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Ernesto’s Onion Soup Recipe

There’s something satisfying about a low-and-slow dinner that pairs perfectly with crisp autumn weather. So while we’re getting into sweater weather here in D.C., we’re outsourcing dinner ideas from our Italian friends in Cannara—this hands-off onion soup is a minimalist masterpiece that transforms the humble onion into a creamy and rich soup that’s perfect for when you want something warm and simple to fill you up.

ERNESTO’S ONION SOUP
INGREDIENTS

White onions

Water

Olive oil

Salt

Garnish (pink peppercorn, black olives, celery, herbs, etc.)
     DIRECTIONS

– Start with 3 or 4 white onions and slice into thin strips. Add them to a wide pot and pour in a 50/50 mix of water and olive oil until onions are half submerged.

– Add salt, then cook for about 30-40 minutes on medium-low heat, until onions are translucent and soft.

– Blend mixture, adding about 1/2 cup of olive oil to emulsify. Texture should be smooth and creamy. Add salt to taste.

– Garnish as desired. Serve.

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There's something satisfying about a low-and-slow dinner that pairs perfectly with crisp autumn weather. So while we're getting into sweater weather here ...

Teddy’s Cannara

The small town of Cannara, my temporary home during my 3 month Italian sojourn, is undeniably small. And this is a great thing! The 10 or so minute stroll from the idyllic countryside farmhouse to town center brings you past the single supermarket, the pizzeria, the bank, the hardware/convenience store, the town monument, then plops you down at the bar. I’m using the definite (the) rather than indefinite (a/an) article here because, well you can be sure it’s the bar because it’s the only one in town. While on one hand this means fewer options, you don’t need anything else when you arrive to Bar Blue Sky and the baristas know how you take your coffee, or you start to pick up the rules of the card game that seemingly every male over the age of 60 in the town congregates to play in the late afternoon every day. For two weeks each year, however, this small town becomes the center of Italian cultural and culinary fascination during the Festa della Cipolla.
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Cannara is known throughout Italy, and to some extent even throughout Europe, as the place where the best onions are grown. The onion is the agricultural legacy of Cannara, and this two-week long festival celebrates the bulb by opening pop-up restaurants throughout the town with onion themed menus. All the cooking sends out the smell of onion through the town and beyond, drawing visitors in on the scent streams from far and wide. And a crazy thing happens – this small town suddenly becomes absolutely bustling! An estimate of visitors over the two weeks I received from every Umbrian I know was between 60,000 and 70,000. This is for a town that my own estimate would say has about 1,000 residents, so you can imagine the change of scenery!

 

At nights during the festa, the town is alive with dangling lights, live music, local artisan vendors selling their wares, and, of course, innumerable onion dishes from which to choose at the various temporary restaurants. Hiring a staff to work for only two weeks is likely a tall task, so they skip it altogether – the employees are composed of town locals, coming in pretty much any age imaginable (I’ve seen some 7 year old-waiters and some 70 year old-waiters) who volunteer when they can throughout the course of the celebration. And because everyone is excited to try the once-a-year food options, the lines are huge. Arriving late on the last night of the festival, Cal and I had no time to wait and instead pulled the real clever move of eating at the best actual restaurant in Cannara – Perbacco – with the talented chef Ernesto and his delightful wife and host Simona.
We ate roasted onion; we ate onion soup; we ate onion pizza; we ate onion cream; we ate onion ice cream (shockingly good). It was a full meal and a satisfying meal, and Ernesto made the perfect wine recommendation for two novice drinkers – he so casually explained that the bottle of wine satisfied all of the specific areas of our interest (from Umbria, dry, not heavy but with enough body, spontaneous fermentation) without us even giving him any criteria. And, lo and behold, two novice drinkers finishing a whole bottle of wine together (and a digestivo) led to a pretty fun evening! We stayed at the restaurant for about three hours, taking up conversation with the Dutch spouses seated next to us and reveling in the fashion choices of the visiting population ambling our typically sleepy streets.
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To end the night, we made our way to the Onion Disco Pub. To my knowledge, this outdoor bar and venue is closed for all but these two weeks of the year, so you have to know that folks make the most of its brief opening. The music bumps from here across town most nights of the festival, and it is where people gather after having dined on their onions and need to start – or keep – drinking. It was the largest – and youngest – crowd I’ve ever seen in Cannara, singing along to the band’s covers of classic Italian pop hits. Once tired, we left the scene and headed home, thankful for the short walk from the center of our small town.

 

A dopo,

 

Teddy

The small town of Cannara, my temporary home during my 3 month Italian sojourn, is undeniably small. And this is a great thing! ...

Meet Our New Sommelier!

Many of you may have noticed our new wine tasting series happening every Friday at 6 PM. Even though we introduced it just a few weeks ago, we’ve had a ton of interest from our wine-loving regulars here at Via Umbria. To make sure no one misses out on the wine-fueled fun and hands-on learning at our weekly tastings, we thought we’d ask our sommelier, Will Moriarty, to write a blog post introducing himself.

The next step? Reserve a spot at an upcoming wine tasting to meet Will (and our wines!) for yourself.


I began my restaurant career as a teenager, eventually and working my way from barback to sommelier. After a few years as the wine director for The Liberty Tavern in Arlington, I moved on to become the floor sommelier at Fiola Mare in Georgetown. I’ve always tried to take the pretention out of wine. In my opinion, wine is meant to be fun and engaging rather than stuffy and unapproachable. Luckily for everyone, Bill & Suzy feel the same way. I joined the team here as our in-house sommelier to make sure every customer has the opportunity to try incredible wines without feeling intimidated—after all, wine is meant to be enjoyed!

We structure our tastings as a simulated wine tour through Italy. Depending on the day, I choose 4-6 different wines that I think best highlight some of our favorite Italian regions. They’re fun and energetic; less like a formal guided wine tasting and more like a casual happy hour (that just so happens to be led by a sommelier).

The communal tasting covers each wine in depth, from its beginnings in the winemaking process to deep-dives in varietals, terroir, palette and pairings. And don’t worry, there’s a sampling of special small bites and snacks from the kitchen.

See you on Friday!

—Will

Many of you may have noticed our new wine tasting series happening every Friday at 6 PM. Even though we introduced it just ...

Suzy’s Chicken & Farro Soup

There’s nothing like a hearty soup to keep your belly full and spirits high as the weather gets chillier. With Via Umbria’s grab-and-go stock of pantry essentials and dinnertime lifesavers (we’re looking at you, oven-roasted chicken!) it couldn’t be easier to get dinner on the table. This week, tuck into a humble but delicious chicken & farro soup bolstered by flavorful parmigiano and garlic.

SUZY’S CHICKEN & FARRO SOUP
INGREDIENTS

1 c farro
3 c water
1 small onion diced
1 carrot diced
1 celery stalk diced
1 garlic clove
1 c cooked chicken diced
2 T tomato sauce
EVOO
Parmigiano

     DIRECTIONS

In a medium saucepan add farro, water, onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes or until farro is soft.

Add more water if necessary. Add chicken, tomato sauce and salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a shaving of Parmesan

 

There's nothing like a hearty soup to keep your belly full and spirits high as the weather gets chillier. With Via Umbria's grab-and-go stock ...

Lemon-Ricotta Ravioli

These ravioli stuffed with a zesty lemon-ricotta mixture are going to be your new favorite meal. All you need is patience and a bit of confidence—your reward will be a plate full of citrus-y, creamy deliciousness.

PASTA DOUGH 
INGREDIENTS

200 g semolina flour

200 g type 00 flour

4 eggs

     DIRECTIONS

On a large wooden cutting board, make a well with the flour. Crack eggs into the well. Using a fork, slowly beat the eggs and mix in the flour, being careful not to break the walls of the well.

After most of the egg and flour is incorporated, begin to knead the dough. Knead for at least 10 minutes, until very smooth.

Wrap in plastic wrap and let sit for 15-30 minutes
before rolling.

LEMON-RICOTTA RAVIOLI
INGREDIENTS

2 c ricotta

Zest of 1 lemon

1 c ground pecorino or parmigiano

1 egg yolk

Salt and pepper to taste

Pasta dough (above)

     DIRECTIONS

Combine ricotta, lemon zest, pecorino/parmigiano and egg yolk. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Roll out pasta dough until paper thin. Dollop the ricotta mixture onto your pasta sheets. Cover the mixture with another sheet of pasta, sealing around each dollop to encase the ricotta tightly.
Cook in boiling water 2-3 minutes until ravioli rises
to the top of the pot.

 

These ravioli stuffed with a zesty lemon-ricotta mixture are going to be your new favorite meal. All you need is patience and ...

Let There Be Music

Violin virtuoso Luca Ciarla, our new friend from Italy, performs a very special solo violin concert on Thursday, September 27 at 7:30 in Via Umbria’s Galleria.  Tickets are $40 but the experience, as I hope you will agree if you read below, is priceless.  You can purchase your tickets here.

Four weeks ago my newest Italian friends arrived at Dulles Airport direct from Rome.  On that flight were the artist Keziat and violin virtuoso Luca Ciarla together with their precious cargo of artwork, violin and other musical instruments and an even more precious article, their six year old son Milo.  How they came to join us at Via Umbria for the opening of Keziat’s art exhibition Introspective and a dinner and violin performance by Luca the following night, and how we forged our new friendship is pretty much the story of Via Umbria.  And it serves as reminder of why we love doing the things we do.

lucaConcert-4Luca Ciarla was introduced to me by a customer friend of ours, Maria, who saw him perform a concert at the Italian Embassy in Washington a few years back.  Maria raved about Luca’s virtuosity and avant garde, multidisciplinary musical style.  She offered to put us in touch with each other by email so I did a little investigative work, using my best Googling skills.  The first hit was a YouTube video of Luca performing Bella Ciao at the Rhino Jazz Festival in 2014.  I watched, and listened to, and was subsumed by the six minute video of the soloist bobbing and contorting as if in the throes of ectasy, bowing and picking and drumming to electronic tracks he had recorded live in front of the audience, the musical texture building and thickening with each added loop.  The piece itself, a workers’ solidarity anthem meant to inspire patriotic zeal among the proletariat was, in Luca’s hands, a haunting release of the most sublime emotional connective tissue between instrument and performer and audience, mesmerizing and immobilizing me like the cartoon hound who smells the fresh baked pie sitting on the window sill, levitated and gently wafted toward the source in a trancelike state of pure contentment.  As Luca built the layer of sound atop layer, the emotional power of the music began to crest like a wave until he reached a final, virtuoso climax.  In six short minutes, I was hooked.  This man was going to become my friend.

When I responded to Maria’s email introducing Luca and me, I instinctively knew where this was heading.  Luca and I began negotiating an agreement that would bring him to Via Umbria, an agreement that pretty much said, you come, we’ll figure out what we’ll do and who will get what.  We had a complete meeting of the minds.  All that was missing were all the details.

lucaConcert-3One crucial detail was Luca’s partner, Keziat.  As I was to discover, there was another piece to this relationship, an immensely talented artist in Keziat, a woman who creates a world of fantasy on canvass, using only ballpoint pen.  She would be, I thought – and I was exactly right – a perfect addition to Via Umbria’s art gallery space.  Her show Introspective is on display in the Galleria through the end of the week.  It has been a pleasure to surround ourselves with her brilliant work.

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The Tuesday before the Gallery opening Luca and Keziat arrived in Washington, pulling up in front of Via Umbria a little before dinner time.  Over the previous couple of months I had invested so much psychic energy in organizing the art exhibition, the special dinner with the artists (complete with violin performance) and a closing concert that it was hard to believe we had never actually met one another.  So there we were, face to face for the first time.  Luca, Keziat, Milo and me.  Although I was awed by their immense talent, in an instant I knew this was a relationship that was going to work.

lucaConcert-1Over the next days, as they installed Keziat’s exhibition, practiced and did sound and equipment checks and played with their irascible six year old in our cafe, they seemed less like new friends than old friends.  The opening reception came and went, with a shy Keziat quietly impressing the dozens of guests who came to see her work and to listen to Luca play.  The phenomenal Dinner with the Artists allowed us to see how opening and inviting the couple was, and how much they loved the cooking of our Chef Liam!  And so, after our few intense days together they departed Washington, Keziat and Milo bound for Rome and Luca to parts west, where he has spent the past weeks performing with his quartet in the US, Canada and Central America.

Luca returns to Washington on Thursday evening for a special concert at Via Umbria.  Our front window loudly proclaims “First we eat.  Then we do everything else” because we have discovered the Italians’ secret of using food as a way to build bonds of friendship and community.  What I have found from my whirlwind friendship with Luca, Keziat and Milo, is that art that is personal, that is from the heart and shared for the simple sake of sharing can build the same kinds of lasting bonds that we have discovered through our travels to Italy and in our building of Via Umbria.

I invite you to join me on Thursday for a special live, solo concert by Luca Ciarla and discover this for yourself.

Ci vediamo giovedì,
Bill and Suzy

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Violin virtuoso Luca Ciarla, our new friend from Italy, performs a very special solo violin concert on Thursday, September 27 at 7:30 ...

Braised Green Figs and Fennel

Figs are in season here in Italy and we’ve eaten them every day with no signs of slowing down. We used green honey figs straight from the garden for this simple side dish.

BRAISED GREEN FIGS AND FENNEL
INGREDIENTS

Figs, about 3 per person

1 medium fennel bulb

Generous knob of butter

Thin slice of lemon, peel on

One dried Italian hot pepper, whole

Dry white wine

Salt and pepper to taste

Pecorino, shaved large for garnish

     DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 400.

Slice the fennel into 4-6 segments.

Place the butter, whole lemon slice, and hot pepper in an oven safe pan and sauté until fragrant. Sear the fennel wedges on both sides, don’t be shy about giving it good color. Add the figs whole and leave on high for a minute or two, before adding a generous pour of wine and transferring to the oven.

Cook until the fennel is just tender, but not falling apart.

Top with fresh ground pepper and good pecorino.

Enjoy!

 

Figs are in season here in Italy and we’ve eaten them every day with no signs of slowing down. We used green ...

Grape Harvest 2018

Our friend Federico, owner and vintner behind Terre Margaritelli in Umbria, wrote us last week to tell us about this year’s grape harvest.


Good harvest, but not for all.

2018 has been a very hard season because of the continuous rain that we had during the spring. We spent a lot of time in the vines to be sure to there that was no mold or fungus attacking the grapes. The last month has been hot and dry so the maturation is going quickly.

We have just begun to harvest, 10 days earlier that usual due to the quick maturation and so far we are seeing very good quality. Thanks to all our efforts made in the spring the season is safe. Unfortunately, many of our neighboring producers have lost a good part of their production.

In agriculture, especially in organic farming, the timing makes the difference, and watching carefully over the vineyards throughout the season has helped us to avoid major difficulties.

We hope to continue with this quality for the rest of the harvest and pour some wonderful wine into your glasses in 2018.  And we will also have some nice new bubbles as well!

Our friend Federico, owner and vintner behind Terre Margaritelli in Umbria, wrote us last week to tell us about this year's grape harvest. Good harvest, but not for ...

Jennifer’s Sausage with Grapes

This recipe for sausage with grapes from Chef Jennifer embodies the humble (but delicious!) cooking style of Umbria. Though it has just four ingredients, it’s a remarkably well-balanced dish that packs a flavor punch. Make it as a simple dinner when you’re too tired to cook but want something satisfying on the table.

SAUSAGE WITH GRAPES
INGREDIENTS

8 sausage links

Fresh wine grapes, cut in half (can substitute raisins)

White wine

Italian parsley (or other herb of choice)

     DIRECTIONS

Brown the sausages in a pan until well caramelized. Add the grapes (or raisins). Follow with the white wine, pouring into pan until about 1/3 of the way up the sausages. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.

Add parsley leaves and cover, simmering over low heat until sausages are cooked.

Slice the sausages in half on the bias and let them sit in the sauce for at least 10 minutes.

** If desired, reduce the sauce further (with sausages in it) by cooking a little further.

 

This recipe for sausage with grapes from Chef Jennifer embodies the humble (but delicious!) cooking style of Umbria. Though it has just four ingredients, it's a ...

Teddy in Umbria

Teddy here, writing from the farmhouse in Cannara. I am two weeks into my three and a half month stay in Umbria and have quickly been reminded why I couldn’t wait to get back. I wake up to the light activity of our 18 birds (mostly hens, as well as a couple of geese, ducks, and guinea fowl) and say hello to these healthy ladies (and their bountiful eggs!) as I give them their morning meal, along with all of my leftover food scraps as a special treat.

In very un-Italian fashion I prepare a big breakfast – how else can I get through these eggs fast enough? – and a caffe to wash it all down. And now, in the words of caretaker Marco, I commence on the day’s “program”, and this is where things get really exciting. Every day feels like a choose your own adventure, depending on who I’ve seen recently or who has heard that I am in town.

One day I am accompanying Jennifer McIlvaine and one of her groups on a summer tour of Montefalco – visiting a dairy farmer who makes cheese, yogurt, and gelato, followed by a walk through town, then lunch at another farm, this one biologico (essentially the Italian version of organic certification) and dotted with all manner of fruit-bearing trees, an apiary, grape and olive production, and an assortment of animals. Lastly, a requisite wine tasting of one of Umbria’s crown products, Montefalco Sagrantino at Cantina Fratelli Pardi.

And from having seen the Pardi family, I get a late afternoon invite the following week to accompany them for dinner. Patriarch Alberto – who is one of the most engaging, excited, and kind people I’ve ever met (despite not speaking much if any English!) – arrives to pick me up in the early evening. He asks if it’s okay to make a quick stop and I watch him collect the season’s finest harvest from an azienda agricola that is no more than 5 minutes from the farmhouse but I doubt I will ever find again amidst these labyrinthine roads. Onward to Montefalco, and when I ask where we will be going he laughs confusedly to tell me that of course we are eating at the family home. Another stop at a gas station that also serves as a macelleria (meat and cheese counter) to pick up the evening’s secondo: stinco, a very Umbrian pork dish. Another stop at the winery to pick up assorted members of the family and finally I arrive at their incredibly lovely home, right in the heart of the town. What followed was one of the finest examples of family care I’ve ever witnessed, and by the end of the evening it truly felt as if I was not just a witness but a member. We drank late into the night discussing cousin Marco’s love life, the moments and laughter in the house warming brightly as the light outside faded.

Another day, I resend an email that I discover had not gone through the previous week. A response is returned within the hour – an invitation to meet and discuss work opportunities the following day with Roberto di Filippo of his eponymous, biodynamic winery. This is the driving force behind my return to Umbria: I have a fairly compelling fascination with the relationships between soil, seed, plant, and food and beverage products, and I’ve endeavored to learn deeply but also broadly about the elements that comprise these processes. These expeditions have led me to an interest in fermentation, which has been marked mostly by working with beer, some hard cider making, a lot of sourdough bread-baking, and some vegetable lacto-fermentation projects. But the grail of fermentation is wine, and there are few opportunities that exist for me to not only learn about wine and its production, but to examine wine through the holistic lens that drives my curiosity. Roberto’s philosophy on farming is so rich and deep, to the point that the wine seems almost a happy bi-product of the balanced, interwoven relationships between organisms microscopic (in the soil) and fairly large (the draught horses he uses for tilling) on his property. It doesn’t hurt that he happens to make exceptional wines though! Upon receiving my interest in learning any and all things related to his wine production, Roberto kindly extended the offer for me to help out. The only requirement he dictated, though, was that it could not be work for just one day. His justification was loosely as follows: “To understand, you need to touch and feel as much as you can. And you have to share the labor with your peers – there is a unity between the land and the animals and the grapes and the workers, and you must share.” I was truly taken by the quality of his words, and replied simply, “Roberto – `e una bella filisofia.”

My first day of work I helped on a couple of horse-drawn carriage tours through several of Roberto’s plots, serving as a translator for a couple from Canada and trying to actually learn Italian on the following tour of ten locals. Lunch for the employees in the main room of the cantina, and new friend Giovanni was excited to share an oregano digestivo he had made with everybody. It was a delicious way to prolong our midday break! In the afternoon I helped bottle last year’s white wine blend before taking my leave for the evening.

The following morning I joined a ragtag group of helpers to harvest the season’s first grechetto grapes, to be used in a spumante wine that I believe will be new to Roberto’s arsenal. The group was old and young, hailing from France, Senegal, Romania, or just five minutes up the road. All the other foreigners, however, actually speak Italian. I became Los Angeles! to them, or Lau-rence of A-raab-iah because of the bandana I wore draped from the back of my hat to cover my neck (Teddy is a very difficult name for Italians to pronounce). We made it by thanks to some very friendly and patient Italian and also French speakers, which sadly has become even worse than my Italian, but the composite of options helped make most things pretty clear. The other benefit was that the work is really straightforward – you cut clusters of beautiful grapes, put them in a basket, and trade out your basket when it’s full for a new one. Lots of heat, lots of singing, lots of laughs, lots of words I didn’t understand, and lots of grape-juice-sticky gloves. Overall, a truly memorable day!

Any given morning, I can expect a text message on my phone saying, “hi baby, could you come in this afternoon?” It’s a message from my extra sibling, chef Simone Proietti Pesci. In ten minutes I can be at the restaurant where I may be enlisted to de-stem rosemary picked on a walk earlier that morning, prepare a soffrito (the Italian mirepoix of carrot, celery, and onion), or wait tables, the latter of which displaying the deep trust Simone has in me and my very insufficient Italian. No matter the task, work with Simone is always easy – not that I don’t work hard, but Simone runs the most calm, organized, and efficient kitchen I’ve ever witnessed. He is a true master within his space, and just being around him  suffuses me with skills that have improved my own abilities in the kitchen. Already in these few weeks I’ve been a helping hand in some truly impressive dining events – a 60 guest, seven course fixed menu inspired by Argentina with live tango performances between courses, and another 60 guest baptism celebration with a lavish buffet spread and many bottles of regional wine. It’s hard to count the times a guest walks directly into the kitchen to say, “complimenti a chef!” and then stay to chat for another ten minutes or so, Simone carrying on the conversation while plating the next course.

In less than a week, I will be joined by my dearest friend and former housemate, who will stay along throughout the remainder of my adventures in Umbria. I find myself constantly grinning with excitement, not only for the value of having someone I love to share with these people, places, and experiences that I’ve known, but at the thought that, despite the head start of my experience here,  there are countless new opportunities and moments that await us.

Ciao!
Teddy

Teddy here, writing from the farmhouse in Cannara. I am two weeks into my three and a half month stay in Umbria ...

Tommaso Collins Recipe

We’re celebrating Suzy’s birthday with one of her favorite drinks to sip on—the Tom Collins. In the Italian spirit, we’ve renamed ours Tommaso and used our favorite Italian sparkling water. Here’s why we love it: it’s a simple (and quick!) blend of gin, lemon juice, seltzer and simple syrup which, when combined, is a citrus-y sour cocktail thats deliciously refreshing. Perfect for the sweltering heat of late August!

TOMMASO COLLINS
INGREDIENTS

Ice

Juice of ½ a lemon

½ oz. simple syrup

Seltzer

Lemon wedge, for garnish.

     DIRECTIONS

Fill a highball glass with ice. Pour in gin, lemon juice and simple syrup.

Top with seltzer water. Taste and adjust as needed.

Garnish with a wedge of lemon.

We're celebrating Suzy's birthday with one of her favorite drinks to sip on—the Tom Collins. In the Italian spirit, we've renamed ours ...