Chow Town

Slow Food Kansas City travels to Le Marche, Italy

Special to The Star

Editor’s note: This is the third of three parts about chef Jasper Mirabile Jr.’s journey through Italy with the Slow Food Kansas City convivium.

When I last left you, I was departing Tuscany in Italy and on the train to the region of Le Marche, which lies between the Sibillini Mountains and the Adriatic Sea.

Our Slow Food Kansas City tour group had just finished six fabulous days touring local markets, attending cooking classes and participating in a gelato workshop.

Our next excursion took us to the home of Dr. Dwight Stanford. We checked into Hotel Casale in the community of Colli del Tronto, a resort property near the Adriatic Coast and the Paolini & Stanford vineyard and winery.

Dwight would be our guide the next five days at his newfound home outside Offida. Dwight was a surgeon in Kansas City for many years and for the second chapter of his life decided to move to Italy, attend the Slow Food University, purchase a bed-and-breakfast and start his own vineyard in the beautiful hills of Le Marche.

We began with lunch Sunday in MonteMonaco at Il Tiglio, known for their molecular gastronomy.

Our lunch begin with a Tree of Grissini Breadsticks, truffles and cheese on the rocks along with a sea adventure of foam that was like eating air and disappeared in my mouth.

Next came Baccala & Pignoli, along with a whole roasted carrot with a Pecorino foam, and then a potato in ashes. Talk about intriguing. Porcini mushrooms and licorice were next, and a soft Le Marche goat cheese encased in polenta on Parmigiano porridge.

Foie Gras & Balsamico melted in my mouth — perhaps the best foie I have ever experienced. A simple Tagliatelle & Pork Ragu was followed by Truffle & Veal Cappeletti. Talk about unique.

An eight-hour roasted elk was like butter, and then to clear our taste buds a splash of lime, sea salt and Balsamic drizzle. I never would have imagined this would work, but believe me, it did. Dessert was not any ordinary ending, either — a 12-layer chocolate tort followed by a tree with hanging doughnuts and truffles on the base.

Sunday evening consisted of a private tour and tasting at Dwight Stanford’s B&B and winery, where we enjoyed more than six of his wines and some light traditional appetizers, such as the famous Ascolano stuffed fried olives.

On Monday morning we all gathered at Dwight’s vineyard and toured his olive groves. Unfortunately, the olives this year are horrible throughout Italy because of an insect. This is the worst crop in almost 80 years.

We traveled to the Olive Mill, where we were each given a small jar of this year’s first cold-press olive oil. The Le Marche region produces some of the finest oils in Italy and some of the best in the world.

Our lunch was at Ristorante le Scuderie in Ascoli Piceno. We started off with Carpaccio of veal ravioli filled with pistachio and mascarpone. I have never seen this before — it was just too unique. Next came a crispy egg and shaved truffle over Pecorino potatoes with zucchini and Olive Ascone along with Panna Fritti.

A simple basil and zucchini risotto with burrata was absolutely divine — just so creamy. A main dish was a Brasato of beef and crispy polenta. Talk about fall-right-off-the-bone tender. For dessert we finished with a chantilly of Panna cotta with a caramel sauce and dressed with chocolate shavings

While in Le Marche, Meletti Anisette Liqueur was the finishing toast. Dwight told us we would be touring Meletti Distillery later.

Then came an afternoon tour in the Sibillini mountains for pecorino, cured meats in Norcia and a visit to Castellucio, the birthplace of St. Benedict. The city is known for the production of lentils — some of the finest in the whole wide world. They are also part of Slow Foods Arc of Taste project.

Dinner was at Degusteria del Gigante in San Benedetto. We started off with a Cream of Parmigiano, Marmalata & Pomodoro served in a mini shot glass. A Tagliotine Cipolle Rosa e Patate was next followed by a pork roast, Maialine e mela rosa. A deconstructed Tiramisu ended our evening. We also tasted five more of the Stanford & Paolini wines that evening.

With little rest, the next morning we took a tour of Norcia, where some of the finest salamis and meats are cured. Then we went to the famous FM for a “Truffle Lunch.” We started with Capacola, wild fennel and artichokes, and then a potato soup en Cappuccino. For our pasta course we enjoyed Pumpkin Mezzaluna and Porcini Crema.

Our main course was a Guanciale-wrapped turkey on Castilluccio Lentils. For each course the chef came by and shaved fresh black truffles on everyone’s dish. Now that’s a lot of truffles, and we were indeed spoiled.

The next morning we had our distillery tour at the famous Meletti, where we met the owner’s son and fourth-generation distiller. The very special flavor of Meletti Anisette is a result of slow evaporative distillation and the quality of the anise (Pimpinella Anisum) that is grown in the clay soil near Ascoli Piceno.

During distillation, Meletti discards the first and last portions of the distillate because they contain elements of bitterness. They keep only the “heart,” or middle portion, to ensure that the flavors are concentrated and consistent.

Once distilled at high alcoholic strength, a second distillation of other spices is added. The liqueur is then transferred to 10,000-liter tanks for four months of aging, adjusting for proof and bottling.

The resulting anisette is rich, smooth and exceptionally flavorful. We had a private tour of the facility and many, many samples that we all enjoyed.

Our afternoon was not over yet. We still had time to tour an artisan cheese factory on the farm, where we tasted some of the traditional Arc of Taste goat cheeses of Le Marche, and then another tour of the famous Spinosi pasta factory known for its specialty egg pasta.

Spinosi was founded in 1933 by Nello Spinosi in the region of Le Marche. Spinosi pasta was originally available only in the medieval town of Campofilone and in one restaurant in Rome.

Today this handmade egg pasta — pasta all’uovo — is as rustic and authentic as it has always been. Every egg is hand cracked, all the dough is hand-kneaded, and the pasta is slow-dried for 36 to 48 hours to maintain its flavor and nutritional value.

With only 14 employees, Spinosi produces its pasta from just two ingredients: durum wheat flour and eggs from hens fed grain and sunflower oil to maximize their Omega-3 content.

Legally, Italian egg pastas must contain 4 eggs per kilo of flour, but Spinosi pasta is made with 10 eggs per kilo, making it especially rich, flavorful, nutritious and perfect for absorbing any variety of sauce.

Yes, I was indeed impressed, especially since Mr. Spinosi was our private tour guide. The pasta tastes so good, even with just a little salt and butter, but we were served it tossed with extra virgin olive oil and grated Peccorino cheese.

Our next adventure included a tour at an artisan cheese farm, where we saw many goats and cows getting milked and prepared for the small artisan cheese that is made directly on the farm. Our Slow Food cheese tasting at FonteGranne in Belmonte Piceno was not just an ordinary tasting, but it was very well executed in organized tasting, with local wine, of course. The artisan cheeses are unbelievable. All had such great flavor, it was hard to choose a favorite.

Our evening dinner would be in San Benedetto at Don Diego. Its motto: “We serve only fish born free and die free. All caught within .5 Km.”

The owner opened the restaurant especially for us, as he usually is open only from May 1 until Oct. 1. He made his famous five-layer Brodetto do San Benedetto, which consisted of scampi, mussels, calamari and seven fresh local fish, along with cuttlefish, olive oil, onion and fresh tomatoes finished with butter and wine.

Our last day in Le Marche consisted of a day tour in Ofida, where we walked the streets and met artists and producers along with a 90-year-old lady who handcrafts some of the most sought-after lace in Italy. We toured the oldest church in town, enjoyed some shopping and of course an afternoon espresso in the piazza.

We enjoyed an early dinner at the famous Osteria Ophis, where we started off our final banquet with a very creamy pumpkin soup and shaved truffles, followed by a croissant with creamy Parmigiano & Marmelata soup en espresso.

Our pasta course was Maccheroi Traditionale con Sugu de Garne, slow-simmered tomato sauce with local game.

For the main course we had roasted pork with spinach, and we finished our final dinner with a Deconstructed Tiramisu — another banner dinner that I will try to replicate when I offer one of my Italian Experiences.

It was a sad goodbye at the hotel to all of our friends and Kansas City Slow Food members. Ten days traveling through Italy, enjoying some of the finest cuisine available, meeting the most gracious hosts along with the best foodie tours any chef could ask for.

I am usually so sad on my last day in Italy because it’s so hard to leave my grandparents’ homeland, but I know I will return again and will be greeted with open arms by all my new friends.

Grazie, Dwight Stanford, for a wonderful week in your new home. Salute Italy … until we meet again!

Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.