Welcome back to our Fritti series! The Marche region can be considered a food confederacy: influenced in the north by neighboring Romagna, it also gets its southern accent from Abruzzo and by Umbria, and some of its carnivore traits from Tuscany and Lazio to the west. The mountain-locked city of Ascoli Piceno is a gorgeous display of art: Piazza del Popolo is an elegant Renaissance square, the historic center is mostly paved with beautiful travertine marble; the 13th-century Palazzo dei Capitani del Popolo is a palace built over ancient Roman ruins. The Civic Picture Gallery, decorated with Murano glass chandeliers, displays paintings by Titian. But nothing, NOTHING, stands in the way of Ascoli’s biggest masterpiece: olive ascolane.
A blow to the liver, but incredibly tasty and original, olive ascolane are lightly brined green olives that are rolled into perfect balls of ground veal and pork meat, then breaded and deep fried into crisp and tangy bite-size morsels of steaming nirvana.
A little history of olive ascolane
Food historians date of the birth of stuffed and fried olive ascolane in the year 1800. At the time, cooks who worked for local noble families made a deal with each other, inventing the filling for these particular local olives to use up the considerable amount and variety of meats available to their kitchens, due to the increase in royalties that weighed on the peasants towards their masters.
If you happen to travel to the Marche region, know that every year in August Ascoli Piceno hosts an entire food festival dedicated to olive ascolane.
Olive ascolane recipe
For best results, quality of the ingredients is always key: The green olives used for the olive ascolane recipe belong to the “Ascolana Tenera” variety of the genus Olea europaea sativa, already known and appreciated in ancient Roman times. Since 2005 this olive variety has acquired Protected Designation of Origin status.
Not the quickest of preparations, olive ascolane are the perfect antipasto. With their rich and tasty character, there is no need to dip these in anything. Simply sip your wine, pop one in your mouth and prepare to smile.
- 2 lbs green Ascoli olives (large, lightly brined, rinsed)
- 1 small onion, minced
- 1 carrot, minced
- 1 celery rib, minced
- 3/4 cup lean veal or chicken, ground
- 3/4 cup lean pork, ground
- 5 slices of prosciutto, finely chopped
- A fistful of Pecorino Romano, grated
- A fistful of Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
- 4 eggs
- 1/4 cup triple tomato concentrate
- 2 cups breadcrumbs
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1/2 glass dry, white wine
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Peanut or sunflower seed oil for frying
- Salt and pepper
Start by preparing the filling. Mix the ground meats and prosciutto with a fork. In a large pan heat 5 tbsp olive oil and brown the meats with the minced onion, celery and carrot. Add very little salt and pepper and moisten with the wine. When the wine evaporates, cover and continue cooking until the meat is thoroughly browned, but not dry.
In a large mixing bowl, mix together the cooled meats with the grated cheeses, a fistful of breadcrumbs, the nutmeg, tomato concentrate and 2 eggs. Combine all while your assistant uncorks the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi.
Remove the pit from the olives. A good way is to carve them away with a sharp paring knife, starting from the top and working your way down, obtaining one single long strip like when peeling an apple.
Stuff the pitted olive pulp with the meat mixture, rolling each into 1-inch globes. If during the pitting phase some break, you can reconstruct them during stuffing.
Once you have stuffed all your olives, line up three bowls. Fill the first bowl with flour, the second bowl with 2 beaten eggs (with a pinch of salt), and fill the third bowl with the breadcrumbs. Tumble your stuffed olive ascolane in the flour, then plunge them in the beaten eggs and finally roll them in the breadcrumbs. Chill the stuffed olives for 1 hour before frying.
Heat plenty of frying oil in a large frying pan. The more oil you have in the pan, the less likely the crust will fall off your olives during frying. When the oil temperature reaches 350° F deep fry in the hot oil in small batches. They are done when the crust becomes a beautiful golden color.
Briefly dry on paper towel, hit with salt immediately and polish off at luciferine temperature.