I have always lived right on this border between Marche and Romagna, twi places so different you could barely believe they are neighbors. As a result, Gradara is a cultural limbo which dialect and lifestyle is clearly romagnolo, but with an accent that has a slightly different edge. It is far from the Marche Apennines, and far from the Padan plain that from Romagna fades into Emilia. Our culture, near yet far from everything, seems to reside within us like sheep within a fence.
But how far are we from the heart of Marche, really?
Sometimes, I think it is a matter of seasons.
Romagna is the halcyon of carefree summers; the shores of its beaches filling up with tourists who hold cones of piadina stuffed with grilled seafood, line up at trattorie to eat passatelli and rustída, and assemble tables outdoors to celebrate the good weather with Sangiovese wine.
(Photo by Paolo Vecchiotti)
Marche shines during the fall, when its lush forests and tall mountains turn every shade of red, from burgundy to orange-ish, and its ground is scoured by hunting dogs at the search for truffles and porcini mushrooms. It is a majestic, melancholic scenery – a much less festive, more meditative one than that of Romagna. It is a scenery that sits beautifully in its own silence, like a hermit atop his mountain.
Marche were so different from Romagna and its festive noise. Marche are the kid sitting at the far end of the classroom, the one with thick glasses, considered by few but who is the smartest of the group. Marche are the beautiful, shy girl sitting at the edge of the dance floor, confident she does not really need a knight – a confidence that scares away all the boys but makes them all the more attractive.
In their dim silence, Marche disclose the wildest beauty for those who open their eyes and see through them. The grandness of its mountains is difficult to capture with a camera: the only way to really experience it is be in the midst of them.
I loved repeating the romantic names of their medieval towns to myself: Amandola. Cupra Montana. Castelsantangelo sul Nera. Arquata del Tronto. Names that are long and subtly elegant, as if they belonged to royalty.
I have always felt like a welcome visitor in this land, with my strong Romagna accent that always immediately gave away my alien origin. The years I spent as a student in Urbino, where my mom’s family came from – when on the other hand, funnily enough, my father came from Cesena, the heart of Romagna – made it feel like a second home. Its proximity made it a frequent protagonist of my many Sunday trips.
In the dancing ruckus that are Romagna and its people, I turn my eyes to Marche when my spirit needs some quietness.
(Photo by Paolo Vecchiotti)
This post was born as a collaboration with Amío Pulses. I am grateful of how I was reminded of the importance of the humblest of foods – foods that have been called ‘the poor man’s meat’ for their nutritional content and that never failed to satisfy a single man or woman throughout this country’s history. The ingredients in these recipes are all deeply rooted in the gastronomy of Marche: porcini, lentils and truffle are the halberd of the region’s fall cooking.
We might not know where we belong, or not feel fully Marchigiani. We might speak Romagna dialect and eat ciambellone instead of ciambelle al mosto. We might be on or beyond the borders.
But give us a bowl of legumes, and we will know we are never quite too far from the heart of Marche.
- 10g dried porcini
- 4 tbsps olive oil, plus more for the baking dish
- 1 small shallot, finely chopped
- ½ small onion, finely chopped
- 1 lb / 450g mixed 'western' mushrooms (button, cremini, porcini), cleaned
- Salt & pepper
- 100g lentils
- 100g risotto rice (brown or white)
- 1 bay leaf
- Vegetable stock
- 50 to 80 g grated Parmigiano or Grana or Pecorino cheese
- A handful roasted chestnuts, optional
- 1 to 3 Teaspoons truffle paste, optional
- Soak the dried porcini in boiling hot water for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Heat the olive oil in a pot and add the shallot and onion. Let the onion turn gold, about 10 minutes.
- Dice the mushrooms and add to the onion. Squeeze the porcini from their water, mince them, and add them to the pot - keep their water. Sauté for 5 minutes, and a good sprinkling of add salt and pepper. Stir and add the filtered porcini water along with some veggie stock, so that you have ½ cup liquid. Let the lentils cook until you cover the difference with the rice cooking time (lentils should take 30 minutes, rice should take 20). Once ready, stir in the rice, making sure there is not too much liquid in the pot when you do. Stir for a minute.
- Add the bay leaf, and add enough stock to cover everything. Cover, and let simmer for about 20 minutes. Uncover and simmer until most of the stick has been absorbed, 10 more minutes. Stir every now and then. If the lenticchiotto dries up too much, add more liquid.
- It will be ready when both the rice and the lentils will be soft and will have turned creamy.
- Stir in half the cheese, and the truffle paste if using. Check for salt and pepper. Add the remaining cheese evenly on top, and broil until gold and bubbly.
- Garnish with roasted chestnuts if you like.