Warming passatelli, bonfires for the Madonna, and Christmas cribs - welcome to the winter edition of the Marche Voyager newsletter.
What better in the depth of December than a plate of the northern Marche speciality passatelli in brodo, thick strands of a pasta made from breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, and egg cooked and served up in good, strong broth. The name passatelli comes from the fact that the dough for it is "passed" through a large-holed type of sieve directly into the boiling broth.
To make them at home take 50 grams each of grated Parmesan cheese and fine breadcrumbs, grated lemon peel, nutmeg and one egg for each serving. Mix ingredients together to form a fairly stiff dough then, assuming you don't have the special passatelli "sieve", pass it through a mincer *without* the cutting blade and with the largest-hole die to produce long "worms" of dough. In a large pan bring some home-made chicken broth to the boil and then slide in the passatelli - in a minute or two they will begin to float and are ready to serve. Buon appetito!
Bonfire night Marche-style
The Marche town of Loreto is one of the world's most important shrines to the cult of the Virgin Mary thanks to the tradition of the Santa Casa, the rustic cottage from Nazareth that witnessed the Annunciation and the childhood of Jesus and which, so tradition relates, was carried by angels to Loreto on 10 December 1294.
To mark the anniversary of the "Holy Translation", the marchigiani to this day still light large bonfires on the night between the 9 and 10 December in the open country and on the beaches to help guide the angels on their way.
The Festa della Venuta is also marked in the Basilica of Loreto with a procession where the statue of the Madonna is borne on the shoulders of pilots, for whom Our Lady of Loreto is the patron saint.
Marche Voyager on Loreto and the Holy house
A Stable diet
The humble stable that witnessed the birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated across Italy with Christmas cribs, or presepi that often reach heights of baroque complexity and Le Marche region has numerous examples to delight adults and children.
For examples of historic cribs see the glorious 16thC plasterwork presepio by Federico Brandani in the Oratorio di San Giuseppe at Urbino or the marble masterpiece by Andrea Sansovino in the Santuario della Santa Casa at Loreto.
"Living cribs" where locals dress up to play the traditional roles feature in a number of places including Genga (with a procession along the gorge), Falerone (in the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre), Caldarola, Comunanza and Montalto delle Marche. They all take place on 26 December with many staging a repeat performance on 6 January.
To see the art of the crib at its most refined visit the private Museo tipologico del presepe in Macerata, the Mostra nazionale in S. Angelo in Pontano with over 100 presepi or the splendid - Grande presepe meccanico in Serrungarina complete with special effects.
In the run-up to Christmas many places hold a lively mercatino, or Christmas market, usually selling handicrafts and prodotti tipici. The list of towns staging them includes Urbino, Fano, Jesi, Ostra Vetere, Senigallia, Macerata, Camerino, Cingoli, Monte Urano, Porto San Giorgio and San Benedetto del Tronto.
A three-glass affair
The prestigious Italian food and wine magazine Gambero Rosso in association with the Slow Food movement have given a dozen of their celebrated Tre Bicchieri 2007 awards for Italy's top wines to Marche producers.
Up, up and away...
Figures for the number of tourists who visited Le Marche in 2006 show a healthy upward trend with an overall increase of 2.8% in arrivals and 3.5% in nights spent in the region. Over 2 million people visited Le Marche between January and September and the number of foreign tourists increased by 3% over 2005.
Le Marche has a population density of around 150 inhabitants per square kilometre.
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