My day, as is usual on our first morning in Italy, began early. No coffee in our hotel until 7:30, so I went for a walk. I was in the nearly empty piazza by 6:30, watching vendors setting up for the weekend antique fair. By 6:45, a handful of seniors headed for the church of San Francesco for 7 o'clock mass, so I took a peek inside at the lovely interior and lit a candle. By 7:00, the bar across from the church was hopping with early risers. I particularly enjoyed a quick chat with three ladies who came in wearing their kitchen aprons over house dresses for a coffee and cornetto. They chose their sweets slowly, debating over the selection of fresh pastries. Fabio, the owner, was very sweet, and made a great caffe latte. I met Brad back in the hotel's breakfast room at 8:00.
We were soon off to explore some hill towns in the area. Our first stop was Offida, about 25 km from Ascoli, where ladies still spin pillow lace by hand. Offida also produces red and white wine as well as vin cotto. Perched on a hill just outside the wall is Santa Maria Della Rocca.
We drove on up the road into the centro and parked a block from the main piazza.
The Piazza is triangular and houses a church and the travertine columns and porch of the Palazzo Communale and a Baroque theater. It was a perfect spot to stop for a coffee.
As we wandered down the main street, we stopped in a pretty little wine shop,
Here we met Roberto Nicoletti Ballati Bonaffini. He is a charming young man who was previously an avocato (attorney) for the Vatican, turned winemaker.
He was quite welcoming, and gave us generous tastes of his two red wines. One was so light, I even liked it, so we bought a bottle, and he then gave us a bottle of the other heavier red wine as a gift. He is clearly passionate about his wines.
The next town we visited was tiny little Cossignano (population 1000). We parked just outside the wall where there is a beautiful vista park with trees and benches, then walked up the steep street to the tiny piazza. Time for a cold drink and bathroom break at the cafe.
It was 11:00, and a warm day, so we decided to visit the Cantine di Castignano (still just 24km from Ascoli) to try some local wines. (I will blog about this visit tomorrow, as we took a gazillion photos!)
Our last hill town of the day was Ortezzano. We purposely timed this in order to have lunch at the wonderful restaurant, I Piceni. We were seated on the terrace with stunning views of the surrounding hills.
We began with coniglio in porchetta, rabbit stuffed with garlic and herbs and a wonderful sauce:
Brad's pasta was in a rabbit sauce with fresh tomatoes and veggies, with just a kick of peperocino.
My pasta with guanciale sauce was one of my favorite dishes of our trip. Those salty, crunchy bites of pork jowls were amazing, with lots of pecorino cheese.
We drank a bottle of local Pecorino white wine, but unfortunately, we had no room for dessert.
As one reviewer stated on Trip Advisor, "I want to eat there every night for the rest of my life." Chef Giampiero Giammarin spent time cooking with Bradley Ogden in the S.F area, then returned to his native Le Marche to bring a new level of sophistication to the already wonderful regional specialties. We asked our waiter to meet him in person. He came out of the hot kitchen in his white t-shirt, and was so happy to know we were Bradley Ogden fans, and had also met him and been in his Las Vegas kitchen. Then he said, "But what are you doing HERE?" We told him we had read about HIM and I Picini, and SO enjoyed our lunch. He gave us a big warm blush and posed for a photo.
Tomorrow: Fun at the Cantine