If you come to Italy for just one thing, come for the gastronomic experience. If your heart is hardened to history, culture, art and beauty, come anyway and feast. Drink in the colours, breathe in the aromas and taste the wonderful, local, seasonal food that Italy has to offer.
As we drove along the winding roads to Montefalco we passed rows of neat vines heavy with the weight of magnificent bunches of grapes gleaming in the bright sunshine. The wine produced by these sun-kissed grapes is delicious, sometimes even divine.
“Beer is made by men, wine by God.” Martin Luther
We regarded it as our duty to try out as many local restaurants and bars as we could in order to give you a taste (no pun intended) of the local produce. Olive oil is one of Umbria’s best products and it features heavily in its recipes.
Salami, cheeses and unsalted bread is the most popular Umbrian antipasti dish – great for sharing.
Zuccini flowers stuffed with ricotta cheese and herbs was a favourite dish; these vegetables tasted like ambrosia.
“Wine is sunlight held together by water.” Galileo
What is fine food without fine wine? An incomplete experience surely.
Perhaps our biggest culinary treat was Sunday lunch with our Italian friends, cooked by la bella Mariella, who had taught us how to make ravioli on an earlier visit.
We started with a selection of Bruscetta, topped with aubergines, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh figs, speck and straccino cheese with wild rocket. A meal in itself, but this was Italy so this was merely the prelude.
Next we had ravioli, stuffed with spinach and ricotta in a light tomato sauce. It was a mouthful of flavours that left us wanting more, but knowing that there was more to come it was wise to decline.
Pappardelle with hare sauce arrived, a meaty, savoury dish that melted in the mouth. By now we were feeling full, but still we waited in anticipation for the main event.
Piled up plates of hare cooked with garlic, rosemary, slivers of olives and white wine, in a sauce of olive oil, capers, garlic, vinegar and parsley appeared, with dishes of spinach, perfectly seasoned. It was thoroughly delicious.
No Italian meal is complete without a dessert, and this lunch was no exception. Ciaramicola, a traditional Perugian dessert was served, red on the inside and covered with white meringue, the colours of the Perugian emblem. According to tradition, girls give this cake to their lovers at Easter; this would melt many an Italian man’s heart!
Did I mention the wine? Umbrian whites and reds accompanied each course. Afterwards there was an aniseed liqueur, known as a “coffee killer”, poured into strong espresso to hide the bitter after taste. I resisted photographing each course as I was too busy eating, so use your imagination to conjure up a meal fit for a king.
“I shall drink no wine before it’s time! OK, it’s time.” Groucho Marx