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Paccasassi: sea fennel at your table!

The sea fennel, or rock samphire (Crithmum maritimum) is known in various regions of Italy with different names such as the “critamo, bassiga, bacciglia, burcio, erba di St. Pietro (herb of Saint Peter), eritmo (erythemos), frangisassi (shamrocks), bacicci, paccasassi o spaccasassi”.
Whatever the name used, it is however strongly linked with its natural habitat: in fact these plants grow on cliffs between rocks and in the Italian language, one could use the expression of ‘breaking’ the rocks as ‘spaccandoli’.
This perennial plant commonly grows in salty environments, not a common environment for the majority of vegetation.

pianta di Paccasassi

Paccasassi plant
The paccasassi “spacca” (breaks) the rocks

It is common to collect the fresh leaves or the buds of the sea fennel and use them in salads or sautéed in butter or even conserved in olive oil. Both flowers and leaves can also be used to produce aromatic vinegars. For medicinal products, the seeds of the rock samphire plants are collected and used instead.

Centuries of sea fennel

Commonly utilized in the Middle Ages, the sea fennel have since long been forgotten.
The main characteristic of this plant is that it grows along the cliffs of the Italian coastlines. Rich in vitamin C, essential oils and iodine, these plants can be used both for culinary purposes as well as medicinal plants. They were most popular among the Mediterranean populations and were often commercialized by sailors who used them as a source of vitamin C.

paccasassi su una scogliera

Paccasassi on the cliffs
Typically found on cliffs overlooking the sea

They were plants already well-known by the Greeks and the Romans, particularly to Pliny the younger, of ancient Rome and esteemed by Hypocrites, who described its medicinal properties back in 60 a.c. Even English writer, John Evelyn in the 17th century, cited this herb in his culinary diary, Acetaria – A Discourse of Sallets, denoting the excellent and numerous beneficial properties of this plant. Probably one of the most important citations to date, is that of William Shakespeare in his play “King Lear”, where he describes the “dreadful trade” of climbing the cliffs because “halfway down hangs one that gathers samphire”.

Rinci: the samphire with a modern note

Tramonto su riviera Conero

Sunset from the Conero hill
On the peaks of the Conero, where Rinci cultivates its paccasassi (photo: Francesco Domesi)

This ancient plant is today cultivated and worked with modern methods by the Rinci boys, who have resumed the traditional preparation of this plant in the Conero area. The encounter between Francesco and Luca, two young professionals specialized in food technology, gave birth to Rinci, a leading artisanal company offering top quality culinary creations from the Marche region.
They cultivate with tenacity and energy the sea fennel on the slopes of the Conero hills. Taste the pureness of the paccasassi pesto which can be found in our summer box.