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Ascoli Piceno is a Haven for Aperitivo and Apericena

Our contributor explains the culinary treasure to be found in the aperitivo and apericena culture of Ascoli Piceno in Le Marche.

By Justin Patulli

9:00 AM EST on February 28, 2024

Photo: Courtesy of Alessandra Raimondi for Migliori Olive Ascolane.

Photo: Courtesy of Alessandra Raimondi for Migliori Olive Ascolane.

These days, it seems everyone wants to get in on the Italian ritual of aperitivo and apericena (the latter being a more robust version of the former with regard to the amount of food offered, typically via a hot/cold buffet). Though a popular tradition throughout Italy, few visitors venture beyond cities like Rome and Milan to experience it. But if you want something beyond bruschetta, cheese, and salami boards, or giardiniera, head to Ascoli Piceno, a provincial capital in the region of Le Marche in central Italy. With an abundance of finger foods, it’s almost as if the local cuisine was designed with aperitivo and apericena in mind. 

Le Marche remains one of Italy's undiscovered regions, and at its heart is the town of Ascoli Piceno. Its famous travertine buildings emanate an ambient glow, creating a magical atmosphere for an evening out. Featuring both mountains and coastline, Ascoli Piceno (and its namesake province) offers a unique cuisine. At the forefront of its culinary tradition is a love for frying, especially in the form of finger foods. From appetizers to desserts, there's no shortage of deep-fried delights! 

Savory 

Boasting DOP status, the ascolana tenera is a green olive varietal grown in the province of Ascoli Piceno. These are essential in the creation of the region's iconic olive ascolane. A labor of love to prepare, these stuffed olives are the taste of my childhood and are on almost every menu in town. The olives are first soaked, then peeled and stuffed with a mixture of finely-ground meats. Finally breaded and deep-fried, the result is nothing short of perfection for an aperitivo or apericena. Paired with a bitter Spritz or a locally produced white or red wine, these are a must-try when in Ascoli Piceno.

Undoubtedly next on the menu is breaded and fried custard, known as cremini or crema fritta. And while these are often enjoyed as a dessert elsewhere in Italy, here they're served with savory treats like olive ascolane. The combination of these two foods offers the perfect juxtaposition between savory and sweet. In ascolane families, platters of the olives and custard are a staple at family gatherings and special occasions. They are a part of what is known as fritto misto all’ascolana, which can also include breaded lamb chops or veal cutlets, in addition to breaded zucchini and artichokes. And it should come as no surprise that all of these items are fried! 

Fritto Misto all'Ascolane at Migliori Olive Ascolane (Piazza Arringo). Photo: Courtesy of Alessandra Raimondi for Migliori Olive Ascolane.

But the finger foods of Ascoli Piceno are not only limited to fried fare. Found in both savory and sweet preparations, Italian cheeses are renowned for their versatility. In Le Marche, the preferred choice is Pecorino. This sheep's milk cheese is the star ingredient in oven-baked ravioli, known as piconi ascolani. Stuffed with an egg and cheese mixture, the ravioli puff up in the oven to create an irresistible treat. As a kid, I grew up eating these as a snack, but they're also a great choice for aperitivo and apericena

Sweet

Regardless of what time of year you visit Ascoli Piceno, you’ll always find a wide assortment of sweet treats. But some dishes vary by season and location. This is especially true with desserts like fried sweet ravioli. If you visit Ascoli Piceno during carnevale, you’ll need to taste these! They come in a variety of fillings, including ricotta, custard, and chocolate chestnut cream. Featuring a hint of rum or anisetta liqueur, the latter of these are my favorite. Paired with an espresso, they’re a great way to cap off a night of indulgence. 

Another example is pesche all'alchermes, a popular dessert along the coast. Resembling peaches, two semi-sphere brioche cakes sandwich a custard filling. They’re then soaked in alchermes liqueur before being rolled in caster sugar to give them a realistic appearance. Despite their richness, these make for a refreshing ending to any apericena, especially during the hot summer months. 

Where to Try Local Fare

There are plenty of spots in Ascoli Piceno where one can sample local delights for aperitivo. And while you can't go wrong with any of the restaurants and wine bars in town, these are a few popular choices. 

Migliori Olive Ascolane

Ravioli Fritti (Dolce) at Migliori Olive Ascolane. Photo: Courtesy of Alessandra Raimondi for Migliori Olive Ascolane.

A hot spot among locals and renowned throughout Italy, Migliori Olive Ascolane is a leader for their production of olive ascolane. Located in Piazza Arringo, it delivers both charm and mouthwatering food. You can enjoy savory classics like fritto misto and piconi, along with sweet ravioli filled with chestnut cream. It’s the perfect place for a casual apericena, which is why locals flock here to catch up with family and friends. When in town, this is a must-visit! 

Caffè Meletti

Aperitivo Spritz and Fritto Misto at Caffè Meletti. Photo: Courtesy of Caffè Meletti.

A visit to Ascoli Piceno would be incomplete without a stop at the ever so elegant and iconic Caffè Meletti. Founded in 1907, it has hosted everyone from artists to aristocrats. In the town's famed Piazza del Popolo, it offers delicious food and drinks, along with an enchanting atmosphere. From the traditional fritto misto all'ascolana to modern creations, there's something for every palate. And don’t forget to sip some of their famous (and tasty) anisetta liqueur. It’s delicious on its own or in your espresso! After a visit, it'll be easy to understand why people can spend hours here. 

Siamo Fritti

Fritto Misto & Piconi at Siamo Fritti Wine Bar. Photo: Courtesy of Siamo Fritti (Ascoli Piceno).

Steps from Piazza del Popolo is where you will find Siamo Fritti. From lunch and dinner to aperitivo and wine tastings, it's a sure spot to delight your senses. This wine bar serves all the local delicacies like olive ascolane and cremini, along with other offerings like homemade potato chips. If you want to feel like a local and savor the wines of Le Marche, it won’t disappoint.

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