It was Friday night at Via Umbria—the cafe was full of patrons enjoying dinner, guests in the wine room were engaged in our Weekly Somm tasting and a Birthday celebration was due to start upstairs shortly. Bill and I looked around and realized that we had a great staff on hand and that if we left now we could sit outside on this perfect September night and enjoy dinner and a relaxing evening at home- so run away we did. A few minutes later as we inched along Wisconsin Avenue, we realized that we had no groceries at home. Not just ‘nothing we wanted to eat’, but after weeks of late nights and travel – not a single thing that qualified as edible. As we got closer to the Safeway and started discussing strategies for running in quickly and what we could make – a last minute U-turn was made and we and headed straight back to Via Umbria to pick up our staples.
While there are definitely some benefits to the enormity of a store like Safeway, the idea of being able to avoid the chaos and dash into Via Umbria to grab a few excellent products from farms we know and love seemed like the obvious choice.
We often describe Via Umbria as an “Italian Village under one roof” but in many ways it would be simpler and just as accurate to describe our store as a one-stop market in Georgetown for high-quality pantry staples and top-notch food.
With the idea of ‘who knows what tomorrow brings,’ here is my express list of groceries and pantry staples we grabbed and how I plan to use them:
- Oven Roasted Chicken
- Jarred Tomatoes
- Franciacorta – delicious sparkling wine
For the record—lentils and farro are my go to last-minute dinner staples. Why?
- They don’t need to be soaked
- They can cook unattended
- They cook in under 30 minutes
- They are super versatile
- They are delicious and nutritious
Now, faced with a bevy of incredible ingredients, dinner was simple. We cut the chicken in half and put it in the oven to warm up, set a pot of lentils, carrots, and onions to simmer on the stove, and made a bright and fresh salad of lettuce with olive oil, lemon juice and a hint of shaved parmigiano.
In less than the time it would take to have a delicious, greasy pizza delivered we were sitting outside on a perfect fall night enjoying a glass of wine and a favorite cheese from the Pennsylvania-based Farm at Doe Run while our dinner was happily cooking.
That’s just half of my express shopping list. What else is on my menu for this week?
- Pasta with tomato sauce, parmigiano and a green salad
- Farro soup with onions, carrots and chicken
- Baked Meatballs with lentils and roasted carrots
And for the night I really don’t want to cook at all? I’m opening a bottle of Franciacorta, cracking open a tin of caviar and enjoying some locally cured Smoked Salmon from DC Smokehouse. If I had really been thinking ahead I would have grabbed some yogurt, a dozen eggs and a pack of bacon—then I wouldn’t have to wake up on Saturday morning wondering what’s for breakfast!
It was Friday night at Via Umbria—the cafe was full of patrons enjoying dinner, guests in the wine room were engaged in ...
Vacation. Family. Beach and Eating.
These are my buzzwords for Ferragosto, one of my favorite Italian holidays that has always held a special place in my heart. Every year, the whole country of Italy takes off August 15th and heads to the beach, the mountains or just relaxes and enjoys a good meal.
Being completely unknown outside of Italy (and Italian-Switzerland), you must be asking yourself what IS Ferragosto?! So here is a brief history to bring you up to speed.
The word comes from the latin Feriae Augusti meaning “the holidays of Augustus”, referring to the emperor himself. It was set up as a holiday to celebrate the end of the harvest which was marked by a relief from extreme physical labor that comes with agricultural life. Eventually, Ferragosto was extended to take up most of the month. It wasn’t until the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini that people began planning longer vacation trips during the Mid-August holiday. This acted as a way for Mussolini to push members of higher society to take trips to other Italian cities or visit seaside resorts.
With globalization the world has experienced some great advances, but it has a caused a shrinkage of the holiday to keep up with competing economies around the world (although us Italians still like taking a nice long holiday in August if we can manage!) who don’t take the whole month off.
But to me, the holiday is much more than its history and trying to compete with rival, world economies. To me it represents a mandated summer day to spend with family and go to the beach. You see all your friends out doing the same thing, and it represents Italy to its core. Italians do things the way that we want, and for this reason, I know that
While it is harder to continue this tradition living in the US (I don’t think my doctor with give me a note for being “Too Italian” to bring into work for missing the day), my girlfriend and I have made a pact to do something special to keep this special day relevant and as a sign of our “Italianness”.
So, take my advice, and try Ferragosto out for yourself. There isn’t a bad thing about it and you definitely won’t regret it!
If you want to celebrate Ferragosto with me, come down to Via Umbria for a Ferragosto-themed movie night. We’ll be watching the classic film Il Sorpasso while enjoying a delicious mid-August pasta dinner.
Vacation. Family. Beach and Eating.
These are my buzzwords for Ferragosto, one of my favorite Italian holidays that has always held a ...
Love cheese? Join us for our Cheese of the Month Tasting featuring Sweet Grass Dairy on Wed, August 1 or reserve a seat at our Cheesemaker Dinner with Sweet Grass Dairy on Fri, August 10. Better yet, come to both!
I didn’t know all that much about Murray’s cheese before my most recent trip to New York City. Basically, I knew it was a famous shop that sold good cheese and was willing to wholesale to me. Now that I’ve been, I’m in love.
Here at Via Umbria we deal with a lot of different cheese producers from all over Italy, the United Kingdom, the rest of Europe and the United States. Walking into the shop on Bleeker Street I felt right at home. It wasn’t that I recognized every single cheese they were selling (although there were quite a few familiar faces)—it was that I could tell I was somewhere that cared about sourcing great cheese from great producers. It was awesome, and I was ready to taste.
You may know of Murray’s as an excellent purveyor of fine cheeses, but what most don’t know is that Murray’s is also an affineur (an ager of cheese). A few days after visiting the store, we were fortunate to travel to glamorous Long Island City to tour their “caves” (it’s actually a set of climate and humidity controlled rooms—I don’t think there’s much in the way of caves in Queens). And learned a bit about the history of these cheeses.
If you’ve read my blog post about Neal’s Yard Dairy in London, it’s a pretty similar story. A cheese shop taking care of their cheese decided to reach out to some producers and get things specially for the shop. In the case of NYD, they preserved a whole range of traditional British cheeses. At Murray’s, it was a case of innovation. The team took cheeses that were already in production and began to age them differently. They started inoculating cheeses with different molds and washing rinds of varieties that weren’t typically washed. In short, they were creating some deliciousness. They even worked in a dairy lab upstate with some local milk to make their own cheese from scratch—a delightful cheddar that tastes almost like cheddar-swiss hybrid.
We’re so pleased to have the opportunity to work with the Murray’s team, as well as all the other cheesemakers and cheese lovers that we partner with. Stop on by and ask to try some of our cheeses!
Love cheese? Join us for our Cheese of the Month Tasting featuring Sweet Grass Dairy on Wed, August 1 or reserve a seat ...
This past April on a trip to VinItaly, Suzy and I snuck off for a day to indulge our sweet tooths with a tour with two of our favorite Panettone producers—Loison and Filippi. One step (or really one sniff) inside the baking facility at Loison and we knew we had made the right choice. Even during their off season, a time when there are no ovens on, no cakes baking, and no ingredients in sight, the entire factory smelled like sugar, butter, and fluffy, decadent cake. We wandered around the production line—looking at the giant (seriously huge) stand mixers where they carefully mix the panettone dough, coaxing the ingredients to combine together in just the right way to create the light, airy cakes, the enormous ovens that bake hundreds of carefully handcrafted cakes at a time, and the inventive machines that flip those cakes upside-down straight from the oven to keep their shape. If you’ve never seen the process I definitely encourage you to take a look—it’s pretty incredible. And for those of you who have ever had any doubts about whether or not the Italians are some of the most thoughtful, patient, and purposeful people on the planet take my word for it- one bite of a perfectly baked Panettone is all you need to change your mind.
In addition to the attention to detail during the baking process two other aspects of the production of the Panettone really stood out to me. The first being the pride that emanated from the bakers at both facilities as they walked us through each flavor of Panettone they were preparing to make for this holiday season (between 20-35 each) and exactly where every single ingredient in each of those cakes was sourced. Single origin chocolate drops from Domori, untreated Madagascar vanilla beans (and never any artificial flavors), free range eggs, figs from Calabria, Lemons from Sicily and fresh milk delivered every day during the baking season; each ingredient is carefully selected for it’s quality of production and taste to create the perfect marriage of flavors for each cake. As the Pastry Chefs at Filippi say “Just as in an orchestra, to create a symphony, every instrument has to be in harmony with the whole, so it does not suffice that every ingredient is good on its own. Each ingredient has to amalgamate well with all the others…” Each year they revisit the flavors of the year prior, sampling dozens of varieties of fruits, nuts, and honeys, ensuring that their cakes are always created using the just the ideal balance of flavors and ingredients.
The second aspect that the Pastry Chefs at both Loison and Filippi were quick and proud to point out is that each one of their cakes is hand wrapped in paper and tied with a bow. Out of context that may not seem like a big deal but when you think about the thousands of cakes being produced every Christmas and the intricate and precise wrapping each of these cakes is adorned with you really start to get a sense of the magnitude of this process. And the result is spectacular—3as they said at Loison “The result is a product that is more than just a baked good: it’s also a gift, a furnishing item and a piece of art.” It’s clear in speaking with them that there is no detail of the panettone making process that is overlooked and the result of all of that effort and attention to detail is the essential (and most delicious) emblem of the Christmas holiday.
Don’t just take my word for it though- come see and sample for yourself! On July 25th we’ll be celebrating Christmas in July- we’re so looking forward to the holiday season that we can’t possibly wait any longer. Stop by our market and taste samples of this year’s spectacular concoctions, see that intricate and delicate paperwork and ribbons adorning these beautiful parcels and pre-order some of your favorites.
This past April on a trip to VinItaly, Suzy and I snuck off for a day to indulge our sweet tooths with ...