Food and Wine of Umbria, FOOD & WINE

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FOOD & WINE >> Food and Wine of Umbria

Food and Wine of Umbria

It is said that St. Francis of Assisi, on his deathbed, wanted his dearest friends beside him, and one of these was Madonna Jacopa dei Settesoli, a Roman noblewoman who was very devout. He sent her a letter saying: "If you want to find me alive hurry and come to S. Maria degli Angeli and bring with you an ash-coloured wool cloth and candles for the burial. I also ask you to bring me those sweets you always gave me when I was ill in Rome."

The friars were looking around for someone to take the letter to Rome when there was a knock on the door, and Donna Jacopa had already arrived. Women were forbidden to enter the monastery, so the friars asked the saint what should they do, and he answered: "You cannot apply this rule to this woman whose great faith caused her to travel so far." She was allowed to enter, and had brought a sack with an ash-coloured wool cloth for a cassock, as indicated in the letter as well as the requested sweets made with almonds, sugar, honey, and other ingredients, called "mostaccioli" in Rome.

Today these sweets are made in memory of the humanity humaneness of this saint who travelled across the Umbrian countryside on mule back. Umbria still feels his presence strongly.

The sweets of Umbria are often tied to religious holidays. Perugia has the "frittelle di San Giuseppe" and for San Costanzo, patron of the city, they prepare "torcolo", a doughnut with candied fruits, raisins, pine nuts and anise seed. Assisi boasts "stinchetti" and "rocciata." The first are made with marzipan in the form of small leg bones, they are also called "ossa di morto" (dead man's bones) and are usually prepared for the beginning of November for the all saints and all souls day. "Focciata" is a roll of sweet pasta filled with almonds and chopped walnuts, dried fruit, apple, sugar, and cinnamon. How can we not remember "serpentone" made by the Capucine nuns and the "pinoccate" of Christmas, all very simple and old sweets: a gracious excuse to accompany the famous "Vin Santo."

Umbria, green and wise. Although crushed between Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, and Lazio, this region has managed to conserve its original simplicity founded on certain basic ingredients: olive oil, among the best in Italy, the hog, the lamb, durham wheat pasta of the best quality and the colombaccio, the wood-pigeon that Umbrians love.

Let's begin the roundup with a real specialty: the precious black tartufo from Norcia. Hunting this treasure is a secret jealously kept by its masters and it's hard to find a friend in Norcia who will take you along for the hunt because the locations are a secret handed down by one generation to another in the local families.

Norcia has another specialty: the treatment of hog meat. The term "norcino" means to butcher and prepare sausages, all excellent, and the extraordinary "mazzafegati" which are sausages made from hog's liver, orange peel, pine nuts, raisins and sugar.

Cooking in Umbria is varied: meat, fish, cereals, vegetables, spices, and herbs are equally important and combined with an enviable equilibrium, so it doesn't seem right to define this cooking as "poor." Perhaps "essential" is a better description with its proud and primitive disdain for any kind of sophistication.

In Foligno, for example, delicious "minestroni" (soups) with a fresh vegetable base are made with egg pasta. Wild pigeons are served in the fall with a sauce made with oil, wine, vinegar, and herbs. In the local fairs stuffed "porchetta" is often served, young roasted pig served with a strong flavour of wild fennel.

A favourite dish in Todi is sweet and sour ox tongue and at Cascia they prepare, with a very old recipe, veal with tartufo. In the towns around Lake Trasimeno the local fish is baked or braised, seasoned with fragrant herbs.

This is the land of the ancient Etruscans, and studies of frescoes in the ancient tombs show that the locals eat in a manner very similar to that of their ancestors.


Wines of Umbria, Italy

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