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 Events  Share this article     Summary of Corkscrew column Not Just Wine 
  Corkscrew Issue 41, May 2006   
Umbrian Cooking and WineUmbrian Cooking and Wine  Contents 
Issue 40, April 2006 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 42, June 2006

Umbrian Cooking and Wine

Cereals, legumes and vegetables: these are the main ingredients of Umbrian cooking, the cuisine of a land far from the sea, humble and genuine however rich of flavors and tastes

 Umbria is the only region of peninsular Italy which does not have coastlines bordering the sea, its “central” position, absolutely located in the inland of the country and characterized by the beauty of natural views, have made it call the green heart of Italy. Being far from the sea means - in Umbria as well as in other areas having no coastlines - the absence of fish from tables. However in Umbria is found the fourth lake of Italy, Trasimeno lake, and the region has many rivers, including Tiber which flows from north to south crossing the whole length of the region. Thanks to them, Umbrian gastronomy can count many recipes based on fish, of course, sweet water fish. Being far from the sea also means the presence on the tables of products of the earth and, last but not the least, meat, in particular pork meat. In Umbrian cooking are in fact abundantly present cereals, legumes and vegetables of any kind, wild aromatic herbs and, whenever possible, meat - pork and lamb - and sometimes sweet water fish. The only exception for sea fish is represented by dried salted cod that, after having been dried, it can be easily kept.

The exquisite ``torta al testo'' with
its most typical matching with ham and ``barbozzo''
The exquisite “torta al testo” with its most typical matching with ham and “barbozzo”

 Umbrian cooking is simple in its definition, it is based on the genuineness of simple things capable of surprising even the palate of the most refined and exacting gourmets. A cuisine having its origins from the peasant world, made of few and poor things, however majestically seasoned with that bit of fantasy and intelligence which allowed the compensation to the opulence offered by wellness. However, in its apparent gastronomical poverty, Umbria is a land extremely rich in culinary delicacies, including his majesty olive oil, king truffle, woods capable of giving mushrooms, wild and aromatic herbs: delicacies which do not having less than other foods. If we observe the placid and suggestive views of Umbria, it could be noticed endless hills colored with the gray-green of olive trees' leaves, neat vineyards from which are being obtained excellent wines. But also large fields colored with the gold of wheat spikes, sunflowers and corn. Moreover, the green heart of Italy has a particular predilection for two foods: cereals and legumes - in particular broad beans and beans - something which makes usually define the people of Perugia with the funny saying «Perugino bean eater, the more he eats, the more they are good».


The Cooking of Etruscans

 The predilection of Umbrians to the consumption of cereals and legumes, as well as vegetables, is probably a heritage having its origins in the ancient times of Etruscans, the majestic people which founded Perugia and who established in the left bank of Tiber river until the beginning of the colonization of ancient Romans. The rich consumption of cereals - such as wheat, spelt, barley and oat - is still today very common in Umbria, proven by the richness of the countless soups made with these cereals. Also the consumption of legumes is very high, such as beans, chickpeas, broad beans and lentils, as well as the excellent fagiolina del lago Trasimeno - locally called risina because of its white and tiny seed similar to rice - an exquisite and tasty Umbrian legume. Fagiolina del Lago Trasimeno is not the only exquisite legume we can find in Umbria. Very renowned and looked for is also the extraordinary lentil from Castelluccio di Norcia, with its unmistakable taste and with seeds of tiny size, this legume is present in this area for more than 5000 years, as it is proven by some seeds of lentils found in some tombs of the neolithic era.


 With cereals - just like in other Italian regions - are made many buns and breads, including the renowned and exquisite torta al testo, a monument of extraordinary and tasty simplicity that, also in this case, has its origin from the ancient times of Etruscans. Torta al testo is a sort of a flat bread, simply made of wheat flour, water, a little of olive oil and very little of salt. In its original version, the use of yeast was not part of the recipe, however the use of beer yeast or sodium bicarbonate became common during the course of centuries. The secret and the absolute protagonist of torta al testo, very simple and poor in its ingredients, is testo, that is a disc of stone, heat on embers and on which it is put the torta to be cooked, while making holes on its surface with a fork in order to avoid its excessive rising. Torta al testo, besides being the traditional and tasty replacement for bread in Umbria, it is generally stuffed, when it is still hot and after having been cut in slices, with the tasty ham of this land, boiled vegetables - here usually called “erba” - roasted sausages, cheese and any other thing suggested by fantasy. Another delicacy is the tasty torta di Pasqua (Easter cake), prepared with flour, Parmesan and pecorino cheese, eggs and lard, consumed during Easter and usually stuffed with capocollo - one of the many cold cuts of Umbria - or used to accompany hard eggs.

 From the Etruscan era has also reached our times, together with many other recipes which have evolved in the course of the centuries, the traditional pasta dolce (sweet pasta), typically prepared and consumed in the vigil of Christmas. It is usually prepared with maccheroni, which were in ancient times seasoned with breadcrumbs, walnut kernels and honey, to which, with time, have been added cinnamon, cocoa powder and alchermes. The history and the roots of Umbrian cooking are pretty singular, it could be defined as a cooking which has evolved in an autochthonous way, as it is hard to find influences from the culinary cultures of the bordering regions. Something similar has also happened to the dialects of Umbria, including the dialect of Perugia, with evident influences of Latin, which is however different from any other dialect, including the ones which are spoken at few kilometers of distance, therefore confirming, in a sense, the historical custom of the region to be close. The same can be said for cooking, whose recipes are not found elsewhere, maybe for the richness of that ancient people who strongly influenced the development, culture and traditions of Umbria.


The Richness of Simplicity

 In the Umbrian cooking, besides the vast presence of the products of the earth, are also used the many products spontaneously growing in woods, such as mushrooms, asparaguses, wild herbs and fruits, aromatic black and white truffles. Not only foods of vegetal origin, of course. In Umbria there is a long tradition associated to the processing of meat, cold cuts and salami, in particular in the area of Norcia, the city from which the terms norcineria and norcino come, used to define the skilled artisan capable of processing pork meat and to make excellent cold cuts and salami. Pork is the queen meat of Umbria, followed by ovine meat, animals from which - besides the other things - is obtained the milk for the production of excellent pecorino cheese, made all over the territory of the region, however, also in this case, Norcia represents one of the most important place for the production of cheese in Umbria. Despite Umbria is the only region of peninsular Italy having no coastlines, its people is jokingly called “magnalische” (fishbones eaters) as well as “magnalasche”, because of their predilection for one of the most common fishes of Trasimeno lake.

 “Lasca” is the name used here to call “alborella”, a sweet water fish of silver color, usually consumed when it is still of a small size - for this reason it is commonly called “laschina”, small “lasca” - typically fried. Another fish consumed in Umbria is bass fish, usually fried or used for making some soups. Also eel plays a fundamental role in Umbrian cooking, in particular in the areas of Trasimeno lake. Here eel is grilled or cooked on a spit, and in particular for the preparation of tegamaccio, in which eel is stewed with fresh tomatoes. Another delicacy of Trasimeno lake is regina in porchetta, that is roasted carp and aromatized with a battuto, a mixture of lard, garlic, wild fennel, rosemary and black pepper. In the areas of the lakes Trasimeno, Corbara and Piediluco, are typical the recipes made with tench - usually prepared with rice and pasta - and pike, typically roasted or grilled. The only sea fish which is part of the culinary tradition of Umbria is dried salted cod - which arrived in the region dried and salted - usually stewed or, typical in the province of Perugia, cooked with prunes.

 As for meat, pork is the most present and the most used one in Umbrian cooking. Pork meat is usually broiled, typical are also pork sausages, typically on the spit or grilled. In Umbria, like it is said in other places, nothing of pork is thrown away. Here it is in fact very common using pork skin, here called codica, in particular the one of ham, very tasty, and used for making one of the most classical recipes of Umbria: fagioli con le codiche (beans with pork's skin). In Umbria pork also means a long tradition and skilled production of cold cuts and salami, from the tasty hams - which are usually consumed with torta al testo or the simple bread of this land - as well as fresh and dried sausages, salami, the most famous one is corallina, and mazzafegati, sausages made of pork liver, and mortadella Umbra, different from the renowned version from Bologna. As for salami and cold cuts, typical are capocollo - produced with the back of the pork and aromatized with spices, herbs and garlic - pancetta (pork's belly), also rolled and here called ventresca, guanciale (pork's cheek), here called barbozzo. Because nothing of pork is thrown away, typical is also coppa, produced with the head, snout, ears and skin of pork, finely cut and aromatized with salt, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and orange skin, compressed and boiled in a bag of fabric.

 In Umbria it is also common the consumption of boar meat, from which are obtained hams and sausages, and typically braised after having been marinated in a full bodied red wine for a long time. As for other meats, in Umbria are also consumed ovine meats - roasted, grilled, stewed and casserole - as well as game, such as hare, pheasant and thrush. Among the most important meat are also typical the ones of chicken, goose, guinea-fowl, pigeon and rabbit, usually roasted and pillottati, a particular Umbrian technique consisting in using hot and boiling lard drops, in order favor its penetration in the meat during cooking therefore making it very tasty. Very common are also chicken giblets - here called rigaji - stewed or braised, as well as for the preparation of the typical Umbrian patê (crostini), and a ragout used for seasoning tagliatelle con i rigaji (tagliatelle with giblets). As for pasta, the ones typical in Umbria are very simple and poor, made with wheat flour and water, such as in case of umbricelli and strangozzi in the province of Perugia, or ciriole typical in the area of Terni. Among egg pasta, the most common is tagliatelle. As for typical Umbrian stuffed pasta are mentioned cappelletti (small hats), different from the ones prepared in Emilia-Romagna.

 During holidays are typical lasagne and cannelloni, pasta rolls stuffed with minced and aromatized meat, cooked in the oven after having been seasoned with ragout. In Umbria a typical association for pasta are legumes, such as broad beans, beans and lentils. Countless are also the soups in which are used both cereals and legumes, as in the case of the tasty imbrecciata of Perugia. It should be noticed that here in Umbria soups are always enriched with the generous and aromatic local olive oil. As for desserts, in Umbria they are typically prepared with the same simplicity of the other dishes. Simple cakes, although tasty, most of the cases prepared in occasion of holidays. Strufoli, frappe, torciglione, pinoccate, ciaramicola, torcolo, torcolo di San Costanzo, rocciata di Assisi, fregnacce, panpepato di Terni, torta di Pasqua dolce, fave dei morti, tozzetti and pinolate: just a short review of the many sweet and simple delicacies of Umbria. Recipes of which should be talked in a more thoroughly way, including historical and gastronomical aspects, as well as the rich culinary culture of Umbria “green heart of Italy”, a small region, but big for tradition, culture, art and history, and not only in the dish.


The Matching with Wine

 The enogastronomical richness of Umbria is also found is the good selection of wines produced in the region. Despite Sagrantino - the magnificent and extraordinary Umbrian grape - is recently getting more and more popular, Umbria also offers other excellent wines which can be perfectly matched to its cooking. Long is in fact the wine making tradition of Torgiano, in the province of Perugia, and Orvieto, in the province of Terni. The many and tasty salami of Umbria - usually consumed with torta al testo or with the simple Umbrian bread - are well matched to some full bodied wines produced with the white Grechetto, an autochthonous grape of Umbria, as well as red wines from Colli Perugini or Colli Altotiberini. Cereals, one of the fundamental foods of Umbrian cooking and which are expressed in the countless soups, can be well matched to the many white wines of the region, such as Torgiano Bianco, Malvasia Bianca dei Colli Amerini and the whites of Orvieto. As for the tasty torta al testo, its matching is mainly determined by the ingredients used for stuffing: red wines for sausages, cheese and some salami, white wines for vegetables.

 Also the matching to legumes is mainly determined on how they are prepared. Pasta with broad beans or with legumes can be matched to Grechetto as well as to some red wines of the province of Perugia. The preparation of stewed beans, in particular, fagioli con le codiche, will be well matched to good bodied red wines, as well as the pasta prepared with the rich and robust Umbrian ragout, frequently made with chicken giblets. Meat dishes, usually roasted, broiled, grilled or braised, can be matched to red wines from Torgiano, reds from Colli Amerini, Montefalco and Colli del Trasimeno. The robust game will be well matched to Sagrantino di Montefalco and Torgiano reserve, as well as full bodied wines from Colli del Trasimeno. As for desserts, the enological production of Umbria mainly offers Vin Santo (Holy Wine) and Sagrantino Passito di Montefalco, wines which can be also matched to Umbrian hard pecorino cheese. However it is Vin Santo the wine which is mainly matched in Umbria to desserts, such as in the case of tozzetti, tasty biscuits with almonds and anise.


 Events  Share this article     Summary of Corkscrew column Not Just Wine 
  Corkscrew Issue 41, May 2006   
Umbrian Cooking and WineUmbrian Cooking and Wine  Contents 
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