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volante: italy



Like the food that inspired it, Umbria’s food, villages and culture comprise a feast for the senses by Elyse Glickman
photographed by the author


From issue 20 of Lucire



UMBRIA is referred to as ‘the green heart of Italy,’ and it certainly lives up to that motto with an expansive offering of historical sites, earthy dishes and local delicacies that capture the region’s mood and make for a journey that is, literally, a banquet for all five senses. Each city, from the bustling centre of Perugia, to the graceful Orvieto, to cultural and lively Spoleto, to the commanding presence of Gubbio, is filling and hearty in its own right. Many country inns and the smaller villages, meanwhile, represent a form of la dolce vita that is at once civilized, familial and very relaxed.
   The most challenging aspect about a visit to Umbria (as with most of Italy) is that there are so many gorgeous places steeped in culture and history, accessible and inviting, that you have to decide whether you want to see as much of this region as you can in a week, or just pick a few spots to thoroughly savour. That being said, our trip, which was painstakingly planned by the Italian Government Tourist Board (and capably lead by Lia Pesce from the New York office), was a brimming candy-box sampler of the best things each city had to offer.
   After our long flight in from the States, Lia felt a visit around Perugia’s highlights, including Rocca Paolina, Palazzo dei Priori, Fontana Maggiore and the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria (which really deserves a full day’s visit), was the ideal way to set the mood for a vibrant, exhaustive trip. However, what really set the mood and took my breath away was my posh room at the well-worth-the-euros Hotel Brufani Palace (Piazza Italia, 12, Perugia 06100), where the first thing that greeted me every morning during my stay was a panoramic view of the city and surrounding countryside as well as an excellent breakfast buffet. The staff and service were also first-class, as was the subterranean pool and workout area.
   The next day, it was off to Assisi to see the landmarks key in the life of St Francis of Assisi, and then, to stroll through a charming village called Spello, where we experienced an enchanting contemporary art gallery as well as view more antiquities. By the time dinner rolled around, my jet lag was finally wearing off, and I was at last truly awake to experience the region’s true historic splendour.
   A fine place to begin this sort of journey was the Redibis Ristorante at Orto Degli Angeli ( or, 06031 Bevagna), just outside of Spello. The keystone of this landmark hotel–restaurant property is a 2,000-year-old Roman theatre, with rooms and other dwellings added through the centuries. Thanks to the careful planning of its current owners, the experience is still quite theatrical, with attentive service, contemporary furnishings and lighting that add to the impact of being inside a piece of living history.
   Although a late winter storm did not permit us to enjoy the full splendour of the village of Todi (though we did enjoy a warm, strong cup of cappuccino in the shadow that town’s cathedral in their Piazza del Populo), the weather cleared up on time for us to really enjoy Orvieto, one of the most romantic of the mediæval towns, where it’s easy to get lost amid the city’s winding streets, quaint dwellings, multiple wine bars and gorgeously appointed shops. You could also get lost amid the sheer brilliance of the famous Duomo cathedral and St Brizio’s Chapel with their luminous windows, dazzling paintings and architecture. After getting two hours to meander through Orvieto’s slender streets and enjoy the vistas, we unwound at Il Maurizio, a warm and open space in the shadow of the Duomo that offers simple but elegant takes on central Italian fare utilizing local produce and artisinal products.
   Anthropology buffs, meanwhile, should check out Pozzo della Cava, a museum that brings the experience of an archæological dig to life. If time allows you to go on to Roma, make an effort to visit Narni, which dates back to Neolithic times and was known as ‘Narnia’ in 299 BC when it became a Roman Municipality. The ‘Narni Underground’ beneath the church of St Dominic, consists of an early Roman church, with thirteenth- and fifteenth-century frescos, a Roman cistern and a prison cell used by the tribunal of Inquisition, where the graffiti prisoners scratched on the walls can be seen.
   The richly rustic village of Citta della Pieve is both home to several historical spots and galleries displaying legendary artist Perugino’s master-pieces as well as the Hotel Vannuci (Via l. Vanni 1—, a gorgeous nineteenth-century country villa brought into the 21st century with contemporary furnishings, imaginative lighting fixtures that resemble trees and vibrant art glass accents. Like the hotel, the adjoining Zafferano restaurant is a celebration of time-honoured regional spices—especially saffron, which is the restaurant’s namesake. While most people associate saffron with savoury foods, it is successfully used in the vanilla semifreddo desert with chocolate, saffron sauce and Muscat gelatin. Nevertheless, with pasta as a savoury dish of choice, our pick was created by Chef Filippo Germasi, which used fresh local ingredients to maximum effect. However, he assures us that the recipe can be re-created anywhere—even if the scenery outside, alas, can only be captured in photos.
   Another converted landmark worth visiting, either for a wine tasting (as we did it) or for an extended stay is La Badia (Localita la Badia 8, 05019 Orvieto), a twelfth-century monastery nestled in one of the greenest areas of Umbria. Even on a cloudy day, I can guarantee your photos will be alive with colour and history. If time allows, or if the locals showing you around insist (and they probably will—they are fiercely proud of their region’s beauty) you will venture to Castiglione del Lago, another spot nature and history buffs will enjoy. Anybody with a home to decorate will ultimately feel the urge to bring some representation of the famous Umbria pottery home (I suggest taking extra bubble wrap with you if that is part of your plans). One place to witness the evolution of one of Umbria’s signature crafts is the town of Deruta, home of Laboratorio di Ceramica ‘L’Antica Deruta’ Moretti. Though the shop mainly caters to people in the interior design and retail trades, the museum side of the shop (where nothing is for sale but everything is displayed for all to enjoy) will no doubt confirm that Italian pottery is here to stay.
   If any place captures the grandeur and mediæval splendour from a storybook perspective, it is the city of Gubbio, thanks in part to its steep and narrow streets as well as an imposing civic palace and an elevated city square that glows white and bright against the backdrop of mountains, green fields and blue skies. Bringing an extra dimension of warmth and flavour to this elegant place is the warm, masculine Taverna del Lupo (Via G. Ansidei, 6, Gubbio; 34 075-927-4368). Not surprisingly, the fare offered here is strong and hearty, and characterized by strong flavours, aromas and textures that render the dishes ideal comfort food for this mountainous area.
   While Il Pentagramma in Spoleto (one of Umbria’s cultural hubs) has a warm, old world cucina feel to it, it has kept with the times since 1959 with imaginative spins on local dishes and decorative items that playfully and visually represent the popular Spoleto Jazz Festival, which draws attendees from around the world. On our trip, the Zuppa di Farro (a lovely soup of mixed beans served in an edible bowl made from crisped pizza crust) was a hands-down crowd-pleaser as was the simple but striking "priest choker pasta" in a classic marinara sauce. Even if your trip does not coincide with the Spoleto Jazz Festival, take the time to wander the area anyway, especially with a trip across the Ponte delle Torri and the Rocca Albornoziana. Not far from Spoleto is Montefalco, a delightful village that is also a wine lover’s paradise, especially given that the area is famous for Sagrantino, a highly flavourful red wine mostly exclusive to this region. If you are anxious to build up your knowledge of regional Italian viticulture, a visit to the Conzorzio del Sagrantino is a must. (For more information about Montefalco wines, or to arrange a visit to the region and its wineries, please refer to or
   While Tuscan wine is familiar to most American foodie palates, the Lungarotti sisters (Chiara Lungarotti and Teresa Severini) are working very hard to change that with their emphasis on producing quality reds and whites and bringing them wholeheartedly into the US market. However, they are steadfastly not straying from the culinary and hospitality traditions of Umbria. Further ingratiating themselves as the toast of Torgiano (just outside the local capital of Perugia), the sisters and their family are responsible for the creation of olive oil and wine museums, olive oil production (including a line for Williams–Sonoma) and the operation of three boutique hotel properties (Le Tre Vaselle, Poggio alle Vigne and Il Pometo) as well as the acclaimed restaurant Tre de Vaselle, (06089 Torgiano,, which is the ideal showcase for Napoli-bred executive chef Domenico d’Imperio to wow diners with his exquisite and exquisitely simple creations. •




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Umbria to go

Though you just cannot beat experiencing breathtaking mediæval towns and sites like Il Duomo in Orvietto, the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi, the Spoleto Jazz Festival, the Torri Bridge, Todi’s Municipal Palaces and Gubbio’s Consoli Palace up close and personal, you can feast on Umbria’s spirit via a virtual tour of its towns with recipes from its finest restaurants.
   In that vein, the kitchen staff takes a modern approach to classic regional comfort food, bringing unique twists to traditional guinea fowl.
Redibis’ stuffed guinea fowl with sagrantino wine with barley and farro (spelt) pie
(serves 4)
For the guinea fowl:
—1 boned guinea fowl
—30 g of bacon fat
—50 g of pork net
—0·3 l of Sagrantino Wine (a regional wine of Umbria)
—1 clove of garlic
—0·1 l of white vinegar
—wild fennel
—salt and pepper to taste
For the farro (spelt) pie:
—50 g of spelt
—20 g of extra virgin olive oil
—10 g of grated Parmesan cheese
—1 bay leaf
—salt and pepper
For the barley:
—40 g of white barley
—100 g of small red chicory
—15 g of red onion
—0·3 l of guinea fowl stock
—20 g of extra virgin olive oil
—20 g sheep or goat cheese (preferably aged six months)
Passionfruit wine accompaniment:  
—1 kg passion fruit pulp
—250 g of sugar
—3 g of fresh yeast
Cut the guinea fowl taking care not to break the skin. Remove the two thighs and breast pieces. Dice the thighs and breasts, and put into bacon fat and mix everything with the wine, squeezed garlic, salt, pepper and fennel. Leave the mixture to marinate in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. Dip the pork net in a lot of cold water with the vinegar. Salt the guinea fowl body with the prepared mixture and roll the guinea fowl around the stuffing. Open the pork net and roll it around the guinea fowl tightly for two times and refrigerate for one hour.
   In preparing the spelt pie, boil the spelt for 15 minutes, drain it and mix with the oil and parmesan cheese, salt and pepper before storing it temporarily in a warm place. Brown the onion on a low fire with a drop of oil and toast the barley for two minutes adding the hot stock little by little. Julienne the red chicory and braise it with a drop of red wine leftover from the preparation of the stuffing. At the end of cooking this, mix the barley to the red chicory and mix with oil and the sheep or goat cheese. Put the mix in a pudding mold and store in a warm place.
   To prepare the passionfruit wine, leave all the ingredients to ferment for 24 hours and preserve it in a vacuumed container inside the refrigerator.
   Cook the guinea fowl on the grill, turning it several times during a 22-minute cooking time. Serve the fowl in slices and garnish it with the spelt pie and the passionfruit wine.
Il Maurizio’s veal controfiletto with sagrantino wine
Main ingredients:  
—1 kg veal controfiletto (fillet)
—Martinelli Sagrantino di Motenfalco Wine (highly suggested)
—salt, rosemary, sage
Filling ingredients:
—300 g ground veal
—200 g ground lean pork meat
—100 g ham
—1 grated lemon peel
—4 eggs
—100 g parmigiano
—50 g pistachios
—100 g black winter truffles
—salt and pepper (as required)
Open the controfiletto (fillet) and shape it as rectangular, about 1 cm high and ready to be filled. Next, prepare the filling by grinding the pork, the veal and the ham and mixing them with eggs, Parmigiano, salt and pepper, pistachios, cubed truffles and grated lemon peel. Put the filling on the fillet and wrap it up, tying securely with a cooking string. Season the outside of the fillet with ground rosemary, sage, salt and pepper. Cook the fillet high heat at first with some extra virgin olive oil, pour Sagrantino di Montefalco wine on it and cook until tender. Remove from heat and thicken the cooking sauce. Cut the fillet into slices and pour the sauce on top.
Zafferano’s ravioli with wild boar filling in Toma cheese sauce

For the pasta dough:
—1 kg of plain flour
—10 eggs
—20 g of extra virgin olive oil
—1 pinch of salt

For the stuffing:
—300 g wild boar ham (sausage can be substituted)
—150 g boiled and peeled chestnuts
—2 medium sized shallots
—200 g hay matured cheese (ricotta can be substituted)
—for seasoning: sage, rosemary, salt and pepper

For the sauce:
—"Toma" cheese (cow cheese matured for 20 days), melted
With stuffing ingredients, make a mash of them. With your dough mixture, lay it out in long stripes, about 12 cm wide. You can use a spoon to help you with the quantity of stuffing to fill each raviolo, wet the base of each raviolo with a bit of water and close it. Shape can be round or triangles or anything you like.
   Boil the ravioli in salted water. Add a tablespoon of olive oil with 50 g of parmesan cheese into the water. Drain the ravioli, when ready, and dispose them on the melted cheese sauce. Add porcini powder and garnish to your liking.
Il Pentagramma’s zuppa di farro (spelt soup)
Farro (known as "spelt" in English) is nothing more than durum wheat which is sfarrato, meaning it is ground by hand, using a specific mill made of stone. This mill does not pulverize the grains into flour but instead simply breaks the grains into very small pieces.
   For 6 servings, you will need:
—one scraped ham bone
—300 grams of farro
Begin by rinsing the ham bone several times under running water and let it soak in warm water for a few hours. Then place the ham bone in cold water and let it boil for approximately 15 minutes, change the water, add 200 grams of well-ripened tomatoes, one carrot, two celery stalks and one onion.
   Let this cook for two hours. Strain the broth you have obtained and bring it again to a boil: slowly add in the farro and let it cook for approximately ˝ hour while continuously stirring. At the end of cooking time, you may wish to add small pieces of lean ham, which have been scraped from the bone.
   Serve the soup very hot and with plenty of grated pecorino cheese. If you get really ambitious as they do at the restaurant, you can serve it in a pizza crust bowl or with breadsticks on the side made from pizza dough.
(Translation courtesy of The Italian Government Tourist Board of North America.)
Basic Pizza Crust Bowls for Soup   
—2 packages dry yeast
—1½ cup lukewarm water
—4 cups flour
—1 teaspoon salt
—½ teaspoon sugar
—1 tablespoon olive oil
Dissolve yeast in water; set aside for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Combine flour, salt, sugar and oil in bowl; make a well in the centre. When water–yeast mixture is bubbly, pour into centre of well. Start kneading dough, bringing flour toward center of bowl; gradually increase kneading motion.
   If dough feels dry, add more water; if it feels sticky, add more flour. Knead vigorously until dough is smooth and elastic. Roll into ball and cover with a damp cloth. Let rest for about 20 minutes in warm place. Beat dough with your palm to expel gas formed while fermenting. Roll dough again into ball, place in greased bowl and baste with oil. Cover with plastic wrap, and store it in refrigerator.
   When ready to use, place the dough on floured counter top or table. Flatten with your hands, working from centre out (a rolling pin may do also). To create the bowl shape, push dough evenly onto a greased round pan about 10 inches in diameter. Bake in hot oven (475–500°F) until golden brown.
   This recipe for basic pizza dough makes three crusts and was adapted from a recipe published on
Three chocolate terrine di tre de Vaselle
—200 g of dark chocolate
—200 g of white chocolate
—200 g of hazelnut chocolate (gianduia)
—1 l of cream
—100 g of chopped blanched hazelnuts
—1 l of custard
—2 dl of Nocino walnut liqueur
—400 g of wild berries
—a few mint leaves for garnishing
Preparation: first phase
    Melt dark chocolate and add to one third of the cream, partially whipped; form the first layer of the terrine, about 2 cm high; add one third of the hazelnuts and put in the freezer for about 15 minutes to thicken.

Second phase
   Melt gianduia chocolate and add to the final third of partially whipped cream and then form the third layer of about 2 cm. Add the remaining hazelnuts and put in the freezer for another 15 minutes to thicken.

Third phase
   Melt the white chocolate and add to one third of the cream, partially whipped. Form another layer about 2 cm high and add another third of the hazelnuts. Put in the freezer for another 15 minutes to thicken.
For the sauce
   Blend 0·5 l of custard with 2 dl of Nocino. Put a large spoonful of sauce on a flat serving plate, slice the terrine and place a serving on the plate. Garnish as desired with wild berries and mint leaves.

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