Marche lies on the east (Adriatic) coast of central Italy, bordering Emilia Romagna to the north, Abruzzo to the south, and Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio to the west. History and legend often merge, with many stories of witches and magicians who lived in the Sibilline mountains. The beautiful landscape in Le Marche is dominated by the Appenines, with lakes and mysterious caves, the source of tales about the Sybil, who is sometimes portrayed as a wise fairy, spinning golden flax out of the sun’s rays, whilst teaching girls the art of spinning, and at other times as a seductress, promising young male visitors eternal pleasure only to trap them in her cave forever. Pilate’s Lake is so called because according to myth, two bulls carrying the body of Pontius Pilate, vanished into the lake.
The first organised peoples to settle in Marche, between the 9th and 10th century BC, were the Piceni. According to one legend, they are the offspring of deities Cupra and Mars, and to another they arrived here by following the woodpecker (picus), a bird sacred to Mars, and that their name derived thus. Historians believe that the Marchegiani originate from the Sabines, who migrated to this area from Lazio and Campania. They never built large cities, preferring to live in tribal village huts and were able warriors, a fact confirmed by helmets and weapons found in the necropolis. In around 500 BC, they suffered the invasion of Senonese Gauls, a Celtic tribe from Northern France, who founded Senigallia (Senia Gallica). The Greeks also came to Marche from Syracuse, and founded the city of Ancona, where they produced a purple dye from the local sea snails. This was later used to dye the imperial robes of the emperors.
In 299 the area was conquered by the Romans, and produced outstanding legionaries when it became fully Romanised 30 years later. They established settlements in the region, constructed two major roads, and built cities decorated with fine monuments, transforming the region into a thriving civilisation; in Ancona stands the remains of a huge amphitheatre, Trajan’s arch, and along the Via Flaminia, the arch of Augustus can be
With the fall of the Roman Empire, Marche was first conquered by the Goths, followed by the Byzantines. Christianity had already been introduced to northern Marche by St Leo who arrived from Dalmatia in the early 4th century. Lombard warriors invaded central Italy in the mid 6th century, and although they had been converted to Christianity, were not welcome; finally it was under the Franks, who were invited by the Popes to overthrow the Lombards, that the area was divided into “marches” or counties (hence the region’s name), which then came under the jurisdiction of the Papal State.
It was the local nobility that controlled and shaped the region from the 11th – 17thc. The duchy of Urbino became an independent entity, and was ruled by the Montefeltro family, briefly by Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI and inspiration for Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, and finally by the Della Rovere family. Ancona became an independent republic, competing with Venice and Ragusa; another area, Macerata was ruled by the Bonaccossi family. These families often fought each other for supremacy and independence from the Papal State. They built castles, palaces, churches and fine piazzas, including the magnificent Piazza del Popolo in Ascoli Piceno, and were key patrons during the Renaissance, encouraging the proliferation of the arts and employing local artists to put embellishing touches on various monuments as a sign of their power. Artists, such as Raphael, Bramante and Barocci came from Urbino. From 1600 the whole region came under firm control of the Papal State. During this time, the local nobility established “mezzadria” or share cropping, where farmers would give half of their produce to the landowners.
In 1787, during the Napoleonic period, Marche became part of the Roman Republic; from 1808 to 1813, part of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy. With the defeat of Napoleon, Marche belonged once again to the Papal State until 1860 when it became part of the Unified Kingdom of Italy, under the House of Savoy. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Marche contributed to the arts, producing 3 famous composers (Pergolesi, Spontini and Rossini) and a great Italian 19th century poet, Leopardi.
After the Unification of Italy, theatres were built throughout the region, many of which still provide an important cultural role, and in the 20th century, the Adriatic coastal resorts were created. As industrialisation was slow to come to this region, it escaped the ugly construction seen elsewhere, so much of the landscape remains unblemished with unspoilt villages and architectural delights.
The Food of Marche
Marche has a strong food heritage as its central location made it a meeting point of different cultures; its culinary influences have been the Piceni tribe (c.1000BC) who were in contact with the Etruscans to the east; the Gauls (c.400BC) and the Greeks who settled in Ancona at the same time. All these settlers have undoubtedly contributed to forming the basis and the character of the Marche cuisine.
During the Middle Ages, under the “Mezzadria” or share cropping, agriculture evolved around the farms with different crops and animal husbandry. With the decline of the aristocracy, many of the share cropping farmers acquired the land they were working, which resulted in a great improvement in farming practices. In the coastal areas a thriving fishing industry has evolved, with much fish sold locally and exported.
One word which summarises the food from Marche is “wholesome”. The style of cooking changes slightly depending on the bordering region, but in general the cuisine has an identity of its own. There is a rustic sophistication in all its dishes, where highly prized ingredients such as truffle, are available to the common man and used in ordinary dishes; in addition, humble ingredients such as wild chicory are valued as a delicacy by the affluent – an democratic enjoyment of the fruits of the land.
Broadly speaking, there are 2 types of cuisine:
Coastal: based on fish (mixed grills, fish stews) with bold flavours, unashamed use of herbs, fennel or ham in the preparation – a practice that would be anathema to any other region. A typical fish stew – brodetto all’anconetana - would have 13 varieties of fish in it, including red and grey mullet, cuttlefish and squid and nothing less would do!
Inland: derived from the share cropper farmers; the olives produced are used both for oil as well as in typical dishes: - olive all’ascolana- the large green variety, are stuffed and deep-fried, a typical antipasto from the region. The pig is king in Marche. Suckling pig, a speciality, is stuffed with fennel, rosemary and garlic and roasted on the spit or in the oven. This dish originates in Marche, although it is also found in the bordering regions. Salami and Prosciutti are home-made from their own naturally- reared pigs, and different parts of the animal eg liver, cartilege of the head are sometimes added. Chicken, rabbit, duck and lamb are all part of the traditional cuisine and are often cooked “in porchetta”,which means with fennel. Another cooking technique is “in potacchio”, (from the French potage), which means braised in white wine, with garlic and rosemary, with or without tomato. Preparation is always elaborate and rich, with the ubiquitous rustic sophistication. For example, in a typical dish, galatina di pollo – the chicken is boned and skinned, the flesh minced, combined with herbs, and prosciutto, and then stuffed back into the skin and cooked, to be served thinly sliced and cold.
There are many traditional pasta dishes, the most representative of which is theVincisgrassi, the precursor of the lasagne – traditionally made with chicken giblet, sweet bread, pork, veal, lamb or chicken with béchamel and truffle, layered in sheets of pasta and baked.
Desserts often use slightly sweetened local soft cheeses, pecorino or ricotta, such asCalcioni or Piconi; a popular rustic cake the Frustenga is made with raisins, figs and walnuts.
Marche is where the principal cultures that have shaped Italy over the years - the Celts, the Greeks and the Etruscans - have come together and merged with the local Piceni tribe. Its cuisine is the result of the fusion of these cultures and is enriched with the flavours of its countryside.
Marche Recipe - OLIVE ALL'ASCOLANA
60-70 Extra large green olives
INGREDIENTS FOR BRAISING
3tbs Olive Oil
300GM Lean lamb
1 celery stick
INGREDIENTS FOR BLENDING
50gm prosciutto - diced
2tbs white wine
100ml chicken stock
1. Braise ingredients (see ingredients for braising) with olive oil until thoroughly cooked and caramelised and vegetables golden in colour
2. Let cool and mince
3. Mix the minced lamb mixture with prosciutto and rest of ingredients for blending. If too dry add more stock
4. Depending on type of olives either slice in half or peel around stone
5. Fill olives with stuffing
6. Beat eggs in a bowl Dip olives in flour, egg and then in breadcrumbs
Deep fry until golden brown
Monday - Thursday, Lunch 12.00 - 14.30, Dinner 18.30 - 22.30
Friday & Saturday, Lunch 12.00 - 14.30, Dinner 18.30 - 23.00