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November 21, 2018 | Rome, Italy

Dreaming in Umbrian

By | 2018-04-29T22:27:59+00:00 April 27th, 2018|"In Provincia"|
Savory tagliolini with roasted asparagus and tomato sauce.
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lose your eyes. Imagine a long table in a sunny garden laden with delicious food and wine. Look around you. Take in the rural green, the scents of the season. Now, begin to eat.

You have all the time in the world. You can savor both the flavors and the lively company. For a little while at least, tomorrow is far, far away. You’re dreaming of Italy, right?

Some aspects of life in rustic Italy are just the kind of slower syncopation many of us seek to embrace.

In Umbria, deep in the heart of all things rustic, life still revolves around a cycle of holidays and festivals. Many are derived from ancient rituals that marked changing seasons, planting or harvesting crops or the position of the stars. In fact, the population of Italy’s countryside is an ongoing case study in archeological anthropology.

Mind you, life out here is full of bothers. A good many of them are as challenging and frustrating as those faced by city-dwellers.

Out here we also have shopping malls and cinemas as well as supermarket sushi.

But when it comes to leisure time, we love a village party above any other form of entertainment. With plenty to eat and drink, of course.

That’s why visiting Umbria gives you that sempre festa feelingalways a party, always a feast. Weekend festivities may include sagre, village religious processions, or historic re-enactments of battles, dances and games from long ago.

Would you like to meet us? Just ask around and you’ll be sure to find an excuse to celebrate; it could be a festival somewhere new to you, or right next door; next month or next Sunday.

Even if you don’t speak Italian, or only use FaceBook, there are other ways to find events. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Check out wineries and olive presses Vineyards and olive plantations farms where oil is made are big engines of outdoor entertainment. From April through October, they offer opportunities to picnic amid the vineyards and enjoy a spread of bruschetta. Major events include Cantine Aperte (open cellar day) at the end of May and Frantoi aperti (open oil mill day) at the end of October.
  • Follow medieval themes We Italians love dressing up, and not only for Carnival. Most Umbrian hill-towns date back to between the 12th and 15th centuries, which makes them perfect for reviving the ambience of ancient festivals. Don’t miss the Calendimaggio in Assisi, the Sagra delle Gaite in Bevagna, the Corsa dei Ceri in Gubbio and the Quintana in Foligno (and probably 10 or 15 more). As you wend your way around a region, check out the posters affixed along streets and roads. Forget Wi-Fi: Italians still broadcast their parties the old-fashioned way.
  • Seek out unfamiliar foods Have you ever tasted pigeon? Snails or frogs? Or a dessert made from onions?Goose ragù? Each of these has its own festival. Typically these festivals take place in off-the-beaten track villages, where locals strive all year to attract crowds for their two- or three-day feast. Here’s your chance to sit under a tarp to watch the oldies dancing the polka. Don’t knock eccentric experiences. Time marches on. But if you can’t join us for the party, cook up your own Umbrian storm to enjoy under your own spring sun. Just please invite someone. Don’t be alone.

Tagliolini with roasted asparagus and tomato sauce (Serves 2-3)

Ingredients

  • 300 gr. (10 oz.) thin green asparagus.
  • 2 large garlic cloves. Mince one finely; crush the second one.
  • 1 small chili pepper, thinly sliced.
  • 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.
  • The Scheggino village festival.

    2-3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese.

  • 1 400 g (14 oz.) can organic crushed or diced tomatoes.
  • 300 gr. (10 oz.) spaghetti or fresh tagliolini.

Preparation

— Rinse the asparagus and remove the woody part of the stem. Toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Transfer to a shallow baking pan and broil or bake at 220° C (425° F) for 15-20 min until cooked through and slightly charred. Remove from the oven, add the crushed garlic. Cover and let asparagus infuse for at least 10 min. Chop in bite size pieces.

— In a shallow pan – a deep frying pan is ideal – sauté the finely minced garlic in olive oil over low heat until fragrant. Add undrained tomatoes, cover and simmer for 10 minutes until slightly reduced.

— Meanwhile cook the spaghetti or tagliolini until al dente, strain and transfer the pasta to the pan of tomato sauce. Add the roasted asparagus. Over high heat, stir quickly so the pasta absorbs the sauce. Drizzle 1-2 tablespoons olive oil and serve with sprinkling of grated Parmesan.

Reread the first paragraph of this column and close your eyes.

About the Author:

Letizia Mattiacci
A former behavioral ecologist, Italian-born Letizia left academia with husband Ruurd to renovate a 500-year-old Umbrian farmhouse they turned into a B&B and cooking school named Alla Madonna del Piatto . She maintains a blog and in 2015 published a cookbook called "A Kitchen With a View."

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