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From Scratch: The Quarantine Cookbook Queen Supreme

Editor’s Note: This cookbook contains numerous delicious recipes.  To read about our efforts to recreate one of them – Ruhlman’s classic Five Layer Lasagna – click here.  Spoiler alert – it was delicious!


Over the past few weeks our already outrageous cookbook collection has grown by at least sixteen additions with more set to deliver every few days for the next few weeks. Fueled by the anxiety of having too much time on our hands and the need to feel productive, as well as an almost compulsive obsession with learning about the world through food, my husband, Scott, and I (with the help of the rest of the family) have set ourselves to the task of poring over these books for new ideas, ingredients, and recipes, and recreating their contents in our own kitchen. The result has been a house that smells different from one meal to the next, several pairs of pants that I now only look at longingly, and an incredible appreciation for what we have come to regard as the most important ingredient we have at our disposal- time.

Through the many tomes we’ve combed through on a daily basis, none have embraced this concept as strongly or with as much deference as Michael Ruhlman’s From Scratch. In a moment when the world is in complete chaos, it’s comforting to read through these pages and gain a new appreciation and understanding of what it means to cook and to be cooks. As Ruhlman says, “cooking made us human and I believe that cooking can keep us human.” (Ruhlman, 12). Looking through his recipes and his ideas it becomes clear that this is not merely a gimmick or a catchphrase- it is the driving force and motive behind this particular collection of recipes and the broader theme of the rest of his works.

The book itself is made up of ten distinct chapters each focused on a particular dish or meal that can be made entirely ‘from scratch’. These dishes are not complicated or fussy, rather they center on comfort foods and classics, foods that many people are already accustomed to eating and possibly even to cooking but with a depth of scope found in few other places. By his own account, Ruhlman’s goal here is to expand upon familiar concepts as he believes through “exploring several, familiar, staple meals, we can learn just about everything we need to know in order to cook, well, anything.” (Ruhlman, 12) True to his word Ruhlman uses these ten base recipes as a means to explore not just the end result of the dishes themselves, but the complexity of the ingredients that go into making them, ways to simplify parts of those ingredients to tailor the recipe to your particular time or skill constraints, and ways to apply those ingredients and skills learned to future recipes. 

Take for example the chapter on Roast Chicken, a dish that by his own account “scarcely needs its own recipe” (Ruhlman, 28). Rather than providing a single page account in which readers are instructed to turn on their oven, salt a chicken, place chicken in oven, and wait, Ruhlman uses this chapter as an opportunity to talk about using the chicken to flavor its sides by creating a pan sauce from the remnants of the cooked bird, taking the bones and creating your own simple chicken stock (so easy you can ‘do it in your sleep’), and then how to make chicken soup using the leftover pieces of chicken from dinner and the stock you made from that chicken’s bones. For those with less time on their hands he suggests a completely unfussy shortcut version of his ‘scratch’ meal that relies on a store-bought rotisserie chicken and chicken broth. For most chefs and cookbook authors this would likely be considered cheating but as Ruhlman charmingly and forgivingly mentions throughout his pages “from scratch is an attitude, not a recipe or a rigid set of instructions.” (Ruhlman, 24)

At this point in time the levity, insight, and poignancy with which Rulhman attacks his recipes throughout this book come as a welcome relief. It becomes clear both through reading and cooking your way through his pages that there is no judgement to be found either from the author or the recipes themselves. While there is always an idea of striving for perfection, even a lasagna that only turns out halfway* the way you intended, or uses half store bought and half scratch made ingredients, is still lasagna and is still going to be pretty darn good. While the chapters themselves may seem simple, and many of the base recipes are, each dish is only as simple as you want to make it and the pages are full of intriguing sauces, stocks, and ways to leverage your leftovers into delicious meals unto themselves. The lingering sentiment from this book for me has been Rulhman’s musing about what it means to be ‘from scratch’, what qualifies us to take pride in our cooking, and what we should strive for. His answer is to ask yourself ‘’Is this the best I can do with the ingredients on hand, the time I have, and the energy I feel like expending?” (Ruhlman, 13). No single part of that answer is more important than the other; for right now, sometimes the act of cooking is enough, whatever your ingredients or results may be. 


Recommended for: Confident beginners and experienced home cooks looking for new inspiration. Ruhlman has chosen recipes that can lead to perfection but don’t require it and strikes a good balance between creating intricate recipes to challenge experienced cooks and thoughtful shortcuts so as not to intimidate beginners. 


Ease of Recipes: Moderate. A few of the recipes rely on a little bit of practice and know-how but the majority are a ‘choose your own adventure novel’ of difficulty as he suggests ways to cut corners or supplement your from scratch cooking with store bought items that won’t sacrifice the quality of the overall dish. The recipes are also written in a different format than most traditional cookbooks- Ruhlman doesn’t list out step by step procedures for each dish but adopts more of an essay format wherein one step leads into the next, and the next until you have a fully completed dish. While not at all a bad thing, and definitely lends itself to a more enjoyable cookbook reading experience, I caution anyone attempting to make these recipes to read them through in their entirety at least once as it’s easy to miss ingredients or steps if you’re skimming. 


Overall Rating: 4/5 : This book is an absolute pleasure to read and has some really thoughtful and helpful recipes and insight into why you take certain steps to cook things. The writing style is clear, direct, and yet has moments of levity and humor that aren’t often found in cookbooks. The recipes are interspersed with personal anecdotes, thoughts and lessons on food and food culture, and endless amounts of encouragement. While the majority of the chapters are based around fairly simple recipes, Rulhman brings new insight to the creation of those dishes, offering readers a chance to leverage their understanding of one skill and apply it to countless other dishes. While this book may not contain the most exciting range of recipes it’s hard not to get excited by the way Rulhman takes even the most daunting tasks and makes them feel not just possible but easy.   


Click here to read about Ruhlman's classic Five Layer Lasagna and our daylong creation of this recipe "from scratch."
Click here to read about Ruhlman’s classic Five Layer Lasagna and our daylong creation of this recipe “from scratch.”



Our already outrageous cookbook collection has grown Read more

Editor's Note: This cookbook contains numerous delicious recipes.  To read about our efforts to recreate one of them - Ruhlman's classic Five ...

Make Your Pasta the Simone Way


Learn how to make tagliatelle by hand with our good friend Chef Simone Proietti-Pesci, owner of Le Delizie del Borgo restaurant in Bevagna, Italy.

Chef Simone quarantined with us in the US for nearly six months when his early spring return to Italy following his annual winter pilgrimage to the US was delayed.  We made good use of the time together, including putting together this instructional video shot in our kitchen during the lockdown.


Screen Shot 2020-06-10 at 3.40.51 PMChef Simone makes pasta!

Chef Simone makes pasta Read more

  Learn how to make tagliatelle by hand with our good friend Chef Simone Proietti-Pesci, owner of Le Delizie del Borgo restaurant in ...

Via Umbria’s Very Older Brother Roscioli

It is difficult to overstate just how well regarded the name Roscioli is in Rome and throughout Italy.  A complex of food businesses (described by Anthony Bourdain as “an empire”), Roscioli is a family affair built over 4 generations that started with a renowned bakery, and now includes a wildly popular salumeria, ristorante, caffe/pasticceria and more recently the Rimessa and wine club.  Roscioli built its reputation on unrivaled quality and the breadth of their offerings.  They have been recognized through features in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveller and even garnered a visit by Anthony Bourdain on his show No Reservations.


For the past several years they have sought to meet the customer where he is through a program of curated tastings they call Rimessa Roscioli.  Sommelier Alessandro Pepe and a team of top rated food and wine experts lead small groups on food and wine tastings in a relaxed, casual setting that they describe as “an educational and convivial lab.”  We think it describes perfectly Via Umbria.
Rimessa Roscioli tasting dinner on left; Via Umbria Laboratorio on right.
When we first met the acquaintance of Alessandro and his partner, American born ex-pat Lindsay Gabbard, we were immediately struck by just how similar our passions were.  They, like us, love food and wine because they can create connections between strangers.  And they strongly believe that food and particularly wine, can and should be “democratic.”  Although an expert sommelier, Alessandro scoffs at wine tastings where the conversation focuses on arcane trivia such as malolactic fermentation.  Enjoying wine and getting in touch with your own tastes and sharing that with others is the what sommelier should strive to teach and it is precisely what Alessandro and Lindsay have been doing for the past decade.


Rimessa Roscioli is taking their show on the road and coming to Washington, DC and for one night Via Umbria is honored to be hosting them, preparing a special evening of food and wine tasting in the company of these fascinating and engaging people.  Limited seating is available on Wednesday, March 8 at 7pm for an evening that promises to be unforgettable – a small group tasting around a communal table featuring eight hand selected wines paired with a dozen small tastes, including a pasta dish and a dessert and lots of conversation and enjoyment.  This is a rare one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience and savor true, authentic flavors imported directly from Italy by one of Rome’s most respected sommeliers.  Tickets, which are non-refundable must be purchased in advance and can be bought online or at Via Umbria.

Our favorite stop in Rome Read more

It is difficult to overstate just how well regarded the name Roscioli is in Rome and throughout Italy.  A complex of food businesses (described ...

A (Very) Short Guide to Visiting Umbria

Umbria Travel 012Summer is upon us and with it the summer travel season. And I just love it.

I was one of those kids who was “shipped away” to summer camp every year just weeks after school ended. And I loved it. Well at least after a few weeks of homesickness. It helped to have my older brothers at camp around me, if only that first year.

And as I grew older, being the youngest in the household afforded me the opportunity to travel the world with my parents. Just me and mom and dad. On those trips I learned how fascinating the world outside your backyard can be. And I learned too that spending every waking hour (and in the case of my parents, every sleeping hour, too) with the same people, sitting around small dining tables together (at least) three times a day, crammed together in a small rental car trying to pretend you were not lost or that you really didn’t care too much if you were, can induce a certain amount of stress. But by the time our plane landed back home and the bags were loaded in the car we would be reminiscing about the good times and planning our next trip.

Travel – seeing that world beyond your back yard, challenging the assumptions that color every one of your everyday activities, hearing strange sounds, smelling intoxicating smells, tasting flavors and combinations your mouth has never known before and feeling the warmth of strangers who go out of the way to lend you, the true stranger (the Italians call foreigners stranieri) – a helping hand when you are lost or tired or just don’t know how things work – is a powerful reminder of how connected we are to each other and to our world. And I love it. Especially because we lose sight of those connections so easily in our day to day lives.

With so many distractions and enticements around us as we motor through our daily lives, we can find ourselves alienated from our very selves, too easily running off here and there instead of enjoying the moment and what the moment affords us. This alienation can happen when we travel, too, but for most of us it doesn’t. And I have yet to meet anyone who has traveled to Umbria who hasn’t felt that he or she reconnected with something inside him or herself and with others in that magical place.

That is the magic not just of travel, but of travel in Umbria.

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So just what is so special about Umbria? Umbria by its very nature encourages you not to visit but to experience.

Umbria has that natural ease, that comfort of an old pair of jeans or a favorite old shirt. It may be a little frayed around the cuff here or there, but you wouldn’t trade it in for anything.

Approachable. Accessible. Authentic.

That is Umbria.

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Loaded with history. With culture. With tradition. With every step you take, with every glance at its rolling landscape, you could write a semester-long curriculum. Here is where Hannibal defeated the Roman legions. And there is where struggling medieval tradesmen took a middle eastern art form – majolica (ceramics) – and made it their own. Over there is an arch from the Etruscans, inscribed with a tribute to the Roman emperor Augustus. History piled atop history serving as a fascinating foundation for a modern world.

The rolling hills burn orange and red in the fall, blanketed by gnarled vines issuing forth grape varieties that were first introduced hundreds of years ago, when Vannucci (better known as il Perugino) was training his pupil Raffaelo, and even today those wines – wines that are as much a part of this place as Lake Trasimeno or Monte Subassio – are served with the same rustic fare that was created a millennium ago by peasant farmers who were poor in material wealth yet rich in lifestyle, grace be to the even richer soil of this place. Towering mountains and rolling green hills thrust their peaks into the sparkling clear sky as cool streams and rivers tumble over stones and boulders on their way to Rome. Il cuore verde d’Italia. Umbria truly is Italy’s green heart.


Umbria is known as the land of saints, boasting more native born saints than any other region, including Saint Claire and Santa Rita, Saint Valentine and Scholastica, Europe’s patron saint Benedict and the granddaddy of them all, Saint Francis. Is there something mystical and sacred in Umbria that has spawned all of these saints, or were they simply inspired to greatness by this place? In the end the answer really doesn’t matter. But to be in Umbria, finding yourself under a carpet of stars blazing in a sea of blackness on a perfectly quiet night, is to be powerless to resist pondering that very question.

Even today you feel it in Umbria, that sense of the sacred, of the possible. You hear it on the wings of the birds that flutter from cypress to cypress. You feel it on your skin during a steamy summer sunset or a crisp spring noon. You smell and see it on a foggy autumn morning.

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But most of all you see it in the faces of the Umbrians themselves. Faces that look unflinchingly toward the future with confidence and hopefulness but who never fear to pause and make eye contact with the present. Who open their doors and their hearts to their families, friends and to strangers alike. Whose roots run deep into the soil and reach all the way to their glorious past. Gaining nourishment from it and keeping it alive and fresh and relevant.

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I have long tinkered with the idea of writing a guidebook to our Umbria. And I am sure that it would be a long and interesting guidebook indeed. But in my opinion it would be a far, far better thing to visit Umbria yourself – to experience Umbria – and to inscribe that book in your mind and in your heart. And when you do, I will be the first one to invite you to give a private reading.



Umbria Travel 001Thinking of traveling Umbria?  Don’t plan your trip without talking to us first.  It could the difference between visiting Umbria and experiencing Umbria.

And be sure to check out our blog – Dolce Vita – for stories about our experiences in il cuore verde d’Italia.

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