Often called the green heart of Italy, the province of Perugia is a rolling patchwork of olive groves, vineyards, fields and forests. Food is hearty and simple. Meat reigns supreme, especially pork and game, such as boar and hare, while the pork butchers of Norcia are famous for their sausages and salumi. This is a cuisine of hearth and heart, bringing families together over delicious food and long conversations.
Torta al Testo
Torta al testo is the Umbrian bread of the people. Everyone prepares it. Smooth on the outside, with a soft spongy interior, it’s perfect for sandwiches. Traditionally, this bread was cooked on a testo, a thick cast iron plate heated over hot coals. However, it can easily be made in a hot non-stick frying pan. Delicious hot or cold, it can be filled with sautéed greens, cured meats and cheeses. It is pictured here with prosciutto and Scamorza cheese.
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup warm milk (about 100°F)
Mix together the flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Begin to add the warm milk, stirring it into the dry ingredients, adding just enough for the dough to come together. Dump the dough onto the counter and knead by hand until smooth.
Divide the dough into 6 individual balls, cover and let the dough rest for 30 minutes. Roll each ball of dough into a circle about 1/4″ thick. Heat your skillet or griddle until hot and cook each circle for about 4 minutes on each side, until lightly browned with a slightly bubbled surface. Keep the breads warm while you cook the rest. Stuff with your favorite fillings.
Penne alla Norcina
Sausage, onion, white wine, cream, pecorino cheese, olive oil and of course, pasta. That’s all you need to make this wonderful dish. Penne alla Norcina is a pasta dish that combines two essentials of the Italian cuisine – simplicity and quality.
1 lb penne pasta
1 ½ cup light cream
½ white onion
4 pork sausages
3 tbsp olive oil
6 oz white wine
Boil salted water and cook the penne until it is firm, but not yet al dente. The penne will finish cooking in the sauce. Meanwhile prepare the rest of the dish.
Remove the sausage from the casings and crumble. Chop the onion and heat the olive oil in a large heavy pan over a medium-low flame. Sauté the onion until it softened, 3-4 minutes. Turn the flame up to medium-high and brown the crumbled sausage meat for about 3 minutes. Lower the flame to medium and add the wine, cooking until it evaporates and the meat is cooked, about an additional 5 minutes.
Add the cream and stir for 30 seconds, then take the pan off the flame until the penne is ready to be finished. Once the pasta is drained, place the frying pan with the sausage and cream over a high flame and add the pasta. Mix the penne with the sauce and cook for about 2 minutes. Be careful the cream doesn’t dry too much; add a bit of milk if it seems a little dry. Plate the pasta and season with black pepper and Pecorino cheese.
Game is very popular in Perugia. This traditional dish is all about the seasoning, which creates a ‘bite’ that is perfect for a game fowl, such as squab. You can substitute Cornish game hens if you cannot find squab.
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 large cloves garlic
6 fresh sage sprigs
6 fresh rosemary sprigs
6 whole cloves
zest of ½ lemon, in large strips
1 cup dry white wine
5 tbsp white wine vinegar
½ tsp sea salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper
Rinse the squab and dry well inside and out. Use kitchen string to tie the legs of each bird loosely together.
In a heavy-bottomed, wide, deep skillet large enough to accommodate the 4 birds, heat the oil and garlic together over medium-low flame. Sauté until the garlic is golden, about 4 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic. Tie the sage and rosemary sprigs together with kitchen string and add to the pan along with the cloves and lemon zest.
Raise the heat to medium and add the birds; brown them evenly, about 15 minutes. Add the wine, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the squab are tender, about an additional 15 minutes. Add a few tablespoons of water, when necessary, to keep the birds moist. Be sure not to overcook them, or the meat will dry out.
Scoop out and discard the bundled herbs, cloves and lemon zest from the pan juices. Remove the pan from the heat and let the birds rest for 10 minutes. Remove the strings from the birds. Strain the fat from the pan juices and pour over each serving.
This rustic and ancient recipe from the city of Perugia is one of the sweets that highlight Umbrian rural cuisine.
3 ½ cups peeled, cored and sliced Granny Smith apples
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cups sugar
3 ½ sticks butter, melted, plus more for the pan
3 1/4 cups corn flour, plus a little extra for the pan
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pine nuts, toasted in the oven until golden brown
1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2 tbsp golden raisins, coarsely chopped and soaked in 2 tablespoons anisette
1/2 lemon, peel grated
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the apple slices in a bowl and sprinkle them with lemon juice. Set aside. In a large bowl, place the sugar and melted butter and mix well. Fold in the flour and baking powder, then beat in the eggs until the mixture is smooth. Add the pine nuts, walnuts, raisins, anisette and lemon peel. Fold in the apples and stir well to combine.
Butter and flour a 9” springform pan and pour in the batter. Bake for 1 hour and allow to cool before slicing.