I realize that I have neglected a very important aspect of my stay in Italy – the food. Well, let’s just say that it has stood up to my high expectations. On one of my first days here, Loredana explained to me that she tries to buy as much food as she can from local producers. This region produces delicious olive oil and wine, in addition to all kinds of fruits and vegetables. It’s very common to have a vegetable garden in your yard, so Loredana often gets vegetables from friends.
It only takes one look across the patchwork of farms that makes up this region to know that it remains firmly rooted in agricultural production. Since I have become so passionate about the growing movement in the United States that encourages consumers to buy their produce from local sources, it is amazing for me to be in a place where this practice is so engrained in the culture.
Loredana took me to see the harbor in San Benedetto where the fishermen arrive with the fresh catch almost every morning. I walked along the shoreline, admiring the boats filled with rough-looking men preparing for their next trip out to sea.
And right across the parking lot is a market where some of the fish is brought directly, to be sold to the locals. (The rest is packed in ice and shipped primarily to the cities up north.)
The chain from producer to consumer does not get much shorter than that!
After I had sufficiently photographed each boat, we went into the market to buy some fish for dinner.
There’s Loredana and Giorgia, my host-mom and sister, talking with the vendor (who they know by name). We got alici, fresh anchovies – they were delicious!
So what kinds of things have I been eating? Well, most of it isn’t new, since I’m lucky enough to have a mother who cooks wonderful Mediterranean-influenced dishes. There have been tomato and mozzarella salads, and lots of cappuccinos. I have had plenty of pasta: baked pasta with mozzarella, spaghetti with pesto, maccheroncini (another kind of pasta) with red fish sauce. Loredana also prepares a lot of fried dishes: fried zucchini, homemade french fries (yum), and fried fish. Of course, fish is quite predominant in the cuisine of this area, because of its proximity to the sea. And for breakfast today, I just had a piece of nutella cake. Yes, it was delicious. And yes, I could have refused such a decadent breakfast and waited until a more reasonable hour…but then I just wouldn’t be me.
(Note: I have been having insatiable chocolate cravings, because dessert here is almost always some fruit, or nothing at all. I’m so used to having some baked goods around to snack on!)
Loredana isn’t much of a baker, although she is a wonderful cook. (The nutella cake was from a friend.) But she knows that I like to bake, so we tried to make a cake together, called ciambellone. It is a very popular cake in this region of Italy, and it is commonly eaten for breakfast. It’s very simple, and don’t expect it to be as sweet as an American cake. Ours turned out a little dense, but we altered the recipe a little, and I thought I’d include it in case anyone wants to give it a try! I’m also including a more reliable recipe of Loredana’s, for fried zucchini.
2 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar*
1 cup milk
1/2 cup olive oil
The zest of one lemon
A splash of liquor (we used Mistra’, a dry liquor of the Marche region)
Baking powder (I don’t know exactly how much! But I’m sure between 1 teaspoon and 1 tablespoon.)
Combine the flour and baking powder and set aside.
Combine the sugar and eggs. Add milk, oil, lemon zest, and liquor. Mix well. Slowly pour in the flour and baking powder. Pour the mixture into an oiled and floured bundt pan. Bake in a 180° oven for about 40 minutes. (I’m not sure about the timing, so keep an eye on it. It should turn lightly golden brown.)
*If you want this to be more of a dessert cake, use a little more sugar.
This recipe is from a book of Loredana’s called La Cucina delle Marche – The Cuisine of the Marche Region.
Serves 6 people
1 kg of zucchini, cleaned and cut into strips (think french fries)
Oil for frying
2 tablespoons + 1/4 teaspoon flour
The zest of a lemon (Loredana skips this ingredient)
2 pinches salt
Whisk the eggs. Add flour gradually while continuing to whisk, to avoid clumps. Add salt. You can also add a splash of milk.
Pour oil into a deep pan and turn heat on high. Mix the strips of zucchini into the batter while the oil heats up to a high temperature.
Drop the strips of zucchini one at a time into the hot oil. Keep an eye on them, because it doesn’t take long. Flip them once before removing them from the oil onto a paper towel-lined platter. Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.
(If you can get your hands on some fresh anchovies, Loredana just coats each one with flour and fries, after cleaning them.)