On our way back from Puglia last weekend, we left the Adriatic coast just south of Ancona and headed up into Umbria from the southeast. The road started off fine: two lanes in each direction with some elevated sections cutting across narrow valleys. This road, however, soon ended and we were on a two-lane route (the SS77) that switchbacked along the mountain passes between Le Marche and Umbria. Half-drilled tunnels in the mountainsides and piers waiting to be bridged by concrete slabs gave plenty of evidence that someday the route from the Adriatic to Foligno would be fast and straight. But, for now, travelers seeking Umbria are compelled to go through every town on the way and honk as they make the next 180 turn around the slope of a mountain. We didn’t mind. Our goal was to see the Colfiorito plateau, an upland plain just inside the Umbrian border where the local products include lentils and farro. I was hoping to see the lentils growing, but Pedar reminded me that it is, in fact, winter. Instead we discovered the famous Colfiorito red potatoes.
As we passed through Colfiorito and entered the plain the road was lined with tractors, trucks, and vans laden with sacks of potatoes. We had to stop:
This man looked like he had been digging potatoes for his entire life. He explained that Colfiortio potatoes are all red. They grow no other varieties in this area. This caught me by surprise because in Perugia I have not seen red potatoes in the market or the grocery, only small yellow potatoes. After selecting my sack, he asked if I needed anything else and proceeded to open the back of his van. It was filled with lentils, chickpeas, various types of beans, and farro (spelt). I ended up with a kilo each of lentils and farro.
As we drove away from the potato man and his van, we wondered what would happen to all the roadside vendors when the highway to Foligno is finished.
After a week of dining out every night in Puglia (and supporting Simon’s shrimp and sea-urchin needs), I was looking forward to making some simple (and cheap) meals at home. Here’s what we did with the potatoes, farro, and lentils.
Whenever the kids see potatoes, the first thing they want is “patate al forno.” In Lecce we had picked up a variety of salamis and cheese. So Sunday dinner was simple – roast potatoes and a combination of sweet and spicy salame with a sharp percorino cheese accompanied by some orange honey (that also came from Puglia).
(I forgot to take a picture of this.)
Zuppa di farro e patate: this was a variation on the farro soup I made a few weeks ago. I used about 400 grams of farro, which I rinsed and then soaked for about two hours. For the broth, I sauteed onions, celery, and a little bit of garlic. I started with about 2 litres of water, bringing that to a boil with the farro, then turning it down to simmer for about 40 minutes. In the meantime, I peeled and cubed about 6 potatoes. After adding the potatoes, I left the soup to cook until the potatoes were soft and the farro was al dente. You could add saffron to this dish, as the farro soup recipe called for, but I didn’t bother this time. I had some dried oregano, so I used that. We served the soup with some good olive oil from Montefalco in Umbria.
This was Jakob’s night. Some weeks ago he was with me when I went into the Meta – a supermercato in the center of Perugia – and he noticed that they had a small shelf of ‘international’ foods. Since then he has been bugging me to make ramen noodles with thin slices of beef. He wore me down. We got beef from the butcher, rice noodles, and a bottle of soy sauce. Jake made a video of our attempt at a Japanese noodle soup in Perugia. Stay tuned for that.
Lenticchie e salsiccia: this is a dish that I have made several times, although previously I used lentils from Castelluccio from the Bavicchi. The lentils from Colfiorito are of the same variety, they are small and cook quickly but they seem to have more variation in color, from a very pale green to almost black (but perhaps this is a result of quality control between lentils bought in a shop vs. lentils bought out of the back of a van).
Lentils and sausage is a typical Umbrian dish. You start with a soffrito of onions, celery, and carrots (cut small – no bigger than the lentils, which are tiny), add the lentils and enough water to cover them (you can add more, if necessary), and season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, cut the sausage into bites size pieces and cook in a frying pan. You are supposed to add fresh plum tomatoes to the sausage, but I didn’t have any, so I used canned whole tomatoes instead. I diced the tomatoes and cooked them with the sausage, adding the liquid from the can to the lentils. When the lentils are cooked (about 40 minutes), add the sausage and serve.
Back to the potatoes. For this dinner we had an Italian version of a potato casserole. This consisted of cooked and cubed potatoes mixed with fried onions and pancetta (bacon), and then topped with taleggio (a semi-soft mild cheese) and baked until the cheese is brown and melted. We ate this with a green salad.
By the end of the week the boys were begging for pasta. So tonight I made a classic spaghetti all’amatrciana (with pancetta that we got in Lecce). Everyone is always satisfied with this dish.
In preparing this post, I read that Colfiorito potatoes are particularly suited for making gnocchi. Micah and Jakob learned how to make these little potato dumplings at the food festival in Foligno back in September. We still have a lot of potatoes left, so we’ll be trying that next week.