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Blue, Blue, My Cheese is Blue

Newsletter 20190411 2This week, or weekend, rather, Suzy and I headed west to visit our son who lives in Oakland.  Preferring to escape the city for the weekend, we headed north to Sonoma wine country, with a too-brief visit to beautiful Point Reyes on our first day.

About an hour’s drive from San Francisco and Oakland, Point Reyes seems far more distant.  The seashore, which is a national park separated from the mainland by the Tomales Bay, is actually part of the Pacific continental plate, nestling against the North American continental plate in the narrow bay.  The landscape is breathtaking, mountains giving way to estuaries and beach, the Pacific Ocean churning in the distance.  We made a quick visit to the National Park and were able to see baby elephant seals warming their bodies on the sandy beach with their mamas.  Not your typical DC vista.

We also took in a visit to nearby Marshall and celebrated our arrival on the west coast with an outdoor lunch of raw oysters, pulled from the Tomales Bay just in front of us by the Tomales Bay Oyster Company.

But the highlight of our first day in California was our visit to the nearby Giacomini dairy, the family owned home of the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company.  We spent the better part of a couple of hours touring the farm, learning about their cheeses, their herd, their philosophy.  It was a great start to our west coast sojourn.

The Point Reyes Farmstead is open for public visits, but only by prior arrangement.  A sign announces the Giacomini Farm, but gives no hint that the farm is associated with the well known and even better regarded Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company.  From the main road, the Route 1 that meanders along the Tomales Bay, you see only rolling farmland, verdant green at this time of the year but burnt brown during the summer.  Wandering along the private drive you eventually summit a hill below which extends the farm in all of its glory, hidden from sight of the highway, occupying a vast expanse of pasture and numerous sheds, ponds, cheesemaking rooms and offices and a visitor/education center. This may be a family run business, but it is a vast enterprise.

Our hourlong tour of farm focused mainly on the stars of the show, the herd of 900 or so cows that provide the milk that is made into Point Reyes’ dozen or so cheeses.  The cows are health and happy – lovingly cared for in a facility that is clean, tidy and odor free.  It is hard to imagine that you are actually on a farm.

Sustainability and environmental sensitivity are incorporated into all aspects of the business.  Of particular interest is the methane recycling system that turns the cows’ solid waste into energy that powers the vast majority of the operation before being returned to the fields as fertilizer.  It is just one of the smart, one would say elegant approaches to this business that shows it is being managed from the heart as well as the mind and ledger.

But the real proof is in the pudding, or in this case cheese.  We have long been fans of Point Reyes’ blue cheese, their flagship offering which is still made entirely on premises at the family farm.  Our swag bag that we were sent home with included a healthy portion of blue but also their delicious gouda among others.

That evening, after we had checked into our lodging for the night, we enjoyed a home made cheese board (apologies to our cheesemongers back in DC who are a bit more artistically inclined) featuring our samples from the tour, as well as a few others we picked up in a local market.  It went down oh so well, rewarding us with great flavors that were bolstered by the excellent memories of our visit to the Giacomini’s dairy.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

This week, or weekend, rather, Suzy and I headed west to visit our son who lives in Oakland.  Preferring to escape the ...

Simone’s Christmas Tortellini

SIMONE’S CHRISTMAS TORTELLINI
INGREDIENTS

for the dough:
10 eggs
2lb type 00 flour

For the sauce:
1 pound loose sausage cooked
1 cup ricotta
3/4 cup grated parmigiano

For the puree:
1 lb gold potatoes cubed
1 small onion chopped
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper

 

     DIRECTIONS

Add the flour on a flat service and make a hole in the middle.  Add the eggs and mix well until you have a smooth dough.  Let the dough sit for 1 hour.

Saute sausage and mix with ricotta and parmigiano until smooth.

Using a rolling pin, stretch the pasta into a flat, thin sheet.  Cut into 2″ squares. Place a small ball of the stuffing in the square and fold into a triangle and then pinch the two edges together.

Drop in boiling salted water – when they float to the top they are finished.

In a large pot saute the onions in olive oil.  Add potatoes and water and simmer until soft.  Use an immersion blender to make a puree.

Toss the tortellini with butter, sage and parmesan.  Make a thin layer of the potato puree on a serving plate and top with the tortellini.  Add sage for garnish.

 

SIMONE'S CHRISTMAS TORTELLINI INGREDIENTS for the dough: 10 eggs 2lb type 00 flour For the sauce: 1 pound loose sausage cooked 1 cup ricotta 3/4 cup grated parmigiano For the ...

White Truffle Parmigiano Sformato

This recipe is a great way to start off a holiday meal and represents everything that is great in Italian regional cooking.  A simple preparation, with relatively few but pristine and highest quality ingredients and the perception of a difficult undertaking that none of your guests need to know about…

 

Yields 8 – 4oz. souffle cup portions

 

WHITE TRUFFLE PARMIGIANO SFORMATO
INGREDIENTS

1 quart Heavy cream
2.5 Cups Grated Parmigiano Reggiano
½ teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1 T white truffle paste (optional…but preferable!)
4 whole eggs
4 T all purp. Flour
Salt to taste

White truffles, fresh (avail. at Via Umbria) to garnish

     DIRECTIONS

Heat Cream in a saucepan, add the cheese and blend. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, crack eggs, whisk, add the flour and whisk some more until combined. Add the truffle paste to cream mixture and slowly pour cream into egg mixture. Add the nutmeg and adjust seasoning with salt.

 

Meanwhile, get souffle cups, and spray with non stick spray. Ladle in the mixture. On top of stove, pour approx. ¾ ” of water into a shallow stove top-ready baking dish. Place souffle cups in the water bath and cover the whole pan in plastic wrap. Cook on stovetop at medium high heat for about 30 minutes, steaming the flans. They are done when the mixture does not jiggle like jello. Serve warm. Unmold from dishes if desired.

 

Shave white truffles on top of the sformato and serve with crostini and aged Balsamico.

 

This recipe is a great way to start off a holiday meal and represents everything that is great in Italian regional cooking.  ...

Ernesto’s Torta d’Autunno

One of the special treats of our Food & Wine Tours is our small group cooking class at our friend Ernesto Parziani’s restaurant Perbacco.  Cooking with Ernesto, as many a guest will attest, is an all day affair, preparing course after course followed by a long, leisurely meal (accompanied by numerous wines).  The icing on the cake is often a karaoke session led by Ernesto.

 

And speaking of icing, last week’s cooking marathon with Ernesto introduced us to a new seasonal dessert, an autumn cake that highlights apples and raisins.  This dessert couldn’t be easier or more delicious.  Give it a try and let us know how it came out!

 

ERNESTO’S TORTA D’AUTUNNO
INGREDIENTS

3 eggs beaten
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter softened
1 ½ cups walnuts
½ cup raisins
zest of 1 lemon
2 cups flour
1 pk.  pane delgi angeli (baking powder)
1 apple peeled and sliced

     DIRECTIONS

In a mixing bowl add butter and sugar and mix together. Add eggs, raisins, walnuts, lemon zest, pane degli angeli and flour and beat together.

Pour into a buttered cake pan. Press apples lengthwise into the batter.

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until done.

 

One of the special treats of our Food & Wine Tours is our small group cooking class at our friend Ernesto Parziani's restaurant Perbacco. ...

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 ...