The more I travel, and the more dishes I try from different cuisines, the more I learn about my own personal tastes when it comes to food. If there is one thing I have learned since I began traveling the world last July, it is that I love honest food: food which requires few ingredients, which relies on the quality of those ingredients, and whose flavors are a combination that is simply perfect. Nothing epitomizes this idea of “honest food” more than the dishes of Umbria.
For those of you who are unaware of the country’s geography, like I was before traveling to Italy, Umbria is a region in central Italy. We took the train here from Rome—a lovely two hour ride, with the last hour or so passing by rolling green hills—each one dotted with another medieval hill town—and a valley floor lined with fields and vineyards. It is a stunningly beautiful land, and at the moment, the hillsides are covered in bright red poppies. Suffice it to say, it took my breath away, and I am in love.
The region itself is known for a few robust red wines, which I recently covered in a blog about Umbrian vinos. Its native grape, Sagrantino, is one of the world’s more tannic varietals, and the region’s cuisine and its rustic, hearty flavors stand up against this monster of a wine. I thought I’d take the opportunity to share a few regional dishes with my readers, and include a few recipes that we have mastered since arriving. Like everything else Italian, these dishes are effortless in their beauty.
A Brief Overview of Umbrian Cuisine
Among many other things, the region is known for its truffles, game (there’s a wild boar with pappardelle pasta that I MUST try!), small birds, lentils, beans, local cured meats and cheeses. I’ve included a few of the more famous towns and their cuisines:
The region’s capital (and one of a few towns that was once home to the mysterious Estruscans) is known for its first and second course dishes with truffles, and torta al testo (a bread that is similar to foccacia).
The area is also known for their rich chocolate and sweets: Ciaramicola, a pink cake in the shape of a ring that is made for Easter; Pinoccate, a water, sugar and pine nut cake that is made for Christmas; and Torcolo di San Costanzo, a Perugian sweet made of bread dough, candied fruit, raisins, and anise seeds that was traditionally a cake brides gave to their groom on their wedding day.
Santa Maria Degli Angeli:
Roughly 30 km south of Perugia is this tiny town that hosts the Roast Goose Festival; needless to say, geese are prized in this region. Local dishes include bruschetta with goose livers, tagliatelle with goose sauce, porchetta (suckling pig) and, of course, whole roasted goose.
The town we are calling home for two weeks (and the home and final resting place of St. Francis, the priest known for preaching to everyone… even the birds. He’s my favorite. 🙂 ) Local dishes include palombacci alla ghiotta (wood oven roasted pigeons with wine, lemon, vinegar, sage, garlic, rosemary, juniper berry and chicken livers), maccheroni dolci (eggless tagliatelle with walnuts), and rocciata di Assisi (a fruit and nut roll).
This city hosts an annual Quintana Tournament from June to September: at this event, activities on horseback (with contests wear period costumes) celebrate the city’s past as a thriving medieval town (the city was known for its artwork and the first copy of the Divine Comedy was printed here in 1472). Local fare includes lentils and beans, olive oil, red potatoes that make the sweetest, most delicious gnocchi, and piccioni selvatici all’uso di Foligno (stewed pigeon).
Just 4 km from Foligno, perched on Mount Subsasio, is a lovely (and less tourist-laden) medieval town that is known for its pecorino, sausage, prosciutto, wild asparagus (we saw a man searching for these delicate stems, which have a lovely, rustic flavor), beautiful, aromatic olive oils, and the white truffle.
Hungry yet? Yeah, me too… pretty much 24/7 since we got here! 🙂 I’m closing this post with an absolutely beautiful and regional lentil dish that my husband made. The secret is to have the best, highest quality sausage, and (of course!) some high quality canned tomatoes. The recipe itself is a piece of cake!
Lentils with Sausage Recipe
This recipe consists of two pots: one with the lentils, and another with the sauce.
Pot One: Lentils
1 ¾ cup lentils
3 ½ cups water
1 celery stalk, whole
1 garlic clove, smashed
Dash of salt and pepper
- In a small pot, combine all ingredients and let simmer for about 30 minutes (lentils should still have a bite to them).
6 Italian sausages cut in half length-wise
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 ½ cup tomato sauce
- In a large pot, brown the sausages in the olive oil over medium heat. Once browned, remove: leave the olive oil and rendered fat in the pan.
- Brown the onion and garlic clove in the pan over medium heat
- Deglaze the pan with a splash of red or white wine, scrape all the remaining bits of sausage/onion/etc off the bottom of the pan
- Add the tomato sauce and the lentils (with the water) and the sausages
- Let cook for 45 to an hour: if it starts to dry out, add a little bit of water or a low sodium broth.
Suggested wine pairings
“If it grows together, it goes together”… pair this hearty dish with a robust red wine, like a Montefalco de Sagrantino or a Montefalco Rosso. Or, get creative and pair this with an Old World style Malbec, or a Bonarda.
“Sediments” on the dish
It’s not rocket science, but cooking lentils can be a bit tricky: some types need longer to soak than others, (Umbrian lentils are notorious for their soft coatings and need virtually no soaking) so I suggest reading the suggested cooking times on your package of lentils, then taste and trust your gut!
Be careful when adding salt: some sausages can have enough that you won’t need any at all! Just taste as you go and you will be fine.
I suggest serving this dish with bread that is unsalted, like the bread they typically make in Umbria. It is a perfect accompaniment to the salty, flavorful dish.
This dish is incredible the next day, so it is a perfect dish to make to have some leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch at work. You might not be able to pair it with wine since you’re working… but the flavors will still be delicious! 🙂
If you like this recipe, check out the rest of our recipes HERE! Need to pair something delicious with something delicious to drink? Check out our wine reviews. Don’t forget to like us on Facebook to receive an occasional wine review or recipe update in your newsfeed! P.S. We are on Twitter, too. 🙂