We spend time in Portonovo along the Conero Riviera every year, usually for brief weekend trips of a few days. Some of our closest friends live there and an additional benefit is the spectacular beauty of the area: the lush mountains of the Monte Conero spill dramatically into the Adriatic Sea. The beach is covered with white stones and rocks that enhance the water’s translucent, crystal clear appearance.
Like every region in Italy, the cuisine in the Marche region, and on this particular part of the coast, is entirely different. Seafood abounds naturally and there are a few dishes we look forward to each time we visit.
One of our favorite antipasti is marinated anchovies with spaccasassi (also known as paccasassi). The anchovies are marinated in balsamic vinegar, in contrast to the white or red wine vinegar used traditionally. Spaccasassi is a wild marine fennel, a coastal vegetation that grows on the rocks along the seaside. Hence the name spaccasassi: rock splitter, as it tends to split open the rocks where it grows and embeds itself. Once picked the spaccasassi is marinated in vinegar until it’s pickled. To serve the dish anchovies are placed on a platter, garnished with spaccasassi and drizzled with olive oil. A slice of orange goes perfectly with the dish.
This coastal vegetation was referenced in Shakespeare’s King Lear, Act 4, Scene 6: “Half way down hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!” It’s common in the U.K. especially on the Norfolk Coast. It’s best thoroughly rinsed and then boiled or steamed for 5 to 10 minutes in unsalted water. Serve with vinegar or even sautéed quickly in butter.
There’s a local Conero company, Rinci, that sells a number of spaccasassi products including spaccasassi in oil, spaccasassi pesto and spaccasassi mustard.