Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Harry's Risotto ai Funghi with Fresh Umbrian Porcini





Visiting us in Umbria for a week with his Japanese girlfriend, Harry took full advantage of the 3 kilos of fresh porcini mushrooms we bought on our way back from Perugia, to make an outstanding Risotto ai Funghi. Arriving during porcini season, we saw local farmers selling crates of fresh porcini and chanterelles on the side of small country roads the entire month of September, and stopped on the Strada Regionale near Pietraia that afternoon to 'seal the deal'. Plump, firm and some the size of my hand, Harry only used about half a pound of the funghi for his risotto, leaving another six pounds of the prized mushrooms for other culinary creations during their visit. 



Our mushroom guy selling crates of fresh porcini mushrooms each day 
on the Strada Regionale near Pietraia

Almost 7 pounds of fresh porcini mushrooms for just 65 euros

Harry creating his Risotto ai Funghi on the villa's fabulous gas stove

Gradually adding hot chicken stock about half a cup at a time, until the rice is tender and creamy and yet still a little al dente

Harry added some butter and grated pecorino at the end

Harry's outstanding Risotto ai Funghi Porcini 

Garnished with a little extra grated Pienza pecorino just to "gild the lily"

Valeriana and laitue salad with a Spello olive oil and Maldon salt

A bottle of Cantina Di Negrar Ripasso Valpolicella to enjoy with our risotto





Risotto ai Funghi Porcini 
Serves 4

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups hot chicken stock
1/2 pound fresh porcini cleaned and thinly sliced
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for sprinkling


In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened and translucent but not browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Once the onions are translucent add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until toasted and opaque, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the wine to the toasting rice, and then ladle in the stock about 1/2 cup at a time and cook, stirring, until it is absorbed. Continue adding the stock a ladle at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed before adding more. Just before adding the last of the stock add the freshly sliced porcini. Cook until the rice is tender and creamy and yet still a little al dente, about 15 minutes. Stir in the butter and cheese until well mixed. Divide the risotto into 4 warmed serving plates, with a bowl of additional extra cheese for guests to help themselves.

























Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Deruta: Grandi Maioliche Ficola





Famous for producing pottery and ceramics since the 14th century, the small town of Deruta reached its zenith in the 16th century with much of its pottery drawing inspiration from the Renaissance and from painters such as Raphael, who came from nearby Gubbio. There are more than 300 ceramic firms in Deruta today and it is still possible to visit the artists at work in some of the smaller shops, and also one of the larger businesses such as Grandi Maioliche Ficola, a small family run business designing, fabricating and selling top quality wholesale ceramics, terracotta decorated pots and volcanic stone tables that can be shipped worldwide. All of Grandi Maioliche Ficola’s creations are hand-made, designed and produced in the historic town of Deruta following centuries-old ceramic traditions. Customers can choose from many designs in their catalogue, or can customize the shape, size and designs and therefore getting unique pieces of art. I love Italian ceramics, and have collected pieces from Positano to Orvieto but my favourite place to now shop for Italian ceramics is Ficola. Arriving early to explore Deruta, we made an impromptu detour to the factory and showroom and were overwhelmed by the enormous selection and quality of hand-painted ceramic dinnerware and serving pieces, and thus gave Deruta's other shops a wave goodbye. Greeted by Paul, a charming and interesting Anglo-Italian relatively new to Ficola but with great knowledge of the history, unparalleled quality and workmanship of their products, we realized we had found maioliche heaven.  



One of the ladies at Ficola who hands paints each table, made of volcanic stone, 
which is then fired in kilns at about 1000°C

Named for the Renaissance painter Raphael, Raffaellesco is one of the most popular and enduring Italian ceramic designs with the central motif of a stylized sea dragon

One small part of Grandi Maioliche Ficola expansive showroom in Deruta, a family run business selling top quality wholesale ceramics, terracotta decorated pots and volcanic stone tables

Every piece is hand made and can be customized to whatever the customer wishes

A unique piece weighing tons, this hug bowl is on display outside their showroom
























Monday, October 16, 2017

Chiusi National Etruscan Museum and Tombs





The origins of Chiusi date back to 1000 B.C. and was one of most powerful cities of the Etruscan federation. Perched high on a hill, Chiusi occupied a strategic position overlooking the Val di Chiana and still preserves remarkable Etruscan and Roman remains, making it an important archaeological centre for both Italy and the world. With one of the finest collections of Etruscan artifacts outside of Rome, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Chiusi is a treasure of great significance for the town and surrounding area once known as Etruria. Many Etruscan tombs and settlements have been discovered over the years, which contain well-preserved items now displayed in the museo. Established in 1871, the museum moved to its current Neoclassical building in 1901, where many rare and precious finds are displayed, crossing the entire development of the Etruscan civilization from the Bronze Age to the Villanonova culture, Lombard and Roman eras. Great attention has been given to the preservation and conservation of the displayed materials, most of which came from private collections during the 19th and 20th centuries and from archaeological excavations. One of the most important museums in its field, the National Archaeological Museum of Chiusi is considered a singular point of reference for archaeologists, historians and lovers of antiquities alike. Typical characteristics of the Etruscan civilization around Chiusi are represented by canopics on a throne, laminated bronzes, buccheros with “cilindretto” and imprinted decorations, statues and reliefs made of sulphurous stone as well as sarcophagi and urns made of clay and alabaster, used as burial vessels for millennia. Time permitting, it's great to sign up to visit the Etruscan tombs with a guide, which is included in the admission price of the museum, as they are located less than a mile outside the city walls, and well worth the effort.



Original catalogue of the Etruscan Museo Chiusino from 1832 documented each item in the museum

Pienza cinerary urn from 700 BC

Oinochoe (wine jug) from 700 BC

Etruscan canopic urn on a throne from Dolciano, made of bronze and earthenware 
from the second half of the 7th century BC

Mosaic of a wild boar hunt from a Roman villa from 1st century BC

Marble female head with a diadem from the Augustan age, about 43 BC to 18 AD

Lion head waterspout from the 2nd century BC

Etruscan canopic urn: clay ossuaries typical of the Chiusi area, are humanized vessels containing the ashes of a deceased, from the 7th century

Bronze buttons, razor and fine chain from the 8th century

Sculpture of Giovanni Paolozzi who donated his entire collection of excavated treasures which fundamentally forms the core of the museum

Paolozzi's personal notebook documents each of his excavated treasures

Pigeons having a bath in the park fountain across from the museum

One of Tuscany’s oldest churches and across from the Museum, the Chiusi cathedral dates to the 6th century, although it has been expanded and renovated over the centuries

The central nave and the apse were painted, imitating the mosaic visual effect, by Arturo Viligiardi from Siena at the end of the 19th century, inspired by the mosaics of Ravenna

View the beautiful Val di Chiana from the hilltop of Chiusi

Discovered during road works in 1928, the Pellegrina Tomb was dug from natural sandstone and consists of a long corridor with 4 small burial recesses and three chambers - a typical layout for Etruscan tombs 

The Pellegrina Tomb was in use during the 3rd and 2nd century B.C. by the Etruscan Sentinates family

Anyone can sign up to visit the Etruscan tombs with a guide, which is included in the Museum ticket price, however we explored on our own

Avenue of cypress leading up to a private villa outside of Chiusi






































Friday, October 13, 2017

Panicale Opera Festival & Ristorante Lillo Tatini





Built in 1858 in the historic centre of Panicale, Teatro Cesare Caporali holds the honour for being Italy’s second smallest theatre. There were originally twelve box seats built for the twelve most influential families of Panicale but eventually that expanded as popularity for the refined entertainment grew. With an elegant and richly decorated interior, the Teatro Caporali now hosts many events during the year, including the annual Pan Opera Festival for which we had tickets to Rossini's 'L'occasione fa il ladro'. A short one-act burletta meaning "little joke", it's a comic opera of what happens when the wrong suitcase is picked up and the subsequent tale of mistaken identity. When Don Parmenione and Count Alberto cross paths at an inn on a stormy night they set off a train of events that will determine their future happiness. A thoroughly enjoyable production in the tiny but exquisite Teatro Caporali, Rossini brilliantly contrasts the characters intentions in this burletta to convey, for all of the opera's comedy, a very serious message: that true love will always win the day.



Pan Opera Festival 2017 in the historic Teatro Cesare Caporali of Panicale 
collaborates with artists from all over Italy



As a culinary encore to our operatic evening, we strolled over for late dinner at Ristorante Lillo Tatini, our true love and favourite restaurant in Panicale. Welcomed by Bianca, the lovely daughter of owners Patricia and Vittorio who were on holiday, we enjoyed a bubbly glass of Prosecco as we swooned over Lillo's menu of exceptional Umbrian-Tuscan dishes. Wanting to spread our wings and try starters we hadn't ordered before, we chose the Collo di pollo ripieno di carne, verdurine bollite e salsa verde, a typical Umbrian "fried bread" with cauliflower and pecorino cheese, as well as the Patate, tartufo e lenticchie con pecorino fuss, a lovely dish of potatoes, truffles and lentils served over melted pecorino. The wine list at Lillo Tatini is always a joy to look over, and this evening we selected a bottle of Croce di Febo Amoremio Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2010, a rich full elegant wine made with the best organic Sangiovese grapes, picked by hand in the winemakers vineyard in Montepulciano. To follow, we ordered the handmade Tagliatella with Cintasenese Pork and Chianina Beef Sauce, my favourite pasta from when we had lunch at Lillo earlier in the month, and the Cappelletti Ripieni di Carni Miste al Tartufo, an outstanding traditional Umbrian handmade pasta stuffed with Chianina Beef and Cintasenese Pork with truffles, that was full-flavoured and absolutely delicious. As a dolce to finish our sensational dinner, we shared a Semifreddo con Pistachio garnished with an artful swirl of spun caramel. Sitting next to us was a table of six who had also been to the opera, and we shared how much we enjoyed the show but especially how we all adore dining at Lillo Tatini — forever and always. Grazie Bianca.




Enjoying a glass of wine at Lillo Tatini Enoteca on Piazza Umberto before the opera 

Tickets for two to the Pan Opera Festival at the Teatro Cesare Caporali in Panicale

Goretti Fontanella Bianco Umbria, a fruity and floral combination of Trebbiano and Grechetto 

Watching the world go by with a glass of wine at our lovely table on the Piazza

Teatro Caporali is just through the arch from Piazza Umberto on via Cesare Caporali

Theatre-goers sharing a glass of bubbly outside the Teatro before the performance

The small but exquisite Teatro Caporali designed by Alceste Ricci in 1856

A mix-up with bags leaves Count Alberto's suitcase in Parmenione's possession, and with his servant Martino, open it to discover the portrait of a beautiful young woman


A tale of mistaken identity: Berenice changes places with her maid, and Parmenione pretends to be Count Alberto with very different reasons for pretending to be someone else – Parmenione to enjoy the thrill of the chase, Berenice to test the steadfastness of the man she is to marry


The magical setting of Lillo Tatini on Piazza Umberto I in the historic centre of Panicale

The beautiful suede menu at Lillo Tatini is like unwrapping a gift of untold gastronomic pleasures

Warm, sophisticated and inviting, Lillo Tatini is a culinary paradise with an exceptional menu 
of superbly prepared dishes 

Bianca graciously brought two lovely glasses of chilled prosecco for us as we arrived for dinner

The homemade warm breads are utterly irresistible 

Chef Ardent's sensational anchovy butter

Bianca opening our bottle of Croce di Febo Amoremio Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2010

A full, rich and elegant wine made with the best organic Sangiovese grapes, picked by hand in the winemakers vineyard in Montepulciano

Collo di pollo ripieno di carne, verdurine bollite e salsa verde
(typical umbrian "fried bread" with cauliflower and pecorino cheese)

Cercando sotto terra: Patate, tartufo e lenticchie con pecorino fuso 
(potatoes, truffles and lentils with melted pecorino)

Quel Ghiottone del Fattore: Tagliatella “tirata a mano” al ragù di Cinta senese e Chianina (handmade tagliatella with Cintasenese pork and Chianina beef sauce)

Fresh grated Pecorino for our pasta dishes

Elmetti di Bordino: Cappelletti ripieni di carni miste al Tartufo 
(typical Umbrian handmade pasta stuffed with beef and pork meat with truffles)

Absolutely delicious cappelletti stuffed with a fragrant mixture of Cintasenese pork and Chianina beef served with a flurry of truffles in a creamy pecorino sauce

Semifreddo con pistacchi