Art and food are intimately related in Italy and Italians are justly proud of their accomplishments in both endeavors. Over the last two weekends we have experienced our full share of both food and art (as well as food as art). Last weekend my parents (and niece) came to Perugia. While the boys were at school, Pedar and I took them to see the Perugino’s in the National Gallery of Umbria. Over the weekend we all went to Florence together (where we also met up with our friends from Arezzo). We saw A LOT of art and had a great meal with Peter and Lili (at Trattoria Enzo e Piero). Unexpectedly, on Sunday we found ourselves in the middle of the time trials for the Cycling World Championships. It was all a bot overwhelming, not least because Florence is hotter and dustier than Perugia. The kids held up well, all things considered. A highlight for everyone was the Botticelli room at the Uffizi. Maybe because it was early in the day and we still had energy and enthusiasm for art, or maybe because Botticelli’s works really did feel like the coming of Spring after so many Perugino’s, or maybe because the myth behind the Birth of Venus (according to Hesiod) is compelling in a Freudian sort of way, whatever the case, the kids spent a good twenty minutes in this part of the gallery. Micah has since declared The Birth of Venus his favorite painting. And, as it turns out, she is everywhere. Including promoting pasta at “I Primi d’Italia” this past weekend in Foligno. The Italians take their art and their food seriously. Although this image may seem funny to us, no one was laughing in Foligno, it is most definitely an homage to both Botticelli and Farfelle. For more like it, see here.
“I Primi d’Italia” is a four-day food festival highlighting first courses in Italian cooking: pastas, soups, and rices. The event includes tastings, cooking demonstrations, “la boutique della pasta”, a separate market for specialty foods, and pasta making for kids.
We signed Jakob and Micah up for a class on making gnocchi. They each got an apron and a chef’s hat and the instructors whisked them away. No parents were allowed in during the class. We were treated to a one-hour demonstration on healthy eating by representatives of Molisana Pasta, the sponsors of the class. The company has a campaign to get kids to eat more vegetables, with their pasta of course. They have created a character named Spighetto to promote this idea. Their philosophy is to avoid talking about calorie intake and to focus instead on balanced meals that preferably get all the food groups into one dish (un piatto unico). The idea is to save time (and money) by making one pasta dish that includes a little meat protein as well as a serving of vegetables. They advise that kids should only eat sandwiches occasionally. This is all well and good, but someone still has to cook the meal!
Meanwhile, Micah and Jakob each emerged from the cooking class with a bowl full of fresh gnocchi. We carefully carried those bowls around for the rest of the day.
After the cooking class, we wandered through the town tasting various samples. Restaurants throughout town sponsored the tastings. The best thing we ate was probably the lasagna. The most interesting was at a Sardinian tasting plate at Taverna Badia. We sampled culurgiones, large ravioli-like pastas. They look heavy, but are actually light and creamy. These were tossed in a sauce of zucchini and ricotta salata. The plate also included radicchio, which had been braised and then baked with formaggio sardo, a type of Sardinian sheep cheese. There was a tossed salad on the side of the dish.
“La Boutique della Pasta” featured vendors from all over Italy selling both fresh and packaged pastas in every size and shape one can imagine. We even found pasta al calcio:
We had to buy some, of course, but we decided against the pasta clock:
and the pasta dress:
Although, seeing all these creative items made from macaroni, I felt a bit guilty for throwing out the majority of our kids’ preschool art projects.
On the subject of Art, the pasta ’boutique’ was held in Foligno’s Palazzo Trinci, which also houses the archaeology museum. The palace was constructed in the 14th century and features an elaborate stairwell with geometric decoration that leads up to a loggia, several large halls, and a chapel. The museum extends below the modern street level to a Roman house excavated under the foundations of the Gothic palace.
In the early 15th century, the Trinci family commissioned the frescoes in the loggia and halls. According to the Blue Guide (thanks, Keith), these are some of the most interesting secular paintings in Italy. Indeed, off of the loggia is the “Sala delle Arti Liberali e dei Pianeti” (Room of the Liberal Arts and the Planets). The Liberal Arts are figured as women seated in Gothic thrones. In the photo on the left, we have Astronomy, Philosophy (in the center, badly damaged), and Geometry. Grammar, Dialectic, Music, Arithmetic, and Rhetoric are also depicted. At the other end of the hall are the planets in human form (sorry, I did not get a good picture of that end).
Back to the food.
At the end of the day we treated ourselves to a “coda d’aragosta” (lobster claw pastry, the only kind Jakob can eat), a type of elongated sfogliatelle filled with chocolate (we shared it):
Just as we were leaving Foligno, the skies opened up. We ran for the train station and only got moderately soaked. Back home in Perugia, we took stock of our pasta acquisitions: four bags of pasta swag from the Molisana, two bags of pasta al calcio, and two bowls of gnocchi made by Jakob and Micah.
Jakob and Micah, inspired by the pasta class and their new aprons, made gnocchi for everyone:
If only this happened every night…