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Second week – Umbria

October 17, 2011

Guanciale alle salvia e aceto

It’s been quite a feat trying to get all the updates out within the same week so I don’t run over to the next.
The latter half of the second week was focussed on the region of Umbria, considered the heart of Italy. Umbria is know for their cured meats. So it’s no surprise, the first dish we had was a cured meat. Guanciale or cured pork jowl is fried, draining some of the fat and is flavored with sage, while the vinegar cuts through the taste of the fat without leaving any sour taste. Served with toasted bread, it was the perfect mid-morning snack. Chef Alberto had me at Guanciale.

Polenta con Spuntature e salsiccia

The next dish we got to cook and try immediately after cooking is a polenta dish. Usually, we have to prepare everything before we get to sit down for lunch starving. With Chef Alberto, we got to taste the food that should be eaten fresh, as we went along.
I never thought I would actually like polenta, but, of course, this is not instant polenta. It seems the quality of the polenta flour makes a difference. The sausage meat sauce was superb with the polenta.

Coratella D'agnello

Another dish I really loved was the lamb liver and kidney. It was simple, but took a long time to cook. My only disappointment was that the recipe cannot be substituted with pork or chicken livers which would be easier to get. This dish was voted most tasty during lunch. Interestingly, this dish was often eaten by the locals for breakfast as they  needed the protein from the dish for energy as they work in the fields.

Minestra di Lenticchie

 Legumes are a very important food to the diet of the traditional locals and they usually get most of their protein from legumes than meat. That’s probably another secret of the so-called Mediterranean Diet that promotes long healthy life.
 After that, we did have some healthy food like lentil soup, made with a special kind of lentil unique to that area. Some broken spaghetti pasta was added towards the last stage of cooking.

Zuppa di ceci e funghi

So, after the lentils, we had a soup made with chickpeas and fresh porcini mushrooms. Very nutritious and delicious, especially with parsley sprinkled and good quality olive oil drizzled on it. From our visit to the olive farm, I’ve learnt to taste olive oil and how to use it to enhance certain foods.

Spaghetti al Rancetto

We had guanciale again, but this time cut into strips and used to make the sauce for the spaghetti. What I’ve learnt here is that a good pasta dish, should have the sauce coating the pasta not the plate. This is one thing that is consistent from one chef to another, and they usually use the pasta water to help bind the ingredients together to create the sauce.

Making Umbricelli

 On the second day, we made some fresh pasta using an interesting almost antique contraption. The pasta we made looked like spaghetti but had a hole in the centre, so technically, it was shaped like a straw. This type of pasta is called Umbricelli in Umbria, but takes on different names in different regions. Anyway, I found out there were at least a thousand different types of pastas in Italy. I can imagine: different shapes and sizes an thickness, different types and proportions of flour and semolina, different types of binding liquids used, eggs, yolks/whites, water, olive oil etc.

Umbricelli all'aglione

This chewy pasta is made with egg white, water and flour. It is cooked and finished in a simple tomato based sauce, and topped with parsley.
I also made another type of pasta using whole eggs and flour and semolina that gives pasta the hardness.

Strascinati di monteleone di spoleto

This recipe that I was in charge of, had an interesting history. The dish originated more than 500 years ago, in 1494. It was first by a young woman living in a fortified town that was invaded by France. The captain and his men were angry to be only served a lowly pasta with no sauce, so they threatened to tie the men of the city and drag them round the castle walls. This young woman then made a pact with the soldiers to prepare a tasty dish in return for their mercy on the men. The meal was made with pork jowl, fresh sausage, eggs and pecorino cheese. And that was what I made.

Salsiccia all'uva

 After all that pasta, we need some meat. We made a very simple dish with just fresh sausages and grapes. So simple, yet so delicious, incredible.
After the sausages have browned and cooked through, grapes were thrown in to caramelize. That simple! Wondered why I never thought of it. Through this course, I begin to understand what the chefs mean when they say in the past, there is no separation between sweet and savoury dishes. You can find fruits in meat dishes, and herbs and ingredients usually used for savoury dishes are used in desserts.

Gallina 'mbriaca

 Another meat dish we made was Drunken Hen. They usually used hens that have not been very productive, laying fewer eggs. So, if the hen wasn’t producing enough eggs, they usually end up on the table. Being an old hen, it takes quite a lot of cooking, and some wine, to soften the meat.

Cinghiale in salmi'

Another meat that needed a lot of tenderising was the wild boar meat. It was marinated overnight with herbs, aromatics, and red wine. Then the meat is drained, dried, seared, and then added back to a sauce made from the marinade, to simmer for about 1 – 2 hrs.

What I like about this dish is Chef Alberto’s personal touch of adding orange zest and marjoram before serving. It literally perfumes the dish, tantalising the taste buds, and lifts up a dish that can be quite heavy.

Costolette di maiale alle erbe aromatiche

 Once we started with the meats, it just kept coming. We also had pork ribs that were simply browned, deglazed with white wine, flavored with aromatic herbs, and then finished in the oven. It was served with rosemary garlic potatoes. Spices,instead of herbs, are usually used for pork ribs, so this is something fresh and new for me.


For traditional breads and cakes, we made Wine biscuits, Carnival Cake(chocolate cake made with dry amaretto biscuits), Rosemary Flatbread and Snail bread(Lumachelle) that is shown here.
The Lumachelle was made with diced salami and pecorino cheese, so it’s savoury and very flavorful.
Group picture with Chef Alberto Melagrana

Chef Alberto was very patient and took time to answer any questions we had. He even spoke some English to better explain to us. Thank you, Chef Alberto !

Grazie mille! Se possiamo, ci vediamo ancora. Salute!

From → Culinary Journal

  1. Zoe Lee permalink

    Does it all taste as good as it looks? And you liked the Lamb Liver and kidney? Not stinky with super strong smells?

  2. The dishes all taste good, but some more than others. The Lamb livers and kidney were cleaned well, and no stinky smell at all. In fact, it’s one of the top 3 favourites. Unfortunately, this method of cooking will not work for pig or chicken livers. Let me know if you find lamb livers back home.

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