Gastronomy in Umbria
I knew Italian food was a good reason to visit Italy – what I didn’t realise was that Umbrian food would prove the reason to keep going back. The produce is incredible, and simplicity – treating the freshest food with care and without complication – seems the key.
From pork products like Prosciutto di Norcia IGP to the prestigious black and white truffles growing around Spoleto and Norci, there are several internationally acclaimed products in Umbria that are simply part of everyday life in the region. Pizza and pasta? Of course. Pistachio ice cream? A given. But there’s so much more to Umbrian gastronomy.
Before I’d ever visited Umbria, I had already sampled local foods by cooking at home (though ask any Italian – without the local ingredients, even the most authentic recipe can’t be done justice). I’d heard much about torta al testo, a typical flatbread from Umbria filled with various ingredients, though lashings of olive oil, Umbrian sausages and wilted greens were apparently the most traditional way to go. That would – of course – end with me attempting to make my own sausages. I thought it better to go straight to the source.
Of course, being in Mount Subasio National Park, it’s not a case of having restaurants lined up outside Casa Rosa: it’s a world away from the bustle. Each home has the facilities to make your own breakfast, lunch and dinner, with several large supermarkets within driving distance and most basics available at Giovannino’s on the road into Assisi. On warm evenings, we’d pick up crusty bread with prosciutto, olives and squid, and simply enjoy it outside with a salad of rocket and ever-so-sweet tomatoes. And oh, the tomatoes.
That said, there were also the offerings of Casa Rosa itself: Mother Nature is kind here. We were lucky enough to enjoy bowls of cherries by the pool, picked from the trees behind our accommodation. Throughout the year, different fruits make their appearance, and the olives are harvested from October. Furthermore, one of the best and most convenient dinner options is to indulge in the meals made by Alessandro on site. Lasagne con salsicce e tartufo (lasagne with Umbrian sausage and truffle); cannelloni; melanzane alla parmigiana: it was a pleasure for us to enjoy the meals of such a naturally gifted cook.
And there are, of course, almost too many places to list when it comes to eating out in Assisi instead. We enjoyed classic margherita pizzas (again, we found the simplest dishes were best) and bought delicious pastries for breakfast – many a morning was spent people-watching over a crème-pâtissière-filled cornetto, the Italian version of a croissant.
Ice cream is a given whenever in town, and there are numerous shops to peruse for great wine, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, truffles, meringues, coffee, cheese… the list goes on. Also note that the word ‘norcineria’, the name of any butcher shop in Umbria, Lazio or Tuscany that specialises in charcuterie, comes solely from the prosciutto-famed town of Norcia itself. It’s that famed for its pork products. Make sure to browse several of these delis selling pork and wild boar; you can’t miss them (what with the taxidermy boar heads outside!), and the salsicce secche (small, dried sausages) are a great snack for supper.
When the sun begins to set, there are innumerable places to enjoy everything from a pizza to a four-course meal, from fine-dining restaurants to those that hark back to “cucina povera” – literally “peasant cuisine”, or what many believe gives Umbrian food its rustic simplicity. But for those evenings when you don’t want to stray too far from home, a great meal can be had at Ristorante Da Giovannino. A family-run restaurant with a warm, homely atmosphere, it was here we first enjoyed olive fritte, bocconcini di mozzarella fritti and fiori di zucca fritti: olives, little balls of mozzarella and courgette flowers, all fried in breadcrumbs, to start. We also ordered misto di bruschette, and enjoyed a variety of toppings including simple tomatoes, minced garlic, olive paste and local prosciutto. For primi, we had spaghetti al pomodoro (spaghetti with a simple tomato-based sauced); for secondi, tagliata alla rucola e parmigiana (strips of medium-rare steak with rocket, shavings of parmesan and a simple dressing). End with their tiramisù (“pick me up”) – it is worth the visit alone.
Speaking of dolci, or sweets, new guests at Casa Rosa (both old and young) should keep an eye out for Baci. Those who’ve visited Italy before will know them, but for those that haven’t, these little chocolates are made by Perugina chocolate, and worth picking up when you want a sweet hit. Not only are they small bites of hazelnut heaven, but each individual bacio (literally “kiss”) comes wrapped in a note with a message love or friendship. I bought one for my friend from a gas station on our way to a Sunday market, and it read: “Where you find friends, there you find riches”. I’m not sure we agreed with the translation after buying so many trinkets between us that day, but the sentiment was certainly there!
Guide to Umbrian Food
DOP: Denominazione di Origine Protetta (or Protected Designation of Origin)
Olio Extravergine di Oliva Umbria (Extra virgin olive oil)
Farro di Monteleone di Spoleto (Spelt)
Pecorino Toscano (Hard sheep cheese)
Salamini Italiani alla Cacciatora (Salami)
IGP: Indicazione Geografica Protetta (or Protected Geographical Indication)
Vitellone Bianco dell’Appennino Centrale (Veal)
Prosciutto di Norcia (Cured pork)
Lenticchia di Castelluccio (Lentils)
Patata Rossa di Colfiorito (Red potatoes)
Traditional Foods of Umbria
Pecorino (hard cheese)
Ricotta Salata (salted ricotta)
Caciotta (semi-hard cheese)
Raviggiolo (soft cheese)
Torta al testo (flatbread)
Crostini (toasted bread)
Gallina Ubriaca (literally ‘drunken hen’)