The first week in December is often, but not always, gloriously sunny in Le Marche. Daytime temperatures can rise to 18 Celsius, ideal weather for a lunch outside. And it was on such a day that my very fab friend Maria Rita Giovanelli introduced me to Aurora, a biodynamic vineyard and agriturismo close to Offida. It’s a wonderful spot with 360° views, and a grand place to watch shooting stars through the summer – the festa of San Lorenzo on August 10 is when Italians have star gazing parties, and Aurora is no exception.
The story goes that 30 odd years ago Lorenzo, Paolo, Enrico, Federico, and Franco, all youthful and idealistic communists, decided to set up a commune. They then discovered they didn’t like living together but, the good news for wine lovers everywhere, they continued with the cantina, farming the vineyards organically from the outset.
They’re really lovely chaps – and their egalitarian principles are still in evidence. For example, when they discovered the (large) mark ups on their award winning wines, they put a recommended retail price on the labels. They love their wine so much, I kind of got the impression they’re reluctant to sell it – certainly not to someone they didn’t like.
And they all take it in turns to make lunch. I was treated to a delicious meal in the courtyard, saturated in golden winter sunshine. First course was pasta with grated pecorino and chopped walnuts, followed by salt cod and green olive sauté. It’s a great combo: any green olive will do, but here they use the local Ascolana olive – which is large and fleshy. Grazie mille ragazzi.
Ingredients for 4 people
800g salt cod fillets
1 small onion, sliced
olive oil for frying
some flour for dusting the salt cod pieces
1 carton of passata or chopped tomatoes
½ bottle dry aromatic white wine
200g green olives, stoned and halved
salt, used judiciously
handful of parsley, chopped
To prepare the salt cod, tap any excess salt from the pieces and place them, skin side uppermost in plenty of water in the fridge. A large plastic box with a lid is ideal for this. Change the water every 6 hours or so. After 24 hours the fish should be ready to use. To check if it’s ‘done’ or not, take a little piece from the thickest part and nibble it – the flesh should not taste salty. Pick out any remaining bones with a pair of tweezers.
Pat the cod dry, slice it into generous bite sized pieces, and then dust them in flour. Next sauté the pieces in a generous slug of olive oil until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Put the cod to one side while you make the sauce.
In a deep-sided frying pan or casserole, sauté the onion in 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until soft. Next stir in the passata, wine and olives. Bring to a simmer, add the cod and continue cooking everything for around 20 minutes; how long will depend on the thickness of the cod, but you want the flesh to be soft and tender. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Stir through the parsley.
Serve with crusty bread, or boiled potatoes, and a salad. And of course a bottle of Aurora’s pecorino white wine called Fiobbo goes really well with this.