Friday, June 24, 2016

Guy's Wood-Fired Umbrian Pizza Margherita

One of the most romantic visions of renting a villa in Italy is the promise of making homemade pizza in an authentic wood fired oven. Blessed with quite possibly the most handsome pizza oven in all of Italy, our destiny was set: to prepare the dough using tipo '00' flour, water and yeast, then allow it to proof all day until the magic hour. Using dried twigs and some pages from 'La Repubblica', a small fire was started in the oven an hour or so before sunset, then augmented with small logs, graduating to larger ones as the fire took hold — a process that takes about 20-30 minutes. With an internal temperature of about 800°F, it was time was roll out the dough, slice the buffalo mozzarella, lay out the lovely plump Italian anchovies and ravage my basil plant. Having prepared some homemade tomato sauce the day before, we were ready to create the perfect pizza. Using a long round iron pizza peel, the raw Pizza Margherita was placed into the oven and shimmied onto the hot surface and cooked for just over a minute — and it's done. The dough was crisp and chewy, the cheese melted and the smell sublime. With enough dough to make 2 more pizzas, we uncorked a Montefalco Rosso, toasted our success and wood-fired two more hot and delicious Umbrian Margheritas.

Our very handsome wood fired pizza oven, with an ample pile of wood within arms reach

Surrounded with roses, the pizza oven house is beautiful anytime of the day

Guy's homemade pizza dough brushed with olive oil around the edge, then topped with homemade tomato sauce, mozzarella di Bufulo, fresh basil and anchovies

With ample wood and dried twigs, a lovely fire was produced in about 20-30 minutes

Once the heat reaches the correct temperature, the logs and hot ash are pushed to the side to allow the pizza to slide inside the oven

Smoke coming from chimney announces that the pizza oven is ready for our magnificent margheritas

The gorgeous pizza going into the wood-fired oven

The pizza bubbling hot and delicious — a triumph!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Paolo's Pollo Giallo dell'Umbria: An Umbrian Feast

One of the true pleasures of renting a house or villa in Italy, are the golden opportunities to shop in local markets and being able to feast on the culinary rewards of cooking in the comfort of your own kitchen. Inspired by the healthy maize-fed yellow chickens that we saw throughout Umbria, we purchased a very handsome 'pollo giallo' that came complete with it's head and some feathers still attached. Thankfully not artificially plump like much commercially raised poultry, our 'yellow bird' was full of flavour, especially in the culinary hands of our chef de cuisine for the evening, our friend Paolo who was staying with us for a week at our wonderful villa in the Umbrian hills outside Piegaro. Roasted with a handful of small purple 'fiesole' artichokes and fresh potatoes from the farmer's market in Spello, Paolo served his Pollo Giallo with a rich pan sauce and presented the feast on my new 'fiori e uccelli' platter, a recent purchase from Orvieto. Uncorking a bottle of Arnaldo Caprai Grecante Grechetto, we raised our glasses to our superb meal and another glorious day in paradise.

Our Umbrian maize fed yellow chicken perfectly cooked

Served with tiny purple artichokes and roast potatoes, Paolo's Pollo Giallo was superb

Paul's rich and delicious pan sauce 

With some fragrant roses from the garden on the table, 
we sat down to enjoy Paolo's Pollo Giallo dell'Umbria 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Ristorante Apollinare in the Historic Heart of Spoleto

Standing on the Roman foundations of a 12th-century Franciscan monastery in the historic heart of Spoleto, Ristorante Apollinare is considered to be the best restaurant in town. Wonderfully intimate and full of character with rough stone walls and wooden beams offset by jaunty blue-upholstered chairs and yellow-gold linen, the outdoor covered terrace is the perfect place to dine on a warm summer evening. Gianna Gradassi, the owner of Apollinare, and young chef Michele Pidone, serve sophisticated, innovative variations on local cuisine using produce typical to the area, with dishes such as Strengozzi al Tartufo di Norcia, Gnocchi di Patate Viola, carciofi e guanicale su fonduta di cacciottina, and Lombello di Maialino in rete di lardo con pere al Rosso di Montefalco e spuma di Pecorino di fossa. Beginning with a glass of Prosecco, we were presented with a delicious amuse bouche 
of cooked pancetta on a rice crisp with silky pumpkin cream. As a first course we selected the Stracciata d’ Uovo al Tartufo Nero e bruschette all’ extravergine d’ olive, luxurious scrambled eggs with black truffles, and the Soufflé di Topinambour riduzione di arancia e chips soffiata al carbon vegetable, a Jerusalem artichoke soufflé with orange reduction and garnished with a charcoal puffed rice chip. The sommelier suggested a 2012 Tabarrini Montefalco Rosso from a family owned winery in Montefalco, an excellent wine which paired perfectly with our entrées of Tagliata do Manzo al sale di Maldon e verdure di station and Trancio di Ricciola con purea di zucca, cavolfiore verde e crema di pirelli. Our last night in Spoleto, we splurged and shared a Montefalco Rosso Poached Pear with quenelle of chocolate mousse with a glass of Vin Santo. Recommended by Anna Bartocci from Palazzo Leti as an excellent restaurant for our last night in Spoleto, the service, ambiance and cuisine was superb. 

The interior of Ristorante Apollinare

Choosing to sit in the outside terrace of Apollinare on such a lovely evening, 
we started with a glass of Prosecco as we looked over the menu

Selection of house made bread and focaccia

Oil lamp with blue oil on a bed of salt

Amuse bouche of cooked pancetta on rice crisp with pumpkin cream

Our server and sommelier testing the cork of our Montefalco Rosso

2012 Tabarrini Montefalco Rosso - a family owned winery in Montefalco

A bold earthy red from nearby Montefalco, Umbria's top wine area

Stracciata d’ uovo al tartufo nero e bruschette all’ extravergine d’ olivo - Scrambled Eggs 
with shaved Black Truffles 

Soufflé di Topinambour riduzione di arancia e chips soffiata al carbone vegetale - Jerusalem Artichoke Soufflé with orange reduction and charcoal puffed rice chip

Trancio di Ricciola con purea di zucca, cavolfiore verde e crema di piselli

Tagliata do Manzo al sale di Maldon e verdure di stagione

Montefalco Rosso Poached Pear with quenelle of chocolate mousse

Glass of Vin Santo


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Spoleto: Roman Spoleteum & Ristorante Sabatini

A magnificent mix of remnants from its Roman and medieval pasts, Spoleto’s history actually goes back further to the Bronze Age with the Umbri, who built walls around their settlement in the 5th century BC. Today, it’s best known for its annual summer Festival dei Due Mondi - Festival of Two Worlds - honouring music, opera, theater and dance. Founded in 241 BC, the ancient hill town of Spoletium became an key Roman colony, due in part to its proximity to the Via Flamina, the ancient Roman road that led from Rome, over the Apennine Mountains to the coast of the Adriatic Sea. The Lombards made Spoleto the capital of their duchy in 570 AD, building it high and mighty, and leaving it with a parting gift of the beautiful Romanesque Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta. One of the most beautiful examples of Umbrian Romanesque architecture, the Duomo was built in three phases over the space of a couple hundred years. The interior however was rebuilt in in the 17th-century in the Baroque style and features many outstanding frescoes and extraordinary works of art. Strolling up from the Duomo through the Piazza, we wandered uphill to the oldest part of Spoleto, Piazza del Mercato, with its gorgeous 18th-century fountain pillaged from various architectural remains around Spoleto. 

With the clock face indicating it was almost 1 o'clock and time for lunch, we wandered down to Ristorante Sabatini on Corso Mazzini, where we had reservations for lunch in their lovely outdoor garden. Started in 1900 by the Sabatini family, the restaurant was taken over in 2010 by owners of the historic restaurant "Le Coastline", transforming the restaurant into one of the top dining destinations in Spoleto. With a refined selection of homemade pasta, cured meats, and special dishes and produce unique to the local area, we enjoyed a glorious lunch under a lovely cool umbrella, a welcome reprieve on a hot afternoon. Enjoying a local Grechetto white wine from nearby Montefalco, we started with a Caprese di Mozzarella Spoletina and Tortino di sedano nero di Trevi con cuore morbido di crescenza e tartufo made with black celery harvested from Trevi, available only a few weeks every year. Known for their truffle dishes, we followed with Risotto allo Zafferano di Cascia Tartufo and Strengozzi al Tartufo. In a gesture of hospitality, our server arrived with some Tiramisu and bottle of Grappa for my husband and I to enjoy before strolling uphill to Palazzo Leti, where we were staying in Spoleto that night. 

Gelsomino Giallo, known as yellow jasmine, being arranged around olive trees 
under the 17th-century open porch of the duomo

The Duomo's unique Romanesque façade features a golden mosaic dated 1207 
and depicts Christ between the Virgin Mary and St. John

The Romanesque interior was given a Baroque makeover in the 17th-century

12th-century apse with the beautiful 15th-century Life of the Virgin fresco cycle by Filippo Lippi

The Coronation of the Virgin at the top showing Mary being crowned by God, 
watched by saints, angels and Old Testament figures gathered around a rainbow

The elevated ornate organ in the duomo

Painting of Saint Mark with the lions 

Candles lit below the image of St Mark

The Marian Chapel 

Chapel of the Nativity

Enormous stands of fragrant yellow jasmine

The grand stairway leads from the Piazza del Duomo to the Piazza del Mercato

Lombard arches on Via Aurelio Saffi 

The 18th-century Fontana di Piazza del Mercato is one of the oldest parts of Spoleto, 
with the Piazza built on the site of the ancient Roman Forum

The beautiful clock face shows it's 12:45pm and reminds us that it's almost time for lunch

We wandered from Piazza del Mercato down to Corso Mazzini to our restaurant

The Roman Arch of Drusus from AD 23

Ristorante Sabatini 'il giardino del corso', in the historic centre of Spoleto

The menu features local produce and dishes of the Spoleto area

Umbria's famous Grechetto from Montefalco

Crisp and refreshing, we became great enthusiasts of Grechetto after our wine tasting at Arnaldo Caprai weeks earlier

Warm Rosemary Focaccia

Piatto di salumi del territorio

Tortino di sedano nero di Trevi con cuore morbido di crescenza e tartufo 

Caprese di Mozzarella Spoletina aromatizzata all’olio di basilico

Risotto allo Zafferano di Cascia Tartufo

Strengozzi tirati a mano al Tartufo

Our server brought us some homemade Tiramisu as a sweet final to our lunch

A bottle of Arnaldo Caprai Grappa Sagrantino di Montefalco was placed on our table to pour as we wished, a complimentary degustation

Quite smooth in flavour, Grappa is an Italian custom I still have yet to master

A jolt of caffein to provide the stamina for our walk back to Palazzo Leti 
through the winding streets of Spoleto