Suzy and I arrived in Italy on Thursday. We were originally scheduled to arrive on Saturday, but had been away since April, so when a couple of cheap business class seats opened up on a flight to Rome’s Fiumicino airport we pounced and left two days ahead of our original schedule.
So what to do with two found days in Italy? The farmhouse was occupied, so we had to come up with a Plan B. Somewhere we could relax, overcome jet lag and have an adventure. Where should we set up camp, in a country that has so much to chose from? A nearly thousand mile long peninsula, expanses of coastline, mountains, volcanic islands, forests, medieval fortresses?
So we decided to spend our two day vacation within a vacation ten minutes down the road from the Rome airport, in the village of Fiumicino for which the airport is named. Perhaps that doesn’t sound so adventurous but it promised everything we were looking for. A reasonably priced hotel with wifi so we could stay up with work, good food and some new surroundings.
One of the things Suzy and I love about traveling in Italy is that there is almost always an unexpected adventure around the corner. But we welcome and even encourage the unexpected, which is part of the reason we decided to spend our two bonus days in Italy in Fiumicino, a place we had visited a couple of times before for a good meal, but a place of which we had not really scratched the surface.
Our two day sojourn was certainly not an action-packed adventure ride. We spent a lot of the time catching up on work, catching up on sleep and eating the fresh catch from the village’s fishing fleet. Along the way we managed to create our own adventures, most notably stinking up our hotel with a bag of festering fish that we had stored in our mini fridge. We had planned to visit the impressive Roman ruins at Ostia Antica, the ancient port town of the Eternal City, but time got the better of us. But it’s always good to leave an adventure for your next trip, so stay tuned.
Wanting to mix things up a bit, our final night we opted against another seafood dinner. Earlier that day I had taken a walk around the town, along the strip of privately managed beaches that run south from Fiumicino’s center, in an area called the Isola Sacra. This “island” was created by the Emperor Trajan in the first century A.D. by building the canal that runs through Fiumicino, but enough lessons in history. Along my stroll I came across a restaurant that held promise for our final night’s dinner, a large, modern structure called Provalo (which means “try it”). Underneath the name is what caught my attention – spiedficio or skewer restaurant. What could be better than eating dinner served on spears. Why you can eat and pick your teeth at the same time!
Provalo certain proved to be worth a try. With a menu that featured skewers of sausages, skewers of cheeses, fried potatoes cut into a continuous spiral on a skewer and a whole section of arrosticini, grilled meats including lamb, veal, angus and chicken, roasted in a special contraption that allows one to cook a whole slew of skewers at once. Provalo is definitely the place to go when you’re all seafooded out.
But adventure takes many forms, not just eating, and our biggest adventure that evening was our chance encounter with the restaurant’s manager and chef. No promises, but perhaps you’ll be seeing a visit to Via Umbria in the not-too-distant-future by this duo to do a little guest chef stint and to introduce Washington, DC to spiedini and arrosticini.
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The final adventure of our brief stay in Fiumicino was our visit to the beach. For those who have not visited an Italian beach, particularly a crowded public beach like the ones in Fiumicino, which is, after all less than an hour from Rome – think the Rehoboth of the Eternal City – it is an experience worth, well, experiencing. Just be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and a pair of sandals, because the sand can be hot as lava. Don’t be afraid to give it a try. Each beach is run by a private management, typically a family affair, and rents chairs and umbrellas. You pay an admission fee and rental fee for the chair/umbrella and an attendant will set up your space for you. Most beaches have a private restaurant or snack bar although many beachgoers seem to bring their own picnic lunches.
The beach around Fiumicino is nothing to write home about (and who writes letters nowadays anyway), but the experience can be a memorable one, with families and friends playing, sunning, eating and drinking and laughing with one another, generally in very little clothing. It’s a way to see another side of Italy that we highly recommend. Particularly for those who call landlocked Umbria home, a trip to the beach is another excellent adventure.
A ten minute cab ride from Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci Airport is the seaside town of Fiumicino, for which the airport is also named (Rome Fiumicino or FCO to the seasoned traveller). As most flights to the US depart from FCO in the morning, overnighting in Fiumicino the night before one’s return flight can be a good alternative to a pricy hotel room in Rome. And given this fishing village’s impressive roster of restaurants, it can be an excellent way to celebrate your send off with a memorable meal.
But Fiumicino can be more than just a place to kill time and have a good meal. With Ostia Antica, the main port of Imperial Rome just a few minutes away and the town itself steeped in history, beaches and an impressive commercial fishing fleet, those seeking to escape from the bustle of Rome for a day or two would be well served to encamp in this delightful, if overlooked area.
Suzy and I took this message to heart this week, starting our Italy adventure with two days in Fiumicino to decompress and get over jet lag. We had visited the town on previous trips, but only for dinners, opting on those previous visits to stay at the airport’s Hilton hotel and taking a short taxi ride to the Via della Torre Clementine, the road that runs along the town’s wharf, from which the fishing fleet daily heads to sea. Across from the wharf stretches seafood restaurant after seafood restaurant.
Over our two day visit to Fiumicino we had three excellent seafood meals. Two were at restaurants along the main drag – the Ristorante Fronte del Porto and la Perla Ristorante. There we ate deliciously fried fritto misto, an assortment of small fried fish, shrimps and calamari, as well as some exquisitely fresh crudo, or Italian style sushi, thinly sliced raw fish, typically marinated with light extra virgin olive oil and seasoned with subtle sea salt. Needless to say, the fish served in these restaurants is about as fresh as it gets. Talk about zero kilometers – it literally has to travel a hundred feet from the boat to the table.
But for a special treat, for great seafood in a beautiful setting and with top notch service, hop over to Bastianelli al Molo. Housed in a whitewashed modern constructed building at the very end of the pier, al Molo (at the pier) is the cream of the crop. We enjoyed a leisurely (four hour) lunch there our second day, a fresh, gentle breeze rolling off the sea and cooling the ferocious heat of the summer.
We started our seafood odyssey with a half dozen oysters from France, disobeying the “months with an r” rule that proclaims that you should not eat oysters in hot weather months. We had been disabused of this notion on a previous trip to France and besides, this is Italy, where you’re not being a good citizen if you don’t break most of the rules.
We followed the oysters, which we enjoyed with a bottle of Lis Neris “Lis” wine from Friuli (pinot grigio-chardonnay-sauvignon blanc) with the only real disappointment of the day, a tartare of ricciola (variously translated as amberjack or yellow tail – we struggle greatly translating Italian fish words to English, as we really are not that familiar with the English words to begin with). The ricciola was served with a dollop of oyster gelato, a concept that sounds more interesting than it is in reality. We honestly preferred the more subtle, thinly sliced crudo of the Fronte del Porto and la Perla and could have skipped the milky, briny, gelato.
Now about an hour into our meal, with the breeze picking up and the Lis having its desired effect we were served what turned out to be the highlight of the meal, a ravioli filled with fresh fish, served in an unlikely sauce of asparagus and pancetta and garnished with slivers of asparagus. We’ve been schooled in not combining sea and land food (no cheese on that seafood pasta, please), but this combination was simply magical, worth the price of admission.
Our main course was not so much a let down as it was superfluous. By the time our whole spigola or sea bass baked in a salt crust arrived, we were ready to head back to the hotel and bask in the glow of our ravioli and take a nap. Baking a fish or any meat in a salt crust, however, is a technique that you simply must try. The fresh bass, baked in its salty sarcophagus, came out incredibly moist and flavorful, asking to be drenched in the light extravirgin olive oil from Lake Garda that adorned the table. We probably should have brought back to our hotel the uneaten portion, but our mini fridge had other plans, which we’ll tell you about later.
There are so many excellent restaurants to choose from in Fiumicino, ranging from the simple to the memorable. Along with Pascucci al Porticciolo (Viale Traiano 85, Fiumicino, tel. 06 6502 9204), Bastianelli al Molo defines memorable. So next time you are at Fiumicino take a detour and enjoy a treasure that is hidden right under your nose.
Bill and Suzy
Bastianelli al Molo is located at Via della Torre Clementina, 312 in Fiumicino. The telephone number is 06 650 5378 or you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. They speak English. Do it for yourself.
I would describe our hotel in Fiumicino, the Hotel Tiber, as “perfectly adequate.” The staff was nice and accommodating, the rooms quite spacious and modern. The air-conditioning and wifi worked well, a particularly important feature (at least with respect to the former) given the hellish heat the country is currently experiencing. I really can’t think of anything in particular to complain about about the Tiber. Except, perhaps that their rooftop pool which had no umbrellas, rendering any poolside lounging either impossible or an exercise in how to get melanoma in one easy step. But come on, complaining about a rooftop pool in Italy? First world problems.
The hotel is well located just across the canal where the village’s fishing fleet ties up. In the morning the boats rig their nets and head out to sea. In the afternoon they return and set up an ad hoc seafood market, where local restaurant owners shop for fresh fish and good deals.
With our two day sojourn coming to an end, we decided to pay a visit to the market with an eye to bring some fresh catch with us to Umbria the following day. The timing was perfect as we came stumbling up the quay from our four hour seafood extravaganza lunch at Bastianelli al Molo. Much of the fleet had just returned for the day and each boat was displaying their catch on ice in styrofoam boxes lined up along the pier.
Now seeing the selection, we were determined to make a purchase, but where to store our treasures overnight? I ran across the street to our hotel and asked the front desk if we could store a flat of seafood overnight in the hotel restaurant’s refrigerator, to take with us when we checked out the following day. The reception promised to get an answer and phone me back. So back out to the market I went, optimistic that the answer would be yes.
After speaking with one of the captains and learning that the price of a flat was only €5, I went ahead and consummated the deal. The following night, I imagined, Suzy and I were going to enjoy a heaping platter of fritto di paranza, or mixed fried fishes, which are not normally found in Umbria, Italy’s only landlocked, coast-less region.
Just moments after the transaction was finalized and the dozens of tiny fish put into a bag with ice, my phone rang.Buona sera, signor. Unfortunately the kitchen cannot accept . . .
Not to worry, we thought. This very nice, modern hotel has a mini fridge with lots of space. So we headed back into the hotel, bag of fish hidden from view of the front desk and headed up to our room. There we discovered that the mini fridge did indeed have plenty of space for our bag of swag. Our plan was proceeding perfectly.
The next morning we arose without incident and headed to the Tiber’s breakfast room, a light filled room on the top floor of the hotel with views of Fiumicino town, the beaches and the sea. We enjoyed a very nice breakfast before heading downstairs to our room where we planned to pack up, pick up our rental car and arrange to spend the day at one of Fiumicino’s beaches before driving up to Umbria.
When the elevator stopped on our floor, even before the door fully opened, we were hit by it. The powerful stench of rotting fish that was clearly emanating from our room, located just across from the elevator. When we opened the door to our room one glance and one sniff confirmed our suspicions. The fresh catch from the afternoon before had turned fetid in a mini fridge designed to keep small cans of Coca Cola tepid, rather than for preserving in fresh condition the fruits of the sea. A sickening slick of goo trailed under the refrigerator door and onto the floor. And a powerful smell filled the entire room when I opened the small glass door of the mini fridge. Apparently overnight the fish gradually went bad, the odor slowly accumulating so that we slept through it and our senses acclimated to it. Fortunately our breakfast break allowed us to escape the room for a half hour, enabling our olfactory machinery to reset, or we may have never been aware of what everyone else who used the third floor elevator must have been thinking. Where is that smell coming from?
Our first order of business – or oder of business – was to remove the source of rankness and to do what we could to eradicate the smell. Thoughts ran through my mind of nicotine addicted guests being charged €250 for smoking in their rooms. What would the Tiber charge us if we didn’t fix this problem pronto?
I quickly found every plastic bag and trash can liner I could assemble and dumped our former treasure into this container, hoping against hope that I would not leak a trail of liquified fish from our room through the lobby and to its final resting place. Fortunately, the bags held and I was able to make a dash through the lobby without arousing too much suspicion. I was on the street. Now where to dispose of Nemo and company?
Typically Italian towns have plenty of public trash cans but the ones close to the hotel were all jammed full of refuse and I wasn’t about to leave a bag of rotting fish on the ground. There were plenty of privately owned bins but too many witnesses. So after about ten minutes, spying a cluster of cans that looked promising I veered off the main street into a residential neighborhood. I made one pass past the bins, aborting my attempt as a neighbor eyed me suspiciously. But after she went back inside her apartment I made an about face and, pulling the offending package from our plastic tote bag was able to subtly open and deposit it in the can, not even breaking stride as I did so. A whiff of the tote bag turned up no noxious residue, so it was back to the hotel for a final site cleanup. Things were looking up.
When I stepped off the elevator on the third floor I was again greeted by the strong odor of fish, even though we had started to air out the room a half hour earlier. I grabbed a couple of hand towels and started scrubbing and cleaning the slick of sickening fishiness that was still in the bottom of the mini fridge and after about 10 minutes it was all gone, the towels rinsed and soaking in the bath tub. A bit of fishiness lingered in the air, but nothing that late checkout during our visit to the beach wouldn’t take care of.
Later that day we returned to the Tiber after our trip to the beach. When we returned to the room to close up our suitcases and check out, only the tiniest wisp of fishiness remained. We visited the front desk to check out, receiving no lecture about storing fish in the mini fridge or finding an extra room cleaning charge. It appeared that we had survived Salt Watergate unscathed, although I’ll keep monitoring our American Express bill for additional charges in the future.
Talk about a fish story. And so, it’s onward to Umbria!
Italians take everything chocolate very seriously – and Easter eggs are no exception. Long before Christianity adopted the egg as a part of Easter traditions, ancient Romans had already established it as the symbol of new birth. They were huge believers of “omne vivum ex ovo” – that all life comes from the egg. In order to celebrate the new birth after winter, they would decorate eggs with various vegetable dyes (made from onion skins, beets and carrots) then gift them to each other during spring festivals.
The tradition of Easter eggs continued to be an important part of the Italian culture, with increasing popularity over time. Due to the fact that neither meat nor dairy products can be eaten during Lent, as a way to minimize food waste the habit of hard boiling the eggs and painting them was adopted. Even though the original tradition was to color the hard boiled eggs in red – which symbolized the blood of Christ and His resurrection – today Italian Easter Eggs are large chocolate eggs decorated with colorful food dyes and fancy decorative items.
During the Easter season, almost every shop in Italy decorates their store fronts with colorful chocolate eggs and just about every candy brand launches their Easter chocolate eggs in various sizes, colors and prices. If you are lucky enough to be in Italy during Easter time, definitely stop by the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Via Milano 9 to see their annual Art of Easter Eggs Exhibition full of specially crafted pieces inspired by the Italian Easter Eggs.
But there is no need to worry if you want to stay home for Easter to celebrate it with your family, relatives and friends. In fact, Italians have figured out a way to satisfy your cravings with authentic Italian chocolate even when you are thousands miles away from Italy: Kinder Surprise! Yes- unlike the general public’s assumption Kinder Surprise is in fact Italian, made by the successful family company Ferrero, and sells their Kinder Eggs all over the world as one of their best-seller item. Believe us, their chocolate recipe is approved by all the children in the world.
Want to get even fancier this Easter? Stop in the store to check out our special counter full of Italian Easter cakes, various baskets and colorful chocolate eggs to bring home! Or join us for our Chocolate Making Class to get your hands messy by making and decorating your own traditional Italian chocolate egg!
“Suzy, please don’t say thank you”. Not words I am used to hearing. When Giampaolo first says this to me, I am a bit startled. And then I think for a minute – thank you is an easy expression – I use it a dozen times a day. Giampaolo doesn’t want to be thanked – he is simply enjoying spending time together – to him this is nothing extraordinary and no reason to be thanked. “Don’t mention it – this is what we do.”
And what they do is spectacular. Over the last couple of years Giampaolo has expanded his cantina into a show stopping beauty. With high ceilings and miles of space to store his wine, a tour of the cantina is endless. And his wines are fantastic.
We arrive for lunch on a beautiful spring day straight out of central casting. The sun is shining high in the sky, a gentle breeze is blowing across the terrace and there is a beautiful, clear view. I arrive a few minutes behind the group and everyone is animatedly talking on the terrace – drinking one of Giampaolo’s collection of sparkling wines.
Today’s lunch is not about showcasing Tabarrini wines – he knows we are all big fans already. Today we are dipping into his private cellar and drinking wines that he has been given or collected over the years. We start with a beautiful Sicilian wine – only 10,000 bottles are produced each year. This one has been aging in the cellar and is extraordinary… Daniele and Teddy pop into the cellar and return with a big Primitivo from Puglia. A friend of Giampaolo’s makes this wine and it holds up perfectly with the beautiful guinea fowl we are eating.
Our visit to the winery today is also a reunion. Giampaolo’s mother Franca had made her first trip to the US in December and spent two days with us at Via Umbria cooking amazing dinners to serve with the Tabarrini wine. Franca comes out of the kitchen to say hello and to kindly let us know that whenever we are ready – her bags are packed.
So we enjoy a beautiful lunch and as we are leaving we pause on the steps to sit for just a minute to enjoy the day and of course more wine is poured and Giampaolo decides that his work in the field is done for the day. We don’t need a facebook memory for this day – the fresh air, the laughter and wine all bring back memories of people and place – of a day enjoyed two years ago that perfectly mirrors today. Two hours later we say our good byes and leave.
But it’s not really good-bye because we are meeting up on Saturday in Verona to taste wine and enjoy another meal together. Don’t mention it – this is what we do.
Looking over the week’s itinerary I realize there is a glaring gap – no time to spend in Deruta. How can this be? It takes a little creative juggling and we add in a morning at Geribi Studio without taking away from anything else.
Bill has recently taken up yoga. He really enjoys the peace and calm and the opportunity to escape and unwind. He asks me to join him and I remind him that peace and calm aren’t really my thing. Escaping and unwinding is difficult for me. I’ve done yoga in the past but found myself constantly checking my watch, using the meditative time to freak out about things undone and worst of all falling asleep on the mat. When it comes to escaping and unwinding – yoga for Bill and Gerardo’s studio for me.
This is where I can relax. My hand is not steady, my eye is not creative – but I am not here for perfection I’m here to work with my hands. To spend a couple of hours unwinding, escaping, living in the moment and watching a blank plate turn into my own creation.
Guests often panic when they sit down to paint. The Ribigini family is so talented it is hard to imagine recreating anything close to what they do. But of course this is a talent that comes from hours and hours, years and years of practice.
I’ve made the mistake before of looking at designs and thinking that they would be easy – but all the detail, the small thin lines – not as easy as they look. Today I sit down confidently. I have finally figured out the perfect balance of powdered color to water. And that is a pretty major key to painting in Deruta.
I look at the graphite dotting the page and look at the hundreds of plates surrounding me and decide where I want to make my adjustments. Of course I want to paint the peacock feather – but now I get to decide where I make straight lines and where I add scallops – where I add the pomegranate seeds or the round circles. Sticking with the familiar but wanting to try something a little bit new.
When we first met Gerardo and Asunta 20 years ago we immediately fell in love with their designs. The blues and yellows in their geometric designs and the beautiful green peacock feathers. Over the years the designs have expanded – adding a beautiful lemon design with a dark blue background evolving into an array of fruits with backgrounds of black and red and eventually lavender, burgundy and light blue. When their daughter Claudia starting working in the studio she introduced a more modern twist – bold oranges and blues and soft pastels of pink and green and lavendar. When I first saw the new colors – I was of a mind that these were not for me. But my children fell in love with them immediately. So a new color palate for a new generation. Over the years the colors have grown on me. And today I choose a pink for the first time. Who says an old dog can’t learn a new trick?
And we spend the morning painting, laughing, scraping away mistakes easily with a small knife. And we talk about what we are doing and how and where we are going to show case our pieces. Most importantly we discuss what we will do if they aren’t perfect (a likely event). And we leave Gerardo’s studio with our new life motto, “Hang it high or cover it with cheese.”
I know this might shock you, but I love food and I love to eat out. However, my least favorite trend at restaurants (aside from sharing plates that come in all shapes and sizes) is ordering my food to have it come out of the kitchen as it is ready. No rhyme or reason, no order of preparation, just a random delivery of food. So depending on what is happening in the kitchen – if the pasta line is backed up and the fish station is slow you may get your main course before your pasta. Roasted olives intended to be a starter show up right before dessert. Who knows what will be served with my cocktail. With this convoluted method it’s not possible to pair a wine with each course. As we know, one of the biggest challenges in any kitchen is timing; timing is everything, it takes a talented chef to prepare a variety of plates for each table that are ready to be served together. There is a constant distraction from what is being served when the food comes on a whim and the plates are meant to be shared. It is natural to focus more on the passing and making sure things are divided equally, but that interrupts the experience the dish is meant to give. Randomly putting plates of food on a table is not a sign of creativity – this should not continue as a trend and we should not be rewarding disorganization and laziness.
Cooking with Ernesto is a unique experience, like no other. And while for some a day spent cooking with him can be overwhelming and daunting – for me, it is an exciting and endearing adventure. Not one recipe at a time start to finish, rather many pots on the fire: pasta being rolled out, sauces simmering on the stove, meat roasting in the oven and cookies and cakes baking. Now this is the way I love to cook!
In this experience, Ernesto teaches us that multitasking is how to accomplish the full menu. To start you have to create a plan, nothing happens in his kitchen without a lot of thought going into it. To execute your plan, you have to pace yourself and not over complicate what you are doing. Think ahead and save time – dice the celery, carrots and onion (sofrito) at once and use it over and over again for different recipes. Make the bread dough at the beginning so it has time to rise before being baked or fried. Make one pasta dough but create different pasta shapes for different dishes.
Ernesto also teaches us that making pasta by hand is fun and easy. My advice is start out small – make pasta for one or two – 100g of flour to 1 egg per person. Mix it together and then stretch it out. You can’t overwork pasta dough – it’s not precious like a pastry dough – this is where you can really dig in and work the dough. Once it’s sliced, toss it with semolina and then make into two little nests.
For me the best part of spending a day cooking with Ernesto is the obvious joy of everyone cooking together. With Ernesto, it’s all hands on deck, there’s so much to be done everyone always has something to do. And don’t worry there’s no mistake that can’t be recovered. In this kitchen, there’s no screaming or yelling, no reason to be frantic; we have the whole day together to relax and try new techniques.
At the end of this exhausting day we get to enjoy the foods of our labors. And no matter the order the components were created, because of our plan the dishes are finished in order – and served with a plan: Antipasti, Primo, Secondo with Dolce at the end. Ernesto brings us no randomness, just organized chaos with a goal: enjoying an unbelievable meal together.
For our family, food has always been at the heart of our celebrations. From creating the perfect menu, to shopping for the right ingredients, to cooking the meal everyone joins in, and everyone has inspiration for what we should be preparing. Oddly enough, most of our big ideas and inspirations seem to revolve around fire. Whether we’re roasting a whole lamb over the pit in the backyard, a suckling pig in the magic pig box, or flames shooting out of the grill creating the perfect charr for our steaks, we just can’t seem to get enough of cooking over an open flame.
And pizza is no exception. When we renovated our house twenty years ago, we thought long and hard about what to do about the fireplace in the room that we were converting into our dream kitchen. After many rejected thoughts and ideas, a light hearted suggestion from our architect turned into his nightmare as we all quickly agreed that converting the fireplace into a wood burning pizza oven was the perfect solution.
And thus, a whole new flavor of family activities was born. Without any practice at being a pizzaolo, Bill quickly learned the trade and lead the family to pizza perfection. The perfect blend of feast and fun, pizza night at the Menard house soon became a regular event for friends and family alike. The world is your pizza- with an array of choices in front of you- trays of cured meats, fresh vegetables, caramelized onions, sundried tomatoes, fresh herbs, and of course olive oil, fresh pesto and tomato sauce as a base – everyone rolls up their sleeves and tosses a pie or two.
Our American tradition of Pizza night has become a fan favorite at la Fattoria del Gelso where fire also reigns supreme. In Umbria – Marco is the pizzaolo. He has perfected the dough recipe and is a master of the perfect bake- creating light and airy pizzas that cook up nice and crisp on the bottom. The tomato sauce is rich without being overwhelming. And of course here we have an amazing selection of toppings –prosciutto, guanciale, salami picante, capocollo, porchetta – and that’s just the meats!
A quick word to the wise- the perfect pizza requires a balance of tastes and textures. Too much sauce makes it impossible to cook and too many toppings often leads to an accidental calzone.
This past Sunday after a beautiful morning hunting successfully for truffles and wild asparagus – it was a great treat to sit back and enjoy a bite of dozens of Marco’s creations. Pizza with sea salt and rosemary, with roasted vegetables, with crispy guanciale, with Cannara onions and sausage, and of course pizzas with wild asparagus and with fresh truffles. The grand finale? Nutella pizza.
But why should we have all the fun? Take a pizza our family traditions and start your own! Come enjoy a slice with us at Via Umbria, bring your friends and family for a make your own pizza party, or visit us in Umbria and let Marco take care of you. No matter which way you slice it, you can’t go wrong when you’re eating good food with good friends.
In Italy there is a saying, “Christmas is for family and Easter is for friends.” For the Menards it is not always easy to distinguish between the two. Everyday is Christmas and everyone is family.
Arriving to Perugia airport after a very uncomfortable (but friendly) RyanAir flight we were instantly on home ground. The sights, the sounds the smells – all very familiar and very comfortable. The beautiful, lush, green farmland, the birds singing overhead, the scent of spring mingling with freshly mowed grass.
It’s a short drive to the house and we are exhausted after a 4:30am wake up call. Peace and quiet and a comfortable bed are calling to us.
We pull up to the house and immediately Chiara pops out to welcome us home.
We unpack quickly and drive to Bevagna for our traditional welcome to Umbria lunch with Simone and Desiderio at le Delizie del Borgo. Spring has arrived – in the form of a bowl of tagliatelle with fresh artichokes.
After a long – much needed nap – we walk into town to have a glass of wine with Federico Bibi and his children Olivia and Gabrielle. We promise them that their mother is just days away from returning home after running our kitchen at Via Umbria in DC.
And finally we walk the Bibi family home and stop in Per Bacco for a quick dinner with Ernesto and Simona – a quick dinner is soon forgotten as the evening turns into sharing story after story and grappa after grappa.
And day one is complete.
Everyone here shares our love and passion for Umbria. They have grown up here and choose to raise their families here. There is a magic in the air and they want everyone to know it. They have all joined us in Washington to share their love of Umbria. Coming to cook dinners for our guests, to teach us about wines, to explore the history of jacquard linens in Umbria and of cashmere. This is a community who works with their hands – at the end of the day it’s not about a stack of papers or an empty mailbox – it’s about plants growing in the garden, freshly baked bread, wine opened and served at just the right moment, scarves (did I say scarves?), tablecloths, sweaters and hats from the highest quality linen and cashmere. It’s the blending of the old and the new. We all have the same dream and work together to make sure that Umbria is preserved and shared. We couldn’t do what we do without the support of our friends (now family) in Umbria.
When our children were young their school talked a lot about teachable moments. “An unplanned event during the day that adults can use as a learning opportunity for kids….parents and providers should capitalize on the moment, and provide the opportunity to extend or expand the child’s learning.”
For us, every moment is a teachable moment; an opportunity to learn about what we are seeing and doing; to meet new people and discover new ideas; a moment to stop and reflect on what is happening.
This week we will live every moment to the fullest.
Here in Cannara we will be introducing our group to our family in Italy. We will be drinking local wines, cooking traditional food, discovering the area and most of all learning together and laughing together. Enjoying every moment.
And in Washington at Via Umbria we will be introducing guests to our family in the states. We will be drinking Umbrian wines, cooking Umbrian food, discovering imported products from Umbria and most of all learning together and laughing together. Enjoying every moment.
Thank you to everyone who believes in our dream and works so hard to ensure that everyday is Christmas and everyone is family.
One of the little-known facts about working in the cheese business is that there is a fair amount of travel involved. Visiting cheesemakers and producers is essential to understanding your products and being able to bring them to life for your customers. Lucky for us cheesemongers, most of these cheesemakers live in some pretty darn beautiful, idyllic places. This winter, I was lucky enough to spend time in one of these gorgeous locations – Umbria.
Flying into Perugia, I was full of excitement, not knowing what to expect. I had visited Italy before – Tuscany, Florence, Venice – but had never been to the “green heart of Italy” known as Umbria. As the plane descended, I was struck by the beauty of the Apennine mountains framing the central valley. Even though it was winter, the view was indeed green – full of silvery sage olive groves and striking, pin straight cyprus trees. This was going to be a good trip.
Having worked at Via Umbria since it opened in November of 2015, you could say that I have become quite familiar with Umbrian cuisine. However, experiencing this style of cooking – Torta al Testo, truffle covered everything, and lots and lots of pork – in its natural habitat was a truly one-of-a-kind experience. It was also fascinating to put these dishes into historical and geographic context. For example, Umbria is the only region in Italy to be completely landlocked, which meant that salt used to be very scarce. As a result, traditional Umbrian bread is still to this day made without salt.
Learning about the cheese culture in Umbria was equally captivating. Because of various importation laws concerning bringing cheese into the US, I was very unfamiliar with the cheese traditions of this particular region. I was lucky enough to be able to shadow Fabio Brocatelli, a local cheesemaker whose family has made cheese in Umbria for the past three generations. Following him around the dairy, I learned that because of the fairly rocky, local mountains, the soil isn’t rich enough to support the type of pastureland necessary for cows. It is, however, ideal for goats and sheep. As such, most cheese from Umbria is either a pecorino, or made from sheep’s milk, or di capra, or made from goats.
We stopped by and visited with one of the farmers who provides Fabio with sheep milk for his various pecorinos. Like most of the sheep farmers in the area, this shepherd was originally from Sardinia. As we sat at the large, farmhouse table, waiting for the espresso to brew and munching on traditional Sardinian flatbread with homemade cheese, I learned that after the devastation of World War II, many Sardinian farmers made the trek north to Umbria to continue their farming traditions. As such, the amount of sheep drastically increased, and pecorino became an ingrained part of Umbrian cuisine. As drinking espresso turned into drinking housemade wine and mirta (traditional Sardinian liquor), various neighbors started dropping by, filling the kitchen with warmth and laughter. Although my Italian is, in the best of circumstances, poor, and my Sardinian is completely non-existant, I felt charmed and welcomed by these people.
My time in Umbria flew by entirely too quickly. To say I ate well would be the understatement of the year. To say I had a good time would be equally inadequate. I am so grateful for the experience and it is one that I will certainly not soon forget.
It is difficult to overstate just how well regarded the name Roscioli is in Rome and throughout Italy. A complex of food businesses (described by Anthony Bourdain as “an empire”), Roscioli is a family affair built over 4 generations that started with a renowned bakery, and now includes a wildly popular salumeria, ristorante, caffe/pasticceria and more recently the Rimessa and wine club. Roscioli built its reputation on unrivaled quality and the breadth of their offerings. They have been recognized through features in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveller and even garnered a visit by Anthony Bourdain on his show No Reservations.
For the past several years they have sought to meet the customer where he is through a program of curated tastings they call Rimessa Roscioli. Sommelier Alessandro Pepe and a team of top rated food and wine experts lead small groups on food and wine tastings in a relaxed, casual setting that they describe as “an educational and convivial lab.” We think it describes perfectly Via Umbria.
When we first met the acquaintance of Alessandro and his partner, American born ex-pat Lindsay Gabbard, we were immediately struck by just how similar our passions were. They, like us, love food and wine because they can create connections between strangers. And they strongly believe that food and particularly wine, can and should be “democratic.” Although an expert sommelier, Alessandro scoffs at wine tastings where the conversation focuses on arcane trivia such as malolactic fermentation. Enjoying wine and getting in touch with your own tastes and sharing that with others is the what sommelier should strive to teach and it is precisely what Alessandro and Lindsay have been doing for the past decade.
Rimessa Roscioli is taking their show on the road and coming to Washington, DC and for one night Via Umbria is honored to be hosting them, preparing a special evening of food and wine tasting in the company of these fascinating and engaging people. Limited seating is available on Wednesday, March 8 at 7pm for an evening that promises to be unforgettable – a small group tasting around a communal table featuring eight hand selected wines paired with a dozen small tastes, including a pasta dish and a dessert and lots of conversation and enjoyment. This is a rare one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience and savor true, authentic flavors imported directly from Italy by one of Rome’s most respected sommeliers. Tickets, which are non-refundable must be purchased in advance and can be bought online or at Via Umbria.