Le Marche: The Secret of Santa Vittoria
Food and entertainment are great diversions. On occasion, it is good to get lost in an old movie especially when it tells the story of man’s past struggles and creative solutions to catastrophic situations.
The Secret Life of Santa Vittoria, a delightful classic Italian-American film, is based on a true story of resolve, courage, community spirit, and…one million bottles of wine! It is set in Italy’s beautiful Le Marche region, the backdrop for this week’s authentic late August dinner.
Featured wine: “Barbarossa” Lacrima di Morro D’Alba, Tenuta Tavignano, 2019
When infantryman and award-winning author, Robert Crichton, was fighting his way up through Italy during WWII, he heard a story about the village of Santa Vittoria in the region of Le Marche. Its impoverished citizens had hidden over one million bottles of wine from the occupying German forces. The wine was the town’s life blood, its identity, its history and its future. It was a story of struggle between submission and control – a story that was repeated thousands of times throughout Italy during the war.
Florence, its people, its art and its architecture ended up paying a terrible price. One third of Medieval Florence and all of its beautiful bridges - but one - were destroyed. The fascists committed vast reprisals across the countryside and would invade our little community of Cercina and confiscate the house built by Francesco’s grandfather that would later become our trattoria. Much like Santa Vittoria’s citizens, our town’s people and neighboring farmers sought to hide their valuables from the invading Germans. In a cruel twist of fate, they decided to stash their familial treasures in a secret hidden room in our house, the exact house the Nazis chose as their command post! Through an informant, they learned of the room, but could not find it. Ultimately, they compared the measurements of the outer periphery of the house to the measurements of the interior and discovered a discrepancy of several feet, confirming the room’s existence. They intensified their search until they ultimately found the room and stole its contents. (Every year during the month of August, Florence gleefully celebrates its liberation from Nazi occupation and fascist control.)
The Secret of Santa Vittoria, Crichton’s first novel, was made into an Academy Award nominated film starring Anthony Quinn and Anna Magnani. It was shot in a real Italian town where many of its residents worked as extras and background artists. For me, the close-ups of the authentically rugged Italian faces was a great part of the movie’s charm. It is a spirited ode to resistance and makes a delightful accompaniment to our Marchigiano menu.
Le Marche sits between the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea. It is a region that combines mountains, hills and a stunning stretch of Adriatic coastline. The character of its cuisine is quite unique – simple yet sophisticated.
Insalata di Ceci, Cavolo Rosso e Carote is a savory salad of red cabbage, carrots, and chickpeas. Legumes, particularly chickpeas, are an intrinsic part of Le Marche’s culinary heritage. They are a large source of inexpensive protein for a population who, historically, did not have access to large quantities of meat.
Maccheroncini di Campofilone al Fumè is a very thin, angel-hair-like egg pasta from the Medieval town of Campofilone. The pasta dates back to the 1400s and is the main protagonist of the Sagra Nazionale dei Maccheroncini held during the month of August. Fumè is a popular sauce made with tomato, pancetta, cream and parmesan.
Pollo in Potacchio, one of the oldest recipes of the regional culinary tradition, is braised chicken essentially cooked in a reduced sauce made of olive oil, white wine, tomato and rosemary. One of the main crops in Le Marche is corn, ground to make polenta. It is a favorite of the Marchigiani so we added a bit to accompany our chicken.
Torta di Susine, plum tart is a must at the end of August. The Val d’Aso is one of Italy’s larger fruit growing areas and particularly know for its purple prune plums.
Food and entertainment are great diversion. On occasion I really enjoy getting lost in an old movie. The Secret of Santa Vittoria, though, had me immediately empathizing with its characters and their plight (you can watch the full movie for free on Amazon Prime movies.) Maybe there is some comfort in remembering that people have faced frightening and uncertain times in the past, but with courage and creativity were able to make it through. Good thing to hold onto as we face an uncertain future.
Forza e coraggio!