Stuffed Olives Ascoli-style
Ascoli Piceno, in the southern part of the Marche, awaits the curious visitor who arrives to find a town with two pulsating hearts: Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Arringo. The first, rectangular in shape and dominated by the Palazzo dei Capitani del Popolo (“Hall of Captains”) and surrounded by a pillared portico, is the main square where the citizens of Ascoli go for a stroll. The second, built on the site of the ancient Roman forum, is flanked by the Town Hall and the Cathedral; here is where one can see and ‘breathe’ all of the history of the town, from its Medieval plan to the embellishments brought during the Renaissance.
We, however, are visitors who have a weakness for good things to eat and drink. And so, we head to the one, Piazza del Popolo, to taste the famous Anisette liqueur at the Caffè Meletti of long-standing history and tradition, then head to the other, Piazza Arringo, to make a beeline for the Gastronomia Migliori, whose hallowed halls stand as the gastronomic symbol of the city and a temple to the delectable Ascoli-style olive, stuffed, breaded and fried. This tender olive of the Picene area is a particular variety which boasts a beautiful shade of green, is larger than more common olives and is mild-tasting; in fact, it was once highly sought-after to be served on the tables of the Pope in Rome. When it is preserved in salt brine it is already a marvelous treat, but when prepared the Ascoli way, it is nothing short of divine.
This recipe, it would seem, dates back to the post-Renaissance era or sometime in the 1700s and is truly unique. The olives are pitted and stuffed with a meat filling of beef and pork (some add some chicken or turkey, too) ground together and then browned and mixed with egg and parmesan cheese. Once stuffed, the olives are dipped in flour, egg and bread crumbs, then deep fried in extra virgin olive oil. These wonderful morsels make a tasty starter or, more often, are eaten as a snack, hot from the pan and tucked in a brown paper wrapper to be enjoyed as street food. Zè Migliori, well-known testimonial of local food traditions, is constantly working on continued research and on the production of the tender Ascoli olive for the on-going promotion of these scrumptious fried tidbits.
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