Our journey through Italy’s famous wine regions continues, as we sample from two more regions on the eastern Italian coast: Marche and Molise.
Coined “the New Tuscany”, the Marche region (pronounced “mark-eh”) sits centered on Italy’s east coast. Historically it did not escape the various invasions and power struggles common throughout Italy. However, it was able to stave off severe land ownership fragmentation (‘latifondo’), and also due to its agricultural output and local traditional crafts, never became one of the poorest Italian regions. Marche enjoys a long coastline, and fish figures prominently in her cuisine. She ranks in the lowest quartile in size, but in the middle of all regions for DOC registered plots. She also ranks right in the middle for DOC hecoliter production, which as nature would lovingly have it—given the predominance of fish—is 75% white.
The grandmaster of Marche’s whites is the Verdicchio, often seen in a green amphora bottle, from the hilly region west of the port town of Ancona. Verdicchio is heralded as Italy’s premier white wine to pair with fish. Verdicchio has also been rendered as a sparkly wine, using the charmat method, which involves forcing a second fermentation in large stainless steel vats, as opposed to single bottles. Other noteworthy whites, each awesome with fish, are Bianchello del Metauro and Falerio dei Colli Ascolani.
When enjoying a fish course, served on steaming polenta or fresh pasta, any of Marche’s whites could perfectly match. And, in spite of the emphasis on her exuberant whites, Marche region reds will be quickly recognized by the wine connoisseur (or anyone following our virtual jaunt through Italy!) – Sangiovese and Montepulciano.
Little Molise region is next to smallest both in acreage and population and sits just above the long spur above Italy’s “heel.” While this region boasts the moderate Adriatic climate and sunny hillsides, for some reason it has not been able to produce wines that meet neighboring region Abruzzo or Campania’s exacting standards. It produces the smallest percentage of classified wines in total, although in the 1980s gained recognition for the DOCs Pentro and Biferno. Either local consumption (in a small population) or the relative youth of its wine industry could be explanations for why it lags behind in top quality wine production yet shares many of the geographical requirements, which are the basis for exactly those kinds of wines.
In the inland hills, pork is the most common meat in Molise cuisine, served with greens, vegetables. Fish abounds coastside, often served with risotto.
Below is a recipe for a simple vegetable casserole, which goes great with fish or meat or as a standalone main dish. Choose your favorite wine. Both red and white will work. (Recipe adapted slightly from about.com Italian food.)
Prep Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
- 1 1/3 pounds (600 g) ripe plum tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded, chopped & drained (in winter canned tomatoes will do)
- 1 pound (500 g) eggplant
- 1 pound (500 g) potatoes, peeled and sliced
- 1 pound (500 g) onion, sliced
- 2 ribs celery, finely minced
- Finely chopped fresh oregano
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons minced parsley
- Olive oil
- Salt & freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 360 F (180 C).
Trim stems and bottoms of eggplant. Slice finely. Place slices in a colander covered with salt, for about an hour. The salt will draw out the eggplant’s bitter juices. Rinse slices, and pat dry. Slice remaining vegetables and potatoes.
Oil a large casserole dish and place sliced vegetables and potatoes in layers, seasoning each layer with minced herbs, salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. When you are done layering, sprinkle a little more olive oil over the top, cover and bake until the vegetables are fairly dry. The potatoes will absorb some of the vegetable waters, but check for overly “soupiness” before serving, and discard any extra liquid.