These beautiful bottles arrived as media samples, and I wanted to give them a fitting pairing.
The wines are from Il Conte Villa Pradone. The winery is very near the southern border of Marche in the Ascoli Piceno province in the commune of Montepradone. The property sits 2 miles from the Abruzzo border and about 4 miles from the Adriatic Sea.
The history of Il Conte Villa Pradone
The village of Montepradone sits on a hill at 266 meters. The name, as the story goes, comes from the 9th century when Pradone, a Knight of Charlemagne, stopped at this hilltop and had a castle built.
The current story of Il Conte Villa Pradone began in the 1950s when Amilcare De Angelis planted 7 hectares of vineyard. This started as sharecropping, and the family continued to invest in the grapes and the estate.
Marino, Amilcare’s son, took over the business in 1988, naming it Il Conte Villa Pradone in honor of his father, who was called “Lu Kont” (the count) by his family.
Today, the estate has 50 hectares under vine, and Marino’s 4 children help to run the business.
In vineyards at 150 to 200 meters above sea level, they grow white grapes, Pecorino, Passerina, Malvasia, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. The reds are primarily Montepulciano and Sangiovese, with some Merlot, Lacrima, Tannat, and Trebbiano.
Soils here are clay and limestone, and the vineyards get breezes from the Adriatic Sea, the hot sirocco winds from North Africa, and mountain winds from the Apennines.
Sustainability at Il Conte Villa Pradone
They do not use synthetic chemicals in the vineyard for pesticides or herbicides. They nurture biodiversity, especially when it comes to native plants and animals. They have a solar array to produce power for the winery.
While we received 6 wines, we began with 2 that I felt would pair with the dish I decided to prepare.
Marinus 2020 Piceno Superiore DOP Il Conte Villa Prandone
This wine is a blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese grown in the Monteprandone hills. After a soft press and fermentation, this wine spends 3 months in temperature-controlled stainless steel, then spends a year in barrel. This is a bright, fresh, easy-drinking wine. They say it should be enjoyed while young “within 15-20 years of the vintage.”
On the nose: Dark berries and juice, blackberry, black cherry, marionberry, cherry coke, licorice, brambles, wet undergrowth, and something green like wet green leaves. There were also bright spices.
In my mouth: Lively bright juices of blackberry and cranberry with velvet-like tannins. This wine is juicy and bright.
Zipolo 2020 Marche Rosso IGP Il Conte Villa Prandone
A blend of Montepulciano, Sangiovese, and Merlot from the same vineyards in the Monteprandone hills. This gets a soft press and ferments at a controlled temperature. It ages 16-24 months in oak and spends another 12 months refining in bottle before release. The winery suggests drinking this within 20-30 years of the vintage.
On the nose: Savory smoke and smoked meat notes. Earth and forest floor, dark tart fruit, like black currant and cranberry. There is also a mineral note here.
In my mouth: Deep black fruits, black cherry, black plum, unripe blackberry, cranberry, smoke, mineral, umami. The tannins were sticky.
This wine has the potential to age, but it is beautiful now. I kept returning again and again to the savory notes on the nose.
The pairing – Vincisgrassi
I was looking for a dish that would honor these beautiful wines, so I searched for regional dishes from Marche and came across Vincisgrassi. This dish looks like lasagna, but it is specific to the region.
History of the name
The dish is named for General Alfred von Windisch-Grätz (yep, it is an Italianized version of his name, which quite honestly is tough to pronounce). He defeated Napoleon’s troops at the siege of Ancona on the coast of Marche, and a local lady made him this dish. He loved it so much that they named it for him. (We don’t know if it was created just for him or if they renamed it to honor him.) There is another dish called princisgrassi that may have predated it.
Variations on a theme
I found many versions online, some with a variety of meats, some with mushrooms, some with bechamel, and others without. Several said that beef was banned from the recipe (this isn’t a region for cattle). Most of the recipes call for meat that is finely chopped. Many called for parmesan, which I thought was odd since the area is known for pecorino. Many called for offal, and some added mushrooms, ideally porcini.
This dish is a Sunday dinner made from what was in the courtyard. So, I imagine this dish likely varied from place to place, household to household, and even from Sunday to Sunday.
This is a region where sheep are the primary livestock, although they do have their own specialty, Prosciutto, which is called Prosciutto di Carpegna, a DOP cured meat from the northern part of Marche. Mushrooms and truffles are available in the hills, and fall in this region is the time for mushroom hunts. Chicken, duck, and goose were often available on each farm.
So, I embarked on creating a recipe. I researched, and there is a list of my resources at the bottom.
My version of Vincisgassi – the trials and tribulations
The “courtyard” that I sourced from was my local supermarket. So it would be made from what I could find there. I found ground chicken, ground pork, chicken hearts and gizzards, Pecorino Romano cheese (hard sheep milk cheese), & baby portabella mushrooms. I pulled fresh rosemary from my yard.
I also bought lasagna noodles in case my homemade pasta didn’t work. Yes, I was on track to be an overachiever today, at least for me, and had decided to try to make fresh pasta. I have made gnocchi before, but the hand-cranked pasta maker I own has just been on display until now.
What was I thinking?
I started the day by putting my recipe together. I had an idea of what I planned to do and had the ingredients. Now, it was time to come up with the measurements to begin and the plan for cooking.
Then came prepping all the ingredients. An hour or so of finely chopping carrots, onions, celery, and mushrooms, measuring out all the ingredients, and putting them into separate containers so that I could have them ready as Michael and I filmed the recipe.
It was after lunch when we got started making the pasta. I had settled on a recipe that was heavy on the egg yolks. From what I read, this seemed to be the style for this dish. I also added olive oil. I found two recipes that said it made the dough more pleasant to work with. And I decided to do it Nonna style. I mean, it would be prettier for the video, right?
That part went okay, and then I used the scrapper to incorporate the flour fully, and then I began the arduous work of kneading. My dough was not smooth, nor did it seem to be getting too much smoother as I kneaded. I could feel it developing stretch, but it didn’t seem as elastic as anticipated. I had planned to start with 8 minutes, increasing to 10 if it didn’t seem stretchy enough. I ended up kneading for 15 minutes before throwing my hands in the air, deciding it would have to be good enough.
I wrapped the dough to let it rest and prepared to make the pasta.
On my first attempt, I got the dough stuck in the rollers and had to cut it to get it out. Finally, I had hand-rolled it thin enough to get it through at the 1st setting. I continued, putting it through twice at each setting until I got to 7. One trick I learned. On the first pass at each setting, I started it at the setting before. Once the dough caught the rollers, I would increase it to the next setting. Worked like a charm.
I did have trouble with it pulling through crooked (a problem I used to have with my laminating machine). To solve this, I would periodically cut the end flush so that the rollers had a straight edge to pull.
By the time I finished with the 5th setting, the pasta was long enough to need to be cut. I cut it in half and continued. After 1 pass-through at 7, I called it done and could typically cut it in half, creating 2 sheets of pasta that would cover a layer.
This went onto a sheet pan on parchment with parchment between every layer. Then I wrapped it in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge.
Now, it was time to start the meat sauce.
I began with duck fat for the meat sauce since I had that in the fridge and cooked the cubed pancetta in that, then the soffritto went in, along with 2 cloves and a bay leaf. Once the vegetables softened, I removed the cloves and bay leaf, added the ground chicken and pork, and cooked until there was no pink. I added the tomato paste, a splash of dry white wine, and then 2 cups of chicken stock (just enough to cover the meat). I closed the Dutch oven and let it cook a bit. After about 5 minutes, I cracked the lid to let the steam escape and reduce the sauce.
After about 30 minutes, I removed the lid and used a ladle to remove some extra liquid.
I browned the hearts and gizzards in butter and olive oil, then gave them an extra rough chop to make smaller pieces. I cooked the finely chopped mushrooms in butter and olive oil with fresh chopped rosemary and minced garlic and set that aside.
I preheated my oven to 375 degrees and started the pot of water for the pasta.
Now it was time for bechamel. I should attempt to make this more often because it is a feel thing. The burners, one warming the milk, the other melting the butter, were taking their own sweet time heating up. I found my roux ready long before the milk was warm. I likely dried it out too much. I added ladles of the warm milk, and it didn’t seem to be thickening. So I started again. This time, it thickened properly. I added a bit of pecorino, then my mushroom mixture. In the end, I wish I would have had more of this, and if I try it again, I might make more bechamel sauce.
At this point, I mixed the chicken gizzards and hearts with the meat mixture, and I was just about ready to assemble the dish.
Okay, time to cook the pasta! My sheets were the width of the pasta machine and just the right length to cover the baking dish, about 6 inches by 13 for my 9 by 13 baking dish. I knew this thin pasta would cook in about a minute, and I planned to cook them as needed so they wouldn’t dry out. I found that I needed to cook them one at a time and give them a minute to cool so I didn’t burn my fingers trying to lay them out.
The assembly process went like this. I buttered the dish and laid a layer of pasta, did a thin coating of meat, covered with the mushroom bechamel, and grated a generous portion of pecorino romano. I managed to do this 3 times (I know, I have to figure out how to get it to 7 layers!). I topped it with a final layer of noodles, dotted it with butter, and grated more cheese. The butter was too much. I would top this differently next time, but it still came out delicious.
This baked in the convection oven for 25 minutes, then broiled for 2 to 3 on the center rack to brown the top. I let it rest on the counter for 15 minutes before cutting. This was not firm, so I suggest cutting and scooping. I served these in small decorative restaurant-style plates and garnished with more grated pecorino and fresh Italian parsley.
How did it go?
The wines, while very different from each other, both paired beautifully with this dish. After a full day of cooking (I started on the recipe part at about 9:30 am, and we were eating at about 6:30), I was a bit fearful that I would take a bite and find that my hours cooking were not worth it. I was thrilled that this dish was so tasty. The gizzards added texture to the dish, the thinness of the pasta was delicate and wonderful, and the depth of flavors, the layers of flavors, rosemary, pecorino, chicken, pork, pancetta, mushroom, offal…all came together beautifully. I expect this dish to be even better tomorrow when these flavors melded further in the fridge.
So, what would I have done differently? Hmm…I might try the pasta at a setting of 6 rather than 7, and I would make more so that I could go to 7 layers. I would mince everything smaller so that my sauce would layer better. I would make more of the bechamel and finish the last layer above the top noodle with plain bechamel, no mushrooms, and more cheese.
I might also try this recipe without bechamel and add tomato sauce to the meat sauce.
Mainly, I would practice! The first time out cleaning gizzards was tough! They are time-consuming. But I am no longer scared of pasta. Multiple times in the process, I thought I had ruined the pasta and that it wouldn’t work, and in the end, it did work!
I would love to visit the region and try this dish locally. Until I get there, my version will do (it was pretty good!), and paired with these wines, it made for a lovely evening. Consider that after a full day on my feet cooking, being exhausted, and putting my nose in each of these glasses, I was revitalized. They woke up my senses and made me take note. I would search for these wines again and again and would love to try the Zipoli again with a bit more age to see how it evolves.
And I look forward to tasting and pairing the rest of these wines.
This layer pasta dish hails from the Marche region of Italy. It may look like lasagna, but it is a bit different.
Our version includes pancetta, ground chicken & pork, chicken hearts and gizzards, and a mushroom & rosemary bechamel, all topped with Pecorino Romano cheese.
We did make homemade pasta sheets for this recipe!
This dish pairs beautifully with Marche Rosso wines, blends of Montepulciano, Sangiovese, and possibly Merlot!
- 300 grams of 00 flour (about 2 cups)
- 2 large eggs
- +3 large egg yolks
- Olive oil
- MEAT SAUCE
- 4 oz pancetta
- 1 tbsp duck fat
- 1 finely chopped carrot
- 1 finely chopped stick of celery
- ½ onion finely chopped.
- 2 cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 lb ground chicken
- 1 lb ground pork
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- 2 cups of chicken stock
- 1 lb finely chopped chicken giblets and hearts
- 1 lb of mushrooms finely chopped
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 tbsp fresh chopped rosemary
- BECHAMEL SAUCE
- 2 tbsp butter
- 4 tbsp flour
- 3- 4 cups of milk
- 1/2 lb Pecorino Romano grated
- Weigh the eggs and yolks and make up the difference to 185 g with olive oil.
- Make a well with the flour.
- Add the eggs, yolks, and olive oil to the well and whisk with a fork
- Incorporate the flour bit by bit, stirring with the fork.
- When the flour is mostly incorporated, use a dough scraper to chop it all in.
- Knead for 8 to 10 minutes. The dough should bounce back when you press the top.
- Wrap in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes.
- Prep the pasta machine (hand crank or the stand mixer attachment).
- Parchment line a sheet pan with 4 to 5 sheets of parchment ready
- Dust the surface with semolina flour if you have it.
- Cut the dough into quarters
- Flatten one quarter with a rolling pin and rewrap the others so they don’t dry out.
- Put the dough through at setting #1 on your machine.
- Fold the dough in thirds to square it up
- Put through at #1 again
- Roll through at #2 through #6 2X each
- If the pasta gets too long, cut it in half.
- Keep flouring to keep it from getting sticky.
- Roll to #7, then trim to fit your baking dish.
- Continue with the remaining pasta dough, layering with parchment on the pan.
- Cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap. Pop it in the fridge until you are ready to cook
- BECHAMEL WITH MUSHROOMS
- Cook the finely chopped mushrooms in butter and olive oil with 2 cloves of minced
garlic and 1 tbs of fresh chopped rosemary. Set aside.
- Make the bechamel
- Warm the milk on the stove or in the microwave
- Melt the butter over medium/low heat
- When it bubbles, add the flour and whisk for 3-4 minutes. It should smell nutty but not be browning.
- Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly, and cook until it thickens, about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the mushroom mixture.
- COOKING THE PASTA
- Get a stock pot boiling, salt the water (Salty like the sea)
- Cook the lasagna sheets for 1 to 2 minutes each. Cook as you need them!
- ASSEMBLING THE VINCISGRASSI
- Butter your baking dish
- Add a layer of pasta,
- Cover with the meat sauce
- Layer with the mushroom bechamel
- Top with grated Pecorino Romano
- Continue layering until the pan is full and the sauce is gone. Traditionally, this is 7 thin layers, the top layer being cheese.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes at 375 degrees. (I did this in a convection oven, which cooks
faster, so you might need to add more time.)
- Turn the oven to broil, leaving the vincisgrassi on the middle rack for 2 minutes to
brown the top.
- Garnish with freshly grated pecorino cheese and fresh Italian parsley.
This layered pasta dish hails from Marche. Traditionally, this hearty Sunday dish was made from whatever was available in the courtyard, so in this region, it was likely chicken, duck, goose, lamb, and ham or prosciutto. Porcini mushrooms and truffles are well known in the region, and mushroom hunting in the fall is popular.
I found recipes that included pork and beef, as well as one that said beef was not to
be used. Cows are not often seen in this region.
Parmesan was the cheese most often mentioned in the recipes, and I opted for a Pecorino
because this is sheep country, and Pecorino is a sheep's milk cheese.
Offal (hearts and other organs) are commonly used in this dish.
Each household would adapt the recipe to fit what was available in their “courtyard” at the time. So feel free to adapt to what you find in your “courtyard” or local store.
Amount Per Serving Calories 656Total Fat 39gSaturated Fat 17gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 19gCholesterol 394mgSodium 635mgCarbohydrates 25gFiber 2gSugar 16gProtein 50g
Nutrition information isn’t always accurate.
Reference & sources
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.
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