Marche (in English, this region is also known as the Marches) is a mountainous and hilly region facing the Adriatic Sea that allows for very little travel north and south, except on twisting roads over the passes. The mountain area is rugged, with narrow valleys, deep gorges and numerous rushing, sometimes inaccessible, streams. The coastline presents a succession of gently rolling hills and flat plains crossed by rivers. The regional capital is Ancona. Other important cities are Ascoli Piceno, Pesaro, Urbino and Macerata.
Prior to the 1980s, Marche was considered a rather poor region, although economically stable in some sectors, thanks to its agricultural and crafts industries. Today, the contribution of agriculture to the economy of the region is less significant. Their main products are cereals, vegetables, animal products and grapes. Olives are also produced and managed by various harvesters. The sea has always furnished a plentiful supply of fish with the main fishing centers located in Ancona, San Benedetto del Tronto, Fano and Civitanova Marche.
Many of the small craft workshops scattered throughout the rural settlements have modernised and become small businesses, some of which have become major brands known all over the world (Indesit, Tod’s, Guzzini, Teuco). This evolution led to the emergence of specialised industrial areas, which are profitable for the region, such as footwear and leather goods in the provinces of Macerata and Fermo; furniture in the Pesaro area; household appliances and textiles in Ancona, where engineering companies are also found (including ship building, petrochemicals and paper, as well as consumer goods). The region continues to draw tourists, whose increasing numbers have been attracted by the region’s rich heritage, as well as by the attractive seaside resorts.
One can visit the various workshops of local craftsmen, like those of violin makers, which attest to the skill and creativity of the region’s inhabitants. On the first Sunday of August, the streets of Ascoli serve as the background for the Quintana, in which expert horsemen challenge each other in a joust. The Cathedral of San Ciriaco rises on the site of an ancient Greek acropolis and is considered to be one of the most interesting Medieval churches in the Marches. Another site to visit is the fortress at Gradara, a magnificent example of medieval military architecture. According to legend, the fortress is where Paolo and Francesca kissed, as written about in “Canto V” of Dante’s Inferno.
If you love classical music, Pesaro hosts the Rossini Opera Festival with two weeks of complete immersion into the music of Gioacchino Rossini (a native of Pesaro) every August.
Take A Tour Of The Marches
The cuisine of Marche has been greatly influenced by other regions and by invading peoples throughout its long history.
Creamy sauces made from chicken giblets are used liberally in Marche cooking. Pork recipes rely on generous chunks instead of the traditional thin prosciutto style servings. Since pork is so readily available, there are many types of sausage made in Marche. A local favorite is a smoked sausage called ciauscolo and it is made with half pork and half pork fat and it is seasoned with salt, pepper, orange peel and fennel seed.
Polenta made from corn, seasoned with oil, cheese, lard, onions, ricotta, tomatoes, greens, legumes, etc.; bread made from a mixture of cornmeal and flour, wine and occasionally salt pork, is the typical diet of Marche shepherds and farmers.
Olives grow well in Marche and are often stuffed with savory meat fillings. Grapes, grains, mushrooms and a wide variety of vegetables are found throughout the region.
Casciotta d’Urbino is a sheep and cow milk cheese, hand-pressed into rounds, that are then salted and cured in a moist environment, producing a velvety texture. Ambra di Talamello is made from goat, sheep or cow milk and is cured in a pit lined with straw, resulting in an earthy flavor. Cacio La Forma di Limone is a sheep milk cheese made with lemons, then formed into small balls (that look a bit like lemons). They are rubbed with a salt and lemon mixture for curing, resulting in a refreshingly light lemon tang. Pecorino cheeses can be found in the region as well.
Pasta in the Marche region is rich with eggs that are formed into wide noodles, like lasagna and pappardelle. The region’s signature dish is vincisgrassi, a pasta casserole with meat sauce. Other pastas like spaghetti alla chitarra, spaghettini, tagliatelle and maccheroncini are typical of Marche dishes.
Along the coast, soup is popular, but it takes the form of brodetto – fish soup. Brodetto are prepared with all types of fish and varying other ingredients like vinegar, flour, garlic and saffron. Other seafood favorites include dried codfish, sole, bream, clams and mussels.
Marche desserts include a Pizza Dolce or sweet pizza and Frustenga a cake made with raisins, figs and walnuts.
Traditional Recipes From Marche
Calamari Marche Style
- 2 lbs small squid, cleaned and cut into rings
- 1 fresh flat leaf parsley sprig, chopped
- 2 salted anchovies
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove
- 5 tablespoons white wine
- Salt and pepper
Remove the anchovy heads, clean and fillet them, if they are not bought as fillets. Soak them in cold water for 10 minutes and drain.
Chop the anchovy fillets.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet with the garlic and parsley.
Add the squid and anchovies. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook over a low heat for 10 minutes.
Stir in the wine and 3 tablespoons water. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes until tender. Serves 4.
Mussels and Clams in White Wine
- 1 lb or 500 grams of mussels, rinsed, cleaned & beards removed
- 1 lb or 500 grams of clams, cleaned
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 cup white wine
- 4 cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
- Red pepper or chili flakes
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for garnishing
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over low heat and slowly cook the garlic until brown all over.
Turn the heat up, add the chili flakes and clams – cook about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Then add in the mussels.
Turn up the heat and toss in the cherry tomatoes, sauteing for a moment or two.
Add the white wine and cover the pan. Allow to cook covered 1-2 minutes until the shells open. Then shut off the heat and add the parsley. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.
Spaghetti alla Marchigiana
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 1/3 pound guanciale or pancetta cut into little cubes
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 fresh chili pepper left whole
- 1/3 cup grated pecorino cheese
- Salt to taste
In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the spaghetti al dente.
Meanwhile, in a saucepan sauté the guanciale and fresh chili pepper in the olive oil.
When the guanciale is crispy and golden, add the onion and garlic and continue to sauté. Add salt to taste.
Once the onion and garlic have become golden, take the pan off of the heat and set aside.
Put the drained spaghetti into a serving dish and sprinkle the pecorino cheese on top.
Pour the onion, olive oil and guanciale sauce over the top of the pasta. Mix well and serve.
Additional pecorino cheese can be sprinkled over the pasta as a finishing touch.
Polenta with Beans and Cabbage
- 1 1/3 pounds (5-600 g) finely ground cornmeal (polenta)
- 6 ounces (150 g) dried fava beans
- 6 ounces (150 g) dried white beans
- 1 to 1 1/3 pounds (5-600 g) green or red cabbage
- 1/4 pound (100 g) guanciale or pancetta, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
Soak the beans and fava beans separately in water to cover overnight and cook them separately until tender.
Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the tomato paste, the minced herbs and the guanciale, reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook the mixture gently for about 30 minutes, taking care to not let it brown.
Lightly salt and shred the cabbage,
In the meantime, heat 2 quarts of water. When it comes to a boil, add the cornmeal in a very slow stream (you don’t want the pot to stop boiling), stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to keep lumps from forming. Add the cabbage and continue stirring, in the same direction, as the mush thickens, for about a half-hour (the longer you stir the better the polenta will be; the finished polenta should have the consistency of firm mashed potatoes), adding boiling water as necessary. The polenta is done when it peels easily off the sides of the pot.
Stir the beans and the sauce into the polenta when it’s ready, let everything rest for a minute and then turn the mixture out onto the polenta board or large platter.
Funghetti Di Offida
- 1 ½ lb all-purpose flour
- 1 ¼ lb sugar
- 1 large pinch anise seed
Using a mixer work together the flour, sugar and anise seed with a little water until you have a smooth dough.
Form the dough into 1-inch balls and allow them to dry for thirty minutes on parchment paper.
Place the balls in a mini muffin tin, one ball in each mold. The molds should be small enough so that the dough touches the edge.
Bake the cookies in a 350°F oven for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
Remove from the oven and serve hot. Reheat before serving, if you plan to serve them later.