We have been in Italy for a little over 60 hours and I have already tasted Chianina beef and truffles. Our journey into the culinary delights of Umbria did not start out so auspiciously. We arrived at Fiumicino at 8:35 in the morning. We had a four hour wait for the Sulga bus to Perugia, so we settled into the Chef Express with all our bags and fortified ourselves on the meager offerings.
As you can see, our first ‘meal’ consisted of Pringles, half a cornetto con crema, a cappuccino, a schweppes limone (probably the best thing on the table), and a bottle of water. To my surprise, the kids were not keen on the cornetto. I am not sure what they are going to eat for breakfast save for really expensive imported American cereals.
We arrived in Perugia around 4:30. Since Aug. 15 is Ferragosto, there were no taxis at the bus stations. We decided to schlepp all the bags up to the center ourselves (part of the way there are escalators; it is not quite so bad as it sounds). Along the way we met a lovely couple, who offered to help us. It turned out that they are in Rome for the semester and he teaches at Kenyon (more on that later). We made it to the apartment, got a tour of the appliances from our landlady, and finally showered. There was no food in the house. We headed to a local restaurant for dinner. The kids thought it was the best meal they had ever had. That changed after our second dinner in Italy.
Friday morning we headed out to find supplies. There is an alimentari (grocery store) and a macelleria (butcher) below our apartment. We introduced ourselves but Elvira, our landlady, had already told them we were coming. The grocer was wonderful and welcomed us in. It is one of those stores that looks small at the front, but there is another section in the back, and a basement full of all sorts of dry goods. AND, in the deli case, we saw our first fresh truffles. They are currently selling for €170.00/kg. This does not seem exorbitant, as a single truffle weighs between 30 and 50 grams. One day I will get brave and ask about the cost, and I may even buy one (but who would enjoy it except Simon and myself?).
I did have my first taste of truffles on Saturday night when we went out to dinner with our new friends from Kenyon and their children (close in age to Simon and Jakob). Jon and Pedar chose a restaurant with local Umbrian dishes called “La Taverna” (via delle streghe). Most of the kids were happy with tagliatelle con pepe nero e pecorina (basically cacio e pepe, but the pepper was much stronger).
Jakob, however, was brave and chose to try the pappardelle con ‘ragù Umbria’. This was like a bolognese but with Umbrian meats (more on Umbrian ragù below).
The kids decided that this was the best meal they had had. We’ll keep you updated.
The restaurant had a number of specials on Saturday night, one of which was maccheroni con tartufo nero e zafferano (macaroni with black truffle and saffron). I had to try it, right? It was good. The truffles added an earthy, almost musty (but in a good way) flavor to the pasta. I enjoyed it, but it was not the best use of truffles I had tasted. That was at Morimoto in Philadelphia. I am expecting that Umbria will surpass it soon.
Now for the beef. As we walked by the butcher on Friday morning, I noticed this sign:
Indeed, the butcher stocks only local meats. This includes pork, beef, rabbit, rooster, and chicken. I did not notice any lamb; I’ll have to check on that later. However, I was not prepared to buy any meat until today (Saturday) when I realized the everything would be closed on Sunday and I had to think ahead for several meals. Since he cuts everything to order, I decided to start simply. I got half a kilo of ground beef, which he ground right in front of me, and some chicken breasts. I asked for four, meaning for breasts. He asked if I wanted them filleted. ‘Certo,” I said. He proceed to slice one breast horizontally into four beautifully thin fillets. Not enough to feed my boys. So I asked him to slice another one.
With the ground beef, Jakob and I attempted to recreate the dish he had had the night before. I have a recipe for Umbrian ragù from The Dog Who Ate the Truffle, by Suzzane Carrerio. This recipe is not difficult, but it calls for several ingredients I did not have, including Umbrian bulk sausage and pancetta. What we made was more like a traditional bolognese.
Jakob has decided that he is going to be the cook for the family (with some direction from me):
We let the ragù simmer for three hours while we play Catan Seafarers (Pedar won his first game).
The final product looked like this:
Although Jake would not say whether it was better than the previous night, everyone had seconds. We’ll just say that the first meal we had in our new kitchen was much better than the first meal we had in Italy.