Cooking in Umbria

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Daniella & Luca

We hired a local couple to come to the Villa to teach a basic Umbrian cooking class. Daniella, head chef and her husband Luca, chef in training are owners of a growing family business. Luca was originally from Perugia and Daniella grew up right here in Umbertide. We enjoyed some of their own family’s 0live oil – which was amazing!

The Villa sports a fully stocked kitchen and a brand new chef-quality range. The theme of the class was “Our Food Our Roots: Preservation of Umbrian culinary traditions.” Basically, Umbria, a rural region boasts simple, flavorful and seasonal dishes.  A rather poor area of Italy, Umbrian cooks always make the most of simple ingredients, recycle leftovers and only add luxury ingredients like eggs and meat for special occasions. Umbria brings to Italy’s many culinary traditions ingredients such as olive oil, pork, lentils, truffle, salami and of course, wine.

The menu:

Appetizer: Pannpasato stuffed with Salami and Italian cheese w/Arugula.

Salad: Faro Salad and Chickpea Salad

Main: Roasted chicken with Potatoes

Desert: Strawberry cake with whipped cream

“A Kitchen without salt, a counter without bread, a cellar with no wine makes a bitter morning time”

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Wine is used to enrich nearly every dish and according to Daniella, Umbrians used to pour wine all the way to the top of the glass believing that otherwise the devil would dance inside. That’s my kind of pour! Umbria’s Docg wins include: Torgiano, Monefalco, Colli del Trasimeno and Orvieto.

“ A meal without wine is like a cloudy day”

Well, most of our days here were cloudy so we had plenty of wine on this trip! Below are the wonderful recipes shared with us, some of which we cooked and enjoyed over many days.

Pork Cuts with Apples and Grapes

Cut 800g pork meat into tiny cubes and roll them in flour

Cook on stovetop with an onion cut in pieces, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and white wine and salt – for about 20 minutes

Add 400g apple cubes and cook again for 10 minutes

Add 100g grapes (red and white) and leave on stovetop for 5 more minutes

About Onions

The “Cipolla di Cannara” is the most famous onion in Umbria. It is cropped twice per year, during summer and autumn and gathered into braids. This onion dates back to the 1600s. The onion is a core staple used in salads, sauces, omelets, pizza and so much more. Onions are said to heal a cough if baked, mashed and eaten with sugar, honey and cognac! Onion juice is thought to prevent acne if rubbed over the face and cheeks.

Trevi Black Celery 

Celery needs a wet soil to grow and grows from May to September. Celery is believed to help digestion and is good for the skin as it is a diuretic. Rich in vitamins, mineral salts it can help with sunburn and in some places has been thought to be a good aphrodisiac (so that told us anyway!). Trevi Black Celery is a typical plant cultivated near Trevi, a medieval Umbrian town, starting in the XVIII century when a cardinal decided to reclaim plain lands. According to tradition the black seeds of celery are planted the day before Easter and extracted when the plant has reached 30 CM. In Trevi, there is a fair of the Celery on the third Sunday in October. During the fair season the traditional breakfast is Black Celery in cassimperio (oil, salt and pepper) along with grilled sausages.

Boil celery and mix with sausages paste

Mix with flour and then roll them in one mixed egg

Fry in hot oil

Put them in a pot along with a meat sauce and bake for 45 minutes

Add Parmesan cheese and bit of butter and then grill for a few minutes

Lentil Soup

Lentils are one of the most ancient plants, originating in Mesopotamia at the beginning of rural civilization. In Umbria they are grown in Castelluccio, Colfiorito, Annifo.

Wash Lentils in cold water and oil.

In another pot, warm olive oil, garlic, sage and tomato sauce.

When lentils are soft, mix together and add salt, hot pepper and serve.

“Pans Bring Peace to your home”

IMG_2772Panpassato (Bread)

Umbrian bread is very simple, consisting of flour, yeast, salt, olive oil and water. It is cooked in a skillet and often sliced open and adorned with yummy ingredients: cheese, arugula, onions, and salami – just about anything.

Mix together:

25 g. yeast

300 g. all purpose flour

1 large pinch of salt

 Knead the dough for 5 minutes

Add large spoonful of olive oil

Roll into a ball

Let sit for at least 30 minutes.

 Roll out the dough in a flat disc (about 1” high) and about 8-9” diameter

Heat cast iron skillet

Cook the bread on each side till brown and cooked through (about 5 minutes)

Slice bread open and fill with anything yummy!

Serve with olive oil or balsamic vinegar

Faro Salad (also known as Spelt)

Faro is an ancient grain and was a staple of all Umbrian meals for ages. Once thought to be a poor mans grain, Faro is making a comeback. Filled with goodness it is one of the best grains for health)

Cut in quarters a pound of ripe cherry tomatoes

Add into cooked Faro (~4 cups)

Add healthy pinch of salt

Add fresh thyme or basil

Add olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Sprinkle in ample grated Parmesan cheese

Add fresh Arugula (baby preferred)

Toss and serve

Chickpea Salad

 Soak and cook chickpeas

Add finely chopped garlic

Add finely chopped rosemary

Add salt, olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Toss and serve

 Roasted Chicken with Potatoes 

Create bouquet garni of rosemary, sage and marjoram and stuff in cavity

Add 4-5 whole garlic gloves to cavity

Sprinkle chicken with healthy portion of salt

Sprinkle with crushed wild fennel seed

Pour olive oil and balsamic vinegar over chicken

Pour ample white wine over chicken and fill pan about 2-3 inches

Add diced potatoes

 Cook @ 400 degrees for about an hour

 Fresh Pasta (with egg)

250 g. Farina (aka Semolina)

250 g. Faro Flour

Mix flour and create a well in the middle

Add 50G All-purpose flour

Add 3 eggs

Add pinch of salt

Add 1 large spoonful olive oil

 Mix from the inside, slowly incorporating flour into liquids

Let rest for a least 30 minutes

Roll out very thin (flour often to prevent sticking)

Cut pasta into desired shape

Boil for 3-4 minutes

For egg pasta, a simple sauce of butter and sage will do. Eggless pasta requires a more robust sauce – tomato Ragu, Bolognaise

Strawberry (or any berry) cake with whipped cream and strawberry sauce

Make the Cake:

Dice strawberries (for sauce)

Slice strawberries (for cake)

Mix 150g sugar and 2 eggs

Whip until creamy and color lightens

Add lemon zest

Add 200g all-purpose flour

Add 1 package of cake yeast (or baking powder) – vanilla flavor or add a little vanilla

Flour a 10” spring form pan

Pour in batter

Add sliced strawberries on top

Put plenty of butter flakes on top

Sprinkle sugar on top

 Bake for 30 minutes at 350 for 3o minutes

Make the syrup

Put diced strawberry, sugar and water in a small sauce pan

Cook on stovetop on low temperature until syrupy consistency

Serve with whipped cream

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I Write Like I Make Bread

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In most professions staying relevant in the digital age requires a lot more writing than ever before. Whether a 140-character tweet, LinkedIn post, blog or old-fashioned book, ideas must be shared and a following created. Even as video or other media replace writing, the professional must still be able to tell a good story. This weekend, as I prepared for yet another attempt at baking artisan Country Bread, I felt the hint of anxiety normally experienced when I sit down to write. I’m a fine business writer but am learning that digital-age writing requires greater frequency, originality, authenticity and visibility. Connecting with this anxiety helped me see that, like bread making, writing is a time-consuming process of trial and error that can neither be rushed nor prolonged. I never know if my bread making effort has paid off until I cut that first slice but I’ve learned that even if not perfect, it always satisfies. I can say the same for writing.

Healthy food is one of my passions. The dangers of our over processed, over engineered food supply are pretty clear so I’ve added my own bread to my diet.  I first learned how to make bread in Peter Berley’s North Fork Kitchen which is a lovely place to spend a weekend learning from this great master.  I practice at home using Chad Robertson’s book, “Tartine Bread” as my guide. I strive for that perfect combination of flavor, texture and rise.  And, when I write, I work hard to find the perfect blend of topic, style and structure.

I embrace these sister challenges for a few simple reasons:

  • Feed my soul. Chad Roberts writes that bread was once the foundation of a meal and at the center of daily life.  I’d argue that so is the written word, especially in today’s hyper-connected world.
  • Protect my health. Writing keeps the mind sharp and forces active knowledge gathering and synthesis. Home made bread with its absence of artificial ingredients is a tasty, nutritious and easily digestible food.
  • Keep me grounded. Making bread is a beautiful and simple act that forces me out of the work realm and when I write I connect with others in ways that shape my view of the world.

So come along with me as I describe the parallels of making bread and writing.

The Starter:  An idea is to writing is as starter is to artisan bread making.  A writer’s ability to dream up a great idea and feed that idea is often the difference between an OK and a great piece of work. The bread maker’s ability to manage fermentation is the difference between a brick hard loaf and one that’s soft and airy in the middle and encased in a crunchy, golden brown crust. The starter, fermented flour and water, requires daily feeding, a watchful eye and an intuitive knowing when it’s ready. The writer needs an idea and then must feed it by jotting notes, thinking and researching until the idea is mature enough to structure the outline.

The Leaven.  The leaven gives the bread its character and can be likened to the writer’s outline.  The leaven needs about 8 hours to reach its peak, and is best when mixed before bed and left to ferment overnight. The leaven is only ready when a drop of it floats in water. I like to write my outline in a day and thIMG_0294en leave it overnight to ferment in my resting mind. This morning, I woke up early, did the float test and mixed the dough and when I finished, I worked on my first draft. Like the leaven, once an idea floats, it’s time to have a productive writing session.

The Dough: Creating the dough is the longest part of bread making and involves many iterations. I’ve found that, aside from self-inflicted distraction the first iteration is the quickest part.  It gets laborious as I move to the final version. In bread making this is also when the process gets more technical and intuitive. One must follow the process but also  know when the dough has risen just enough, strengthened to perfection and is ready to bake. The dough-making process has three critical repetitive activities: resting, fermenting and shaping.

  • Resting is about walking away and letting the dough, well, rest so that the glutens swell andIMG_0295 form the gas-trapping structure. By the time the writer is iterating through multiple drafts, the piece needs to start to form strength and cohesion.  Resting the dough sets up the process for maximum efficiency and walking away from the draft does the same.
  • Fermenting is the when the dough develops its strength, flavor and structure. It’s time consuming and critically important. Like a never-ending draft, dough left too long will be less forgiving and likely will be abandoned.  The main action here is to gently turn the dough to let air in and allow it to rise; a simple yet delicate process.  This is the part of writing where stuff that doesn’t contribute to the story is removed and the flow and style refined and simplified.  Like bread making it takes a trained eye to know when to keep going and when to stop.
  • Shaping is when the lump of dough starts to look like a loaf of bread and the baker makes decisions about how much to shape depending on the desired outcome. Shaping is about creating the right tension needed for the loaf to maintain its form through the long final rise and gives the top of the bread it’s beautiful crust.  Robertson says that the skill needed in this phase provides “the freIMG_0296edom to craft any bread you imagine.”   This is the point in writing when the finishing touches on flow, structure and form are done. I find leaving a near final draft overnight is the best way to bring the effort home.

 

Baking:  This is the fun part and is mostly a technical exercise with precise temperature, tbreadtiming and steps. This is also when the baker scores the top of the bread, to help the loaf expand and allow for a little personal branding. Once in the oven, the mass of flour, water and salt turns a beautiful golden brown with the edges of the score intensifying to a deep chocolate color.  The process of baking is the same as putting the final polish on a document. Checking research accuracy and references, fixing syntax and spelling and if publishing online making sure the links work. NOTE: my grammar is far from perfect and so, like my bread, my final document may be a little undercooked.

 

Eating:  Going live with an online article or blog is always a little scary. When I slice into a fresh loaf I can tell by how the knife moves through the crust whether the bread will merely satisfy or delight the senses.  It feIMG_0299els almost the same after I’ve shared the article and am waiting to see the reaction. I guess the main parallel here is that my bread improves with each repeated attempt and my following is growing.

 

My bread is just out of the oven  and is a beautiful golden brown. As I devour nearly a quarter of the fresh loaf, I hit the Publish button on this blog. Enjoy!!!