Keep reading for Chef Jason's thoughts on culinary life in Le Marche.
For travelers planning a trip to Italy, what do you recommend as the must-have Italian "specialty" food?
The great thing about Italy is that it is so regional, so travel a town or two over, and they will have their own recipes that vary greatly - especially the great divide of the north and south - using butter vs. olive oil.
First off you must have fresh pasta. It is nothing like the dry pasta we would eat in the States; it is light, soft and you can truly taste the difference.
One of my absolute favorites of our area is Porchetta - a whole de-boned pig, stuffed with salt, pepper, garlic, wild fennel and slow roasted in a wood oven. It's delicious and normally served on a panini. Here's a little secret: ask for the crosta or the crunchy skin and you will not be disappointed!
Another great dish to try, if you are here in the right season, is fried squash blossoms. They are dunked in a thin batter and fried in olive oil, sprinkled in salt - the sweet flowers have a perfect crunch and are wonderfully delicate, perfect with a glass of white wine on an early summer evening.
Many Americans have a perception of Italian food that is very different from what they will find when they visit Italy. In your experience, what's the biggest misconception travelers have about Italian food?
To me, Italian food in the States conjures thought of heavy pasta smothered in sauces, or veal marsala with mushrooms piled up over the top. Italian food is MUCH lighter and more delicate than what you will find in the United States with very few ingredients - just olive oil, salt and herbs, for the most part.
A perfect example is lasagna - brings to mind a towering wet square of thick pasta, ricotta cheese and drowned in a meat and tomato sauce. Whereas here it has usually no more than 3 layers of thin hand-rolled pasta and is either white or red.
White using a béchamel combined with porcini mushrooms and a sprinkling of ground sausage enriched with a dusting of Parmesan cheese. Or the red version, with just enough of tomato sauce, a bit of meat (here, in the foothills of the Apennines mountains, boar is a popular choice) and again the sprinkling of Parmesan. It normally does not stand more than 1-1/2" high and is surprisingly delicate both in the red and white forms.
I've never seen pasta fazul, chicken parm or alfredo sauce, which littered every Italian menu in New York, on a single menu here.
Most of what you see in American Italian restaurants are adaptations of what is served here in Italy. You will find fresh pasta, dressed very lightly in sauce, not swimming in a heavy tomato base like we are used to in the States, or grilled meat served simply with sea salt and a lemon wedge, paired perfectly with roasted potatoes.
I was very surprised at how different "Italian food" is here versus in the States. I think the main difference is that here they serve and eat local seasonal dishes, simply prepared letting the ingredients themselves be the stars.