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!
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!
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.
As a sommelier, when I lead a wine tasting, I start from my passion. I began studying wine in 2008, which is also when I began to look at the journey of wine from producer to glass. That’s really how I came to understand wine. It’s important for wine lovers to know about where their wine comes from and how it’s made. Wine can taste very different when you know these things.
The first thing I tell people at a wine tasting is, “trust in your mouth.” What do you like? If a certain kind of wine agrees with your palate, explore that. If you’re just starting to seriously learn about wine, know that your tastes will change over time. Initially, I drank only simple wines, but eventually my preferences shifted. It takes time to develop a sense for all the components that make up a complex wine.
So, trust in your mouth, and your other senses, too. When tasting wine, start with your eyes. Look into your glass and observe the color of the wine. See how the light hits the wine in the glass.
Then, you must listen to the wine. How does it sound when the sommelier pours the wine into the glass? From this information, you’ll start to put together some ideas about the wine, which you must then confirm with your nose and, last of all, your tongue. It’s simple, but also very complex. All the senses are engaged and working together to determine what you are drinking.
As a sommelier, I’m very interested in matching wine and food. In Italy, we have lots of traditional foods to pair with traditional wines, and many different kinds of indigenous grapes from the North to the South. We are very rich, from this point of view. Umbria has an especially beautiful variety.
Grechetto, for example, is a white grape typical of Umbria. Although sometimes we may expect white wine to be thin, Grechetto is very structured, with an almond finish. In some ways, it’s similar to a red wine: it’s wonderful with beef, for example.
Trebbiano Spoletino pairs well with Umbrian cereal soups made of slightly sweet, nutty grains like barley and faro (with a little olive oil on top). They go together nicely because Trebbiano Spoletino delivers a fresh, fruity finish. Both Grechetto and Trebbiano Spoletino are white wines, but your tongue will react quite differently to each!
The two traditional red wines of Umbria are Montefalco Rosso and Sagrantino. Both are perfect with beef, pork, and fresh black truffle. Montefalco Rosso is a blend of about 70% Sangiovese, a widely cultivated grape in Umbria, and 15-20% Sagrantino. Each winery can choose which kind of grape makes up the last portion. Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon are typical.
Sagrantino is somewhat astringent and robust, but it’s also long and elegant, leaving room for notes of fruit and spices. The Italian laws about production are very clear: a Sagrantino must age for 37 months. When it comes to rich, complex wines, it’s not so easy to maintain elegance, but a good Sagrantino does. Wine is like an orchestra. All the instruments have to play at the right moment, in perfect time, to create a symphony.
To learn more about Umbrian wines (and taste some yourself) join us for Ombretta’s wine tasting class on Wednesday 3/9! Test out what you’ve learned with a wine dinner afterwards.
Above, watch Ombretta do a quick swirl and swish in the Via Umbria wine cave.
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!
One of the crowd favorites was the Flan with Truffle Honey– simple to prepare yet very impressive and undeniably delectable. We were able to get the recipe, which we can share with you today! Download your printable version (Flan with Truffle Honey) and then find us on Pinterest for more Umbrian recipes.
Whisk together the eggs, cream and cheese. Pour into silicon trays. Bake bain-marie at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until done. When done remove from the baking dish and place on bed of lettuce dressed with Truffle Balsamic glaze. Drizzle Bianconi truffle honey over the flan. If available shave fresh truffle over the flan.
After a thrilling morning hunting truffles, the guests of the food and wine tourget to enter the magical kitchen of Gabriella Bianconi. She lets us smell each type of truffle (there are many different types for different uses!) as she gently incorporates them into a myriad of tasting dishes. Once we understand the general characteristics of each truffle, we sit down for a full meal where we delight in simple yet rich dishes. It’s truffle season: feast your eyes.
Did this photoset make your mouth water? Luckily for you, we will carry most of these products in our new store, as well as offering fresh truffle dinners. So stay tuned..soon you will be able to have a truffle feast of your own!
You know we like to get fancy sometimes over here at Via Umbria. But that doesn’t always mean difficult. To celebrate the on boarding of Vickie Reh, Bill took a crack at some roasted rabbit. We take you through the process, step by step, to create this untraditional and delicious roast.
Step two: lay the boneless rabbit out on your work surface and rub the inside with chopped garlic. Season both the inside and outside of the rabbit with the salt, pepper and fennel pollen rosemary and sage and olive oil.
As we prep to open the new store, we are gathering some fun new products – expanding our inventory to offer the best. When these sombrerini came off the shipment, we couldn’t wait to make them, as they are the the most fun and colorful pasta we have seen in a while!
While one could prepare these in a cream sauce or simply toss with some olive oil, onions, and spices to fully reveal all of their colors, we decided to make them in the traditional way. We stuffed them with a cheese mixture and baked them as open ended ravioli!
Chop your onion, and sauté with the garlic over medium-low heat.
Gently place spinach on top to slowly wilt. You will have to do two batches of wilting, most likely.
Top the cheese mixture with the wilted spinach, stir.
Prep your pasta sauce by combining the tomato puree, bruschetta seasoning, sea salt, and a dash of oil, then blend with the onion mixture.
Boil your pasta for 5 minutes. They will be undercooked – this is the point as they will be further baked, and need to maintain their structure for filling.
Pour your sauce mixture onto a large baking pan. Now to stuff your sombrerini! With a spoon, scoop the mixture into an upside down pasta, and place in the sauce.
Keep creating rows until the whole sheet is filled. Cover with tin foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
We were surprised at the structural integrity of the pasta – we assumed that the cheese would just fall out of the pasta, or the pasta would get to soggy or hard, but it turned out fantastically! Our taste testers all agreed that this pasta is a visual treat, and tastes like the ravioli we all know and love, and has a fantastic presentation. We voted it best to serve at a dinner party.
Until we open, you can find all of your ingredients on our online store, direct from Italy. And once we do, you can find dishes like this coming our of our kitchen.