says, verdicchio is Italy’s best white wine, and Riccardo Baldi’s wines at La Staffa are the best expression of verdicchio. If you are a white wine lover like me, put this on your list.
We came away with bottles of everything Riccardo makes, from his joyful sparkling verdicchio, Mai Sentito, which is bottled while it is fermenting (also known as metodo ancestrale), to his Castello di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva DOCG Classico, which is made from selected grapes from a vine planed in 1972. Such smart, elegant wines made by an incredibly young winemaker.
Something that has inspired me after this trip to Le Marche is to revisit making Olive all’Ascolane. Unfortunately we did not make it to beautiful Ascoli Piceno, the home of these famous fried olives, and known as one of the prettiest towns in the region, but we did taste a delicious plate of them at Ristorante Da Rosina (they don’t even have a website!) between the rolling hills of Jesi and Cupramontana, along with other generous homestyle dishes like roast rabbit (coniglio in porchetta) and gnocchi with duck sauce.
It’s a labour of love to make these olives, which are carefully cut to remove the pit and then stuffed with a cooked filling of onion, celery, carrot, pork, beef, chicken (some add mortadella too) and parmesan. They’re then crumbed and deep fried and are absolutely irresistible. Here’s the recipe and accompanying article I wrote for Food52 with some step by step photos if you want to give this delicious cooking project a try — I highly recommend getting some kitchen helpers for this one, kind of like when I make dumplings or freshly filled pasta, it’s more convivial, of course, and you’ll get them made more easily, which means everyone gets to eat them sooner! Olive all’Ascolane.
This won’t be the last you’ll hear from me on Le Marche, I hope, it is barely scratching the surface of this incredible region that some call the forgotten region of Italy (I’d add Molise to that list too, though, and one day I hope to get there too). In the meantime, if this has piqued your interest in Le Marche, here are a few of my favourite “Marchigiani” on Instagram for some inspiration:
La Tavola Marche (Run by Jason - a chef - and Ashley - a photographer - they left NYC for this ancient farm house and organic farm with cooking school)
Casa Le Volpe (a pretty bed and breakfast run by British couple Kelda and Mike, they also offer cooking classes)
Pier Luigi (one of my favourite photographers on Instagram, he’s originally from Le Marche but posts beautiful photographs from all over Italy)
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