The cuisine of Umbria still maintains characteristics from antiquity, not only from the Middle Ages, but some dishes and cooking techniques are believed to go all the way back to Roman and even Etruscan times. One of the most common examples is spit roasting and there are many dishes that use this technique still today. Wild game includes everything from wild boar to hare to pigeon. Pasta and breads are also made following recipes passed down through the generations, such as ciriole or stringozzi, homemade with using just flour and water. Another specialty of the province is gallina ubriaca (drunken hen), which is simply chicken cooked in plenty of Orvieto wine!
Viticulture was introduced to the Orvieto region by the early Etruscans, who carved out cellar-like caves from volcanic soil that could house wines with long, cool fermentation. By the Middle Ages, the wine had evolved into a sweet dessert wine with a deep golden color. Today the white Orvieto is markedly different from that of ages ago, but the rich volcanic soil remains the same. No longer sweet, the wine is composed primarily of Grechetto and Trebbiano and a blend of Malvasia, Drupeggio, Verdello and Canaiolo Bianco grapes.
Orvieto wines are usually dry, peach-scented, with a clean, crisp profile; although the golden, semi-sweet Orvieto Abboccato style, once admired by popes and princes travelling through the area, is still produced and cherished locally. Worldwide, the most esteemed of the wines is the Orvieto Classico DOC, which is distinct from the Orvieto DOC. The Classico is a bit drier and more full bodied, but both varieties are moderately priced and are an exceptional value. Although far less known to most, the Rosso Orvietano DOC is ruby red in color and is made from a blend of several grapes. It has an intense aroma, yet is soft on the palate with an elegant finish.
Although wine dominates the epicurean headlines of the province, there are numerous culinary delicacies hidden within and Lumachella (plural lumechelle), which translates as snail, is a delicious savory bread, whose name is derived from its shape.
- 2 cups flour
- 3/4 cup water (approximately)
- ½ cup lean bacon or pancetta
- ½ cup Pecorino cheese
- 1 tbsp lard (or bacon fat)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 ½ tbsp yeast
- a pinch of salt and pepper
Mix together warm water, ½ cup flour and the yeast. Let sit until it begins to bubble; add the rest of the flour and mix until you can manage it by hand. Add the Pecorino cheese, bacon or pancetta, lard and olive oil. Knead for 10-15 minutes and then place in bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise for about an hour.
Divide the dough into 12 balls. Roll out each into a long snake shape and then loosely make each into a snail-like coil. Place on parchment paper lined baking sheet and allow the rolls to rise for 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375°F and then bake for 20 minutes. Lower the temperature to 300°F and bake until golden brown, about 10 -12 minutes.
The cipollata (onion soup) is a specialty of Terni. Paired with crusty bread, this cucina povera is a warming and winning meal.
- 2 lb onions, finely sliced
- 2 oz chopped pancetta
- 12 oz peeled tomatoes
- 1 quart vegetable broth
- 10 or so basil leaves, chopped
- 2 eggs
- 4 tbsp grated Parmigiano cheese
- 2 tbsp olive oil
Fry the pancetta over a medium flame in a pan with a swirl of olive oil. When crisp, add the onions, a healthy pinch of salt; cook covered over very low heat. You do not want the onions to brown. Add a spoonful of water if needed to keep them from drying out and browning. When the onions are soft, add the tomatoes and vegetable broth. Simmer for 30 minutes.
In a bowl, beat the eggs with the Parmigiano and the chopped basil. Remove the soup from the heat. Drizzle the egg/cheese mixture into the soup and stir well. Serve with crusty bread and enjoy.
Ciriole Alla Ternana
Ciriole is the most common pasta dish in the province. It is similar to the Tuscan “Pici” but with the shape of tiny snakes. Handmade Ciriole does not contain eggs and the name comes from the Latin word cereus, meaning “as white as wax.”
- 1 lb all-purpose flour
- 20 oz tomato sauce
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 hot pepper
- 1 handful of parsley
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Place the flour on a clean surface and make a well for the water. Slowly add enough water to form a stiff ball of dough. Leave the dough to rest on a damp cloth for about an hour. Knead it in order to derive pasta strands that are at least 1/8 inch thick and 6 to 8 inches long.
In a pan, lightly sauté the garlic, parsley and red pepper with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Once the garlic has browned, add the tomato sauce and cook for about 15 – 20 minutes over a low flame. Add a pinch of salt at the end of cooking.
At this point, you can boil the Ciriole in salted water. Once ready, pour it into the pan with the sauce and sauté together for 1 – 2 minutes. Serve immediately.