Fried foods might not be prevalent in the Mediterranean diet, but they’re definitely present… and you’ll find il fritto (or derivatives) in a few Italian idiomatic expressions, too:
– siamo fritti (lit. “we’re fried,” meaning “we’re in trouble”)
– mandare a farsi friggere (best translated as “to send someone off to fry themselves” i.e., to tell someone off.)
– un fritto misto (“a fried foods” mix, refers to a mix of unrelated people, objects or words)
…and fritto takes the stage at the late April/early May Fritto Misto festival in Ascoli Piceno in the Marches region.
During the festival, white tents fanning out before the medieval travertine buildings in Piazza Arringo and encircling the whimsical fountains offer an array of fried foods from all over Italy – and not only – as well as tastes of the region’s wines and olive oils. Visitors line up to order tempura, samosas (vegan ones, too!), fajitas, fish and chips and even gluten-free fried chicken, all served in paper cones.
But the Italian specialties seem to take the lead: fried cheeses, panzerotti (from Puglia) stuffed with mozzarella and tomatoes, fried codfish with fried artichokes, mixed fish fry, fried zucchini flowers – and even fried pizza! And how not to mention the Sicilian goodness: arancini (fried rice balls), cannoli (the cones are fried) and ricotta-filled zippole?
Near the food tents, a sommelier conducts wine-tastings while in a nearby booth, beers of micro-breweries are the choice for fried food-pairings for some visitors. In one tent, an organic olive oil producer offers tastes of her “green gold,” and you can sign up your children for organic farming workshops at their farm.
Olive ascolane, the giant, stuffed olives of the Ascoli Piceno area, are certainly one of the festival stars, for sale at many a booth. Not only: cooking classes for pre-schoolers and grade school children teach the little ones how to make this marchigiano specialty.
Cooking classes by noted chefs are also part of ten-day festival program. We talked to chef Rosaria (from the Marches coastal area) as she and assistant Samantha prepared their bomboloni (fried “bombs”… well, they’re not light!), one with fillings of pecorino and ciauscolo (a fresh salami), one with anchovies and another made with wild field greens, pistachios and sesame.
Her fried sandwiches are filled with three kinds of mousse: one of fave beans, another of pecorino (sheep’s milk cheese) and one of ciauscolo. “Why did you choose these ingredients?” I asked Rosaria as she mixed and molded with her assistants, Damiano and Chiara. With a reply she smiled, “Because on May 1st – Worker’s Day – workers in the villages would go into the countryside for picnics with simple ingredients, made from foods they grew, animals they raised.”
When you’re satiated with the foods and tasted the Marches wine varieties, you’ll need a walk. Guided walking tours of Ascoli are offered by local guides – or hop the trenino, put on the earphones and enjoy the guided tour (in English, too!) as the train winds down medieval backstreets, past the Roman arches, in front of Roman amphitheater ruins and into the charming porticoed Piazza del Popolo.
And if you missed this year’s Fritto Misto festival (the eleventh edition) in Ascoli Piceno, take heart: the Marches region has chosen Fritto Misto as one of the marchigiano culinary events representing the region at EXPO 2015 (in Milan), dedicated to foods.