|Posted by Agriturismoilcinghialino on August 23, 2009 at 5:47 AM|
The local specialty food of Ascoli Piceno is an addictive one: giganticolives that are stuffed with meat and deep-fried. It may sound odd, but theyare very good. In fact, Bryanloves them, and he normally does not eat olives! Around the Piceno, no party orantipasto plate is complete without them.
The Ascolani say that this tradition actuallydates back to Roman times, but, like most things in this part of the country,it came into its own during the Medieval period. It is a rather ingenious dish,utilizing the most common (some may say 'humble') products at hand and turningthem into a delicacy.
It was originally a way to use up scraps ofmeat and cheese. The local olive variety, found only in this part of thecountry, is called the tenera ascolana. It is a behemoth as far as olives areconcerned, very large ovals that are very 'meaty'. The olive is a D.O.P. item,as is the final dish of olive all'ascolana (a special certification for theauthenticity of specialty regional products).
Local tradition dictates the olives be pittedby hand a spirale, in a spiral around the pit. The olive meat is then"reconstructed" around the little balls of meat before being breadedand fried. Special curved olive-pitting knives are sold in the local cutleryshops, some embossed with the Ascoli Piceno emblem, making them nice souvenirs. I oncewatched my former landlord pit about 300 olives this way and quickly decidedthat buying pre-pitted olives in tubs would be just fine for an americana like me!
The tenera ascolana olives are also unique inthat they are cured in a brine of water and sea salt instead of vinegar. Thismakes a huge difference in the taste; there is no 'pucker factor' with theseolives.
The meats selected always include pork andchicken; from that base other "scelte" are added according to taste.Indeed, each person I know in Ascoli Piceno makes their stuffed olives slightlydifferently. Some add a bit of beef or veal to the mix; others insist it musthave some prosciutto. I've run across a few that include mortadella, and oneman who used pancetta. As for the cheese, most use grana padano, but local,aged pecorino is popular, too. Odori (spices) vary, as well; some cooks addcelery and carrot to the pot of cooking meat (pulling it out beforeproceeding); some like nutmeg, others say it overpowers the flavor. Littlearguments break out over the "correct" way to make them, witheveryone always referring back to the authoritative, "Well, that is theway my grandmother made them!" Since this was cucina povera, whatever wasat hand was what they used, which is why everyone's nonna makes it her own way!
Next time I'll post the recipe, which was alittle labor of love to translate and adapt, let me tell you! My friends'recipes required measurement conversions (something I'm still not adept at,even after three years), and frankly the quantities were huge! Dorina, myformer landlord, told me, "If you're going to make them, you may as wellmake 300 of them, because why go to all that work for just a few? She had apoint. My recipe will make about 100. Once they are prepared and breaded, theycan be frozen until you're ready to fry them.