A FEW GOOD DAYS IN UMBRIA
September 10th 2015
Early in the morning, at Bordeaux (Mérignac) airport our one big group splits into two smaller ones. In my group I have four girls: Mia 12, Louise 7, Gaïa 4 and Audrey 1. Oddur has: Gunnhildur 19 and Hudson 9 + two dogs, Humfri and his 10-month old son Dick (for all humorous suggestions regarding that name please contact Yolanda Edwards at Condé Nast Publications – she will love it!) Oddur dubs his team, who are taking the Land Rover all the way to Rome, “the brave team”, and us, the high-flyers, “the primadonnas”. When Gaïa asks who will arrive there first I realize she hasn’t traveled much. Hudson, though, is optimistic and thinks they have a small chance of beating us. “Maybe there will be a delay” he says. “That would be some delay” I think to myself as I kiss them all goodbye.
It turns out there is no delay and “the primadonnas” arrive in Rome on schedule ready to face the eternal city. A big lunch is first on the menu. I stop at the first place I see that looks decent. Zucchini fritters, amatriciana pasta, lamb chops with chicory! None of the girls have been to Rome before so we make all the necessary stops, the Panthéon, the Spanish steps, the obligatory ice cream every 15 minutes. We walk so much that in the evening we are exhausted and just stay in our rooms that night, making an improvised dinner with Italian delicacies. News reaches us that the other, braver team is still in France but about to cross the border.
September 11th 2015
I wake up with a huge smile on my face, my bed filled with girls of all ages. Within minutes I am strolling the streets of Rome, 4 girls in tow, heading to one of my favorite places in the whole world – The Galleria Doria Pamphilj. This city agrees with me. Big time. On the way to Doria Pamphilj I have a Macchiato AND a Cappucino at Café Tassa d’Oro and then we spend a good 3 hours at the museum. By now I have been informed that the brave team arrived around 11 O’clock the night before at a rather funny hotel in a place in Liguria called St. Bartolomeo and checked into a hotel where, in the lobby, an aging DJ was entertaining the crowds who at some point got swept into a full-blown Conga. They had a very late lunch at one of about a million places in Italy called Da Luigi and though the atmosphere was wanting the food, apparently was close to great. They are now heading for Rome and should meet us for lunch at a family favorite, La Matricianella, near piazza San Lorenzo.
I am bad with directions and worse with names and though I am very late, having gotten carried away at Doria Pamphilj, I arrive proudly on time at the wrong place called Amatricianella, instead of the preferred Matricianella. When I finally land at the right restaurant my husband is already there and Hudson, shouts through the rain that is by now flooding Roman streets “We won, we won”. Louise, ever competitive, refuses to grant him the victory and gets stubbornly soaked as she won’t sit at the victor’s table on the terrace. We have a wonderful lunch, more pastas, lamb, chicory, pannacottas and a nice bottle of Rosso di Montalcino.
After wandering the wet streets of Rome we decide to have dinner at the conveniently located Dal Bolognese, just a few steps from our hotel, the Locarno. A restaurant more famous for flair than food, but an enjoyable spot nonetheless and somehow part of my regular Rome experience. When it comes to restaurant I often go for the old-fashioned rather than the latest and the greatest. Sitting on the terrace of Dal Bolognese, admiring the beauty of Piazza del Popolo, we spot a paparazzi (just one – usually there are more). Louise asks if he’s there for me. When I realize that she actually thinks that, I tell her that though my book has admittedly been translated into Italian, the chances of that are, well, slim. We soon find out who he’s targeting. At the next table are two lovely ladies who between them have graced the walls of more teenage rooms than probably any other in history. James Bond’s first lover Honey Rider (I’m talking of Ursula of course) and her friend, the original 10, Bo Derek. They pose patiently for a few “selfies” with fans and when they leave, Mia suddenly runs after them and chases them to their taxi. They are already in and she doesn’t get her shot. When she comes back she says in her thick French accent “It’s OK, I don’t even know who they are”. Then she shrugs her shoulders and finishes her dessert.
September 12th 2015
Getting ready for our ride to Umbria we have one last lunch in Rome, again close to the hotel at a very good pizzeria called Pizza Ré. It’s exactly what we need before our trip, cold beer, delicious pizza, deep-fried mozzarella and crispy salads. Umbria, here we come.
This time the teams are different. I may be one of the original “primadonnas” but a couple of hours driving won’t kill me. We are still the “primadonnas” but Oddur joins our team (yes he joins my team, not the other way round) and Mia joins the “brave team” who will take the train to Terni, Umbria. We the “primadonnas” arrive safely at our destination, a lovely house, with an even lovelier pool, near Todi, Umbria. Later that night Oddur drives to Todi to pick up the others who are arriving there via train and two buses. He spends some time waiting at a very good wine bar, where he strikes up a friendship with the owner talking about wine, French and Italian. The other team is delayed so I use what is left to me by the gods of the house, garlic, onion, tomato passata and spaghetti to make a surprisingly satisfying dinner for me and the rest of the “primadonnas”.
Later that night Oddur cooks, what he confesses, is a below par meal of wild boar sausages, my leftover pasta and some other oddities. That night we all sleep well.
September 13 – 18 2015
What follows that first night of lacklustre cooking is a week of spectacular food, at the house (or casa as we say in Italian) or in restaurants. Documenting every day, every meal, would be fun for me but perhaps tedious for you guys – think the uncle with the three-hour slide show – so let me just stick to the highlights.
Our first meal out is with Oddur’s new friends at a somewhat modern, yet traditional wine bar in Todi. Great wine and food! The showstopper: the outstanding cured ham and the aubergine gratin with tomatoes. In fact it’s so good that it inspires me to make it myself the next day when I prepare my 4 monthly recipes for Elle France – this time with an Italian twist. Between dips in the pool and cooking dinners and lunches I find time to gather my thoughts and announce the dates for my 2016 workshops. It’s a strategic move as I know that in the quiet of the Umbrian countryside I will have time to answer all the incoming inquires and requests, some of my answers are written poolside – they are probably the sunniest ones.
And taking a pause from this little diary I just want to say that it makes me incredibly happy and humbled how many emails I have received and how fast the classes are filling up. (We still have places though, especially in April and November but some availability here and there, even if some classes are completely full). Thank you all so much for your interest in our little adventure here in Médoc.
Talking of holiday highlights we seem to always gravitate back to the same places once found. If a restaurant is that good, why go anywhere else. This time it’s a little place in Todi, called “Pane e Vino” that gets our vote. The décor is nothing out of the ordinary, even a bit tired. Had I not read somewhere that it was worth going to I might not have. But here is where we had our best food moments. The fried wild boar mortadella with creamy balsamic vinegar, the pumpkin risotto, the ricotta with thick, dark chocolate. In my dreams since I’ve been back to France I go back there every night.
When our trip is winding down, after walks in olive groves and fancy piazzas, after one too many bumpy vertical drives in the Umbrian hills with the whole family hanging on for their life, we decide to make a blog post with Umbrian recipes – I am inspired. On our last days I get all the necessary ingredients, start chopping, soaking the beans, preheat the oven. Just before I’m about to get really started Oddur pops into the kitchen and says “let’s go to Orvieto, I heard about this great place there called La Palomba”. Moments later the apron is off, the cooking will have to wait. If food is to be discovered, new places are there to be found – I may be one of the “primadonnas” but I will never be the girl who missed out.
La Palomba turns out to be a delightful family trattoria where we have our last meal out in Italy this time around. It’s all more or less delicious, the truffle pasta, the pigeon but my favorite is the walnut cake and the owner’s sunny attitude. In the evening Augusta, the ever smiling, amazing housekeeper cooks up a big feast for us back at the casa, an Italian barbecue extravaganza with so much food she must have thought we had 20 children. We might have known because earlier in the week she gave us a pizza lesson that resulted in 4 large pizzas, also for 20 people. Our favorites were the potato, mozzarella and oregano pizza, and the one with the most flavorful, fresh, cherry tomatoes. She told us to have the leftovers for breakfast and we did.
September 19 2015
The “Primadonnas” say goodbye to Oddur at the train station in Terni and we head to Rome where we will catch a direct flight to France. I am comfortably back in my own kitchen that same afternoon, cooking for 4 girls who are hungry from the trip. Well not so much cooking as sandwich making. The next two days are spent being entertained / frightened by reports from the “brave team”.
The brave team who are supposed to arrive in France that night get derailed looking for a tailor in Umbria, miss out on a luxury hotel in Provence and due to lack of hotel space end up sleeping in the car in Portofino. I suppose if you have to sleep in the car somewhere you might as well choose the poshest place you can possibly find. They have car trouble near Aix-en-Provence, end up sleeping in a very cool hotel in Arles and due to the delay Gunnhildur has to take a plane from Montpellier rather than Bordeaux to catch her connecting flight to Iceland. Oddur says their car trouble is nothing serious but later Mr. Souslikoff, our resident gentleman car mechanic, tells me that one of the front wheels nearly came off. I guess I have to admit that their travel story would probably be a better read than mine … but mine has better food.
Now, the recipes!
ps Some time after our return to France I got behind the stove and cooked up an Umbrian feast, the recipes I had meant to cook that day when our sense of adventure got the better of us and we went to Orvieto. It was a lovely lunch, and brought back memories of our holiday. Those are the photos you see accompanying the recipes.
For those who are interested, we stayed at a lovely villa near Todi in Umbria which we found through Tuscany Now. A special thanks to the wonderful team, especially Augusta, for the warm hospitality!
Imagine being by the fireplace on an Umbrian hill, sipping this comforting and delicious soup, dipping a grilled rustic slice of country bread drizzled with the best olive oil. I love farro and its surprising texture; this soup is a meal on its own. The chili flakes are optional, but with cold weather just around the corner, a little bit of extra heat is most welcome!
Farro Bean Soup
2 ounces finely sliced Prosciutto
1 onion finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
2 small carrots, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 (14 Ounce) can chopped tomatoes
1 zucchini, diced
100 g/ 3/4 cup green lentils
150 g/ 1 cup farro
A good handful of freshly chopped fresh Basil
Red hot pepper flakes (optional)
Salt & Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil or
Grated Parmesan, to garnish
Heat the olive oil in a large pot and cook the prosciutto for a few minutes. Add the carrot, celery and onion and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and zucchini, continue to cook for 2 minutes. Add the can of diced tomatoes. Season with salt & pepper, and half a teaspoon of chilli flakes (optional).
Add the equivalent of 3 to 4 cans of water. Bring to a simmer.
Add the farro and green lentils. Reduce the heat to low, cover and continue to cook for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables, farro and lentils are tender. If the soup is too thick, add more water and season accordingly.
Serve with leaves of basil, grated parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.
Scaloppine alla Perugina
450g/ 1 pound of thinly sliced veal fillet/scaloppine
55 g/ 2 ounces of prosciutto, diced finely
3 salted anchovies, bones removed
1 chicken liver, chopped as finely as possible
2 cloves of garlic, minced
8 sage leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon capers
The juice and zest of half a lemon
½ glass dry white wine
Plain flour, for dredging
A few sprigs of parsley leaves picked and chopped finely
A few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chop the prosciutto, anchovies, chicken liver and sage leaves as finely as possible.
In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil and cook the anchovies, prosciutto, chicken liver and sage leaves for 3 minutes. Add the capers, lemon zest and lemon juice. Stir constantly until all the ingredients are combined and soft. Season with salt and pepper. Add the white wine and leave to reduce for a minute or two. Add a tablespoon of butter and mix well. Set aside and keep warm.
Dust the veal fillets with the flour. In a large pan, heat the olive oil and butter on a high heat. Cook the veal for a minute on each side. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a plate.
Serve the veal and pour the sauce on top. Scatter parsley leaves on top. Serve with rosemary potatoes.
This was my favorite dessert of all during my stay in Umbria, served at Pane e Vino in the village of Todi (Via Ciufelli 33, 06059 Todi). Amazing creamy ricotta served with warm chocolate sauce and chunks of orange. I improvised and made my own version, added cream to the ricotta to make it creamier, and added orange zest.
Vanilla ricotta cream with chocolate sauce and orange zest
2 pots ricotta, strained
1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
150 g black chocolate (70% cocoa)
Zest of orange
Strain the ricotta though a sieve. In a large bowl, whisk the ricotta, heavy cream and the vanilla beans until thick and creamy with soft peaks.
Melt the chocolate until thick and glossy au bain-marie/ in a bowl over simmering water.
Scrape the zest of the orange.
On a serving plate, place a little nest of cream. Drizzle with the chocolate sauce and sprinkle the orange zest.