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In 1292 the rulers of Venice decreed that all glass blowing was to move to the island of Murano, as this was a way to protect the city from burning from the glass workshops. The artists became virtual prisoners to their craft as the Venetians attempted to keep a monopoly on glass making and the blowers, under pain of death, were kept permanently on the island.

However, aided by local monks, two craftsmen did manage to escape and traveled south to Piegaro, near the shores of Lake Trasimeno.  The sturdy walled town was an ideal place to establish their own furnaces and glass making business. The wood from the local forests and sand from the bed of the River Nestore gave the men all the natural resources they needed. They soon gained a reputation for producing quality glass and in 1312 their services were called upon to make the glass tiles used in the glass mosaics of the facade for Orvieto’s new duomo. The glass workers were famous for creating mosaics and stained glass windows for many cathedrals.  Over time the glass industry in Piegaro grew and, by the 15th century, there were a number of small glass studios within the walls of the town. As the town’s fame and popularity increased they saw the creation of a large industrial sized factory, that today is the Museo del Vetro, Glass Museum. Here mechanised presses and automated annealing ovens were built to produce bottles, goblets and flasks on an industrial scale.

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There was also a profitable industry in producing the classic wicker based bottles, famously used for Chianti wines. Many women were employed within the town to weave the bases giving the bottles their distinctive raffia style.

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This glass works continued until the beginning of WWII when it was occupied by German soldiers.  This was a sad time in the history of Piegaro, for when Germans left, the beautiful Comune Palazzo building was mined and destroyed. Glass work continued through the efforts of the Marchesa, who lived in the Palazzo Pallavicini Piegaro, by making the remaining glass factories into worker owned cooperatives.

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Despite modernisation in the 20th century, by the 1960s the factory was proving to be inadequate for the levels of production necessary and a new premises built in the valley. Finally in 1968 the 750 year history of glass making with in the town center came to an end as the furnaces were shut down and left to cool.

The Annual Sagra della Castagna, The Chestnut Festival.  Chestnuts are roasting in every piazza, food booths offer Torta al Testo, chestnut pastries and the first wine, Mosto, barely fermented.  Full course feasts, pizza, music every night with dancing and theater performances fill the ten days of celebration.  Traditional crafts booths of straw weaving, jewelry making and glass blowing offer shopping opportunities.

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In August, travel back time to medieval days for the il Giorni del Vetro: Days of Glass Festival.  Don a medieval costume, join in the Royal Corteo and follow the drummers in a procession through the narrow cobblestone streets. This day honors Piegaro’s heritage and fame as a glass making capital of Italy, that is just as important as Murano.  Three days of festival with music, food, glass artisans working their craft and booths of glass art and jewelry.

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The Cuisine of Piegaro (Umbria) Italy

Having no access to the oceans has limited Umbria cooking to land based food, but the variety of dishes is no less plentiful for it.  Many of dishes rely on vegetables.  Locally grown lentils, cardoons, porcini mushrooms and chestnuts are important staple foods. The region’s olive trees are responsible for making some of the best olive oil in Italy.

Fresh produce and fruity, local olive oil, wild greens, mushrooms and truffles create luscious dishes without the need for additional ingredients.  White truffles are a delicacy eaten fresh in this cuisine.  Norcia provides most of Italy’s black truffles.  Recipes use truffles to elevate the plainest egg, pasta or meat dishes to a gourmet meal.  They are also made into a paste with garlic and anchovies.

Shepherding is important to the local economy, so sheep’s milk cheese is an important staple food.  Unlike most of Italy where Pecorino cheeses are aged in salt, Umbrian cheeses may be rubbed with tomato paste or buried in ashes in terracotta urns to age.  Some cheeses are aged in cool natural caves.  Each of these aging methods gives a unique texture and flavor.  Generally cheese is eaten plain or with preserved vegetables or meats, fresh fruits or simply out of hand with a glass of wine.

The local lentils are of especially high quality.  Fava beans are used to make a hearty soup seasoned with pork rinds and rosemary.  Onion soup is flavored with tomatoes, salt preserved pork, fresh basil and grated Parmesan cheese.

Freshwater fish are available and they are often made into a mixed stew called tegamaccio.   Anguille alle brace marinates freshwater eels in white wine seasoned with pepper and bay leaves before grilling.

Poultry, wild game and roasts are cooked over pans filled with herbs.  The drippings are collected and made into a sauce after the meat is finished cooking.  Chianina beef,  lamb, wood-pigeon and free range chickens are commonly eaten.  Boar and hare are especially enjoyed and Lepre alla cacciatora braises hare in red wine and is flavored with garlic, sage and bay leaves.

Norcia is well-known for the quality and variety of their cured pork products.  Over time, Norcia has come to be the general Italian term for butcher, due to the quality of the meats from this area.  In addition to the salame, they produce mazzafegati, a pungent sausage made from liver and flavored with pignolis, raisins and orange rind. Porchetta and Prosciutto di Norcia from Umbria are very highly prized.

Dried pasta and many handmade kinds of egg pasta are eaten in Umbrian cuisine.  Tagliatelle with meat sauces are popular.  Hand rolled ciriole and stringozzi look somewhat like the more familiar spaghetti.  These are often enjoyed with a fresh sauce of black olives, tomatoes and garlic.  Spaghetti alla norcina is served with black truffle sauce.

Bakers in Umbria use wood ovens to make giant saltless loaves of pane casereccio.  Tore, springy pecorino or pork rind flavored breads, are made from an egg enriched wheat flour dough. Pan nociato are sweet rolls with pecorino, walnuts and grapes flavored with cloves.  A similar bun, called pan pepato, is filled with almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts with raisins and candied fruit.

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Fettuccine With Black Truffle Sauce

Ingredients

12 oz fresh fettuccine or tagliatelle
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 anchovy fillet, mashed
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 medium Umbrian black truffles, (or any black truffle you can get), cleaned of soil, grated
6 quarts water

Directions

While pasta cooks, heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over very low heat.
Sauté the crushed garlic for 2 minutes. Do not let it brown. Remove the garlic.
Add the anchovy, cooking gently, crushing it to a paste with a wooden spoon.
Add the truffles and heat through.
Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Immediately mix in the truffle sauce. If you prefer the sauce moister, or it seems too dry, add one tablespoon of the reserved liquid at a time till desired moistness is reached.

Serve on pre-heated plates.

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Pork Roast Braised with Milk

Ingredients

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 (5-pound) boneless pork shoulder roast (without skin), tied
3 juniper berries (see note, below), crushed
2 large rosemary sprigs
2 large sage sprigs
4 dried bay leaves
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups whole milk

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F with the oven rack in the middle.

Heat oil in a wide 5 to 6 quart ovenproof heavy pot over medium heat until it shimmers, then lightly brown roast on all sides with juniper berries and herbs, 8 to 10 minutes total. Add garlic and sprinkle roast with sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, then cook until garlic is golden, about 1 minute. Pour wine over roast and briskly simmer until reduced by half. Pour milk over roast and bring to a bare simmer.

Cover pot and braise in oven, turning roast occasionally, until tender (milk will form curds), 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Transfer roast to a carving board and loosely cover. Strain juices through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl (discard solids), reserving pot, and skim off fat. Return juices to pot and boil until flavorful and reduced to about 2 cups. Season with sea salt and pepper. Slice roast and serve moistened with juices.

Notes:

Juniper berries can be found in the spice aisle at supermarkets.
Pork can be braised 1 day ahead and chilled in liquid, uncovered, until cool, then covered. Bring to room temperature, then reheat and proceed with recipe.

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Asparagus, Peas and Basil

Ingredients

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots (about 2)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 pound shelled fresh peas (2 1/2 cups; 1 3/4 pound in pods) or 1 (10-ounce) package thawed frozen peas
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
Handful of torn basil leaves (about 3/4 cup)

Directions

Cook shallots in butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until just tender, about 4 minutes.

Stir in asparagus, peas, sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, then seal skillet with foil. Cook over medium heat until vegetables are tender but still slightly al dente, about 8 minutes.

Stir in basil and sea salt to taste.

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Apricots with Amaretto Syrup

Ingredients

10 firm-ripe large apricots
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup Amaretto liqueur
6 amaretti (Italian almond macaroons), crumbled (1/3 cup)
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped pine nuts for sprinkling

Directions

Peel apricots with a vegetable peeler, then halve and pit. Finely chop 2 halves and set aside.

Heat butter in a 12-inch heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat until foam subsides, then cook sugar, stirring constantly, until golden brown. Stir in Amaretto (be careful; syrup will spatter) and simmer, stirring, 2 minutes.

Working in 2 batches, poach apricot halves in syrup at a low simmer, turning, until almost tender, 5 to 10 minutes per batch. Using a slotted spoon, transfer apricots, hollow sides up, to a platter.

Add crumbled amaretti to syrup and cook over low heat, crushing cookies with back of a wooden spoon, until melted into a coarse purée.

Stir in reserved chopped apricot and gently simmer, stirring, until syrup is deep brown and slightly thickened. Cool syrup slightly.

Spoon syrup over apricots and sprinkle with pine nuts (if using). Serve warm or at room temperature.

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