Crispy potato threads, lamb and fresh spinach
Hello to you all
I know it’s been a long time, so after weeks of not only doing lots of cooking but also working really hard in the garden, I thought it was about time I brought you up to date with what`s been happening in our very own Umbrian Camelot .
After the olive trees were pruned we then had to burn the branches. It was really hard work made even harder by the grass under and around the trees which had grown nearly as tall as me! The thought of snakes and many other creatures that might not be so friendly hiding in the long grass ready to bite me for invading their privacy, did not help. However, I have to say not only did I come out unscathed after waiting for the dead olive branches to burn but I also discovered with great pleasure that the borage flower is absolutely delicious to eat and has a very pleasant taste of cucumber. Well, I really felt like Alice in her the wonderland!
Our vineyard this year is already looking very beautiful but with all the rain we`ve had , the growth of everything has been very vigorous, so the ground under the vines has had to be cleared by Nick patiently cutting the grass under all the 24 rows.
The countryside at this time of year is amazing with everything growing so green and lush!
Views from our window
Fortunately ( for me,) a few years ago Nick decided he was the King and master of our newly acquired garden toy, the STRIMMER, so over the last few weeks I have given all my support and encouragement to my KING to fight this serious growing battle. At the moment, looking around me, I have to say, that he is far from winning ,but I must not be negative, the battle is just beginning…. summer has only just begun!
So this country King of mine,( who a long time ago upt sticks and left the big city of London to fight his battles in the Umbrian countryside where the Tube Trains and Black Cabs are replaced by donkeys and small machines with three wheels , called API, meaning a small bee) ,decided last week to create a much needed new vegetable garden .
We had both thought it needed to be moved to a new plot for some time. This of course involved a lot of work as it had to be dug over and fertilized to give more energy to the new plants..Yet another great job was done by Nick the King, I must say, I’m super happy with the result.
So now it’s my turn to do my bit and Nick has declared I am to be the QUEEN of the vegetable garden . `Wait a minute `I said ` I `v always done it`, can`t I have a change and be Queen of a REAL castle, perhaps they need me in the UK`?? I said. ` No` he said, `I don`t think so, its much better here , just concentrate on your subjects, the plants and vegetables, and then you can eat them!!!
Me and Rosetta in the vegetable garden
This weekend, while Nick took a little break from his battle against the strong and lush grass, I took up my position in the new kingdom.
But Nick’s break wasn’t all rest , he put on his other hat and took some great photos which I hope will show you why two townies like us decided to change our life styles 12 years ago and move to this beautiful place.
My Royal Carrage
I wish a good week to all of you and I hope you enjoy my small report from Umbria!
Parmesan and black olives biscuits, topped with sweet and sour red onion and a pinch of thyme
To say my week started benissimo is an understatement , this is not just because the sun has finally decided to arrive in Umbria but mainly because this morning I had the pleasure and honor of cooking with a talented chef who luckily for me also happens to be a truly good friend. Lorna Dunhill, after years of great success in gastronomy ,has sold her London based business “ Above the Salt” and has embarked on a career as a food consultant. Working with a team of likewise people she is also involved in developing new products for Supermarkets and restaurants in the UK. In short, she is a known expert in the food industry, so imagine my delight when my friend decided to move and live for few months every year in Umbria, choosing a small village not far from me.
I am telling you all this just to give you the right picture: when together ,Lorna and I can happily spend hours endlessly discussing different combinations of ingredients, traditional recipes and revised recipes. We have been sharing this strong food passion for about five years. Suddenly today while sitting in the sunshine in the beautiful green Umbrian hills waiting for the parmesan cookies to come out of the oven, that she had kindly been showing me how to make, a great idea blossomed and grew with every minute.
It was after the usual moaning about the winter months , always very hard and grey in both London and Allerona , that Lona suggested that I started holding Italian Cooking Classes in London commencing next winter . Can you believe it? So COOL, not only a chance to go to London every couple of weeks and share my passion for Italian cuisine made with the best of Italian products but also maybe a little light shopping in the vintage clothes shops I`ve heard about. What do you think, could this project possibly work ?
However as we say in Italy: Chi vivrà vedrà ( time will tell). For the moment, after having enriched our great parmesan biscuits with different experimental toppings Lorna, Nick (the nice looking man behind the camera!) and I opened a bottle of Pinot Grigio and raised our glasses to friendship, sunshine and positive ideas.
Handmade sausage, served on a white bean truffle puree and Porcini mushrooms
“Ciao Simona,”said my friend Eva “ unfortunately today we have to slaughter one of our pigs, and I`m just calling to ask if you would like to come over on Sunday afternoon to help us make some sausages?”…………………..
Well that`s how it all started.
Eva and Fumo are a very nice couple who have quite a lot of animals on their farm, a good mixture of pigs, sheep and chickens. They run a beautiful farmhouse in Umbria and as I have mentioned in previous stories on my blog, their animals are allowed roam freely over their land. In fact very often when I`ve been there relaxing in the sunshine having a chat and enjoying a nice cup of coffee or a good glass of wine we have been joined by a huge curious pig or even a couple of hens, it’s as though they`ve just come to say hello. In short, it’s a dream place, but every now and then there comes a day when reality calls and when it comes, it’s always a sad day for Fumo and Eva. Being a farmer can be a difficult choice for many reasons and on these days you must have a great strength and courage to do what needs to be done.
Come Sunday afternoon Nick and I went to help out with the fascinating and interesting process of sausage making. But the real guest of honor that afternoon was Marco, expert and master of many things including sausage making. Marco`s main occupation is that of a policeman, but his great passions are olive trees and animals. He is so proud of his olive trees he is the only one who can prune them , even if his wife had a degree in agriculture, she would NOT be allowed to touch them , he is the only one who can care for them. I must say, I have seen his olive trees..and they are very very beautiful.
Anyway, for generations the men in Marco’s family have also been producing fantastic sausages, prosciutto, salame, pancetta … in short he said, nothing from the animal is wasted. He really is a true expert and it was an honor to be part of his team when making the sausages on Sunday.
Once all the meat pieces were cut the spices and salt were added. The amount of salt is very, very important. It does preserve the meat, but using an excessive amount can also give a very unpleasant taste to the sausage , so you cannot mess around with it! Next garlic, pepper and chili are added, and that was it. Nothing more was needed, Fumo and Eva’s philosophy is that if you use quality meat there is no reason to cover it with too many other flavors. Quite right too!
Once the seasoning was done Marco and I gave it all a good mix and then it was ready for the fantastic sausage machine . It is an old but super expensive machine that belongs to Marco’s cousin. What a real gem.
But at this stage I`m sure you will be more interested to follow Nick’s footage that shows the different steps taken for making good quality sausages.
By 6.30pm an enormous quantity had been completed. These delicious sausages will be one of the many great dishes that Eva and Fumo’s guests will enjoy during their holidays.
And as for us, thanks to the generosity of our hosts, we came home on Sunday evening with 30 sausages as a gift. By 8pm the fires were lit and we were enjoying a great glass of red wine . Nick and I decided to celebrate the wonderful day by enjoying a super special dinner: homemade sausages (prepared a couple of hours earlier), served on a white bean truffle puree and porcini mushrooms. What a fantastic Sunday!
Homemade squid ink Tagliatelle served with sea food
Il Palazzo del Gusto, situated in the former convent of San Giovanni in Orvieto, is an organization which promotes the very best of typical Umbrian products. The very name Palazzo del Gusto means “ Palace of Taste”. Several fantastic associations such as the Slow Food Association, Italian Sommelier Association and The Regional Enoteca of Umbria are all housed in this beautiful building. For example in the intricate maze of ancient tunnels, the Enoteca, or Wine Library, collects and displays the wines of the most important producers of the region, and hosts its functions in the cellars which are excavated in the volcanic rock and dating back to Etruscan times.
Itinera is the name of the Cooperative that organizes and takes care of these amazing gatherings, and the two founding members ,Lucia and Graziella are two women who love to organize all manner of events connected with good wine and good food. In the recent years it has been my good fortune and pleasure to have the opportunity to work with these two active, professional ladies.
So last Friday it was all planned, the idea was to organize, at the Palazzo del Gusto, a cooking class followed by a wine tasting in the cellars. I was very excited to be asked to be part in this event, plus we thought it would be nice for Nick to take some pictures for the blog.
But unfortunately things don`t always go as you wish, and the day before the event ,Nick had a call to go to Genova and photograph Bebbe Grillo ( the Italian M5S Leader, that had such a great result in this last political Italian election). So ,the official Sagra in casa photographer and of course my big supporter, husband and fan was gone! Not only that but later that evening when speaking with him on the phone after the usual questions like: did you close the chicken gate ? or did you feed Lui the dog?..etc etc, all he could talk about was this amazing meal he had just had in Genova : tagliatelle made with squid ink and sea food…..totally oblivious that there, on the other end of the telephone line, was poor me in a hysterical panic about my big booking the next day!
My role, was in fact, to hold a class which would prepare and produce four types of finger food that would combine with and complement the chosen wine. 35 people were booked in for the cooking class alone, and a total of 50 people altogether were happy to enjoy this great Aperitivo. Mamma mia ,how did he think I had time to care about his bloody tagliatelle!!!!!
Anyway, at the end of the day it was all a huge success, my class went really really well and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the food that we had prepared for the aperitif . Luckily for me lots of them also took photographs and for that I must say a big thank you. What you will see is in fact a mix of photos that were kindly given to me by the Itinera and some of the students. Thanks again to all and Nick……….. watch out, because these guys did a very good job!
Caterina and Erika
My last big thanks goes to my two sweet and very professional helpers Caterina and Erika, great girls that I love to work with.
Regarding my big fan Nick , at home on Saturday morning after coffee, I was curious about his opinion on the M5S Leader, but once again the only thing he was very impressed with and wanted to talk about was……………………………….. that dam meal he had in Genova.
So on Saturday evening to shut him up I decided to make it. We had a very relaxing dinner, we talked about my Friday job and I showed him the pictures. At last when I asked about the Tagliatelle I had made…he said slowly and carefully “ yes it was pretty good, pretty pretty good!”
What a diplomatic fan I have.
A sweet and sour beetroot risotto served with shrimp and almonds
SURPRISE SURPRISE yes it’s me coming out of myself imposed hibernation , It ‘s been almost a month since my last story and I thought it’s about time I made contact and let our friends know we are all still alive and well.
It’s been a very long, very cold winter and it’s not over yet . We have had a few sunny days (but still cold) when we have heard the first brave little birds singing in the morning and the hills around our house have started to look beautifully green. But as I said ,it’s not over yet and we have already burnt our eight tons of winter fuel and have had to order a further one and a half tons of logs. Plus Nick has been very busy with his chainsaw in the last four days and like a real woodsman, he has chopped yet more firewood from our old dead trees located on our three hectare of land. Two wheelbarrows full of wood a day is what is needed to heat the house to make it bearable. We stink from head to toe of burning wood , clothes, hair skin….. and the amazing thing is we don`t even notice it anymore.
Our animals are all dealing with the winter situation in their own ways. Lui our lovely old dog is fine , sleeping and snoring all day ( whatever the season ) and despite being almost completely deaf , he still manage to get up and get to the fridge every time we open the door. It must be built in radar.
Hilda the goat is well and happy with her roommates, 5 hens and a rooster , and they seem happy freely strutting around ,pecking at everything .In fact every day they lay three lovely fresh eggs for us. Fresh pasta, cakes, fried eggs, boiled eggs …we have eggs coming out of our ears!! In fact, at the moment I have 18 eggs on the kitchen worktop watching me, help!
So a couple of days ago, when I went to Rome to buy a couple of things I needed for a cooking class I am holding on 8th March at the Palazzo del Gusto in Orvieto. I decided to take a little box of fresh eggs for my parents. A lady sitting next to me in the train compartment suddenly started to make conversation. After about 10 minutes of sociable chat the friendly lady from Milan said to me: “ My dear, are you from the country side ?” “ Yes, I am, how did you know ? “ I responded. “My dear “, she said” a box of fresh eggs and the smell of firewood is a clear sign!” I could feel my face getting redder and redder which I`m sure completed the picture of “ the country bumpkin up from the sticks “ as they say.
Any way after shopping in the big capital, loading two huge bags of equipment for my finger food cooking class and very aware of the unique smell of my BURNT WOOD N 5, I left Rome and returned to the welcoming Umbrian hills.
The fires are on again , it’s raining outside and by this evening I know we will have a few more eggs…. so I am wondering….if perhaps anyone of my readers will like to have some???
If so, all you have to do is send me an email and if you would like to join me on the 8th of March at the Finger Food Cooking Course in Orvieto at 6pm I will bring an egg just for YOU. 10 eggs are up for grabs, so you`ll have to be quick and book your EGG now ! in this way you will be helping a smelly family!
Ciao and looking forward to meeting some of you , if possible.
Homemade Ravioli filled with a jelly pecorino cheese and served with broad beans, drops of honey and a crunchy corn pastry
In the middle of last week I discovered that a big and important exhibition / display was to be held at the weekend in a village near us. This was to be a gathering of the most famous and experienced master butchers in the area who would explain and demonstrate the secret of pork meat cutting and also advise on which cuts are best for the different cooking techniques. Two whole intense days where the pig was to be the absolute star! Lots of chopping, cooking on open fires…..great I thought we MUST NOT miss this!
So with great excitement I read and re-read the program and finely decided that the Sunday would be the best day to go, thinking that MAYBE two days of chopping and BBQ would be a bit excessive especially when after e-mailing Nicks mum about this exciting weekend event her very quick (and funny ) response was: “What with you chopping up all these defenseless little animals, should I be a bit worried about the safety of my son, and should he be sleeping with the light on “
So yes perhaps, one day would be enough after all.
Sunday arrived accompanied by bright sunshine, Nick and I drove to this pretty village in Umbria. But when we arrived, we were surprised at how quiet everything was. Only a few people had turned out, three lonely musicians were playing trumpets and a massive BBQ had only bruschette waiting to be cooked …….. in short, something was not quite right.
After speaking with one of the locals, it turned out that I had picked the (bloody) wrong day! Yes, all the great fun had actually happened the day before. The reason for this was that an Italian TV Channel had decided to film the live event for a 10 minute TV show . So during this 10 minutes of fame EVERYTHING had happened: Large containers of polenta, a BIG porchetta 2 meters long (stuffed pork) slowly cooked on a fire and served with hundreds of sausages cooked on the BBQ, plenty of vegetables and all the master butchers in front of the cameras giving advice on cutting techniques ……in short it apparently had been fantastic. Fantastico, the local lady kept repeating to me.” Everyone in the village had been eating, drinking and dancing “ she told us “you have come on the wrong day “ Ok so I got it wrong, very wrong , after the big Saturday event had reached and surpassed all expectations, on Sunday it was a bit like an old Italian saying …. just there to bite the bones!! or as I believe the English would say “after the lord mayors show………………..”
While being teased by Nick during the journey home, I realized that perhaps I had been too blinded (or as we say in Italy: avere gli occhi coperti di prosciutto, meaning: having prosciutto ham covering your eyes- just to stay in the theme!) by my strange obsession with meat cutting. I did not see or consider how the arrival of TV cameras could ,quite rightly ,be such a big event in a small village like that.
Then on the way back we came upon a lovely little scene again involving animals .
A small herd of sheep had decided to graze on the stretch of road we were travelling on. Among them was a sweet little lamb who attracted our attention.
He was adorable, probably born a few hours before and still uncertain on his legs. Mamma mia, was this perhaps a sign from above? Maybe I do need a little break from all this meat chopping?
So to reassure Nick, his mum and possibly those of you who are thinking that lately I have been a little bit “ psycho “about all this meat chopping, I just want to say that (a) of course, I did not touch the baby lamb and ( b )when we finely got back home I cooked a very nice vegetarian dish!!
I prepared homemade ravioli filled with a jelly pecorino cheese and served with broad beans, drops of honey and a crunchy corn pastry .It was very green and very tasty.
In fact although butchery is a very important skill in my chosen profession I have decided to “ hang up my butchers knives “just for a short (very short ) while.
So I hope you have enjoyed this little story from the Umbrian hills and will join us next time to see what`s going on here…..ciao a tutti.
NICK, FOR GOODNESS SAKE TURN OFF THAT LIGHT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Lamb with artichoke drops
How is your winter going? Here in Umbria the weather is fairly good , yes days are wet and gray but we can’t really complain after all it is still winter, right?
These months, when you live in the countryside, are always very slow and boring. Each day starts with taking care of the chickens and goats then filling two wheelbarrows with wood for the indoor fires and then when all the chores are finally done, a hot double espresso coffee as a reward.
Last week I was able to use and improve on my newly acquired butchery skills, and I must thank my friend Eva for that. Her and her husband Fumo own a fantastic Agriturismo (holiday farm) near us where they breed lambs, pigs and chickens. The great feature that distinguishes their farm from most is the total freedom their animals have to roam around wherever they wish. Not only is this great for the animals but also means all this activity turns and ploughs acres of land for Eva and Fumo. Wonderful, there aren’t so many Agriturismi left in Italy like that! Anyway, Eva gave me the opportunity to carve and select pieces of one of their lambs. The meat was fantastic and what you see in the picture are some delicious lamb chops with an artichoke sauce that Nick and I dined on that evening, many thanks to you Eva.
Another great opportunity that came my way in the last few days was a chance to visit a charming Wine Cellar named Paolo and Noemi d’Amico, not far from Orvieto. Thanks to another sweet friend Elodie, who is a French agronomist and his companion Guillaume who is the winemaker of the winery, a few of my Sommelier friends and I were able to spend an absolutely fantastic wine tasting afternoon. The beauty of this winery, which I definitely want to go back to with Nick , is not just the attention and love they put into the wines produced, but also the style and dedication put into every aspect. Details like large candles and carpet gracing a long corridor which is full of wine barrels and has a huge fireplace at the end ….I very much felt like a princess walking the plush length of that corridor. At the end of the day I was so happy that I came home with two boxes of wine, which made Nick even more happy !!!
The rest of my time is spent experimenting with new dishes and I’m also in the process of organizing my diary for the spring/summer period with the cooking classes, catering for private parties and setting up tours of the wine estates in the Orvieto area etc etc. It won`t be long before spring has sprung and everything will start again and to be honest I can`t wait, I love it.
Anyway, for now I should stop thinking about tomorrow and concentrate on today: in fact I had better get down to basics and go fill another wheelbarrow with wood! A big hug to all of you from a lovely green Umbria.
Chocolate tagliatelle pasta served with a spicy wild board sauce
After about three months the hunting season is now almost over and most of the Allerona’s hunters will have their freezers full of wild boar meat and jugs of sauces to go with this meat have been prepared and are ready to use. But what is the story of this old tradition? Living in the countryside has given me the opportunity to learn a little bit more about it.
It goes like this , starting at the crack of dawn teams of men set out to play their game, all wearing similar green outfits, guns tucked under their arms and sniffer dogs at their heels. At the end of the day when the hunt is over they will each divide and share their meat . This is worked in rotation so each member of the team gets a selection of different pieces. Then it’s time to party, they barbeque some sausages, have a few bruschetta‘s, some homemade wine and sweet biscuits which have been made by their wives / mothers . Game over.
However back home as a result of the husbands / sons day trip the wives / mothers spend hours and hours chopping, cleaning, cooking ,freezing preserving this blessed wild boar!
It can be cooked and preserved in many different ways: tomato sauce and wild board is great with Pappardelle pasta, or a rich sauce “in bianco” meaning without tomatoes. It can also be cooked in a sweet and sour way ,or sometimes in chocolate or even spiced for fresh or dried sausages . After all this hard work all this great food will be kept in jugs and freezers or in the case of the sausages hung up to dry in the cantine .These wonderful delights will also be shared with family and friends to enjoy.
A few days ago I went to see my friend Elena. She spends and enjoys the majority of her days in the kitchen, which she calls “my temple.” Surrounded by knives, containers, jugs and spices, Elena gave me a tired look and says “ciccia, sono giorni che vedo solo ciccia”which very very loosely translated means “meat nothing but bloody meat for days on end, if they carry on like this I will go on strike !” So after a strong cup of coffee I pulled up my sleeves and with a knife I started to help her.
What a great day I had ,as usual I learned a lot from my friend, cutting techniques, traditional recipes and methods of preservation. Not only that, I also came home with a fantastic piece of fresh wild boar as a gift!
After marinating my precious meat overnight in white wine and herbs, I decided that instead of using the chocolate in the wild boar sauce, I’d use this unsweetened confectionary in the pasta dough.
After an hour the tagliatelle was ready, the sauce was rich and tasty and ready to join the Tagliatelle in the pan.
What a great feast we had, every ingredient in the dish it had its own story. The wild boar and the hunters, Elena and I doing our bit in the kitchen and Nick who kindly took the pictures of the pasta making.
So ciao ciao for now and arrivederci from Allerona, this beautiful little piece of my countryside world.
Chocolate and gelatin pear dessert served with coffee cream.
After a fun filled hectic Christmas spent with family and friends Nick and I decided we would have a quiet New Years eve with a good dinner, maybe watch a movie and then go to bed! In short, no big celebrations saving all our energy and enthusiasm for New Years Day when we would take a trip to the Tuscan beach with Lui the dog for a long long walk, then go to a restaurant for a good fish lunch on the Ansedonia beach .
But let’s start from the beginning on the 31st: Although we had planned a laidback evening I decided to wear a little ‘make-up , a pretty outfit, nice shoes and a dash of Chanel No.5. Nick had spruced himself up too and he had put on his best black shirt. By 7pm the aperitif was ready, some canapés and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, the house was nice and cozy with both the open fires lit and outside the night sky was filled with lots of bright shining stars, giving off a beautiful light. Then during the aperitif, suddenly, a piece of coal jumps from the fire place and lands on my favorite skirt making a huge hole (a beautiful vintage skirt made from white organza and taffeta ). I must say ,the expression on my face was not happy so Nick spent the next 10 minutes trying to convince me that (a) the hole wasn’t too bad,” in fact only you can see it,” Nick said” because Simona you know it’s there” and (b) maybe it wasn`t the right thing to wear in front of an open fire. My dear friend , his theory did not go down at all well so to take my mind of it I opened a second bottle of wine and I tried to forget all about it!
By 9.30pm the fish was prepared and ready to go in the pan, our handmade black tagliolini pasta (made with squid ink)was cooked in boiling water, drained and cooked for a few more minutes in the pan with the fresh fish and thyme. Dinner was ready ,Nick lit the candles and poured more wine.
Believe it or not, after dinner the hole on my skirt was still there! So I then decided to change my clothes for something more country while Nick was busy putting on some music.
Then when I came back to the party that wasn`t really a party, I do not know how or when it happened but we began to dance. A little jive and a little bit of tango, or at least we thought it was jive and tango dancing ,going through one room and into the other to the sound of Frank Sinatra on the player bringing in the New Year!
At midnight we walked outside to watch a few fireworks coming from the village of Allerona and then we came back indoors and carried on dancing, just like Fred and Ginger. An unexpected beautiful night.
Unfortunately, the next day a certain someone had a headache and the idea of a long drive to and from Tuscany was not so attractive anymore.” All that journey just to enjoy a few minutes on the beach,” this voice was saying “ frankly Lui (the dog) is so old he will only want a 5 minute walk ! Plus , let’s face it , Simona , the fish at the restaurant will probably be left over from the day before”. In short, the party’s over, my Fred Aster had hung up his dancing shoes.
However, as an alternative to the Tuscan sea trip we did decide to have a nice long walk by the Bolsena lake , our dog Lui (much to the amusement of other walkers in the car park) refused to get out of the car , preferring to sleep (nothing it is more exciting than a long siesta in the car!)
Before coming back we made a short visit to Pitigliano and with the sound of our snoring dog in the background we made our way back home.
Nick offered to cook us a full roast English dinner and I prepared a chocolate dessert. By 9pm we were on the couch by the fire with a nice rich chocolate and gelatin pear dessert served with coffee cream.
In the end ,these two days had been nothing like the plans we`d made, but still they had been pretty pretty good!
So as for my New Year’s resolutions I’m going to: (1) live each day without too many plans (2), learn how to dance, (3) never wear dresses that easily catch fire!
Buon anno a tutti voi. Happy new year to all of you and I hope we all have a fun year, full of good food, lovely wine ,good health ,silly stories from Umbria and beautiful pictures by Nick.
Last weekend Orvieto hosted a big event called “OFF” (Orvieto Food Festival ). It was advertised everywhere, even in the Vanity Far and Style Magazine! The idea was for Orvieto to show to as many people as possible all the good food and wine that is produced here. Along with tours, wine tasting and lots of other activities there was also an organized cooking class where you could learn how to cook a typical dish from Orvieto named Lumachelle. The “Lumachella” (meaning LITTLE SNAIL) is soon to be launched as a new Slow Food Presidium for the town of Orvieto. It is made with a simple pizza dough but enriched inside with : pancetta, ham and cheese. Simple yes ? NO , not simple at ALL, and I can tell you this from experience as one of the people who had been asked to teach 37 participants of the cooking class .. …Me ,originally a Roman and a person that has never made Lumachella in her life. The second teacher was Valentina, a local lady who grew up eating Lumachelle,and now she is the owner of a fantastic restaurant here in Orvieto , called Saltapicchio. But thats not the end of the horror story………… the cooking class was also to include a competition for the best Lumachella locally made. Those to take part in the competition were Valentina , myself, plus 6 of the most famous bakers of Orvieto. Mamma mia, PANIC was not the right word to describe how I felt……….pure TERROR will give you a better idea of my feelings….
So very quietly and slowly ,you might even say at a snail’s pace , I decided to spend the whole week before the event doing intense research .The best course of action in this research would be for me to consult the elder ladies from Allerona , the sweet medieval village that adopted Nick and I twelve years ago. So I started by asking around for the Lumachelle recipe but every one of them had a different little secret ingredient to put in it (lard or sausages , two types of cheese, olive oil ….Mamma mia I was going crazy). Ok, I thought it cannot be so complicated, I can do it, I have to do it. So after baking some experimental Lumachelles I took them to Teresa for her opinion (Teresa is one of the best Lumachelle making in the Village). “They are very tasty, buone buone” she tells me “ look at my little nephews “ she said ” look at their happy faces , they are really enjoying them. ” But then …..while I`m almost in tears with relief and pride she picks up the phone and calls an old friend from the village (also a super expert ).” Ciao Maria “she says down the phone ” I’m here with Simona, she`s made some Lumachelle.. … Oh yes very tasty and good, but they are as hard as rock !” My five minutes of success shot down in flames, it was back to the drawing board . Then on Saturday morning I decided to make my fourth attempt and I went to see Elena (the villagers say she has god’s hands for making Lumahelle ) to prise the secret of her success out of her, and you know what, bless her, at 8 pm I arrived home with almost a hundred Lumachelle , all good, crispy and tasty. The secret had been passed on to me. I was so happy. The next morning I felt so much calmer after receiving so much help from Teresa and Elena and I felt full of courage and confidence to meet my class. Dare I say even almost ready to deal with the terrifying competition.
Well , the lumachelle cooking class in Orvieto was a great success , people had a lot of fun and to be honest I had to tell them about my weeks experiences . As for the competition , I am proud to say that my Lumachella came third in the finals , and so its with all my heart I want to thank the Allerona ladies for being so helpful and sweet with me. They opened their homes to me and shared their culinary secrets. But I must also give special thanks to Teresa and Elena for not only giving me their time and passing on their expertise, they even phoned me immediately after the cooking class to know how everything went. As for Nicks part, he only has ninety five Lumachelle left to eat!
This is what living in a small community is all about and we love being part of it. Once again thank you all.
Cod fillet served with red onion marmalade, a cube of sweet green pepper with a sprinkling of black crust
I awoke early this morning with a hundred thoughts and plans running through my head. As the dinner party ,held last week by the Local Winery, went so well they have asked me to return to create and prepare five finger foods to compliment 5 different wines, all to be tasted and judged by a group of 52 people who are on a wine tasting tour booked on the 1st of December . Bene bene, I thought, this is going to be fun!
But what I did not know was that a large portion of the participants of this great event are in fact future Sommeliers accompanied by all my former professors of the Federation of Italian Sommeliers. AIUTO (help!!!). No pressure then , this is going to be fun ,I just have to keep convincing myself………….
So feeling in a creative mood and at the same time trying to feel positive and grateful for the opportunity to be involved in this exciting event. I thought it was a good idea to cook something a little special for Nick and I . Baccalà (Cod fillet) served with red onion marmalade, a cube of sweet green pepper with a sprinkling of black crust, and to drink a fantastic “Ritorto” (from Grechetto and Chardonnay). Because you know, pressure is all very well but you do also have to relax, right?
Any way , here I am drinking my morning coffee and ready for action. Ciao my friends, in a few days time I’ll let you know if I am hiding in a cupboard in the kitchen or as I HOPE that everything went well.
Monlus 70% dark chocolate served on English custard and hazelnuts.
Last week I was contacted by a Wine Cellar that produces fantastic wines in this area. They asked me if I could /would create a menu where each course would combine with and compliment their wines ,from the aperitif to the dessert. What a wonderful challenge, I was so pleased and honoured to be asked to undertake this. Fantastic I thought, this is exactly the reason why last year I decided to study and take the Sommelier diploma.
20 guests, a new professional kitchen … with myself in it..How could I resist even though I was a little nervous ! NO correction .. I was VERY nervous!
When I walked into the kitchen I was to use, everything was fantastic, space, equipment, accessories … now the only thing that was missing was the food.
The day before the event ,I was able to organize and complete part of the preparations and leave them in the huge, beautiful new fridge. On the actual day when the stove started to warm up the adrenaline flowed ,and it was go go go with the dishes flying out of the kitchen all under careful supervision ….but even with all this activity the waiter still, very kindly, found time to reassure me that all the guests were very happy and satisfied. But the thing that made me happiest was that every plate came back to the kitchen completely EMPTY. The last dish of the meal was a dessert made with a 70% dark chocolate, served on English custard and hazelnuts. This was matched with The “San Valentino 1861” produced with Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes.
Later when I entered the dining room I was amazed to be greeted with a big round of applause. I was so super embarrassed , and with my heartbeat racing I just wanted one thing at that point…to go back home , tell Nick all about it and have a nice glass of wine .
Mamma mia, I DO so love this work and I hope in the future to be able to keep on learning and grow more and more …
Fettucie di Garofalo cooked with a Asti Spumante, saffron, goat cheese and white pepper.
It was 1960 when the local river last overflowed here in Orvieto, 52 years later the Paglia has burst its banks again and caused terrible damage , but just as then, people have proved to be courageous, united and ready to help each other. The people from Orvieto turned out to be so brave and big-hearted in this drama I am really proud to live here .
Eventually the sun did come out and life has returned to almost normal. We were able to collect our newly pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil and enjoyed our first bruschetta, then unseeing any excuse we dribbled it over every delicacy we could think of.
But more positive things have happened during the past week . Infact , I had the pleasure of being introduced to yet another beautiful reality of this area and once again I have to thank my friend Emanuele, who is a real foodie/gourmet.
Decugnao dei Barbi wine Estate
Emanuele runs the local gardening shop but his real passion is cooking. Over the years I have spent many a happy time exchanging recipes and cooking techniques. He was responsible for introducing me to a very good Buffalo Mozzarella cheese producer , a great Truffle Hunter and the best fishmonger that sells his fresh fish from his van. Now it was time for the SAFFRON ! A small company called “Farmers Ideas “in the village of Ficulle, have recently started picking their Saffron flowers and I had some of their saffron’s strands , I felt so lucky !! I couldn`t get home quick enough to try a new recipe: Fettucie di Garofalo (pasta) cooked with a Asti Spumante and saffron sauce, goat cheese and white pepper. So YUMMY!
So once again, many thanks to both you Emanuele and this beautiful Umbria that 11 years ago welcomed Nick and I to make our home here, and still continues to amaze us with its beauty and its many great products.
Our freshly picked olives
YES we managed ,it’s done. But let’s start from the beginning.
On Saturday morning by 9.30 am the mist had disappeared and warm sun shine welcomed our guests, twenty three altogether, consisting of 14 nice girls and a young professor all from the American school based here in Orvieto, 4 close friends, two adorable children and of course my dear parents.
The organization was perfect: after a quick explanation by Nick regarding what needed to be done, 7 big nets and many sticks with a plastic hand nailed to the end, were on the field ready to be used. Everyone put on their gloves and took their position under the trees and the harvest began.
In the meantime my mom and I, after drinking a strong cup of coffee, turned the ovens and stove on and the Sagraincasa Kitchen was ready for action too:
On the Menu:
Fresh Focaccia baked with salt and rosemary served with a good Mortadella D.O.P.
Lentils from Gradoli cooked in a red wine, herbs and few home grown chillies.
Thick Chickpea soup cooked with Cannolicchi pasta , fresh rosemary and extra virgin olive oil
Pork sausages gently cooked with vegetables, capers, olives and balsamic vinegar.
We set three tables under the porch and by 1pm everyone was enjoying their lunch. It was a lovely, relaxing time, with the atmosphere so cozy that when we had finished eating, a large group of the students decided to move on into the living room , lie down on the two sofas in front of the roaring fire, and watch TV ! Outside the young professor and I were chatting about how the day had gone and he very kindly professed that everyone had enjoyed the experience so much they would be more than happy to come back and help with ANY task ,even tilling the soil in the spring…… …anything, he said, we just want to eat your food again. How sweet is that !!
The next morning in the (promised ) heavy rain (we felt so relieved all the picking had been done) we left our 160 kilograms of olives down to Frantoio (the olive press), we hope that once pressed the result will be around 20/23 litres of Fresh Extra Virgin Olive Oil. We had already rightly guessed the production was going to be exactly half of last years. But never mind , I thought , it’s still enough to make a good few bruschetta !
Unfortunately, at this point our happy story takes a turn for the worst . During the night the rain carried on falling , growing heavier and heavier . Lightning and thunder shook the house and in the morning we heard that the river Paglia had burst her banks . A flash flood had torn through Allerona Scalo destroying acres of vineyard and completely flooding the Olive press where we had left our olives !!!
In the morning we drove down to see the situation for ourselves . The area looked like a disaster zone with vines thrown to the ground and mud everywhere. Once inside the Frantoio , we saw that everybody was working hard to get it cleaned up and back to work .” Hopefully two days” we were told. Luckily no one was hurt and to our great surprise one of the guys working there Laughed and said “ your olives are still there , I don’t know how they didn’t get washed away “.
The river Paglia
There seems to be no let up in the rain . I only hope that no more damage will be done and that all those who have already lost a lot, will be back on their feet soon. As for us , a few olives would not have been such a great loss .This years crop may have been small ,but it will definitely be remembered !