First order of business on awakening in Italy, for the morning of your first full day on a culinary tour, is…. a wine tasting. At 10AM. Of course. What better way to get a feel for the region you are exploring, than to drink its wines early, before your taste buds have fully woken up, and your mind (or at least mine) has certainly not fully awakened… It reminds me of learning a new language. At some points, you have to simply relax and let the sounds, words, feelings, emotions, and accents surround you as you soak them in. A little more is retained each time you do this. Tasting wine is similar, and there is nothing more enlightening than tasting the wine of a region, in its region. We arrived in the picturesque town of Offida and sampled the wines of San Giovanni – a completely organic and vegan winery. Vegan winery, you say? What does that mean? One of the products commonly used in wine clarification is albumin, also known as egg whites. This makes most wine undrinkable for the discerning vegan consumer. Enter: San Giovanni. Problem solved. And the wine was good.
Our next destination was the beautiful town of Ascoli Piceno. There is deep-rooted history here, complete with a revolt against Rome, but the contemporary attractions are enough to keep me coming back.
Lunch was at a place called “Piccolo Teatro”. Antipasti were a delicious assortment of sliced salumi with a wonderful salty “cheese bread”. Next was a baked polenta (cornmeal) with a sausage and pecorino sauce with black truffle.
Our pasta course was a – guess what – duck ragu, this time with paccheri. Duck ragu is a very traditional dish for this region, which explains why we had the same thing for lunch as we had for dinner the night before…
Our meat course was a “fritto misto” or mixed fry. With a few additions it was also pretty close to our dinner the night before – zucchini, olivo ascolano, with the addition of some artichokes, lamb, and sweet “fried cream”, another specialty of the area. (They are the square shaped bits in the photo below). Everyone was excited for us to taste the delicious flavors of the region – but when you spend a few days in the same region you definitely want some variety!! (Note to self – menu adjustment next year).
My favorite spot in Ascoli is on the central piazza. A large art nouveau style café, called Caffe Meletti, it is owned by the company that produced Meletti liquors. The bartenders are dressed in full-on white suits and bow ties, and are friendly and knowledgeable, plus there are lots of tables outside where one can sit on the piazza and people watch even late into the evening. I recommend paying this café more than one visit per day if you are in town. Our group only had time for a quick digestivo after lunch, since we had a fascinating guided tour of the historical sites and churches in the town afterward.
We had a rest at the villa that afternoon. I heard dinner that evening was absolutely amazing – unfortunately I was hit with some kind of 24hr virus and spent most of the night either in the restaurant’s bathroom, or desperately running back to it after attempting to rejoin our table. So, sorry, no photos. C’est la vie. Or, more appropriately, questa e la vita.