Italian Soups: Stock, Broth... or Water?

IMG_8635In my cooking classes and private dinners here in Umbria, my students & clients are always shocked to hear that the main ingredient in my soups is, well.... good old-fashioned pipe stock.... otherwise known as... water!

Most Italian regional cooking, especially that of Umbria, is a very rustic, peasant style cooking, and making stock just doesn't fit into that equation.  Stocks are part of French haute cuisine, which is what most chefs (especially those on TV) learned as their base in cooking school... and therefore, it is what they preach to everyone at home.  Not that there is anything wrong with that... but it's not Italian!

Stock is when we put bones and vegetables in cold water (no salt), bring it to a boil and then let simmer for a few hours until all of the meaty essence is leached from the bones.  Stock can then either be reduced to form a glace (French) or added to sauce bases (again, French) and soups.  But you will hard pressed to find an Italian recipe calling for stock! 

Broth, or Brodo in Italian, is when we bring a pot of water to the boil first with vegetables, aromatics and salt.  Then we add meat such as a stewing hen, capon or off cuts of beef:  tongue, belly, and leg muscles to the boiling liquid.  The meat is then simmered until tender, and becomes a dish known as Bollito (boiled meat).  The remaining broth, or brodo, would be used to make soupy pasta dishes such as Tortellini in Brodo (tortellini with broth) or Stracciatella (basically the Italian version of Egg Drop Soup).

To make up for the lack of a meaty stock, Umbrians add their favorite ingredient to almost every soup in the book: pancetta.  Pancetta is cured pork belly - similar to bacon, except that it is not smoked, just hung out to dry with a heavy dose of salt, garlic and black pepper.  If pancetta is not used, we might see lard ground up with onions, carrots and celery as a base, or even the extra skin and fat cut off of a prosciutto, as in Fagioli con le Cotiche (Beans cooked with prosciutto skin).

Zuppa di Lenticchie (Umbrian Lentil Soup)

1 cup of Umbrian brown lentils
extra virgin olive oil
1 thick slice of pancetta, cubed
1 med. onion, diced finely
1 carrot, diced finely
1 stalk celery, diced finely
2 cloves garlic
1 small hot pepper
1 bay leaf
4-6 sage leaves
1/2 cup tomato sauce/puree or 2 Tbs tomato concentrate
salt

Heat a medium sized pot,  add a few tablespoons of olive oil and pancetta, and brown.
Add onion, carrot, celery, garlic, hot pepper, bay leaf, sage leaves.  Cook until they become translucent.
Add lentils.  
Add tomato puree.
Add 4-5 cups of water.
Salt to taste.
Cook until lentils are tender, adding water if necessary.
Serve with bread and extra-virgin olive oil.


Fun on the Funicular in Gubbio!

-6Gubbio is great for a day trip in Umbria.... that said I rarely go... and when I do go, it is either in the evening or freeeezing.... which means that I have never been on the Funicular, or Funivia... the main reason many go to Gubbio in the first place!

 

 

So today being a rare, balmy, sunny November Sunday, we decided to take a drive out.   -1 To be honest, the real reason that I had wanted to go was because there was a festival called Quinto Quarto, celebrating the secondary and tertiary cuts of beef.  This is usually right up my alley, but alas, this festa was sort of a bust as they didn't have a lot of variety and the food was so so.... the lampredotto was inedible.... but they had a polpette (meatball) making class for my kids, so they were happy.

On to lunch... we stopped at Ristorante Bosone Garden because 1) it was lunchtime and we were walking under it (kids were at T minus meltdown) 2) it had rare outside seating on a nice day in Gubbio 3) I hadn't done my advance research as I was not planning on eating in a restaurant during a food festival.  We didn't order a lot because we had already had our antipasto of rubbery lampredotto and mediocre meatballs, so we just ordered pasta all around - tortellini in brodo for the kids and tagliatelli with goose ragù for us.  There were no seasonal options on the menu and the only antipasto on the menu that looked interesting to me, of course, they did not have.  The pasta was fine but not good enough to justify the outrageous prices.  I don't mind paying for an exceptional plate of pasta, but it better be hand made, in house, and this was obviously store bought....

Onto the funicular, the highlight of the day!  We arrived at 2:30, just as it was reopening - check their website for seasonal operating hours.  Now, when you first see the lifts for the funicular, your instinct will probably be to just turn around and walk back down into Gubbio.  But, trust me - it's really not so scary!  I was mostly worried that my sometimes timid 5 and 2 1/2 year olds would protest.  Also because, as our good friend Sir Newton says "What goes up must come down".... my translation, "What screams all the way up will scream all the way down."  However my kids were surprisingly game and they had a great time.  The hardest part is jumping in and out of the cages as they move fairly quickly, but the operators have it down to an Italian science and everyone moves along.

Once at the top, the main attraction is the Basilica of Saint Ubaldo, the patron saint of Gubbio and home to the famous Ceri, used in the Corsa dei Ceri in May.  However, my kids immediately spotted the bar with ice cream and seeing as how I had already had them traverse Gubbio and they were without much needed naps, we stopped there (and never made it to the Basilica, a mere 20 feet away - next time).

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100th Rave Reviews on TripAdvisor!

I'm proud to announce that we have just received our 100th outstanding review on TripAdvisor!  Thanks to my partners and travellers to Umbria for making each experience unique and fun! Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 16.02.26

 


Farmers' Markets in Umbria: Back to the Future!

Bruschettina-1One of the biggest culture shocks I experienced when I moved to Umbria from Seattle was something completely unexpected  - there were no farmers' markets!  Now, whilst living in Seattle, I was a central part of the booming farmers' market industry there - I had a very popular stand called Bruschettina, lines down the block, I even had an employee - the farmers' markets were my life.... So imagine my shock (and dismay and horror) when I moved to a place where, honestly, in America we think we are modelling our markets after, that is barren, so to speak. 

Understand that other than bananas and citrus, I had not bought a piece of produce in a supermarket in years.  I was dying on the inside...  The 'markets' here were what I oh-so- lovingly deemed Socks and Underwear Markets.  Basically a bunch of stalls selling knock off clothing and plastic crap.  Deep within the rows of socks and underwear, there might be a fruit/veg stand, but you know if they are selling bananas (and they always are) that most likely nothing is local and forget about organic.

When I moved from Foligno to Cannara I had the absolute fortune of discovering Ada.  Ada is mentioned frequently on my blog as she was my 'savior.'  She and her family have a small farm here and she sells her produce 2 days a week in our town.  So that solved my produce predicament, but I was still driving all over the hinterlands to buy meat, cheese, grains etc...

Now, I always joke that Italy follows in the footsteps of the United States (right or wrong), only 20 years later.  When the American style big box stores and supermarkets came in, small farmers in the area went out, as did the markets.  Slowly but surely, Italy is again following the fashion (better late than never) and catching on to the Farmers' Market trend.  What really kills me is when I see Farmers' Market written in English - I just want to scream - don't you know this is your lost tradition?!?!  Anyway....

In the past few years, a national group called Campagna Amica has been introducing markets showcasing local products all over Italy... and I am so happy!  The first time I went to one I felt all the memories of the Seattle markets rush back because many of the producers in these Campagna Amica markets are already my friends/ trusted producers - now finally all together!

If you are visiting Umbria, please take the time to visit and support one of these local markets, granted they are not the immense banquets of Provence, but it's a start in getting back to our future.

Weekly (not socks & underwear) Markets in Umbria

  • Santa Maria degli Angeli (Assisi) - Monday
  • Todi - Monday
  • Spoleto - Tuesday 
  • Città di Castello - Tuesday
  • Perugia (Pian di Massiano) - Thursday
  • Foligno - Friday
  • Gubbio - Saturday
  • Umbertide - Saturday

Most of the markets run from 8:00 - 12:00/13:00.  Perugia also holds an organic market once a month and of course, Ada is in Cannara on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

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My New Food & Wine Tours in Umbria for 2015!

See Umbria through the eyes of a Chef with
Jennifer from Life Italian Style!


A professional chef since 1998 by way of Philadelphia and Seattle, Jennifer is now a private chef and leader of active Food & Wine tours in the heart of Umbria. She works closely with the local, artisan producers she has met over the years and keeps her ears open at the markets, always ready to learn a new traditional recipe from an Italian Nonna to share with you!


Custom Food & Wine Tours
Single or multiple day tours available for guided exploration of the best local artisan producers in Umbria!


Private Chef in Umbria
A classic Umbrian dinner prepared directly in guest villa, using only the best local and seasonal ingredients. Umbrian DOC wines included. “Pizza Night” available for those staying in villas with a pizza oven. Please enquire for Cooking Classes as well!


Cycling Tour of the Umbrian Valley
Tour along country roads with a professional Italian guide through the beautiful vineyard and olive grove covered hills of the Umbrian Valley, stopping in small villages along the way. A full Umbrian Picnic lunch in the countryside completes the day!
Hiking and Walking Tours also available.


Horseback Riding & Winery Lunch
A 45 minute tour on horseback (no experience necessary) through the vineyards of the Terre Margaritelli winery in the countryside of Torgiano (just outside of Perugia), followed by a tour of the winery, wine tasting and lunch.

Nature Abounds in the Valnerina
We begin our day with a visit to a local pecorino cheese maker to see the production of various sheep’s milk cheeses.  This is followed by a visit to a local family which specializes in saffron production. We will then take a walk through the forest with them to forage for edible and medicinal herbs. Afterwards we enjoy a lunch with a guided tasting of local sheep & goat cheeses as well as delicacies prepared with foraged greens.

Farm to Table Tour
Our first stop is at a unique stone flour mill and wood-fired oven bakery. We learn about breadmaking beginning with grain!  We then move up to a local farm where a local family raises animals for salumi making, meat and cheese production. We will make cheese and pasta with Nonna Rita before indulging in a traditional farm lunch.
*Wild Asparagus hunting in the Spring
*Truffle hunting available in June and July

The Artisans of Perugia
We begin at the base of the historic town with a visit to the weekly farmers’ market. Then we will move up into the center to discover the lost art of weaving jaquard and silks on 17th century looms. We then stroll through the city stopping in artisanal bottegas along the ways before enjoying lunch in an enoteca known for its exclusive use of Umbrian products.

Meat Lover’s Tour
A tour of a local farm which raises prize-winning Chianina (native white cow of Italy), Cinta Senese pigs, sheep, birds, and crops. Included is a brief demonstration of butchery & salumi making. We then move on to the Terre Margaritelli for a lunch of grilled meats from the farm accompanied by a wine tasting & tour.

Wine and Chocolate Tour
We will first visit an artisanal chocolate producer to see how some of their specialties are produced.  From there we will move on to the Terre Margaritelli winery for a tour of the winery and full wine tasting lunch.

Umbrian Cooking Class & Lunch
Cooking classes are held in the rural village of Cannara, located in the heart of Umbria between Asissi and Spello or directly in guest villa. They are based around the best local ingredients in season, and includes making antipasto, primo, secondo and dolce followed by a lunch (eating what we just made, of course!)


Please contact Jennifer directly
at lifeitalianstyle@gmail.com
for booking and information!

 


 


An Italian Recipe...

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This week some students of mine asked me to teach them how to make a certain type of cookie that they had been eating in nearby Spello.  Now remember, here in Umbria (as well as pretty much all of Italy) recipes and typical dishes can vary greatly from town to town - even villages just 10 km apart, like Spello and Cannara.

Continue reading "An Italian Recipe..." »


Umbria's Best Borscht

-1I know, I know, Umbria and borscht are two worlds that generally do not collide, especially since it is nearly impossible to find fresh, local beets in central and southern Italy (they are always sold precooked in the supermarkets - yuck!).  However, Ada, my trusted veggie lady here in Cannara happens to grow beets, mostly for the Eastern European population living in our area... but also for me!

Continue reading "Umbria's Best Borscht" »


Wine Soaked Memories

....oh, where to begin?!  We are wrapping up the main season of 2014 (of course, we are always here to continure to welcome our off-season guests as well!) and what better way than to give a little recap of our 4th annual Food & Wine Tour of Umbria with Ciao Thyme of Bellingham, WA.

Every year we try to do the seemingly impossible and out-do the previous trip, and yes, we achieved this goal yet again!  More food!  More wine!  More Umbria!

Continue reading "Wine Soaked Memories" »


Ciao Thyme Umbrian Food & Wine Tour!

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We are welcoming back our good friends Matiao and Jessica from Ciao Thyme in Bellingham, WA, for our 4th annual culinary tour of Umbria!

As always, I have a lot of great experiences planned for the group, including rustic cooking classes, saffron picking, the olive harvest & pressing of the new oil, farm tours, winery visits and tasting, cheesemaking and more!

 

Follow along with our adventures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+, hashtag  #CTumbria.  

Then, come join us in 2015 for our May and October tours - A presto!

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Back to Blogging!

IMG_4065You may have noticed that I haven’t blogged in a while…well, May thru October is my busy season, so other than quick photos or a blurb on my social media sites, you won’t hear much from me.  But I have a lot of ideas rolling around and have been furiously scribbling notes in my daughter's various Hello Kitty writing pads. ;-)
Here’s what you can look forward to reading this winter:

Decoding Italy:  a new series that I am starting!  I actually got the idea from a client in one of my cooking classes.  I will be going through the basics of learning how to decipher things once you reach the motherland:  everything from types of cheese & salumi, wine labels, and pasta to basic restaurant and coffee etiquette…. because it’s a different country and they just do it… differently!

News:  Two Onions Collide:  The Walla Walla and Cannara Sister City Association

and What happened when I attended my first ever soccer/football game in Italy.