Umbrian dinner

Umbria is a region of both historic and modern central Italy. It is the only Italian region having neither a coastline nor a border with another country. The regional capital is Perugia. Umbria is known for its landscapes, traditions, history, artistic legacy and influence on Italian culture. The region is characterized by hills and historical towns such as Assisi, Norcia and Orvieto. Umbria is bordered by Tuscany to the west, Marche to the east and Lazio to the south.

Despite being landlocked and somewhat economically depressed — or perhaps because of these things — Umbria is the quintessential embodiment of all things Italian. This is certainly true of its cuisine, which emphasizes the virtues of Italian cooking: simplicity, tradition and respect for fresh, local ingredients. Any list of the products for which Umbria is famous would include farro, a grain; prosciutto and other pork or wild boar products from the town of Norcia and the well-known black truffle.

Umbrian pigs live on the land and eat acorns and chestnuts that give the meat its characteristic flavor and texture. Umbrians take special pride in how their pigs are raised and treated, especially in the mountainous area of Norcia. Over the centuries, the word norcino, or person from Norcia, became synonymous with butcher. The most important cured meat in Umbria is, without a doubt, Prosciutto di Norcia IGP, followed by pork sausages and mazzafegati, a pork and liver sausage that can be traced back to Renaissance tables.

The best of Umbria’s cheeses are mature pecorino sheep’s cheese and fresh or ripe goat’s milk cheese. The lentils of Castelluccio di Norcia are utilized for soups, main courses and side dishes. Everything is seasoned with the golden and fruity olive oil produced in this region. Umbrian oil of high quality is awarded with a PDO quality mark (Protected Designation of Origin).

Umbria is particularly suitable for wine growing and its mild climate gives this land top-quality white and red wines, including among the many well-known labels, Assisi Grechetto and Sagrantino di Montefalco. The wines of Montefalco have an interesting history, having been identified as important local products. In the 1400s, a city council made it illegal for people who owned grapevines in the area to neglect them and the fruits they produced. As a result, Montefalco wines are some of Italy’s finest wines. Each year, around Easter, the town holds a wine festival celebrating the fruits of its winemaking labors.

Pretend you are in Umbria this weekend and make this dinner for your friends:

Umbrian dinner 1

Arugula, Pecorino, Pine Nut and Pear Salad (Rucola con Pecorino, Pignoli e Pere)

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 3 tablespoons raisins
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 ripe pears, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
  • 5 oz. baby arugula
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 4 oz. Pecorino Romano
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Directions

Combine water and raisins in a bowl; let sit 20 minutes and drain. Toss lemon juice with the pears in a bowl. Arrange arugula on four separate salad plates; season with salt and pepper.

Top each plate with some of the pears and shave pecorino over the top of each salad; sprinkle with raisins and the pine nuts.

Whisk balsamic, salt and pepper in a bowl. While whisking, slowly drizzle in oil until emulsified; drizzle dressing over each salad plate.

Umbrian dinner3

Tagliatelle with Goose Ragù (Tagliatelle al Ragù d’Oca)

If goose is difficult to find, you can certainly substitute duck.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 oz boneless, skinless goose breast, diced
  • 3 oz goose liver, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced rosemary
  • 3/4 tablespoon minced sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
  • 1 stalk celery, minced
  • 1/2 carrot, minced
  • 1/2 small yellow onion, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 (14 ­oz) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 lb fresh tagliatelle pasta
  • Grated parmesan, for garnish

Directions

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium ­high. Cook goose breast until browned, 5–7 minutes; transfer to a bowl. Cook liver until browned, 4–6 minutes; transfer to bowl with the breast.

Add remaining oil to the skillet; cook rosemary, sage, chili flakes, celery, carrot and onion until golden, 8–10 minutes. Add wine; cook until evaporated, 5–7 minutes. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper; cook until thickened, about 20–22 minutes.

Stir in reserved goose breast and liver.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in salted water until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water; toss pasta and reserved water in skillet with the sauce. Garnish with parmesan.

Umbrian dinner 2

Pork with Juniper Berries (Filetto di Maiale con Bacche di Ginepro)

Serves 4

Ingredients

For the Potatoes:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 lb russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ pieces
  • 10 oz green beans, trimmed
  • 1½ tablespoons minced sage
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the Pork:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 oz guanciale or pancetta, minced
  • 1 (1 ­lb) pork tenderloin
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon juniper berries
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock

Directions

To make the potatoes:

Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium ­high. Cook potatoes until golden, 10–12 minutes.

Stir in green beans, sage, garlic, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium; cook, covered, until potatoes and green beans are tender, 6–8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; keep warm.

To make the pork:

Wipe the skillet clean and heat the oil over medium ­high. Cook guanciale until crisp, 2–3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer guanciale to a plate.

Season pork with salt and pepper; add to the skillet and cook, turning as needed, until browned on all sides, 8–10 minutes. Add juniper berries, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and garlic and cook 1–2 minutes. Add wine; cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the skillet, until evaporated, 12–15 minutes. Add stock; boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook, slightly covered, until an instant ­read thermometer inserted into the pork reads 145° F.

Let pork rest 5 minutes, then slice ½” thick; divide between plates. Simmer sauce until thickened, 10–12 minutes. Discard herbs and stir in reserved guanciale, salt and pepper; spoon over pork. Serve with potatoes and green beans.

Umbrian dinner 4

Umbrian Snowflake Cookies (Biscotti ai Cereali)

Corn flakes—both mixed into the batter and coating the cookies’ exterior—give these crumbly chocolate chip treats a crunchy, nutty flavor. Served at festivals, wineries and charity bake sales, they’re a favorite of the residents of the Umbrian hill town of Montefalco.

Makes 28 Cookies

Ingredients

  • 2½ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 eggs
  • 6 cups corn flakes cereal (2 cups lightly crushed, 4 cups whole)
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish

Directions

Heat the oven to 350° F.

Whisk flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.

In the bowl of an electric  mixer, cream granulated sugar and butter until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add dry ingredients; mix until dough forms.

Fold in crushed corn flakes and the chocolate chips. Divide dough into 28 balls; roll in the whole corn flakes. Space 1″ apart on parchment paper—lined baking sheets.

Bake until golden and crisp, 20–22 minutes. Let cookies cool; dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

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