image courtesy Italia Living
Could Ascoli Piceno be Italy's best kept secret? While gaggles of visitors flock to Rome and Tuscany, only a savvy few have explored Ascoli Piceno in the Le Marche region. In fact, the NY Times actually deemed Ascoli Piceno "the new Tuscany." I was recently invited to attend a get-to-know Ascoli Piceno event at the International Culinary Center in NYC and I am very intrigued by this town of towers (more than 50) just 2 hours from Rome that offers beaches, mountains, fine food & wine, and so much more. If you are visiting Italy, here are a few reasons to add Ascoli Piceno to your itinerary.
Location: Italy's Le Marche region is bordered on the east by the Adriatic Sea and Ascoli Piceno is the southernmost province. Ascoli Piceno has a population of about 60,000 people.
What to See: The Piazza del Popolo is the heart of Ascoli Piceno. No cars are allowed in this travertine paved square.
image courtesy Italia Living
Piazza del Popolo
Ascoli Piceno also hosts a variety of medieval and renaissance festivals. Local museums include the Modern Graphic Art Gallery, the Pottery Museum and the Municipal Art Gallery. I was even told that Ascoli Piceno has the world's largest seashell museum!
Chef Emilio Pasqualini and Francine Segan
Of course, you can't talk about Italy and not mention the food. Chef Emilio Pasqualini flew in from Italy to prepare a few of Ascoli Piceno's signature dishes. He didn't speak a word of English but was so charming. My friend Francine Segan, food historian & cookbook author, acted as translator and presented a short overview of the region and the food. Francine actually dined at Chef Pasqualini's restaurant Cantina del Picchio and said, "the hands-down best meals I’ve ever had in Italy and I’ve been going there for months at a time for 20 years!"
Our culinary journey to Ascoli Piceno began with Oliva all' Ascolana. Large green Ascolana olives are pitted and stuffed with a savory mixture of beef, pork, chicken, pecorino & parmigiano cheese, nutmeg and more. They are then breaded and fried. Crispy on the outside and juicy in the middle, these are very tasty little morsels!
Chef Pasqualini then dazzled us with Sugo al ragu' Piceno. The tomato sauce is emboldened with three meats - ground beef & pork, and minced chicken liver and gizzards. The dish uses a very special pasta called campofilone. Very thin and delicate, campofilone contains twice as many eggs as most Italian pastas. A very rich and satisfying dish. I really wanted seconds!
We ended our tastebud travels to Ascoli Piceno with this Savory Cheese Bread (Pizza con il formaggio). Made with a sourdough starter and Pecorino cheese (fresh & aged), it is a dense bread that would pair perfectly with salami.
Of course, the dishes were paired with wines from the Le Marche region. Le Caniette Lucrezia Passerina DocG is a refreshing white wine made from 100% Passerina grapes. The wine is fruity with notes of citrus but not too sweet - a real pleasure to the palate. Le Caniette vineyard was founded in 1897 and these 4th generation winemakers take pride in their certified organic wines. About $12 per bottle.
Founded in 2003, Domodimonti specializes in natural wines with minimum additives and minimal impact on the environment. In 2010, they opened a state of the art tasting room. Several of their acclaimed wines are in the $20 and under range.
So, are you also intrigued by Ascoli Piceno? To learn more, I recommend Francine Segan's article in Italia Living. The official Ascoli Piceno website is also a resource - it is written in Italian but you can use Google Translator to read it in English.