Food explorations with the Barkers III, Umbria

Following in the tradition of our two previous trips with Ben and Karen Barker (Terra Madre and Piedmonte, Italy 2006 and Northern Spain 2010) we again plunged into another food filled study, this time of Umbria.  Why Umbria?  Well it is very similar to Tuscany in scenery, food and wine but with fewer tourists.  The food traditions are maybe more simple and a direct result of what is in season, we would find out.

A slightly different approach this time as we would stay in one central location and travel out by day.  We wanted to have a place in a small hill town that we could return to in the evenings after the days adventures and big lunch.  If we wanted we could fix some simple evening food from ingredients we might find in the markets or walk the town and find something but not have to drive in the dark.  We found a nice apartment in the beautiful hill town of Spello on the slopes of Mt. Subasio which are covered with olive groves, it turned out to be exactly what we wanted.

The hills are carpeted with olive trees

The hills are carpeted with olive trees

We flew into Rome and in just over two hours we were in the heart of Umbria at our first lunch in the small town of Bevagna.

happy to out of an airplane

happy to be out of an airplane

a singular dish with farro

a singular dish with farro

It was a perfect start, sitting outside on a sunny afternoon, with several great dishes including a farro dish with pistachios, several traditional pasta dishes and a desert so good that Karen was determined to figure out how to reproduce it at home.

 

 

 

here come the humgry Americans

here come the hungry Americans

We rolled the last few miles over to Spello and checked into our apartment and then made our first foray around town.  First to the macellaria to procure some salumi for the house and then to the enoteca to make sure there was wine in the house.  The Enoteca Properzio, run by the Angelini family, turned out to be almost a nightly visit as we tasted our way through the Umbrian wines that Ben wanted to try from research he had done at home.

Irene and Roberto Angelini with Ben

Irene and Roberto Angelini with Ben

The next day, well recovered from jet lag we mostly spent the day wandering around town

steep hill town alley

steep hill town alley

but did drive a few miles out to the valley town of Canarra for lunch at a small husband and wife run osteria, Perbacco.  Canarra is known for its production of red onions and the menu featured them in many dishes.

pasta with red onions and anchovies, a Betsy special

pasta with red onions and anchovies, a Betsy special

Monday was the first of our markets to check out in the town of Marsciano, supposedly one of the biggest markets in Umbria it was mostly clothes and household items and not much food.  We did start the practice of having a porchetta sandwich at each market we went to, think of it as the morning sausage biscuit but much better.  Porchetta is an Umbrian specialty of a whole, herbed, roasted pig which is sliced onto thick rolls and there are porchetta trucks everywhere.

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We did buy a few seeds to try and I was glad to see that our broccoli raab looked every bit as good as the stuff on display there did.

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A word about markets in Italy.  There is usually a weekly market in every small town, bigger towns may have a twice a week market.  Most of the vendors have these special market vehicles with sides that open up and they move from town to town loading and unloading each day (unfortunately the produce also reflects this).  Most of the produce is from Italy and labeled where it is from but there are very few local farmers.  Over the years we have been seeing fewer and fewer local growers at these markets.  Increasingly we are seeing special once or twice a month markets for local producers only, usually on Saturdays.  We think that they are feeling the pressures of these bigger mobile market vendors and food more easily available from all over the European Union.

We moved on up the valley to Deruta, one of great pottery producing towns, especially for the brightly colored and intricate Majolica ware.  This was a ceramic guitar made for Carlos Santana and the tiles were fantastic.

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We ended up at the oldest producer, the Grazia family has been making pottery since the 1500’s and we got a personal tour by Ubaldo Grazia, the current head of the family.

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Here in his office and museum.

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We saw all areas of their production including their new kiln with the first firing of custom beer bottles for a local craft brewery.  Ubaldo was very excited about this new product.

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A fair lunch in Torgiano but the food and wine highlight of the day was a long relaxed evening down in the cellar of Enoteca Properzio.  A slow rainy Monday evening allowed much personal attention from Irene, Lucca and Roberto the patriarch.  Betsy was in her best Italian speaking form and once they found out we were chefs and farmers the plates of bruschetta, pecorino cheeses and prosciutto started coming along with “special” wines to be tasted.  It was a memorable night.

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Tuesday dawned clear as a bell, ideal for our drive up into the Mount Sibillini National Park.  On the way through the mountains there were lots of freshly dug potatoes being sold on the roadside  and we also passed several big trout farms.  The lunch goal was the tiny hilltop town of Castelluccio perched on a small rise in the middle of the Piano Grande

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a huge valley where they raise incredibly tiny lentils.  This is a panarama of just half of the valley you can see the lentil fields below, you can click on it to make it really large.

castellucio pano1

Lentils, trout and sausages were mandatory.

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After lunch we dropped back out of the mountains to the town of Norcia, the real goal for the day.  Norcia is maybe the most famous town in Italy for it’s cured pork products and we loaded up with things to eat back in Spello and to bring back home.

does this man look like someone nicknamed Pig Padre?

does this man look like someone nicknamed Pig Padre?

A bewildering selection to choose from

A bewildering selection to choose from

Norcia is also the home of twin saints Benedict and his sister Scholastica.

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Back home in Spello, we spent the end of a beautiful day out on the private patio overlooking the valley with large plates of all the charcuterie, cheese and fruits we had purchased.

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Wednesday we started with the small market in Spello (and a porchetta sandwich), the highlight being the fresh fish truck and some of the very first olives of the season.

Ben drawn to the porchetta truck

Ben drawn to the porchetta truck

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Ben spotted the October beans along with the new olives and artichokes

Ben spotted the October beans along with the new olives and artichokes

Our friend Jim Stock of the Haw River Wine Man had made connections for us to do a winery tour at Tabarrini vineyards.

???????????????????????????????Good wine and discussion and then onto lunch in Montefalco at L’Alchemista.  The featured item here was the black celery grown in the area.  Not really black but a really dark green because they hill the base up high which forces the plants to make extra chlorophyll in the leaves.  We also had the some of the first olive oil pressed this season, incredibly green and flavorful.

Black celery stuffed with sausage

Black celery stuffed with sausage

Thursday was another rainy day but we were off to Orvieto, built up on top of a volcanic ash hill it is known both for it’s huge and beautiful duomo and it’s underground caves carved out of the volcanic material.  Originally made by the Etruscans there is a fascinating tour you can take down into them showing how they lived and worked underground especially when under siege, most intriguing were the pigeon nest holes which was a main food source for them, they outlasted the Romans for two years this way.

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The duomo is striking for both its black and white horizontal stripes but also it’s very ornate front façade.

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It was also market day and this is where we saw more local growers than anywhere else the most interesting items being the wild greens and herb mixes.

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the olive and dried bean guy

the olive, nut and dried bean guy

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Friday was our last day together and we had several things we wanted to get done.  We had been told by several Italians that the best of all the olive oils were the first pressed from Spello and that they should begin pressing any day now.  We (Betsy) asked all around town about were the mill was, finally we were walked out to a patio that overlooked the valley and the mill was pointed out to us at the bottom of the hill and sure enough we could see they were working.  First thing this morning we drove down to the mill where we sampled the first oil of the season and then proceeded to buy more than a gallon each to take home.

olives being loaded into the press

olives being loaded into the press

beautiful green olive oil

beautiful green olive oil

look how green it is, delicious

look how green it is, delicious

That task done we headed north to Assisi to see the town and the bascilica of San Francisco (St. Francis).

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Even in the shoulder season the town was full of tourists and pilgrims here to see the home of the saint and the namesake of the new Pope.  A beautiful town and day we spent the morning wandering through it.

did I say hill town?

did I say hill town?

All week we had talked about how good the first meal in Bevagna was and we decided we needed to go back and eat at Trattoria di Oscar again.  It turned out to be the best meal we had the whole trip.  This tiny restaurant (five tables inside) is run by the chef husband and his wife.  This day Filippo was actually the host and waited the tables as well as overseeing the kitchen.  The first day they gave us a hand written daily menu in a notebook that had the past menus in it was well, it was fun to look at what was recently offered, today he just recited it to us.

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We were fortunate to get one of the five tables as they turned people away.  Once again when they learned that we were chefs and farmers the world opened in a different way.  We came to realize that we are not the standard American tourists and that our personal stories are interesting to them as well.  A great long meal with some new wines.  Good pastas, pigeon, quail and lardo wrapped pork and more.

Grilled quail

Grilled quail

pork wrapped pork

pork wrapped pork

walking through Bevagna

walking through Bevagna

We headed back to Spello for one last sunset and a final visit to the Enoteca before packing up.  It has been a great week.

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We now joke that we will start an Italian food tour business.  Karen will research the restaurants and other sites to see, Ben will choose the wines and drive, Alex will co-research markets, other places to visit and navigate and most importantly Betsy will speak the language for us to open the secret doors.  I think we need to test drive the model a few more times before we take paying customers (wink).

Saturday we parted ways with the Barkers headed to Tuscany for a few days and we drove on up to Piedmonte to visit with our friends up there.  Three days and nights full of family meals and visits in the different homes with the usual great food and conversations.  The Piovannos have mostly cleaned up from the lightning strike fire that took out one of their barns this summer but still have to replace the tractors that were burned up.

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this is what it looked like before

this is what it looked like before

Eventually we had to start the long trip home, after 22 hours we finally walked into our house, I think now the transit home is harder than the jet lag going over.

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Peregrine Farm News Vol. 7 #30, 12/15/10

What’s been going on?

Cold, cold, cold! 12 degrees this morning, second time in a week. This is just amazing and another record setting weather phenomenon. It has been hard to get much done outside so it is good we didn’t have any big projects we needed to get done. It is the beginning of the meeting season and I have had three board meetings in the last month and the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association conference so a little time at the desk has been welcome and needed. Soon we will have to buckle down to plan all of next years crops and order seeds, followed quickly by the time to do the end of the year books. Good thing we have plenty of fire wood to keep us warm with all of this indoor time.

We hope you all had tasty and sumptuous Thanksgivings, we thought the turkeys and produce were some of the best we have had. As promised I finally have had time to get the travel reports up on the website on Italy and Terra Madre and the Spain food explorations. I know some of you have already been to the website to see them but others will hopefully enjoy.

The winter looks to be filling up with the normal greenhouse work and other farm chores and further extra-curricular activities. The seed catalogs are just now starting to arrive in the mail and so our thoughts are turning to what new crops we will find to try this coming season. We do have the five new peppers from Spain and the new tomato from Italy for sure. Betsy already has the first Lisianthus plants up in the greenhouse and lettuce was seeded this week. All too soon it will be Ground Hog Day and spring will be peaking around the corner. If we don’t see you at market this Saturday, we hope that you all have a warm and satisfying winter.

Picture of the Week

Some cold lettuce and turnips under the floating row cover.

What’s going to be at the market? Continue reading

Spain, Food Exploration at its Best

After Terra Madre we flew to Barcelona to meet our good friends and customers Ben and Karen Barker of Magnolia Grill in Durham.  This is the second time we have traveled with them in Europe to discover new foods and food stuffs.  Yeah I know, sounds like a hard job but trust me this is as much about business as it is about travel.  We now have a well developed system.  Karen and Ben research the restaurants they want to eat at and we research the farmers’ markets and other kinds of markets in the area near the restaurants.

Typically we will visit a market in the morning looking at displays and for new products, then go and have a great lunch.  In the afternoons we will explore some more and then have another great meal in the evening.  When eating we all order different dishes and then share them around the table, smelling, tasting, dissecting and discussing what it is, how the chef prepared it, what the ingredients are and so on.

I know for us we are looking for new products (mostly vegetables) to grow or new ways for our customers to use things we already produce.  I am sure for the Barkers they are taking home fresh ideas for recipes and plate presentation as well as ingredients.

Ben and Karen had been to the areas we would travel in just last June so had a good idea of the lay of the country and the logistics.  We went to some places they had been to before but it was now a different season with different ingredients and dishes.  We also found plenty of new places to try too.

Betsy and I flew in Sunday afternoon and had a chance to regroup after the full experience in Italy.  8:00 Monday morning we met the Barkers at the airport, rental car and we are off across the north of Spain.  It is about a four hour drive to the Rioja region through an arid landscape that looks like west Texas with lots of wind turbine and solar farms.

I knew from research that we would be driving right by the epicenter of the famous Piquillo pepper, Lodosa.  Picked dead red (fully ripe) and usually wood fire roasted and then canned.  A medium small conical pepper with thick walls and no heat.  We landed in Lodosa at the extended Spanish lunch break and all stores, etc. were closed but there were lots of peppers hanging on the houses drying.

We stayed the night in the old, walled, hilltop town of La Guardia in the heart of the Rioja wine region and on the edge of the Basque country.  It was pretty cool out but we walked around the town for a few hours including a tour of the incredible church of Santa Maria de los Reyes with its polychrome portal.

Back to the hotel with a chance for Karen and Ben to rest up from the jet lag and then the first of our typically Spanish, late dinners.  The restaurants in Spain don’t even start serving until 8:30 or later.

A great meal with more typical Riojan dishes including two with peppers

chorizo sausage with quernica peppers

a plate of piquillo peppers

Tuesday we hit the small market in town early, picked up some piquillo peppers for seed

and then headed out around the wine country and toured the incredible wine museum.

A great lunch and then we drove on over the mountains to the Atlantic ocean and the city of San Sebastian.  On the way you go through a dry country side that reminded me of the wheat producing areas of eastern Washington state.

San Sebastian is on a beautiful bay and is the heart of the Basque country food culture.  We stayed here for three nights and each night did the pintxos crawl.

Pintxos (tapas in the rest of Spain) are small dishes that the bars there have developed into a ritual and competition, with each having their specialties.  So every evening we would try out 3-4 places and 3-4 dishes at each place.

more traditional, jamon and prawns

more modern, sweetbreads with red eye gravy

pickled pigs ears

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Each day we would travel the country side.  On Wednesday we actually drove over the border into France and to the town of Espelette.  Famous for its dried red pepper powder, we stumbled into the middle of its pepper festival.  Similar to the piquillo but with some heat.  They use it both dried and fresh.  Needless to say we brought some of those seeds back too.

espelette pepper field

drying peppers

Thursday we spent the morning in the good market in San Sebastian, which is actually under ground.  The seafood displays were incredible and Ben was teary eyed at the quality and selection and that he can’t get that kind of fish back in North Carolina.

We found several vendors selling the guindilla pepper we wanted to get seeds for.  This pepper is used in many of the pintxos and is like eating a green bean, meaty because it is packed with seeds.  We also saw several vendors selling “soup kits” an idea we have seen before in Italy.

soup kits

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday we drove back to Barcelona for the last three nights of the trip.  A big and beautiful city with lots to see but it was packed with people!  It was the Day of the Dead holiday weekend and maybe a big soccer game too.  People everywhere.  A very walkable city and we walked everywhere, which helped with the extra calories we were ingesting.

Saturday’s main objective was to spend the morning at the La Boqueria market, supposed to be the largest and best in Europe.

Truly amazing with every kind of food stuff you can think of, below is a number of shots in the market.

mushrooms are in season

eggs of every kind

apples and padron peppers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We finished the morning with “breakfast” of a roasted green pepper called cristal (kind of like an Anaheim without heat)

and a plate of fried eggs with baby squid.  In the picture you can see my watch next to the glass of red wine, 11:30 a.m., research is hell.

We did of course see a number of the great architectural sites, my favorites being the crazy Gaudi Sagrada Familia cathedral

and the incredible tiled and stained glass Palau de la Musica Catalana.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On our walks we also went into several other really good markets and maybe the biggest florist Betsy has ever seen.

Sunday we walked all the way down to the far tip of the harbor in the Barceloneta and had a really great lunch which included this wonderful paella.

Halloween on the Mediterranean

Back on up the Rambla and its masses of people and street performers including this flower inspired guy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday came and it was time to return to the farm.  Nineteen days gone is a long time and we were ready to head home.  Great trip; food, sights, travel partners.  We ended up bringing back five new peppers to try and a new tomato.  You can look forward to tasting them next year!