Cooking in Le Marche is deeply rooted in peasant tradition and remains resistant to the arrival of frozen foods such as the illustrious fish finger. Here, the home cook rules rather than the professional chef and even the smartest restaurants seek to produce food just like nonna used to make, although in recent years we have seen more creativity being used with some of the traditional recipes.
The use of fresh, top quality produce prepared with the minimum of fuss marks food in this region. But as dishes are strictly based on tradition and local produce, each small area has its own distinctive dishes. As with any rural diet, much use is made of food gathered from the countryside; mushrooms, nuts, wild herbs and the area’s greatest culinary treasure, truffles. Nearly every small town has its own market morning where you can buy your fresh fruit and vegetables harvested from local terrain. Our guests love Mogliano market morning on Tuesdays, not only for the fresh produce, but for the local atmosphere, a sit out at one of the bars with a hot cappuccino and a naughty cake, queueing at the porchetta van to sample this delicious slow cooked pork stuffed with herbs or trying out their Italian with the fresh fish monger with his van packed full of goodies straight from the Adriatic.
Ristorante, trattoria and osteria have become somewhat interchangeable in recent years and most will have a written menu translated into English. Don’t be daunted by places which rattle off the menu verbally to you – it’s great fun trying to work out what you’re ordering and most waiters will have a little English to help you get by. During your holiday you must eat at a local agriturismo. Generally more rustic but great with kids who love running round in the grounds and seeing the animals, menu choice is normally more limited but you can eat some excellent home cooked food at extremely reasonable prices. In fact generally you won’t break the bank to eat out in Marche. With tourism still in its infancy restaurants rely on local business making the quality of food excellent (Italians are very critical of mediocre food) and very reasonably priced.
The marchigiani eat more meat than any other region according to statistics. In fact excellent quality grilled meats “alla brace” (using a fire rather than an oven) dominate many menus, however variety is always on hand with interesting selections of antipasti and mouth-watering pasta dishes.
For an antipasto, mountain cured ham (like prosciutto di Carpegna) and lonza (raw salted fillet of pork) reign supreme. One of my favourites is ciauscolo, a soft and spreadable cured pork salami, wonderful on bruschetta. Each restaurant offers some different choices of antipasti which is usually seasonal but you can enjoy fennel mixed with oranges, pecorino cheese with pears and honey, melon with cured ham, coratella di agnello which you just need to eat without thinking too much about the ingredients; it’s basically offal of lamb diced and slow cooked with a variety of herbs. Trust me it is delicious. Not everybody likes olives but believe me you’ll love olive ascolane – stuffed with a mixture of minced meats, vegetables and parmesan cheese, bread crumbed and deep fried.
The classic primo is a generous plate of pasta dressed with a sauce. There’s an endless list of different types of pasta and sauces but some local specialities worth trying are papadelle con lepre (hare pasta), ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach lightly tossed in butter and sage, gnocchi in a classic ragu sauce, tortellini alla boscaiola (meat filled tortellini in a creamy sauce with peas and porcini mushrooms). The region’s unique pasta dish is vincisgrassi, a rich, baked lasagne but without the use of tomatoes and less filling but many layers of pasta.
Apart from the ever-present grilled meat, delicious stuffed pigeon and rabbit cooked with fennel are a Marche speciality. A good hearty mountain dish not to be missed is cinghiale in salmi, a rich plate of slow cooked wild boar mixed with red wine, onions, olives and a variety of herbs usually served with roast potatoes and roasted onions, guaranteed to repeat for several hours, but well worth it!
You won’t find many restaurants inland preparing fish but a 30 minute drive will take you to the Adriatic coast with some of the peninsula’s best fish and a staggering choice of restaurants. One of my treats is to order the complete antipasto of hot and cold seafood. It’s a great way to try lots of different dishes and it just keeps coming so give the pasta course a miss if you’re going for it. There’s a massive selection of pasta dishes with spaghetti con le vongole (clams) being a great favourite of my daughter who started tucking into this dish from the age of 3! Crab filled ravioli in a delicate courgette sauce, mixed seafood risotto and gnocchi with prawns and radicchio (a variety of chicory) in a light creamy sauce are just some of the delights you can expect. For secondo, apart from the catch of the day, there’s some inviting grilled mixed fish dishes, or try the fried fish platter made up of a variety of little whole fish and calamari deep fried in a light batter served with some lemon wedges. Most seafood restaurants offer a very nice sparkling house white wine which you can order by the jug (available in different sizes) and accompanies your meal perfectly.
For those of you with a sweet tooth then you won’t be disappointed. If you love your morning breakfast sat out watching the world go by then head off to one of our local bars and for €2 a head you can enjoy a morning coffee and local cake; there’s a huge variety of filled brioche to choose from. Italian gelato is world famous and readily available here in Le Marche – we happen to have one of the best ice-cream bars in the area, Zanzibar which regularly features in our visitor’s book! For dolce you’ll find tiramisu, panna cotta (sweetened cream thickened with gelatine) topped with either chocolate, vanilla or fruits of the forest. A selection of ice-cream flavours are usually available and semifreddo which is a semi frozen dessert made up of layers of cake and ice-cream.
Although you’ll find very few vegetarian menus, most restaurants have a great selection of antipasti without meat and a good variety of pasta and risotto. There’s always a selection of vegetables and salads and plenty of pizzas are suitable for vegetarians.
For a quick lunchtime snack, you’ll find most bars offer a sandwich selection or rolls with various fillings and also pizza slices.
All the fine food to be enjoyed in our region is made even better when paired with a great wine and wine alone could provide an excellent motive for touring Le Marche. From producing rough plonk for the masses, the region now boasts some outstanding vini. There are five DOCG wines: Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva, Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva, Vernaccia di Serrapetrona, Rosso Conero and Offida (Pecorino, Passerina and Rosso) together with nineteen DOC wines.
Most house wines in restaurants are of good quality and from local vineyards. You can purchase house wine by the jug size ¼ , ½ and 1 litre measurements and it really is good value for money. Even if you order from the wine list you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the prices.
Red wines to try during your holiday: Rosso Conero, Rosso Piceno, Montepulciano, Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, Rosso Colli Maceratesi
White wines to try during your holiday:Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Verdicchio di Matelica, Colli Maceratesi Bianco, Falerio dei Colli Ascolani, Falerio Pecorino, Offida Pecorino and Offida Passerina.
For my fellow Prosecco lovers, you won’t be disappointed with a huge variety available along with some very nice frizzante whites and some refreshing rosé wines, perfect for hot summer days.
We have the very impressive Murola vineyard just down the road from us, so a must during your holiday is a fun afternoon wine tasting with Dean sat under their gazebo looking out across the rolling hills. For serious wine buffs you can easily tour round the many great vineyards of the region using Caserma Carina as your base.
Food and wine festivals
There are literally hundreds of festivals held in villages, towns and cities throughout Marche and it would be impossible to list them all, but hopefully this will give you a sample of what’s on offer.
Cantine aperte nelle Marche – last weekend in May, open weekend to visit vineyards
Cessapalombo – Sagra del fungo (mushroom)
Consalvi (Macerata) – Sagra della bruschetta
Mogliano – Magnalonga, 8km walk through the countryside with regular pauses to try local food specialities
Montelupone – Sagra del carciofo (artichoke)
Monte Urano – Sagra della porchetta e delle pappardelle al cinghiale (spit roasted pork stuffed with herbs and pasta with wild boar)
Morrovale – Sagra de li gnocchi co’ la papera (duck)
Numana – fish festival
Sant’Angelo in Pontano – A traditional festival of art, music and local cuisine
Tolentino – 1815 Battle of Tolentino held at La Rancia castle with food and wine tasting stalls
Agugliano – Gelato festival
Ancona – street food festival
Apecchio – Festa della birra (artisan beer festival)
Apiro (near Cingoli) – Sagra del formaggio pecorino (pecorino cheese)
Castelfidardo – Sagra degli gnocchi con la papera (duck)
Loreto – Sagra del Pesce Fritto (fried fish)
Montegranaro – Veregra Street, cultural and street food festival
Osimo – Sagra dei Vincisgrassi
Pianello (near Cagli) – Sagra della lumaca (snails) – mid-June
Porto Recanati – Settimana del Brodetto (fish stew)
Recanati – Infinito Wine Festival
Sant’Elpidio al Mare – Asparago in festa (asparagus)
Servigliano – La Sagra degli Strozzapreti mare e monti (type of pasta cooked with fish or truffle and wild mushrooms)
Treia – Sagra del calcione e del ravioli
Urbisaglia – Urbeers artisan beer and street food festival
Castellaro – Sagra del coniglio in porchetta ( roast rabbit with herbs)
Castelplanio (near Jesi) – Sagra della crescia sul panaro (stuffed flat bread) – last Sunday of July
Corinaldo – polenta festival on third Sunday in July to commemorate the time when the town’s people successfully resisted a siege thanks to copious supplies of the stuff.
Loreto – Sagra della Seppia coi piselli con Sardò a scottadeto (cuttlefish and peas)
Matelica – Sagra della rana (frogs)
Mogliano – 1744 Festival – traditional dress, activities and outside tavernas serving delicious food
Montemarciano (near Senigallia) – Sagra del pesce (fish)
Ortezzano – Sagra dell’agnello alla brace (grilled lamb)
Ostra Vetere (near Corinaldo) – Festa della trota (trout) – earlyJuly
Ostra Vetere (near Corinaldo) – Sapori ed Aromi di Casa Nostra – late July – local food, music and a procession of old farm machines
Porto San Giorgio – Vongolopolis (clam festival)
Sefro (near Camerino) – Festa del tortellino alla boscaiola (pasta) – late July
Serravalle di Chienti – Sagra dei Vincisgrassi
Treia – La Sagra del maialino (suckling pig)
Cingoli – Sagra di prosciutto e melone
Fermo – Sagra delle vongole (clams)
Fermo – Sagra della bruschetta
Francavilla d’Ete – Festa di San Rocco e la Sagra del maialino (suckling pig)
Loro Piceno – Sagra del vin cotto (a sweet “cooked” wine)
Massignano (near Ascoli Piceno) – Sagra delle frittelle (omelettes)
Mogliano – beer festival end August
Mogliano – Il Festival delle Tradizioni (traditional festival with food stands)
Monteprandone (near San Benedetto del Tronto) – Sagra delle olive fritte (fried stuffed olives)
Monte Vidon Combatte – Sagra delle Quaglie (quails)
Muccia – Sagra della trota (trout)
Pedaso – Sagra Nazionale delle cozze (mussels)
Pievebovigliana – Festa della birra (beer festival
Porto Potenza Picena – Sagra delle Vongole (clams)
San Ginesio – Medievalia (historical festival with gastronomic stands)
Sassoferrato – Sagra del cinghiale (wild boar)
Serra San Quirico (near Fabriano) – Sagra del coniglio in porchetta (roast rabbit with fennel)
Staffolo (near Cingoli) – Festa del Verdicchio (verdicchio wine festival)
Venarotta (near Ascoli Piceno) – Sagra della vitella allo spiedo (spit-roast veal)
Apiro (near Cingoli) – Sagra della polenta
Arcevia – Sagra dell’uva (wine festival)
Camerano – Festa del Rosso Conero (local wine and food festival)
Cupramontana – grape festival in the heart of Verdicchio wine country in September.
Fermo – Sagra della polenta
Francavilla d’Ete – Lu Vurgu (food and wine festival with live music)
Frontino – Sagra del fagiolo (bean)
Lapedona (near Fermo) – Sagra del vino cotto (a sweet “cooked” wine)
Montecassiano – Sagra del pesce (fish)
Montefortino – La Sagra della cucciola (snails)
Monteleone di Fermo – Festival del Salmone
Ortezzano – Festa dell’uva (wine festival
Osimo – Festival dei Sapori (sample and buy local cuisine)
Piandimeleto (near Urbino) – Mushroom fair
San Severino Marche – Sagra della porchetta
Treia – Sagra della polenta
Acqualagna (near Cagli) – Fiera nazionale del tartufo (truffle fair) – last weekend in October and first two weekends in November in the town that calls itself the “truffle capital”.
Acquasanta Terme (near Ascoli Piceno) – Festa d’autunno (autumn produce)
Castelsantangelo sul Nera (near Visso) – Sagra del Marrone Castellano (chestnut)
Cessapalombo – Antichi Sapori e Ricchezze del Bosco (traditional festival with music, food and wine)
Montemonaco (near Ascoli Piceno) – Sagra della Castagna (chestnut)
Pievebovigliana – Sagra della Castagna (chestnut)
Polverigi – Sagra della polenta
Sant’Angelo in Vado (near Urbino) – Mostra del tartufo bianco (white truffle)
Acqualagna (near Cagli) – truffle fair – last weekend in October and first two weekends in November in the village that calls itself the “truffle capital”.
Cantine aperte nelle Marche – open weekend to visit vineyards
Grottazzolina – Festa dell’olio nuovo (newly pressed olive oil festival)
Monte San Martino – Saperi e sapori della Mela Rosa (a festival to taste these wonderful apples and products made from them)
Talamello (near San Leo) – Formaggio di Fossa cheese fair