Tag Archives: Italy

Scenes From an Italian Restaurant

The cuisine of Umbria uses regional and seasonal ingredients to produce its simple, traditional dishes. Its rich soil, extensive farms, lakes and woodlands provide a plentiful larder of splendid ingredients for its tasty, robust dishes. I have been pleasantly surprised by the excellent quality of the food and wine of the region, although I am sure I have a lot to learn over the next few months.

Cured meats or salami are a speciality, with wild boar, pig and donkey being popular. But are the Palle de Nonno (Grandfather’s Balls) made from authentic ingredients?

Spello salami - artisan shop

Spello salami – artisan shop

Wild Boar

Wild Boar

Vegetables too are in plentiful supply, fresh, huge and delicious.

Shiny red tomatoes

Shiny red tomatoes

Mixed peppers

Mixed peppers

Umbria also produces high quality red and white wines which are respected throughout Italy. It has not been possible in a week to sample a huge selection, but we have sampled a fine white wine – Orvieto Classico Superiore – made from grechetto grapes from the Orvieto region. At just over 4 Euros a bottle, that was good value.

Orvieto Classico Superiore

Orvieto Classico Superiore

The top red sampled so far is Sagrantino di Montefalco. The native sagrantino grape has been recently revived; Sagrantino di Montefalco, which contains only that grape, is fast becoming Umbria’s flagship wine. It has a distinctive flavour, powerful and complex. A bottle of the very best from the famed vintner Arnold Caprai is on the shelf, waiting for that very special occassion.

Sagrantino di Montefalco

Sagrantino di Montefalco

The bottle picture above was savoured with an excellent lunch at the Ristorante Porta Venere, tucked away in a medieval cellar. We ate fresh bread with local olive oil, followed by rabbit stuffed with wild asparagus and proscuitto. 

Ristorante Porta Venere: Rabbit stuffed with wild asparagus and proscuitto.

Ristorante Porta Venere: Rabbit stuffed with wild asparagus and proscuitto.

A few days earlier we had had a completely different – but equally good – dining experience at the Osteria de Dada. A tiny place, stuffed with rowdy locals, no menu or wine list, one chef and one waitress! It could have been a recipe for disaster, but the house wine was great, the roast lamb and pork loin were exquisite, and the singing chef and waitress made for a thoroughly entertaining meal.

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Mary Don’t You Weep

Italy is a Catholic country. Around 90% of the population – so about 57 million people – describe themselves as Catholic, although not all practice their faith. Good Friday (Venerdi Santo) is marked throughout Italy by parades to remember the Passion of Christ. Spello is no exception, so the streets of the old town were closed to traffic (a blessing in itself!) and candles were lit throughout the streets. Our entrance looked enchanting.

Entrance to the Nunnery by candlelight.

Entrance to the Nunnery by candlelight.

The  historic centre exhibited large paintings of each of the 14 Stations of the Cross, and this formed the route for the evening procession (Via Crucis d’Autore). The crowds (hundreds of people) followed behind the group of priests and church officials. The local mayor and polizia were also present.

One of the Stations of the Cross, Spello

One of the Stations of the Cross, Spello

The Leaders of the Good Friday Procession

The Leaders of the Good Friday Procession

At each Station of the Cross the procession halted and extracts from the Gospel were read. Then the main priest – with his microphone in hand – led the followers in prayers and singing as they walked to the next Station.

We are not religious, but we are keen to experience the local traditions, and so we joined in with the procession (though not the prayers and singing!) around the steep streets in the shadow of churches and other buildings; those stones have overseen processions like this for hundreds of years, and hopefully will continue to do so for many more. A moving evening.

Ticket to Ride

The bags are packed. Just enough stuff to pack the Mini to capacity, so difficult choices have been made about what is important and what can be left behind. Farewells have been said and last suppers eaten (several times).

The plan is this:

20 March: leave home, overnight stay in Kent.  21 March: Eurotunnel to France. Drive through France, Switzerland and Italy. Not all in a day of course. Overnight stops will be made as necessary.  25 March: Arrive in Spello, Umbria. Magic Spello. At least we are hoping it will be magic.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Go forward and make your dreams come true.” That’s a good start.