There is an Italian way of saying that simply smells of a rip-off. Those who promise “sea and mountain” speak of impossible things and when a recipe is mari e monti (sea and mountains) it means that it’s made with an element from the sea like prawns and one from the land like mushrooms. Either way, we call bullshit.
The combination of sea and mountains, however, is the soul of a large part of Italy, so long and narrow that snowy winters and sunny beaches, pastoralism and fishing often coexist, within a few kilometers of each other. Just like in the Marche, a small, small region of central Italy that you can only understand in this way, in its double soul. And that’s not a rip-off at all. On the one hand you are along the Romagna Riviera dotted with umbrellas, on the other practically in Umbria, you can eat fried fish of the day or spuntature*, very hardcore, you go to the Summer Jamporee festival in Senigallia where rockabilly from all over Europe converges, or to the Festival del Ciauscolo** in the inland villages. The Marche are still the Italy you don’t know about, even for Italians. This makes them immensely interesting.
The Marche enclose the gentle hills of Verdicchio and the cliffs of the Conero, seas, and mountains. And two souls in the kitchen too.
Chefs are the mirror of the country as much as politicians, and to describe the Marche just take two icons of the local starred cuisine, Moreno Cedroni and Errico Recanati. Water and fire, heaven and earth, sum up an entire gastronomic tour in their dishes. That is worth the trip.
On the beach at Clandestino
Moreno Cedroni has blue eyes and should have embarked on the marina, but he ended up with two Michelin stars and three restaurants overlooking the Adriatic. The elegant Madonnina del Pescatore on the outskirts of Senigallia, in Marzocca, in the city center in the Anikò gourmet kiosk and in the most iconic place, Il Clandestino in Portonovo – a former beach bar that has become THE new generation fish restaurant in the collective imagination. Il Clandestino Susci Bar is one of the most photographed restaurants in Italy, one of the most evocative, the place that marked the “reform” of a now-famous dish like sushi, which has become in the hands of the chef, ‘susci all’italiana’. Here the seafood sandwiches were born (yes, the ones you see everywhere) and to book you have to move well in advance. But Il Clandestino is not just an elite destination for gourmets, for 20 years it has also meant Algida ice creams, coffee drunk in bathing suits, bottles of fresh water and people from Ancona who literally use it as a parasol. It is an enchanting place, which opens for breakfast, serves lunch with historic dishes at popular prices, an aperitif for €10 with drinks and tapas and then relives in the evening. At sunset, it turns from a noisy kiosk into a corner of paradise, where the sky is tinged with pink and blue and then sinks into darkness for an evening menu that investigates a theme every year (in 2021, prehistoric sushi). A place to be.
Pilgrimage from Andreina to Loreto
Loreto is one of the main Marian places in the world, a pilgrimage sanctuary since the 15th century, but for cooking enthusiasts, Loreto is the town of Errico Recanati. Andreina is the name of this starred restaurant opened by his grandmother, as an appendage to the village grocery store, sixty years ago. It is she who began to cook the prey of the hunters in the area on the grill, but it is the grandson who inherited this art to make it the main cooking of this unique restaurant, where the fire, coal, and smoke become fine dining ingredients. Big and fat, Errico made a mission of ancestral gestures, even before it became a trend, and today he is the most acclaimed by insiders. Here you can eat the signature Cacio e 7 peppers cooked on the grill (and not in a pot of water!), Suckling pig on a spit with the historic recipe, guinea fowl and game, cauliflowers left to smoke for hours in the fireplace, lamb heart bottarga*** or mushrooms with dried spleen that tastes like mushroom dust. An extremely elegant cuisine, even in its presentations, elegant in its smoking, which transports you to dessert and a new, all-Italian vision of the barbecue. Unforgettable.
* small intestine of the suckling calf, braised and spiced
** very soft salami, almost to be spread
*** invention of the chef, who dries in the fireplace and smokes the heart and spleen, and then grates them as if they were tuna bottarga.