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Umbrian Cuisine

Many regard the cuisine of Umbria to be the best in Italy. The region is famous for its black truffles, superb olive oil, cheese and wine. Pork dishes, such as suckling pig, are common, and the quality of the hams, sausage and salami are unsurpassed. The town of Perugia is famous for its chocolate and wines from the region are remarkably inexpensive, given their high quality.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.


Orvieto is the most renowned wine, produced with Trebbiano, Grechetto, Drupeggio and other white grapes cultivated on the hills of Orvieto and adjacent towns. The wine is a straw-yellow colour and has an extremely pleasant bouquet. From the 1930’s onwards Umbrian viticulture has undergone profound trasformations, particularly since the 1960’s when the hectars farmed incresed and now cover up to 20.000 hectars. Wine output averages about 900.000 hectolitres, of which 17% is of controlled origin and quality. From 1960 the following wines have been awarded the official stamp of "Denominazione di Origine Controllata" (DOC): Torgiano, Orvieto, Colli del Trasimeno, Montefalco, Colli Alto Tiberini, Colli Perugini, Colli Martani and Colli Amerini. The Torgiano Riserva and the Sagrantino di Montefalco bear the stamp "Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita" (DOCG).

Some recipes

Black Olive Crostini

250g/ 8oz black olives, pitted (stone removed)
1 tin anchovy fillets in oil
1 clove of garlic
25g/ 1oz capers (removed from their vinegar and rinsed)
125ml/ 4fl oz olive oil
grated rind of 1 orange

You can make this by hand with a pestle and mortar but much the simplest way is to place all the ingredients together in a food processor and process for about 10-15 seconds. Scrape the sides down and process again for about 4 or 5 seconds. The mixture should be fairly smooth but should contain some texture.

Put it into small earthenware or ceramic pots, cover with a thin layer of olive oil, cover and keep it in the fridge. To use, spread it quite thinly (not quite as thinly as marmite but only just) on slices of good bread that have been toasted in the oven or under the grill until light gold. Serve immediately with plenty to drink as the flavor is intense and salty.


Hand-made Strangozzi in Piquante Sauce

The pasta:
Flour: 0,5 Kg., 1.25 lbs.
Eggs: 3
Warm water: as needed
Salt: to taste

The sauce:
Extra virgin olive oil: .25 cup
Garlic: 2 cloves
Pork skin: 60 gm, 2 oz
Whole chili peppers: 2
Parsley in a bunch: 120 gm, 4 oz
Tomato pulp: 1 large can
Fine salt: to taste

Serves 4 people

On a large bread board from a flour well. Combine all the ingredients and work vigorously by hand to obtain a smooth, consistent dough.
Let cool in the fridge for some 20 minutes. Prepare the sauce by sutéing the minced garlic clove in a teaspoon of olive oil in a heated skillet and add parsley bunch which will be discarded just after being just scalded. Add the tomato pulp and the pork, add salt to taste, and add chili peppers. Set aside.
Roll out the pasta, but not too thinly, and allow to dry some 8 - 10 minutes.
Roll up and slice thinly with smooth, even knife strokes into 'strangozzi' with a knife.
Quickly boil pasta in an abundant amount of salted water.
Cover with prepared sauce. Sprinkle with minced parsley. Serve at once.

Truffle omlette

Eggs: 10
Grated black truffle: 75 gm, 2.5 oz
Parmesan cheese: 30 gr 1 oz
Salt and pepper: to taste
Olive oil

Serves 4 people

Grate the truffle. Allow it to settle to the bottom of pre-heated olive oil with garlic.
Adjust this sauce to taste with salt. In a bowl beat the eggs and mix in Parmesan cheese, then add the truffles. Heat a stick-proof skillet and add some oil.
Pour in the mixture and let cook for a short time on one side before flipping over, using an inverted plate on skillet, but also being sure that the center to remains soft, not overcooked.
Serve immediately.

Farro salad:
arugola and grapes topped with shaved Pecorino cheese

Arugola, narrow leaves: 350 gm, 12 oz
Whole Farro, shelled: 285 gm, 10 oz
White grapes: 200 gm, 7 oz
Aged Pecorino cheese: 200 gm, 7 oz
Extra virgin olive oil: 150 ml .5 cup
Garlic: 1 clove
Bay leaf: 2

Serves 4 people

Boil the Farro in large quantity of water with salt, along with garlic and bay leaves, until it becomes cooked al dente.
Meantime, clean and wash the arugola and clean grapes of any seeds.
Finish the salad by arranging the arugola and Farroand the helved grapes and topped with shavings of Pecorino cheese.
Add salt and pepper to taste and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

Lentil Purée with 'Imperial' Shrimp

Lentils from mountain: 500 gm, 18 oz
Garlic: 2 cloves
Rosemary: 1 sprig
Salt: to tastes
Pig skin: 2 pieces
Basil leaves: 2
Stock: 2 cups
Broth from boiled lentils
Large shrimp: 16 with heads
Extra virgin olive oil Santoni: quanto basta
Pepper, very coarsely ground
Extra, extra virgin olive oil fruity "La Rocca"

Serves 4 people

Boil the lentils starting with cold water with garlic, bay leaf and rosemary sprig. Cook to 'al dente' texture and save all the broth. Season the lentils with a mixture of oil, garlic, bay leaf. Heat up and add the preserved lentil broth.
Blend in a blender to a creamy (macco) texture.
Lightly sauté the shrimp in oil and garlic and rosemary. Ladle a portion of the sauce into a clean dish and place four shrimp on top to form a small pyramid.
Top with fresh-ground pepper and a generous drizzle of oil. This is a simple dish of peasant origins and today enriched with the lentils of mountain (always organically grown) which give an exquisite, if unexpected, flavor to the shrimp. The extra virgin olive oil "La Rocca" is also an absolutely imperative ingredient.

Lamb with Truffles

1 Thigh from a young lamb
120 grams black truffle crushed in a mortar
1 lemons
1/10 litre olive oil

Cut the lamb in large pieces and brown it in a casserole, add salt to taste plus four anchovies with the spines removed and crushed in a mortar. Halfway through the cooking (about half an hour) remove lamb for a moment and pour out the fat accumulated in the pan. Add the juice of two lemons with a bit of water. Continue to cook over a low fire, check after twenty minutes for doneness, the meat near the bone should be tender and no longer pink, remove from the flame and add the truffles, carefully turning the pieces of lamb to mix. Cover the pot and let rest for ten minutes before serving.

Sausages with Lentils

The sausages for this dish will almost certainly, in Umbria and the Marches, be the fennel flavoured pork sausages that are so common there, but impossible to find except in one or two Italian delicatessens in Britain. I personally favour the coarse but beef sausages often made with Aberdeen Angus beef that a number of our better supermarket chains have begun selling recently, but you may have a local butcher who will make you good, coarse cut, meat rich sausages. Traditionally, this dish is cooked with the lentils and the sausages kept separate until they arrive on the plate. I think putting them together for a little while beforehand improves the flavour and texture of both.

250g/ lb green or brown lentils (the red ones won't do for this)
2 tbsp olive oil
250g/ lb onions
4 stalks of celery
2 carrots
750g/ 1 lb good, meaty, coarse ground sausages
4 plum or similar tomatoes
1 tsp fennel seeds (optional)
salt and pepper

Soak the lentils in plenty of water for at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours. Throw the water away. In a pan which will take all the lentil ingredients and the sausages in due course, put the olive oil and fry gently the cleaned and chopped onion, celery, and carrot. Add the lentils. Cover with water to a depth of 2cm/1in above the boil. Simmer gently for about half an hour until the lentils are cooked and almost all the water is absorbed. You may need to add a little more depending on the individual lentils you're using. Chop up the tomatoes and add those to the lentil mixture, seasoning generously at this point. Fry the sausages, either in their won fat or in a little extra oil, until they are well browned. Add them and the fennel seeds, if you are using them, to the lentil mixture, making sure that the mixture is still quite runny and moist. Cook with the lid on and the sausages at least partly buried for another 15 minutes over a very low heat for the flavours to blend. Serve each person their sausages and lentil in a deep plate. The lentil should still be, while not soupy, quite moist and runny. No other vegetable is needed at this point. A good salad afterwards is wonderfully refreshing. Serves 4

Pollo Trifolata - Chicken with Mushrooms & Truffles

1 chicken, cut up into small pieces
6 tablespoons virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 pound Portobello mushrooms, caps cut into 1/4inch strips
4 ounces black truffles, thinly sliced
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons tomato conserva or paste
1 cup chicken stock
1 bunch Italian parsley, finely chopped to yield 1/4 cup

Wash and pat chicken dry and dredge in flour. In a 14 inch frying pan, heat olive oil until just smoking. Brown pieces of chicken until golden, 3 or 4 at a time. Remove to a plate. Continue until all the pieces are done. Add garlic and cook until light brown. Add Portobello mushrooms and truffles and saute until soft, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add wine and tomato conserva and stir through. Add broth and chicken pieces and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 20 minutes or until the juices of a thick piece of chicken run clear.
Add parsley and serve immediately.