Ascoli’s gastronomy is the combination of culinary traditions from the city and its surroundings
When talking about first course, fresh pasta is undoubtedly one of the main ingredients of local recipes: ravioli, cannelloni, vincisgrassi (lasagne), tagliatelle, pappardelle, maltagliati and cappelletti are freshly made and served with a variety of sauces. Gnocchi, risotto, polenta and legume soups are delicious, especially in wintertime. Traditional sauces for pasta are made with tomato, pork meat, seafood and vegetables.
Pork meat is probably the best local specialty and is often used as a base ingredient to make sauces. Chicken, duck, turkey as well as lamb, mutton, veal, rabbit and game can be either roasted or stewed. Local cuisine features several entrails-based recipes: lamb pluck (liver, lungs, heart and other entrails served with eggs), veal offal, the so-called spëndatùrë (calf’s intestines), beef tripe, beans with pork rind (made with sauce and pieces of ham) and roasted livers. Cold cuts are a wonderful starter at any season: don’t miss ciauscolo, salami, lonza, ham and sausages . A traditional recipe is called Pollo Ngip ‘ngiap: pan-browned pieces of chicken with vegetables. The list of local specialities and ingredients includes sanguinaccio (a sort of black pudding), bacon, snails, roasted pigeons (also stuffed) and thrushes. Porchetta, traditional roasted pork meat, can also be found in town, especially during feasts and festivals.
The Tronto River connects Ascoli Piceno to the near Adriatic Coast. That’s why it will not be difficult to find tasty seafood-based dishes in town. Herrings, salted codfish, capitone (a large eel) and shellfish are among the most traditional ingredients. On special occasions and during summer festivals, a mix of fried seafood (squid and oily fish) is among the finest local delicatessen one can find in the area.
Vegetables and legumes
Tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, aubergines, broccoli rabe, fennels, Savoy cabbage, celery, artichokes, chicory, spinach, asparagus, beans, lentils and chickpeas are the most commonly used ingredients. Many herbs and spices such as rosemary, garlic, onion, parsley, chili pepper, oregano and sage help cooks make their dishes tastier and unpredictable. Vegetables are also used to make the famous local mix of fried food, the so-called Fritto Misto all’ascolana, which includes artichokes, broccoli, zucchini and sage leaves. Basil plays a special role in Ascoli Piceno, not only in kitchens. A legend has it that a small basil plant was found on Sant’Emidio’s grave. Every year on 5thAugust, the Feast day of Sant’Emidio, local people honor the Saint’s memory by buying a small basil plant at the special market set up in front of the Cathedral
Bakery and cakes
Cacciannanzë is the name for the local focaccia, traditionally spiced with garlic, rosemary and olive oil. This particular name (literally, caccià: to take out; ‘nnanzë: before) comes from a local bread baking method: Cacciannanzë was put into the oven some minutes before bread was ready to be baked to check whether the oven temperature was correct. Another variety of focaccia is called Pizza con gli sfricoli, made with olives and small fried lard pieces (sfricoli). Traditional desserts and cakes include homemade must biscuits and buns as well as different types of pies. A special dessert is called zuppa inglese, also known as pizza dolce: its name literally means “English soup”, since it is said to have originated from English trifle. The crispella is a crispy fried batter made with eggs, flour and salt, traditionally eaten with raw ham slices.
Il fritto misto all’ascolana
This local specialty is a mix of deep fried food containing olive ascolane, cremini (fried custard cubes), vegetables (zucchini, artichokes, broccoli) and breaded lamb cutlets. Fritto misto is a traditional dish for special occasions, like Christmas, Easter, the Feast Day of Sant’Emidio or the Sunday lunch.
This is the most famous and iconic recipe from Ascoli Piceno. This superb finger food is made with pitted green olives stuffed with minced meat (beef, pork and chicken). Once olives have been stuffed, they are breaded (with eggs, flour and breadcrumbs) and deep fried. Stuffing also contains some parmesan cheese, crumb, egg yolks and nutmeg.
Oliva tenera ascolana
“Ascolana Tenera” (Olea europaea sativa) was a well known variety of wild green olives already in the Roman Age. Drupes are picked before maturation and immersed in a potassium solution to eliminate bitterness. The olives are then washed with water and put into a brine solution (traditionally containing some wild fennel).
Other dishes and ingredients
Local cooks make frequent use of potatoes, mushrooms, truffles and dried fruit. Cheese and other dairy products are the base ingredients for renowned varieties of cheese such as pecorino and ricotta.
Wines and Liqueurs
Local wines include Rosso Piceno, Rosso Piceno Superiore, Falerio dei Colli Ascolani, Passerina and Pecorino. Vino cotto (literally, “cooked wine”) can be found in countryside and mountain areas of southern Marche and Abruzzo. The sapa is cooked must and is often used to make cakes. Ascoli’s most famous liqueur is Anisetta Meletti, a delicious anise-based spirit.
Feasts and food
On Christmas Eve, the traditional menu includes spignoli (deep fried batter balls with broccoli, anchovies or apples), zitoni (a variety of long pasta) with tomato, tuna, olive and parsley sauce. On Christmas Day, local people enjoy cappelletti in brodo (ring-shaped egg pasta filled with meat and served in a meat broth), frustingo (dried fruit, fig and cocoa cake), almond brittle and sassi d’Abruzzo (toasted almonds covered with cocoa and sugar). On New Year’s Eve lentils and cotechino (a pork sausage in a natural casing) are a “must-eat”.
Ascoli Piceno’s Carnival is an old age tradition that involves the preparation of special dishes such as castagnole, frappe, cicerchiata and ravioli. The latter is probably the most famous specialty as they can be eaten both as a first course (filled with hen meat and served with tomato sauce or grated cheese) and as a dessert (deep fried and filled with chestnut cream, cocoa and liqueur or custard).
Traditional Easter dishes were usually eaten for breakfast. Nowadays, families gather at lunchtime to enjoy the same delights and relive old traditions. Piconi, pizza di Pasqua, hard-boiled eggs and salami are a “must-try” during Easter time.
Piconi are soft cheese pastries made with parmesan and pecorino cheese, while pizza di Pasqua is a savory bread with cheese (a sweet version of the pizza is made with candied fruit). Both specialties are commonly served with local salami.
Influences from and to nearby territories
Ascoli’s gastronomy is closely linked to Regional cooking traditions. Vincisgrassi, tagliatelle, cappelletti, Easter bread, frustingo and many other recipes can be found all around the Marche Region. Similarly, Olive ascolane and Fritto misto have spread all around Marche and Abruzzo. Recipes have often been modified according to local ingredients: it will not be surprising, then, to find seafood or sausage stuffed olive ascolane in San Benedetto del Tronto or along the Vibrata Valley. At the same time, traditions from nearby areas have gradually penetrated into the Piceno territory, making it possible to enjoy typical Abruzzese dishes like pecura ‘ncallara (stewed sheep meat) and arrosticini (mutton meat cooked on a spit).