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Cook Like the Marchigiani

February 01, 2015

Cook like the Marchigiani.  You may be asking yourself .... who or what is the Marchigiani?  It is the people of the Italian region of Le Marche of course!  Now that we have that cleared up, the one thing culinary enthusiasts know about Italian cuisine is that top quality and seasonal ingredients are critical for simple, but spectacular meals.  There are actually very few rules when it comes to cooking Italian food, however a tremendous number of opinions exist depending upon who you ask, what region you are sourcing, and of course, tradition.  This may have you contemplating methods and ingredients but as far as I'm concerned, that's what makes cooking fun!  It's a shame when dishes become so complicated it puts you off and even in Italy, we don't have all day to cook.  I have lived in Le Marche for sometime now and the longer I live here, the more I appreciate this region's variety and flexibility in creating flavorful dishes.  Without the use of butter and heavy cream on the Adriatic seaside, you have fresh and light pasta sauces with clams, fish and mussels over homemade tagliatelle pasta, soups with large shrimp flavoring a broth, calamari spiedini or a mixed seafood salad.


Only minutes away from the shoreline begin the entry to valleys that weave their way toward the Sibillini Mountains.  Throughout the region's valleys we enjoy acre after acre of eye popping beauty with various types agriculture that not only fill the landscape but supply our local supermarkets with fruits and vegetables with nearly zero kilometer for transport.  Just a short drive 10-15 minutes inland you are delighted with pappardelle al ragu di cinghiale (wild boar), grilled lamb and beef from nearby pastures, pan seared chicken and roasted potatoes, or mushrooms found in the mountainous woods to flavor a rich risotto. The pizza in Le Marche region is thin and nearly cracker-like .... which I adore!  Often you will find a pizza called "Monte e Mare", translating to "The Mountain and the Sea" using seafood toppings with cheese, mushrooms and olives.  From the hillsides to the edge of the Adriatic Sea, olive groves thrive, producing a wonderfully fruity and buttery olive oil from a varietal we use for Casal Cristiana Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil called Frantoio.  This olive oil is used generously on most Marchigiani dishes. 

I've been experimenting in the kitchen with the local seafood lately and was so happy when I created this shrimp and potato stew that is hearty, not heavy, for lunch one day!  Here's the recipe, well, it's loosely a recipe and hopefully you will find my instructions helpful for your own re-creation.  Look at the photos for the ingredients, provided are estimates, and use your own intuition with what your soup needs because with fresh ingredients from various regions, the flavors will vary.  I believe in creating soups from the bottom up, meaning, developing a good base flavor.  This recipe is plenty for two people as a main dish or for four as a first course.  Here's what I used for Zuppa di Gamberi e Patate .... piu o meno (more or less):

Pancetta (not bacon -- bacon's smokey flavor would overpower this soup) -- cut off most of the fat and dice up into bits.  Garlic -- remove paper-like peel and lightly crush with the edge of your knife to release the garlic oil, but leave whole.  Pepperoncini -- one is enough spice for our family, carefully clean, slice the little pepper down the side, scrap out the seeds and discard.  Leave whole as well.  Small Onion -- remove peel and cut in half.   Carrot, one large or two small, washed, peeled and diced into small pieces.  Celery -- one rib, diced superfine. Yukon Gold Potatoes, about two pounds, washed, peeled and diced into bite size pieces.  Prawns in their shells, 16 - 24.  Lemon, the kind with the thick skin work best as you will want to peel only the yellow part.  Sea Salt, 2-3 fresh Bay Leaves and about 1/4 cup of Casal Cristiana Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil (plus more for finishing). Preparing the shrimp broth is easy.  The medium size prawns I purchased were pre-boiled but completely whole.  So I rinsed them under cold water, took off their heads (toss those) and then removed all the shells.  Using a small sauce pot put about 2 cups of lightly salted water, add a bay leaf, the shrimp shells and lemon peel.  Bring to a light simmer for 10 - 15 minutes.  Turn off heat so that too much liquid doesn't evaporate while the rest of the soup is cooking.  Reserve your broth, it's the final step to this soup.   Now for the main soup base: First place a heavy bottomed sauce pot on the stove and bring up to a medium heat.  Add olive oil, 2 - 3 tablespoons, just as it starts to get hot (not smoking) add pancetta, onion pieces, pepperoncini, carrots and bay leaves.  Add a pinch or two of fine sea salt and let it sizzle for a few minutes to begin searing the pancetta and initiate cooking the vegetables. Give the ingredients a stir with a wooden spoon to ensure the oil is getting overly hot and to prevent burning.  Reduce heat if necessary.  Add 4-5 cups of water and then prepared, diced potatoes.  Cover pot and let it simmer until potatoes are tender to the fork, about 20 - 30 minutes.  Taste soup prior to adding shrimp broth, now half a cup at a time put in strained shrimp broth, tasting after each addition.  I used all the broth and if you want more lemon, squeeze a bit of fresh lemon juice into the soup.  Finish off with about 1/4 cup of Casal Cristiana Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil, drizzling over the soup with a large spoon.  I had lots of prawns that day (lucky me!) so what ever I didn't use in the soup, we enjoyed peel and eat shrimp along side a french baguette with our soup.  It was a perfect lunch that felt nourishing and energizing for these cold, winter days.  if you would like this recipe sent to you, sign up for our email list to receive recipes, Italian stories, and olive oil news!  Enjoy and Buon Appetito!   

Prawn and Potato Soup by Rebecca Ponzi





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