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Gourmet Pastas and Sauces on-line

umbrian cuisine
(more recipes)

Umbria, green and wise. Although crushed between Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, and Lazio, this region has managed to conserve its original simplicity founded on certain basic ingredients: olive oil, among the best in Italy, the hog, the lamb, durham wheat pasta of the best quality and the colombaccio, the wood-pigeon that Umbrians love.

Let's begin the roundup with a real speciality: the precious black tartufo from Norcia. Hunting this treasure is a secret jealously kept by its masters and it's hard to find a friend in Norcia who will take you along for the hunt because the locations are a secret handed down by one generation to another in the local families.

Norcia has another speciality: the treatment of hog meat. The term "norcino" means to butcher and prepare sausages, all excellent, and the extraordinary "mazzafegati" which are sausages made from hog's liver, orange peel, pine nuts, raisins and sugar.

Cooking in Umbria is varied: meat, fish, cereals, vegetables, spices, and herbs are equally important and combined with an enviable equilibrium, so it doesn't seem right to define this cooking as "poor." Perhaps "essential" is a better description with its proud and primitive disdain for any kind of sophistication. In Foligno, for example, delicious "minestroni" (soups) with a fresh vegetable base are made with egg pasta. Wild pigeons are served in the fall with a sauce made with oil, wine, vinegar, and herbs. In the local fairs stuffed "porchetta" is often served, young roasted pig served with a strong flavour of wild fennel. A favourite dish in Todi is sweet and sour ox tongue and at Cascia they prepare, with a very old recipe, veal with tartufo. In the towns around Lake Trasimeno the local fish is baked or braised, seasoned with fragrant herbs.

This is the land of the ancient Etruscans, and studies of frescoes in the ancient tombs show that the locals eat in a manner very similar to that of their ancestors.


All over Italy there are various kinds of baked breads or toasts spread with a equally great variety of toppings. In Umbria these tend to be based on olives and to resemble very much the provencal tapenade that, like its Umbrian relation, could well go back to a classical Roman tradition for olive and anchovy pastes. You can make this paste in advance and store it in the fridge under a little olive oil and clingfilm for up to a fortnight. It's pretty strongly flavoured and a little goes quite a long way.

Black Olive Crostini
250g/ 8oz black olives, pitted (stone removed)
1 tin anchovy fillets in oil
1 clove of garlic
25g/ 1oz capers (removed from their vinegar and rinsed)
125ml/ 4fl oz olive oil
grated rind of 1 orange

You can make this by hand with a pestle and mortar but much the simplest way is to place all the ingredients together in a food processor and process for about 10-15 seconds. Scrape the sides down and process again for about 4 or 5 seconds. The mixture should be fairly smooth but should contain some texture.

Put it into small earthenware or ceramic pots, cover with a thin layer of olive oil, cover and keep it in the fridge. To use, spread it quite thinly (not quite as thinly as marmite but only just) on slices of good bread that have been toasted in the oven or under the grill until light gold. Serve immediately with plenty to drink as the flavor is intense and salty.

Olive all'Ascolana - Ascolian Olives
20 jumbo Italian olives from Ascoli
1/2 pound Italian fennel salami, chopped and crumbled, or chopped in a food processor until quite fine
2 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 cups olive oil for frying

Heat oil to 375 degrees F.

Pit olives carefully. Stuff 1 teaspoon chopped salami into each olive. Set up breading station with eggs, cracked and beaten in one plate, flour in a second plate and bread crumbs in a third. Roll olives in egg, then flour and bread crumbs. Fry olives until golden brown. Serve warm as an aperetivo.

Olive Nere marinate - Orange and Thyme Marinated Black Olives
Use a vegetable peeler to remove thin strips of just the orange part or zest of the orange peel. The flavor of this appetizer improves with age so don't be tempted to rush the marinating time.

1 pound brine-cured black olives
4 pieces [each 1/2 x 2 inches] orange zest, cut into long thin strips
1 tablespoon [1/2-inch pieces] fresh thyme sprigs
2 cloves garlic, bruised with side of knife
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup Bertolli Extra Virgin Olive Oil

In a container with a tight fitting lid combine the olives, orange zest, pieces of fresh thyme, garlic, pepper and olive oil. Cover tightly and shake container vigorously. Marinate in the refrigerator at least 2 days, stirring contents occasionally, before serving. Serve at room temperature.

Serves: 12


Asparagus Pasta Sauces:

In Bianco - White Sauce
1/2 C chopped (1 inch) wild asparagus (or use fresh, domestic asparagus)
1 - 2 cloves garlic
Pepperoncino (optional, to taste)
1 1/2 TBS extra virgin olive oil or unsalted butter
A pinch or two of oregano (optional)
Fresh, minced parsley (optional - can either be sauteed with garlic or sprinkled over pasta just before serving. Experiment!)
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Reggiano Parmigiano cheese Spaghetti or fresh fettucine

Bring a large pot of water to boiling, add TBS of cooking salt, and throw in the pasta. Heat the oil in a frying pan and saute the garlic until light brown. Add optional herbs. Add the asparagus - continue to saute until asparagus is slightly soft - not mushy. Add salt and pepper to taste. .When the pasta is done, drain and turn out into preheated serving dish. Pour on the sauteed asparagus, mix, pour on the cheese and mix again. Add a TBS or two of the water used to cook the pasta if too dry. Serve

Alternate Method: 'pan finish' - effective with white sauces including cheese, as ingredients are hotter when mixed.

Prepare pasta as above. eat the oil in a frying pan LARGE enough to hold ingredients AND pasta, and saute the garlic until light brown. . Add the asparagus - continue to saute until asparagus is slightly soft - not mushy. Add salt and pepper to taste. .When the pasta is done, drain and turn into frying pan containing prepared ingredients (heat still on), mix, add cheese, mix again and serve. Add a TBS or two of the water used to cook the pasta if too dry.

'In Rosso' - Red Sauce
1/2 cup chopped wild asparagus (approximately 1" length)
2 cloves garlic
Pepperoncino (optional, to taste)
1 TBS extra virgin olive oil or unsalted butter
1 pound of fresh, peeled tomatoes, or 16 oz canned tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
A pinch or two of oregano (optional)
Fresh, minced parsley (optional)
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Reggiano Parmigiano cheese (on the table)
Spaghetti or fresh fettucine

Bring a large pot of salted water to boiling, add the pasta. Heat the oil in a frying pan and saute the garlic until light brown. Add the asparagus - continue to saute until asparagus is slightly soft but not mushy. Add tomatoes and cook until reduced to preferred consistency. Salt and pepper to taste. When the pasta is done (8-12 minutes for 'al dente'), drain and turn out into preheated serving dish. Pour on the sauteed asparagus, mix, and serve.

NOTE: You can also use fresh, young domestic asparagus

Serves 4


Lamb with Truffles
1 Thigh from a young lamb
120 grams black truffle crushed in a mortar
1 lemons
1/10 litre olive oil

Cut the lamb in large pieces and brown it in a casserole, add salt to taste plus four anchovies with the spines removed and crushed in a mortar. Halfway through the cooking (about half an hour) remove lamb for a moment and pour out the fat accumulated in the pan. Add the juice of two lemons with a bit of water. Continue to cook over a low fire, check after twenty minutes for doneness, the meat near the bone should be tender and no longer pink, remove from the flame and add the truffles, carefully turning the pieces of lamb to mix. Cover the pot and let rest for ten minutes before serving.

Serves 4

Sausages with Lentils
The sausages for this dish will almost certainly, in Umbria and the Marches, be the fennel flavoured pork sausages that are so common there, but impossible to find except in one or two Italian delicatessens in Britain. I personally favour the coarse but beef sausages often made with Aberdeen Angus beef that a number of our better supermarket chains have begun selling recently, but you may have a local butcher who will make you good, coarse cut, meat rich sausages. Traditionally, this dish is cooked with the lentils and the sausages kept separate until they arrive on the plate. I think putting them together for a little while beforehand improves the flavour and texture of both.

250g/ lb green or brown lentils (the red ones won't do for this)
2 tbsp olive oil
250g/ lb onions
4 stalks of celery
2 carrots
750g/ 1 lb good, meaty, coarse ground sausages
4 plum or similar tomatoes
1 tsp fennel seeds (optional)
salt and pepper

Soak the lentils in plenty of water for at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours. Throw the water away. In a pan which will take all the lentil ingredients and the sausages in due course, put the olive oil and fry gently the cleaned and chopped onion, celery, and carrot. Add the lentils. Cover with water to a depth of 2cm/1in above the boil. Simmer gently for about half an hour until the lentils are cooked and almost all the water is absorbed. You may need to add a little more depending on the individual lentils you're using. Chop up the tomatoes and add those to the lentil mixture, seasoning generously at this point. Fry the sausages, either in their won fat or in a little extra oil, until they are well browned. Add them and the fennel seeds, if you are using them, to the lentil mixture, making sure that the mixture is still quite runny and moist. Cook with the lid on and the sausages at least partly buried for another 15 minutes over a very low heat for the flavours to blend. Serve each person their sausages and lentil in a deep plate. The lentil should still be, while not soupy, quite moist and runny. No other vegetable is needed at this point. A good salad afterwards is wonderfully refreshing. Serves 4

Pollo Trifolata - Chicken with Mushrooms & Truffles
1 chicken, cut up into small pieces
6 tablespoons virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 pound Portobello mushrooms, caps cut into 1/4inch strips
4 ounces black truffles, thinly sliced
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons tomato conserva or paste
1 cup chicken stock
1 bunch Italian parsley, finely chopped to yield 1/4 cup

Wash and pat chicken dry and dredge in flour. In a 14 inch frying pan, heat olive oil until just smoking. Brown pieces of chicken until golden, 3 or 4 at a time. Remove to a plate. Continue until all the pieces are done. Add garlic and cook until light brown. Add Portobello mushrooms and truffles and saute until soft, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add wine and tomato conserva and stir through. Add broth and chicken pieces and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 20 minutes or until the juices of a thick piece of chicken run clear. Add parsley and serve immediately.

Serves 4

Contorni di Verdura - Vegetable Side Dishes

Asparagi Al Forno - Baked Asparagus
Asparagus is very dear to Italians, especially in the north where we like to serve it with butter and Parmesan and dip into a fried egg This more rustic Umbrian version with olive oil is equally delicious and probably has more flavor.

800 g / 1-1/2 lb. white or green asparagus
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
90 ml / 6 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
50 g / 2 oz (1/2 cup) freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C / 350 degrees F / gas mark 4. Clean the asparagus the trim off the woody ends of the stalks if necessary. Place the asparagus in a pan of lightly salted boiling water and cook for about 8 minutes over a moderate heat. The water should be simmering, not boiling.

Drain with a slotted spoon and lay the asparagus in a buttered terra-cotta dish. Season with a pinch of salt and black pepper. Drizzle the olive oil over the top and sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake in the preheated oven for about 6-7 minutes, until lightly golden.

Serves 4

The sure sign of spring in Umbria is a new crop of hunters' Fiats and Peugeots parked higgledy-piggledy along the back country roads.

In winter, these hunters would be after pheasants or wild boar. But the season for game is over and hunters now answer a different call - the call of the wild asparagus.

Normally sane people dress in high boots and old clothes, arm themselves with sticks, climb over strangers' fences and head into the underbrush - hot in pursuit of the elusive, succulent stalks. The hunters carry sticks to roust any snoozing snakes (snakes love the same rocky, sunny patches that asparagus likes) that might lie between them and their quarry.

Possible dangers, the fact that you could spend half a day and find only enough asparagus to whet your appetite, or that you are foraging on someone else's land, only serve heighten the gastronomic pleasure when you finally sit down to eat them.

Asperges pierreus or 'Stone Sparage' is dark green, and the largest stalks are about the diameter of a lead pencil and about 18 inches long with a miniature version of the classic asparagus head.

They can be hard to see amongst the undergrowth, and shifting patterns of light will effect an individual's success rate in finding them. Many hunters have a favorite time of day, often early or towards sunset when the angle of the light seems to set the stalks in higher relief.

A good handful ('mazzo') of wild asparagus will suffice to make a delicious meal for two or tasty for four.

Most vegetables and herbs can now be found fresh year round in Italy, but no-one has yet come up with anything like wild asparagus. Which makes it taste even better!


Asparagus Omelet or 'Fritata'
1/2 C chopped (1 inch) wild asparagus (finer if domestic)
Sliver of garlic (to taste)
1 TBS of extra-virgin olive oil, or unsalted butter, or combination (the oil keeps the butter from burning)
3 eggs
salt and and fresh-ground black pepper
A pinch or two of oregano (optional)
Fresh, minced parsley (optional)
1/4 C Parmigiano cheese

You will need an iron frying pan, or a pan which you can slide under your top grill. In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs and set to one side. Gently saute the garlic in oil until light brown - add optional spices if desired. Add the asparagus and saute until slightly soft. Take pan off heat. Using a spatula or slotted spoon to hold the ingredients to one side, tip the pan to allow the remaining oil to drain to the other side of pan. Move the ingredients to the bowl with the beaten eggs, leaving the remaining oil in the pan. Add salt and pepper and cheese. Mix well. Return pan to heat, add remaining butter or oil - if butter let bubble but not brown. Pour ingredients of bowl into pan. Turn heat to low, let fritata cook slowly... the time depends on ratio of size of pan to amount of ingredients. When firm around the edges, remove and finish under top grill.

Note: asparagus has a very delicate flavor. How much and how brown the garlic, use of olive vs. butter, optional spices or herbs like oregano and/or parsley, kind and amount of cheese can dramatically alter the flavor of the dish.

Serves 2


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