As you could probably guess from the title of this blog post, we are going to suggest an unpopular and rarely heard theory about St. Patrick or San Patrizio: His heritage means he is Italian!
Of course this theory is in jest and is more of an excuse for us to celebrate the holiday that holds his name and celebrates his importance to the island nation of Ireland. Just to give our theory some relevance, St. Patrick was born in modern day Britain, but was during his time, in fact, part of the Roman Empire. By our records, this means that he would be the descendant, like many modern Italians, of the Roman population.
But poor St. Patrick was captured by Irish pirates at a young age and taken to the neighboring island where he would go on to famously banish all snakes and use the three leaf clover as a way to teach about the Catholic Church.
Putting the boring history aside, we will be honoring this “Italian” historical figure with St. Patrick’s weekend specials in our cafe! Come in to enjoy:
Traditional Irish Scones with Currants
Roasted Pear and Cashel Blue Crostini
Prosciutto Cotto(Ham) with Braised Cabbage, Potatoes and Parsley Sauce
The turkey is a noble bird, or so thought Benjamin Franklin when he argued that it, not the warlike, predatory eagle, should be America’s national bird. He had a strong case, the turkey being a species native to North America, ranging in the wild from Mexico through the eastern United States and into Canada. And although Franklin didn’t succeed in putting the nearly flightless gobbler on the Great Seal, the turkey has become essential to American culture and cuisine–arguably the only required part of our annual Thanksgiving Day feasts.
Turkey is, however, one of the most misunderstood meats in our diet. During the rest of the year, we eat almost exclusively the white meat in deli sandwiches. The rest is discarded or ground for burgers and the like–pretending to be the cheap, lean option. But then, once a year in November, there is a massive demand for the birds whole. The sheer quantity of turkeys in demand means that most of them come from “farms” that resemble factories more than a traditional farm. And the birds themselves are a breed more or less developed in a lab so that the breast meat is larger than natural. When cooked, these turkeys are bland and tend to dry out easily.
This is what I had to take into consideration when I decided to sell turkeys this year. With our commitment to tradition, quality, and locality, I wanted to make sure that our turkeys were something to be proud of. So I drove an hour away from the District into beautiful upper Loudoun County, Virginia where the rolling hills start to reach towards the sky in the Appalachian Mountains and breweries and wineries hide around every corner. I met with a local family farmer, whose farm, Fields of Athenry, began to raise wholesome animals to ensure that their children ate well. Heading up the driveway, I was almost immediately greeted by a loud chorus of gobbles from a pen near the entrance. There they were, in the daylight, turkeys running around in the grass with no cage in sight. As the farmer, Elaine, showed me around, she pointed at specific birds and mentioned what breeds they were. A Narragansett here, a Blue there. It was impressive watching this flock wander around the field together, with the occasional few flying over the fence and then, birds that they are, unable to figure out how to get back in and rejoin their friends.
I learned that the farm actually operates across three properties in Loudoun County and just over the river in Maryland. In addition to the turkeys, the family raises cows, pigs, chickens, geese, ducks, and make their own deli meats and bacon–all with the same standards of care they show for the turkeys. I’m really excited to work with these guys. But for now, for Thanksgiving, we’re going to have some of the best turkeys available. We have pre-ordering available now through November 16 online or in the store, and can get you a bird as close to the size you want it. I can spatchcock them for you, if you’re feeling adventurous and ready to grill, and Chef Johanna is preparing an awesome cider brine, if you so desire. Plus, we’re cooking up some awesome sides and appetizers to pair with them. Long story short: order a turkey! I promise it’ll be one more thing you’ll be giving thanks for this year.
In a country that is renowned for its warmth, charm and grace, Umbrians, with their authenticity, approachableness and their connectedness to each other, their land, and their culture stand out. For me, there is no place in which this authenticity stands out more than around the dinner table. When I think back on the many (many) meals that I have enjoyed in Umbria, each one is colored with the rosy glow of being surrounded by strangers turned friends and friends turned family, all sharing stories, wine, and food and all living in the moment. The food is simple yet exquisite, the company is fascinating yet unassuming, and the conversation is energetic yet relaxed; every day brings a new experience and every night is a celebration. A visit to Umbria is truly an opportunity to experience authenticity in all aspects of what it means to be Italian.
This is the feeling that drives much of what we do at Via Umbria. We have created a space for friends and neighbors to meet, to eat, and to relax. A place to showcase the work of the amazing artisans of Italy, from ceramicists to winemakers, and to introduce their products and their stories to a new community. Above all, however, we are determined to recreate the feeling of sitting around a dinner table in Umbria- sharing food, telling stories, and creating memories- and from this the Laboratorio was born.
From the communal style seating to the open kitchen format, every aspect of the Laboratorio was designed with the Umbrian experience in mind. The space was created to be open, to be flexible, and to be interactive; in short it is our Laboratory, our space to explore and to create. For those of you who have yet to join us for dinner imagine it like this: take one part dinner party, add in one part of your favorite cooking show, one part wine tasting, and combine those together with a beautiful setting and an engaged group of friends and neighbors sharing a unique and unforgettable experience and you may start to get a sense of what I’m talking about.
But as with all things, the best way to truly understand is to see it for yourself. Join us for dinner Thursday – Saturday night, or for brunch on Sunday for an unforgettable feast in our demonstration kitchen. Enjoy a Thursday night Demo and Dinner and let Chef Johanna Hellrigl teach you her favorite recipes from all over Italy before retiring to the communal table to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Visit us on a Friday night for a CYOB Dinner and let us teach you about a selection of wines from our unique cellar during a guided tasting before choosing your favorite bottle (or bottles) to accompany your meal. For the wine lovers, I encourage you to join us on a Saturday night for a Wine and Dine dinner where each of four courses is paired with a unique wine chosen and discussed by our experienced wine staff. And for those of you who crave relaxation at the end of your week, we welcome you to our Sunday Bottomless Bellini Brunch. No matter the format, no matter the day, a meal spent around our table will be one to remember.
Well, folks, it’s getting to be that time of year again–that time of year when it’s almost too cold to go outside and grill and we start craving foods that combat those cold temperatures. While this doesn’t mean that we have to say goodbye to our nice steaks (there are many ways to cook them inside in the kitchen) it does mean that the season of soups and stews, of braising and roasting is coming. As a butcher, this is an exciting shift. We’re moving from the cuts of meat that are well-known and easy to recognize, to the cuts that are not as familiar, often overlooked, but are packed with more flavor. The problem with many of these cuts is that they are typically tougher pieces of meat and require special methods of cooking to prepare. One of these methods is one of my all-time favorite ways to cook: braising.
Braising is, in simplest form, is slow-cooking in liquid. It is a method that is nearly universal in practice; ranging from a variety traditional dishes in northern China, to a Jewish brisket, certain preparations of Mexican carnitas, and ossobuco–Italy’s famous preparation of a crosscut veal shank. The common denominator between all of these different recipes is that they are all pieces of meat that have substantial amounts of fat and connective tissue. It takes time to break that stuff down, rendering the meat edible. But by the end of the process the meat is tender enough to be eaten without a knife, and having both absorbed and contributed to the flavor of the gravy that remains of the cooking liquid.
As with any cooking method that results in such “simple” foods, there are some very important steps to braising that, when left out or minimized can prevent your cooking from reaching its full potential. The most important, in my opinion, are:
Sear the meat. This is definitely one of the most misunderstood steps of the braising process. Most recipes will all on you to brown your meat before you begin to cook it but nearly always the neglect to specify why. Contrary to popular belief this step isn’t done to to capture moisture, but rather to deepen the flavor of the dish as a whole. By altering the chemical nature of the outer layer of meat (a process referred to as the Maillard reaction) you are adding a carmel/roast-y flavor to the meat that goes miles in improving your dish.
After searing the meat, recipes often call for the sautéing of vegetables and spices. It is very important that you do this in the order that the recipe calls for. For example, if you were to add onions and garlic at once, in the time it takes to sauté an onion to desired softness, any flavor that the garlic would have added has been lost. Make sure to add your aromatics and spices later in the process.
Choose your liquid wisely! Any liquid can be used, but the most common are wine, beer and stock. Any will work, just make sure you use something that will complement your spices and the meat that you’re using.
Skim the fat! While not the most crucial, this prevents your dish from being overly greasy when finished. This especially matters for fattier meats, such as the short rib.
Patience! Braising is a method of low and slow cooking and it takes time. Don’t rush it.
Don’t worry about it! Braising can, and probably should, be made a day in advance. That extra time, with all the ingredients sitting together let flavors to continue to blend. That’s also what makes it great for entertaining. Make it the day before and all you have to do when your guests arrive is warm it up.
When done properly, braising yields some of the most succulent, delicious meat possible without an overwhelming amount of effort. Don’t just take my word for it though- stop by the counter to pick up your favorite cut and see for yourself.
There’s nothing quite like a fresh spring berry to add a punch of sweetness to any dish. With the bounty of fresh produce coming from the garden this time of year, we have a special fondness for salads in spring. For those of you who, like us, don’t always have the strongest sweet tooth we recommend turning these sweet, springtime delights into a tangy, savory salad for dessert. Salad? For Dessert? Trust us–once you try this rich, flavorful dish you’ll never think of salads (or strawberries) the same way again! As simple to make as it is delicious, this Italian take on a fruit salad is the perfect treat for breakfast, dessert, or your next cookout. Next time you visit Via Umbria, pick up some fresh organic strawberries and a bottle of our finest balsamic glaze so you can whip up this salad at home.
You will need:
1 pint fresh strawberries
1/2 red onion diced small
1 bunch basil (chiffonade)
Balsamic Glaze (try Antichi Colli)
How to make it:
Slice fresh strawberries and mix in diced onions. Drizzle with Balsamic Glaze and top with shaved parmigiana. You can plate it beautifully like we did, or just dig in and enjoy!
When we opened our doors on a cold and rainy November morning, we made a promise to ourselves to use fresh, seasonal, local produce in our café, on our dinner menus and to sell in our market. And though I love a good root vegetable – beets, turnips, radishes, winter squashes and potatoes – no one was happier than me to see the weather turn from winter to spring, bringing with it a new produce season.
First came the mushrooms, and not just the usual cremini and portabello but beech mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and maitake mushrooms as well! Hot on their heels came the rest of the goodies. I have never been so excited to see rhubarb, spring garlic, and, at long last, tomatoes and strawberries. Hallelujah, now the fun begins! For starters, we will be eating everything straight up raw, or maybe with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. We will also be experimenting with the produce – cooking with them, adding them to pasta and soups, making desserts and pastries – seeing how to best capture their natural flavors to enhance our favorite dishes.
Stop by and enjoy the bounty at Via Umbria! Take our produce home to prepare in your kitchen, or if you’re not up to cooking, you can enjoy them in our café or at a dinner event. If you see something unfamiliar that you don’t know how to cook – ask! We are ready to help.
Via Umbria gets deliveries from Tuscarora Farms every Tuesday and Friday. Come early and come often because now every day is Farmer’s Market Day! Here are a few of my favorite ways to enjoy this week’s delicious haul:
My favorite way to eat them? Definitely just straight out of the carton (probably before I even make it home)! And of course, they’re fantastic on top of gelato, zabaglione or in a tiramisu with cream and prosecco. But strawberries aren’t just for dessert, try them tossed in a salad with wildfire lettuce, almonds and parmigiano. If you love trying new things, drizzle them lightly with aged balsamic. Sounds a bit weird, but tastes amazing!
Asparagus tastes great on its own, but there are many ways to really ehance the flavor: roasted with hearty olive oil and sea salt, wrapped with guanciale and grilled, or roasted with rhubarb and toasted pistachios. You can combine it with pasta sauce, guanciale and fresh tomatoes served with homemade tagliatelle. And for a lighter dish, lightly steam the asparagus and serve in a baby lettuce salad with roasted chicken and sliced tomatoes.
Sometimes simple is the best way to go! Tomatoes taste great sliced and served with a drizzle of Olio Verde and Sea Salt from Cervia. But if you want to experiment with flavors, try a traditional dish like Caprese salad with fresh Mozzarella from DiPalo’s (arrives fresh every Thursday!) and fresh basil from the farm. Tomatoes are also a primary ingredient in Bruschetta (everyone’s favorite!) – simply mix with olive oil, garlic, and a hint of pepperoncini. Another way to enjoy them is diced with red onions, Firefly Creamery’s Black and Blue Cheese and a drizzle of balsamic.
A culinary secret! Because spring garlic hasn’t yet fully developed, it has a milder flavor than regular garlic. Slice and use it in everything, either cooked or raw. Try it with aioli, stir fry, in a vinaigrette, tossed with handmade pasta and olive oil, and add it to salads.
Ramps, or wild leeks, have a sharp flavor that tastes like a combination of garlic and onion. You can use them any way that you would normally use leeks or onions. Try them grilled and served as a side drizzled with olive oil and sea salt, in scrambled eggs, a frittata, or simply toss them into a salad. If you aren’t ready for Ramp season to be over, pickle them and use them all year long!
Everybody knows rhubarb! It’s quite tart, so the best way is to add a bit of sugar. It’s great in a crumble, crisp or buckle (whatever it’s know as to you) topped with a sweet dough or oatmeal and brown sugar and baked. And of course, rhubarb pie – with or without strawberries – is a classic! You can also cook it down with sugar to make a compote for a crostata, to serve over gelato or to spread on toast. Rhubarb is a great addition to savory dishes as well, it can be diced and cooked with wild greens served with freshly grilled Umbrian Sausages.
On Wednesday March 30, passport in hand, our intrepid MELTers traveled through the raclette rivers and fondue forests to visit each of our five amazing cheese stations. First stop? The accompaniments table! A veritable cornucopia of mouthwatering treats from homemade pretzel bites to Gordy’s pickles, to a selection of our favorite charcuterie, this table featured something special for everyone (and every cheese).
Next, our fearless cheese fiends found sanctuary in a down-home Midwestern favorite: Wisconsin Cheese Curds. These ooey-gooey, deep fried pieces of heaven were an instant classic–especially when paired with Chef Johanna’s homemade marinara! Don’t just take our word for it though, stop by Spritz O’Clock soon to taste these mini marvels for yourself.
Further into the cafe, our daring patrons were treated to the dazzling spectacle (and mouthwatering aroma) of raclette being melted to order. When paired with Gordy’s Pickles and starchy potatoes, this station was a #MELTy indulgence beyond compare. For those of you looking to recreate this moment at home, stop by and pick up a Partyclette machine from our cheesemonger and be the host with the most at your next dinner party.
Before following the scent of cheesy goodness upstairs, our noshing nomads made a quick stop in the wine room for a triumphant taste of American Pub cheese. This beer based bite of bliss paired perfectly with the Port City Porter and Chef Johanna’s homemade pretzel bites. Pretzels, porter, and pub cheese? What more could a party provide?!
The answer to that question lay waiting for patrons upstairs in our laboratorio where Chiara was serving an Italian Fonduta over perfectly toasted baguette. This truffle infused #MELTy masterpiece was clearly a crowd favorite, as it was the first to disappear. Fortunately, Federico came to the rescue and delighted our dauntless diners with handmade cheese ravioli. For those who missed it, he will be hosting an encore pasta performance in the Cafe every day at lunchtime.
Last, but certainly not least, our gallant and engorged guests found themselves faced with a meal of mountainous proportions…or at least flavors. The Alpine Fondue station, featuring smooth, garlicky, Swiss flavors had everyone yodeling for more.
We would like to say a special Thank You to all of our courageous cheese connoisseurs for making this event such a success. We went through fifty pounds of cheese, but our cheese counter is still stocked! For those of you who weren’t able to attend (or want to relive the night), we have a special treat: visit our cheese counter and take home a fondue kit, specially curated by in-house Cheesemonger Alice Bergen Phillips and make a little #MELTed magic of your own.
Today we sat down to chat with resident Chef and Certified Sommelier Vickie Reh. In addition to her work as Wine Director at Via Umbria, Vickie is the culinary powerhouse behind our Thursday Comfort Food dinner series. We talked about her favorite way to prepare a rare heritage grain, the place of comfort food within Italian culinary tradition, and what it means to cook with restraint.
In your opinion, what is comfort food really all about? How do Italian food and comfort food intersect?
Comfort foods are the foods you dream about, the foods that warm your soul. They aren’t necessarily winter dishes. They’re dishes that evoke memories and emotions. I think that one of the basics of comfort food is that there aren’t a lot of complicated ingredients. Comfort food centers traditional combinations that make people feel happy and because you are using very few ingredients, the ingredients themselves must be perfect. That’s how Italian, and in particular, Umbrian food works.
In a way, Umbrian food is humble. Umbria is a landlocked region in Central Italy and Umbrian cuisine eschews more luxurious ingredients like lobster for grains, legumes and vegetables. You can certainly find some rich ingredients there, like gorgeous black truffles, but for the most part Umbrian cooking uses foods that can be grown or foraged in the surrounding countryside. When I travelled to Umbria, I was particularly fascinated by their use of this stunning variety of vegetables, legumes and grains.
Did anything surprise you about how they used these ingredients?
When I travelled to Umbria with Bill and Suzy, we tried grains and legumes I had never seen before. Some of the Italian chefs I later spoke to hadn’t even heard of them either. One of my favorites, which we cooked with Ernesto Panziani from Cannara, is called cicerchie. It’s sort of like a combination of a chickpea and a fava. It’s amazing but very obscure outside of Umbria.Via Umbria is working to import it through Il Molino, an organic grain producer we visited just over the border of Umbria in Lazio.
Ernesto did something very interesting with the cicerchie. Typically, cicerchie are made into soup or served cold in salads. But Ernesto cooked them until they were quite soft and then sautéed them with shallots and garlic in this beautiful olive oil. I’ve done that now five or six times at Via Umbria as a side dish for lamb. It’s so beautiful. The texture is fabulous—because the cicerchie are cooked until fairly soft, the texture when sautéed is similar to that of homemade refried beans. It’s not crunchy.It’s got just a little chew, and this whole lovely chickpea-fava flavor mingled with the shallots and garlic. It’s such a good recipe. Although I serve it as a side dish, it could easily be a great main course for a vegetarian.
Your passion for Italian cuisine shines through in everything you do here. What makes Italian food special to you?
I love Italy and I adore Italian food.It tends to be simple and classical. Italians have adhered to their traditions and classical roots. You’ll notice that’s how Ernesto and Simone cook. And that’s exactly how I have always cooked. I always say, I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel: I’m trying to make the perfect wheel.
For example, if I’m making Spaghetti with Cacio e Pepe, I’m not going to say, “For this new twist, I’m going to use a different type of cheese in my Cacio e Pepe!”Instead, I willuse exactly what is traditionally used—Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and black pepper.” I want to use as few ingredients as possible because that’s how it’s made in Rome. When you’re in Italy, you’re eating amazing food that doesn’t have 5,000 different ingredients. It tastes really good and it’s not complicated.
I think it’s actually harder to cook well with fewer ingredients. It is all about restraint.If you only have three ingredients in a dish, you have no room to hide. Each ingredient must be perfectly sourced, perfectly ripe. When I was head chef at Buck’s Fishing & Camping, I used to say, “Have the guts to buy a perfect tomato in season, add superb olive oil and the best sea salt, and call it a day.” One of my rules is to buy the best ingredients possible and get out of their way. To me, that’s what cooking is about. Letting the ingredients shine. I feel that’s very much an Italian concept.
Join us for Vickie’s next Comfort Food dinner on Thursday, March 31st at 7:30 pm. Her beautiful meal will feature tagliatelle Bolognese, meatballs, raviole (a jam-filled tart), and more. We hope to see you there!
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!
Easter in Umbria means it’s time for Torta Di Pasqua, a rich holiday cheese bread unique to the region. Visiting chef Jennifer McIlvaine stopped by to bake a scrumptious batch in our laboratorio kitchen, and gave us her recipe. But because every Umbrian family has their own special way of making Torta Di Pasqua, we asked several of our friends for their recipes. Simone, Ernesto, and Marco and Chiara all chimed in, and each of their ways of making Torta Di Pasqua sound amazing. Try them out at home with cheese from our cheese counter and tell us which version you like best!
Ernesto’s Torta Di Pasqua
1T of oil or 1T of pork fat (strutto)
2 cubes (50g) fresh yeast
5 pinches of salt
100g gruyere cut into cubes
100g parmigiano grated
Mix together eggs, oil, yeast salt and parmigiano. Add flour until you have a soft dough. Add gruyere cubes. Fill a buttered baking tin just under half full. Let rise for one hour. Bake for 30-40 minutes at 180c.
Marco and Chiara’s Torta Di Pasqua
200 grams wet yeast
800 grams grated cheese (parmigiana, pecorino, swiss) – leave some in larger pieces
250 grams unsalted butter melted
30 grams salt
10li grams sugar
Water, oil and flour as needed
Separate the eggs. Whip the egg whites into stiff peaks. Mix the yeast with sugar, warm water and tablespoon of flour and let sit.
Beat the egg yolks until creamy, add the melted butter, salt, pepper and cheese. Fold into the egg whites. Add yeast. Mix in flour, water and oil until you reach desired consistency.
Butter the baking molds. Split the dough into four pieces, roll into balls and place into each mold (filling approximately half full). Cover and let rise (sitting next to a pot of hot water) for 3 hours.
When the dough reaches the top of the mold bake in a 160c oven for 30 minutes. Raise the temperature to 180c and cook for additional 10 minutes. When the top starts to brown cover with aluminum.
Simone’s Torta Di Pasqua
2.2 lbs pizza dough
1 cup parmigiano
1 cup Romano
1 cup strong pecorino grated
1 tbs yeast
1 cup butter
1 cup pork fat
1 cup olive oil
Work all the ingredients together. Add 00 flour until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Let sit for three hours and then knead it. Fill a buttered pan half full. Let sit again in the oven off with a pot of hot water (to maintain humidity). Wait until doubled. Bake for 2 hours at 325 degrees. Test with a tooth pick . When it’s ready, set upside down until cool.
Let us know how you Torta Di Pasqua turns out and send photos of your bake-a-thon to firstname.lastname@example.org. Best of luck!
Matt, our resident cocktail connoisseur, will be starting with us next week! In honor of theNational Cherry Blossom Festival, here’s his original recipe for a cocktail called La Squisita Ciliegia (“the exquisite cherry”). It’s easy, simple, refreshing and has a beautiful red color. Drop in next week from 4 – 7 pm for Spritz O Clock and try one for yourself!