There isn’t a single event at Via Umbria that I don’t look forward to but the Ivy City Smoked Salmon tasting particularly piqued my interest. I know I’m not alone that for me and my family, smoked salmon is a kind of simple luxury. We enjoy smoked salmon by itself as a snack or for breakfast in our bagels or for dinner in a salad or a pasta. Our affinity for smoked salmon can let us tell you that not all brands are created equal which made Ivy City’s appearance much more intriguing.
It was an intimate event which fostered intimate connections. I was seated next to some Via Umbria regulars, and by regulars I mean almost daily customers, whom I had been acquainted with before. As always, conversation flowed freely while we noshed samples of five of Ivy City’s smoked fish paired with a variety of spreads, my favorite of which was a creamy goat’s milk butter. An Ivy City rep explained to us the kinds of salmon we would be tasting which was an educational experience in and of itself. I did not even know there was such a thing as hot and cold smoking!
The salmon itself was divine which makes it no surprise that Via Umbria has started carrying it. Three in particular stood out to me; the traditional smoked salmon was superb and as someone who appreciates the classics, I wondered as soon as it hit my lips if there was any way I could send this to my mother who lives 2,000 miles away. This is the kind of salmon that you want on a Sunday morning when you want to feel decadent without leaving the comfort of your home. The other two surprised me, one that had hints of dill and the Ivy City signature “Salmon Candy” which carried notes of honey without being overly sweet. The savoriness of the salmon and the honey played so well together that I only wish I could have more.
If you missed the tasting and are in the neighborhood please stop by to take a look at the Ivy City products Via Umbria has started carrying. You will never regret an opportunity to let what Via Umbria has to offer meet your taste buds.
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.
Not too long ago, I had my first experience with frenching a rack of lamb. For those of you who don’t know what that means- frenching is a technique in which you “beautify” the meat by exposing the rib bones, thereby making the chops more attractive. Nearly every rack of lamb in the grocery store, as well as beef ribeye, and pork loin goes through this process. While it does indeed make the chops more attractive for plating, and removes quite a bit of fat from the dish, as I was removing the “extraneous” meat from the lamb bones, I felt a pang of sadness. How much goodness we were wasting! Succulent layers of meat and flavorful soft fat was all going to end up in the trash can just for the sake of appearance.
Flash forward a few months and I found myself eating in a small restaurant (the where and when of this meal isn’t important) and noticed a framed article from the Washington Post Food section on the wall. The article was an interview with the restaurant’s chef and included a recipe for a lamb roast, the photo of which looked more like a porchetta than any lamb roast I’ve ever seen. But something seemed familiar about it and I couldn’t shake that feeling. When I got home I opened up a few of my meatiest cookbooks and butchery books and found that same recipe in a pop up in few different places- one of which went so far as to call it a lambchetta. This particular roast was a rack of lamb, but rather than remove the meat from the bones and waste pieces of perfectly good lamb, this roast was based on the premise that only the inedible part of the lamb should be discarded: basically, cut out the bones rather than the meat. What this leaves you with is a “flap” of meat, which is essentially the lamb’s belly, which you then season and roll around the lean loin (the part you are used to seeing as the lamb chop). The first time I made it for myself I kept the seasoning simple, using only salt, pepper, red wine, garlic, and rosemary, but you can really go wild with flavors here. The simple seasoning created flavors that were out of this world, but next time I have visions of testing out a yogurt and feta marinade on the inside.
Lambchetta love story aside, this isn’t the end of frenching meats for my case but I am intrigued by and committed to trying out new ways to avoid waste. With this track record, I think that I may be able to stumble into some pretty incredible flavors this way. So why not join me? Stop by the counter and let me know what unique recipes and preparations you’ve tried and love, let’s brainstorm new ways to create amazing dishes, or just give me a call and I’ll make you a lambchetta that will change the way you eat lamb forever. Either way, I have a feeling that the next few months are going to be pretty tasty.
It’s the middle of summer and the last thing anyone wants to do in the [sometimes unbearable] heat is spend a long time hovering around the stove to make dinner. Enter Umbrian Lentil Salad–one bite of this vibrant dish and you’ll instantly be transported to the refreshing Mediterranean seaside. This healthy and delicious salad is filled with fresh vegetables–making it fantastic as a snack, side, or light meal. And best of all, it’s simple to prepare!
Umbrian Lentil Salad
2 cups lentils
1 bay leaf
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 medium red onion, diced
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
8 ounces Feta, crumbled or cubed
Fresh cracked black pepper
1. Place lentils and bay leaf in a large pot and cover with 3 inches of water.Bring to a boil then reduce and simmer for 30 minutes.
2. Drain the lentils well and spread them on a baking sheet. Drizzle with vinegar and olive oil and let cool.
3. While the lentils cool, sauté the onion, carrot, and celery together in a pan with a little olive oil until they are slightly soft. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Remove from heat and add herbs. Combine cooled lentils with sautéed vegetables and Feta and stir gently.
5. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour–this is what makes it perfect for a hot day!
6. Serve with a bit of Feta on top.
Malloreddus is the national pasta dish of Sardinia and the big cousin to fregola, another traditional pasta. The term malloreddu comes from the Latin mallolus and means “morsel” or little bits of pasta dough that are hand-rolled on a round reed basket to make the characteristic shape and lines in the dough. There are many variations of this pasta, which can be found in Italian specialty stores, but we think it’s best when freshly made!
400g Semolina Flour
200 ML Warm Water
2 pinches of Saffron
1 pinch of Salt
1. Place two pinches of saffron threads in warm water and let it sit for 10 minutes until vibrant yellow
2. Strain the saffron threads from the water
3. Make a well with the semolina flour and add a pinch of salt
4. Slowly add the water and begin to swirl the water into the semolina with your hands
5. Continue to bring all the saffron water and semolina together with your hands and a bench scraper
6. When all the ingredients are coming together start to fold and knead the dough until it full comes together for about 20 minutes
7. Allow the dough to rest by placing the dough ball in a bowl and covering it with platic wrap and a cloth, set aside to rest for 1 hour
8. When the dough has rested, cut off a piece of dough with a bench scraper, 1-1.5 inches thick
9. Roll out the dough with the palm of your hands until a skinny line of dough forms
10. Cut small even pieces of the dough with a bench scraper
11. Use a ridger paddle to press down the dough with your thumb until the malloreddus is formed
12. Cook in boiling salted water until cooked through. Serve with a sausage & pecorino ragu, alla campidanese
If produce is the gauge by which we measure the seasons, summer must be just around the corner. At Via Umbria we are getting the first zucchini–you know the ones, small and tender opposed to the overgrown bat size zucchini ones that conveniently show up on my porch when no one knows what to do with them. I love zucchini all summer long and thrive on finding new and different ways to prepare it so that we can eat it everyday. But the best part of the zucchini is the blossom. Zucchini blossoms are the first sign that the fruit will be ready in a couple of days. You can enjoy the sweet blossoms straight from the garden, add them to scrambled eggs or salads, stuff them or the simplest easiest way is to make a light batter and fry them. Light and crispy on the outside and sweet melt-in-your-mouth on the inside.
At Via Umbria you can choose to buy your own and experiment at home or look for them in our cafe–definitely fried but also in salads.
Fried Zucchini Blossoms
Shallow pan of hot oil (we use Canola Oil)
A bunch of fresh zucchini blossoms
For the Batter
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sparkling water
1. Beat together flour, egg, and water with a whisk. The batter should be very thin.
2. Dip the clean zucchini blossoms into the batter and immediately submerge in hot oil.
3. Cook them quickly (1 minute or less), then remove from oil and place on a towel lined plate.
4. Sprinkle lightly with salt and enjoy!
Brunch wasn’t until the afternoon, but the laboratorio kitchen got busy around ten o’ clock on Easter morning. Marco, Chiara, Bill, Suzy and Federico had their work cut out for them: in three hours, nearly 20 people would arrive to celebrate Easter, Italian-style. All hands were on deck, working together to create four glorious courses. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at all the hard work and creativity that made this meal possible!
The real fun began once all the guests arrived. Bellinis (and mimosas) flowed steadily, and families gathered around our communal table with friends new and old to celebrate.
We hope you’ll join us for our next holiday celebration! On April 23rd, we’ll host a Seder dinner to celebrate Passover. As always, guests of all faiths are welcome.
Buona Pasqua, and many thanks to all who shared their Easter with us today!
Three o’ clock is a blissful hour at Via Umbria. Late afternoon sun streams through the storefront windows, bathing the shelves in soft, golden light. Since I started writing for Via Umbria last month, this has always been my favorite time to pop downstairs and taste the scrumptious samples scattered throughout the shop: perhaps a morsel of mostaccioili by the register, or a cheddar crumble at the cheese counter. But yesterday, tantalizing aromas of bacon and freshly grated parmesan wafted from the cafe, and I had a hunch that an even greater snack lay in store.
Ernesto Parziani, chef and owner of the celebrated Umbrian restaurant Perbacco, was in the midst of a mouth-watering pasta and sauce cooking demonstration. With his week-long visit drawing to a close, I knew that this was an opportunity not to be missed.
Rolling pin in hand, Ernesto smiled and waved me over to his station, which was scattered with eggs, flour, parmesan wedges, and an array of pasta-making instruments. Water boiled next to a sizzling pan of bacon on a portable stovetop. I trotted over as Ernesto began to press a small, yellow mound of dough into the table.
I thought of the trays of delicate, ribbed tubes of Garganelli pasta that participants fashioned in his cooking class on Sunday, and wondered what was in store for this dough.
“I like to teach fresh pasta,” Ernesto told me as he rolled the mound of dough into a circle the size of a tortilla. “But you must find right consistency. If it’s too hard, it is difficult to roll. If it’s too soft, it sticks to everything.” He began to dust the dough with fine, white flour.
“My favorite dish to make is pasta. For us, in Italy, it’s like bread,” he explained, We eat it all the time, everywhere, with vegetables, with meat sauce, with fish, with eggs.” I gulped, mouth watering at the thought of such a world. Ernesto began pressing the dough into the taut steel strings of a chitarra, a guitar-like cooking instrument that Ernesto used to slice the flat yellow circle of dough into delicate strands of pasta before my eyes.
I hovered over him in awe. “How did you learn to do this?” I asked.
“It was obvious,” he shrugged. Of course. I should have known.
“When you see your mother, your grandmother make pasta three days a week, it is obvious,” Ernesto smiled. I glanced down again at the spread of ingredients, and wondered aloud about the presence of the eggs. Wasn’t pasta just … water and flour?
“In Umbria,” Ernesto explained, “we used to make pasta without eggs. Just flour and water, or perhaps one egg white without the yolk. It’s called Strangozzi.” Ernesto pried a strand of pasta from the chittara and brought it to his neck, feigning strangulation. “We eat it simply, at home, with tomato sauce.”
“You see,” he continued, “in Umbria, we started to add eggs when we began selling eggs to make money. But in the North of Italy, they have always used a lot of eggs. For example, where my wife comes from–Parma, Bologna, places in the region of Emilia-Romagna–they use a lot of yolks … and this.” Ernesto gestured towards a large bowl of white flour.
“But in the South, like Sicily, near North Africa, they make dry pasta, with semolina.” He pointed to a smaller dish of tan, coarse flour. “They make pasta, but they make couscous too. Whereas in the North, they make pasta, but also they use corn flour to make polenta.” Ernesto arranged his raw pasta into a nest on the table.
“It’s too much for one person,” he sighed.
“I could eat it all!” I exclaimed.
Ernesto shook his head. “No. Too much for one person.”
As he dropped the pasta into the boiling pot, I remembered that in Italy, pasta is just one of many courses in a meal. But before I could finish that thought, Ernesto had tossed the pasta into a pan, where he speedily sautéed it in bacon and carbonara. Suddenly, a masterpiece lay before me. My heart fluttered–even if it was “too much for one person,” no one else was there to eat it with me! But as Ernesto grated a pile of fresh parmesan onto his creation, I heard Bill’s voice ring out from across the cafe.
“We got here just in time!” he called to us, an old friend following just behind him. I sighed as Ernesto divided the spaghetti onto four plates. My glutenous, gluttonous dreams had been dashed, but that ceased to matter as soon as I took the first bite. It was absolute heaven, and once I’d cleaned my plate, I realized that Ernesto had been right. Any more than that would have been too much. I thanked him heartily, and walked back to my desk feeling sated, but not gorged. And for that, I was grateful.
In my first blog post, I mentioned an aged country ham from southern Virginia. I was referring to the sublime Surryano Ham by Edwards Virginia Smokehouse. The name is a pun on the Serrano hams of Spain and the smokehouse’s location in Surry, Virginia, only a stone’s throw from the origin of the famed (and now mass-produced) Smithfield Hams.
This hickory-smoked ham is designed to be sliced thin and eaten raw like prosciutto or jamón. But the Surryano is even smokier even than the Südtiroler Speck (Speck Alto Adige) that we carry regularly. Despite the reputation that American cured meats are inferior to their European counterparts, chefs across the nation agree that this ham rivals any other prosciutto. Furthermore, Edwards Virginia Smokehouse embodies what we so value about Italian cuisine: attention to locality and quality. Edwards uses locally raised heritage breed hogs, as Italians have done for centuries, to create products that Americans have been making for centuries.
Now comes the sad part: in mid-January, Edwards Virginia Smokehouse burned down, losing all of its inventory. The Surryano Ham, which must be aged for two years, will not return for a while.
Here at Via Umbria, I originally wanted to carry an American ham as a point of comparison to our Italian prosciutto crudos. I began digging thorugh laods of ham literature, so looking for a ham that could live up to Surryano’s legacy. I found a few promising producers and reached out for samples. The first, Colonel Bill Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Country Hams, responded the same day with a personal call from the owner, Nancy Newsom Mahaffey. The Newsom family has been making country hams commercially for several generations, and the family tradition goes even further back.
I decided on two hams, both of which are now in our case at Via Umbria. The BBQ Ham is a cooked ham which Nancy calls a “Preacher Ham,” because you only want the best for the preacher on Sundays! It’s a smoky deli ham that’s great solo and would send you to the moon in a sandwich. We also stocked up on prosciutto. This is a dry cured country ham, cold-smoked, and aged breathing the open air of Kentucky! Its not quite as in-your-face smoky as the Surryano, but still amazing. We’re talking a complex balance of sweet and salty, of smoky and porky. It’s a testament to what American curing traditions can achieve—and I’m not the only one who thinks so. The “Preacher Ham” is the first (and only) American ham on display in Spain’s Museo del Jamón. Nancy was the first American and the first woman to be invited to the World Congress of Dry Cured Hams. This “prosciutto” is really something to behold, and I’m really excited to work directly with a producer with such high attention to tradition and quality.
Cheese is a wonderful way to begin or end a meal. Heck, it can even be a meal on its own! Many nights, I’ve grabbed bread, wine, and a hunk of my favorite cheddar or tomme and called it dinner. But creating a cheese board can be a bit overwhelming. How much should you use? How many varieties should you include? And with which accompaniments? I’m here to answer these questions and more. Let’s demystify the cheese board.
When buying for a cheese board, I get an ounce to an ounce and half of each cheese per person, depending on the cheese’s role in the meal. If it’s the star of the show, grab a little more. If it arrives at the end of the meal when everyone’s already stuffed, less is appropriate.
Now we can get down to business: choosing cheeses! Depending on how many people will partake in your fabulous board, I recommend selecting three to five cheeses. The rule of thumb here is variety. You should aim for a medley of milks (cow, goat, sheep, water buffalo, blends), a full spectrum of textures (fresh, soft, semi-soft, firm, hard), and an array of origins (French, Italian, Spanish, American, etc.). Unless you’re doing a themed plate, avoid a one-note cheese board and provide a wide range of offerings. Your local cheesemonger (me!) will be happy to help.
So, once you’ve got all of these delicious cheeses, what do you do with them? Plating is one the best parts of my job. I adore the art of building a gorgeous piece out of natural ingredients that guests will ooh and ahh over. Everyone has their own style, but I always abide by the Three Plating Commandments.
The First Commandment: Get your cheeses up to temperature. Cold cheeses will have a muted taste and a firmer, duller texture than room-temperature cheeses. To get the most out of your cheeses, take them out of the fridge at least an hour, if not two hours, before serving.
The Second Commandment: Make the the cheese easy to eat. Soft cheeses don’t need to be precut into slices, because they can be easily scooped up and spread with a knife. Harder cheeses should be sliced or crumbled. Don’t underestimate the beauty of a pile of large, rustic crumbles! Aesthetically, steer clear of grocery store-style cubes. Instead, try a cascade of thinly sliced wedges. Pro-tip: slice your cheeses while they’re still a bit chilled for a smoother cut.
The Third Commandment: Make your plate appear abundant. People are drawn to bounteous, plentiful arrangements. It’s also important to choose your plate or platter wisely, because going too big or too small can make plating difficult. Fill in the gaps between cheeses with accompaniments like slices of apple or pear, bunches of grapes, toasted walnuts, spiced pecans, and small bowls of jams or chutneys. Again, this is where your cheesemonger can be very helpful! Ask what would pair best with your specific cheeses. They might suggest fun combinations you hadn’t imagined! One of my off-the-wall favorites is very aged gouda (at least two years, but preferably four or five) with butterscotch sauce. The sweet nuttiness of the cheese combined with the salty-sweet sauce is just incredible.
I hope these tips help you navigate your next cheese board. Remember, when in doubt, talk to your cheesemonger. We’re here to make you feel comfortable with your selections, and to help you discover new and thrilling ways to explore the world of cheese!
On Friday afternoon when the flakes began to fall, owners Bill and Suzy Menard said they weren’t going anywhere. Restaurants and businesses shuttered up and down Wisconsin Avenue, but Via Umbria had no such plans. The store had recently moved to Georgetown, and everyone agreed this blizzard would be a perfect opportunity to get to know the neighbors.
Scott Weiss, Via Umbria’s resident charcutier, stayed until close that evening with a handful of other staff. “I saw a lot of cases of wine leaving,” he recalls. “We probably sold 6-8 chickens that day … normally we sell about 6 chickens a week.”
By nightfall, the blizzard was in full force. Everyone trekked over to the Georgetown Inn, where they stayed two to a room and made the journey back to the shop on foot the next morning. The glow of the Via Umbria storefront was the only light as far as the eye could see, and the neighborhood took note.
“We were packed all weekend,” Scott remembers. “All the seats were filled in the cafe downstairs, and the communal tables up in the Laboratorio and Galleria were full too.” Chef Simone cooked for coworkers and patrons alike in the Via Umbria demo kitchen, and Scott trotted out his barista skills to keep a steady stream of espresso flowing all weekend. Guests tucked in to the cafe’s stash of boardgames, enjoying endless rounds of Battleship, Quiddler, and Apples to Apples.
“It was fun, because we got to see a lot of people who otherwise would have been busy or working,” said hospitality and events manager Lindsey Menard, who spoke with the Georgetown Current about what it was like to be one of the few neighborhood spots open during the storm.
Many thanks to everyone who dropped by. We hope to see you soon!