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Recite de la Marche

(Piconi family recipes from the Marches)

Olive all’ascolana

Background: In Ascoli Piceno, the largest city near my grandparents' birthplace, the olive variety grown in abundance is called Ascalano (from Ascoli). The unique characteristic of this variety is the large size of the olive. The size limits their use for making memorable oil (smaller olives produce more flavor) but their meatiness makes them great for curing.
The Ascalano's Italian fame is derived from a recipe originating in Ascoli in which the olives are stuffed with a forcemeat, breaded and then fried. The following recipe is our family’s’ unique version of this classic.


  • 2-3 lbs of fresh or frozen sections of rabbit
  • 1 small onion chopped
  • 4 ribs of chopped celery chopped
  • 1/4lb pancetta minced
  • 2 quarts whole San Marzano tomatoes
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 cup fresh basil minced or ½ cup dried basil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp ground black pepper
  • About 50 Ascolana olives or 60-70 large Spanish olives cut in half
  • ¼ lb freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • Zest from 1 large lemon
  • 1 whole egg
  • Flour, beaten eggs and fresh bread crumbs for breading
  • Piconi Frying Oil


Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large heavy sauce pan and sauté the minced pancetta until browned.

Salt the rabbit pieces and sauté them until browned (do not crowd the pieces in the pan). Remove the rabbit and reserve.

Add the chopped onion and celery to the pan and sauté until wilted. Add the salt and stir.

Add the rabbit, crushed tomatoes, basil, sugar and cloves. Simmer for 1 hour or until rabbit pulls away from the bone.

Cool the rabbit pieces then debone being careful not to get any bony fragments in the meat.

Add 1/2 cup of the sauce to the meat (gives a richer, more complex taste) then grind the meat carefully in a food processor to make coarse forcemeat.

Add a small portion of sauce to the meat. The remaining sauce can be used for your favorite pasta.

Add the cheese, egg, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon zest to the meat and mix thoroughly.

Rinse the olives thoroughly with cold water to slightly desalt them. Pack the forcemeat around each olive (or half) to make 1 inch olive balls.

Roll the oliveballs in successive bowls of flour, beaten eggs, and then bread crumbs. You can freeze the oliveballs for later use but bring them to room temperature before frying (defrost or warm them slightly in a microwave).

Bring 2 quarts of Piconi's FryOil to a 4 quart sauce pan and heat the oil to 350 degrees. Fry the balls 6 at a time until golden brown. Oliveballs may be served at room temperature as an antipasto or appetizer.

Buon Appetito!

John's tip:
You can substitute veal, chicken or pork for the rabbit. The Piconi frying oil (grape seed/olive oil) is used so that a higher temperature for frying can be achieved, therefore less absorption and crisper texture.

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