The Sweet Life

Last week we visited family in Vida, Oregon.  My parents grow hazelnuts in the McKenzie Valley.  Together with my aunts and uncles’ orchards next door, they cultivate over 100 acres of trees.  We figured that a short stay on the farm could serve as a reunion with what we love about Italy: local, fresh food, family crowded in every direction and, of course,  il dolce far niente (the Italians’ poetic motto meaning “pleasant relaxation in carefree idleness,” literally “the sweetness of doing nothing”).

It was a week of inspiration and creation.  It was a tribute to the food and lifestyle and culture of the Italians.  It was a canvas for remembering our favorite parts of the year abroad.

When we arrived, we took a sunny passeggiata around my parents’ place.  Then next door, my Aunt Heidi and Uncle Tom brought us to their Italian inspired terrace which they named, the Piazza. Later, we toured the gardens before settling into the kitchen where we made many of our favorite Umbrian (and Oregon) recipes including six different gelatos, daily pasta dishes and a tribute to roasted Umbrian wild boar.

The terrace with a thousand details (all made by hand).

The new Piazza with a hundred Italian details.

Our favorite corner of the piazza was the copper griffin that Tom made in honor of his experience in Perugia.

Our favorite corner of the Piazza is the copper griffin which my uncle made by hand in honor of his experience in Perugia with us last winter.

A crop of fagioline, the prized legume from Lake Trasimeno.  (Tom and Heidi snuck home a handful for their garden.  I was amazed with the result!)

Out in the garden: A crop of fagioline, the prized legume from Lake Trasimeno. (Tom and Heidi snuck home a handful to plant in their garden. I was amazed with the result!)

Similar to our Sunday excursions in Italy, this trip to my parents’ provided opportunities to practice the concept of farm-to-table:

Similar to our Sunday trips in Italy, this excursion provided for many lessons in practicing the concept of farm to table. Aunt Paula taught Ray to fish.  He caught a trout for dinner.

The McKenzie River flows through their backyard.  Aunt Paula took Ray fishing, and he caught a trout for dinner.

After knocking apples off the trees, we pressed and canned 42 quarts of apple cider and left one large jug to ferment.

Fruit trees line the driveway.  After gathering apples, we pressed and canned 42 quarts of cider and left one large jug to ferment for a breakfast buzz.

Heidi fills jars after the guys press the fruit.

Heidi fills the jars while the guys press a wheelbarrow full of fruit.

My mom picked blackberries and made many pies with the boys.

My mom picked blackberries and made many pies with the boys.

Although the salmon aren’t swimming through Vida, my dad brought some to the farm and taught us how to cure and smoke them for our pasta dinner.

Although the salmon aren’t swimming through Vida, my dad brought some to the farm and taught us how to cure and smoke them for our pasta dinner.

When the temperature drove us out of the kitchen, my dad took the boys to his orchard for golf lessons, archery and paint ball.  Later,  Tom and Heidi led rafting trips down the river.

 

We concluded the week with another late dinner on the Piazza.  Additional family members joined us.  In remembrance of Luke, we illuminated the table with candles which we brought from some of our favorite churches throughout Italy.

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The “Year in Perugia” was really over in June.  These lingering articles are just my arms reaching back for a little more.  But honestly, it’s time to sign off.

Thanks for following.  Thanks for checking in.  And thanks for being a part of it.  It was exhilarating to have so many readers.  I loved the comments and emails and all the appreciation.  I savored each compliment and treasured each word of encouragement.  Without feedback, it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun.

With a bittersweet sigh and a thousand memories of la dolce vita . . .

Arrivederci,

Jill

Postscript:  Last February, a reader got in touch with me.  He is a professor of classical studies at DePauw University.  He told me he was interested in taking his family to Italy for a year and wanted to visit and ask some questions.  We invited him over for lunch and quickly become friends.  He is now living with his wife and three sons in Perugia, just blocks away from our old apartment.  They are documenting their year on a blog titled Shades of Umbria.  Tune in.

A winter lunch with Pedar in our Perugian apartment.

A winter lunch with Pedar in our Perugian apartment.

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Fish

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Umbria is the only landlocked region on the peninsula of Italy.  It’s safe to say that Umbrians are not famous for their fish.

As an American, I’m used to eating fish or any other food that traveled many miles.  I’ve had Dungeness crab in Chicago, sushi in Idaho, and Rhoda Island oysters (in Seattle).  A few extra miles don’t bother me, so I was curious to try the fish offerings in Perugia.  Every day, we passed a beautiful fish market on the way to the fruit stand.  Clearly, they were Umbrian and didn’t seem to have a problem with the seafood.   So this spring, after nine months, I finally stopped by.

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La Perla Nera is a family business.  Signora Patrizia, Signor Franco and their son Michael are open four days a week.  I loved them immediately.  They were funny, confident and always generous.  They prepared my order with great care, always gutting, skinning, filleting and slicing it to perfection before tossing in a handful of parsley.  And they never let me leave without a detailed recipe.  I decided right away that I would try every fish dish they could teach me.  I started with spaghetti and clams.  Then I made fried calamari, salmon rolls, fish coquettes, swordfish sandwiches, fried filets, marinated squid with olives, fish with cognac, and fish soup.  I kept a list of the greats and politely forgot the not-so-greats.  The more I tried, the more recipes Signora Patrizia gave me.

calamari

calamari

a sword fish and zucchini sandwich

a swordfish and zucchini sandwich

I’m getting close to unpacking the last of our belongings.  The other day I found the stack of La Perla Nera recipes, and so tonight, with very, very, very fond memories of this awesome family and their fish market, I am going to make my favorite dish: fish balls (I promise, they taste way better than they sound.)

To make fish balls, you need an assortment of fish.  I can’t find the Italian fish that La Perla Nera sells, so I’m using ling cod, Alaskan rock fish, and Petrale sole.  Combined, the fish should total a pound.  To prepare, lightly sauté them in oil and garlic.  Gently break apart with a fork as they cook.  Then add about 4 or 5 gulf prawns that have been whirled in a food processor.   Add salt to taste.  Remove the cooked fish and prawns from heat and allow it to cool.  Then add a tablespoon or two of chopped parsley, an egg and bread crumbs until the mixture just starts to hold together.  Mix with your hands and then form into rounds the size of golf balls.  Fry the balls in oil and then add to a pot of marinara sauce.  Cook for a few minutes.   Serve as is or toss with spaghetti.

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Tagliatelle with Luca’s Mamma

ribbons of hand cut egg pasta

freshly cut tagliatelle

I haven’t taken an Italian class in over a month, but my teacher Luca and I still occasionally get together. It’s usually centered around food, culture or history, but mostly food.  Recently, Matt and I met him for dinner at Ristorante Nana.  This wasn’t your typical rustic Umbrian trattoria.  This was fancy-pants Italian:  raw fish layered and stacked with colorful, curly, green garnishes, black squid-ink pasta, vegetable foam, and a whole page devoted to creative dishes. For dessert we ordered “coffee and a cigarette” which was coffee gelato and tobacco-infused creme brûlée.

Several days later, Luca invited us to his parents’ home for dinner. He picked us up early so we could see how his mom makes fresh pasta.  His family lives outside Perugia in a charming, old farm house.  We entered through the kitchen which occupies the space where the previous owners (many years ago) housed livestock.  Now there is a fireplace on one wall, a wood-fired stove and oven against the other, a television in the corner, and most importantly, a work table used for rolling and cutting fresh pasta dough.  We met Luca’s parents, Mirella and Giulio, who gave us Italian kisses on the cheeks and then offered the boys chocolates.  It was all so warm and cozy, and I happily spent the next four hours dressed in an apron “helping” Mamma Mirella make dinner.

We started with tagliatelle.  This is a type of pasta that Mirella has been making by hand since she got married.  There are only two ingredients, eggs and flour.  We began by measuring.  For each egg, she uses 100 grams of flour.  She piled the flour on the table and made a well in the center.   Then she cracked open the orangest eggs I’ve ever seen.  “How in the world?!” I asked.  She said that the chickens eat really well over here.  Next, she beat them in a bowl then poured them into the flour.  Slowly with her fingers, she gently mixed it all together.

step one

step one

Luca, Guilio and Ray watch the demonstration.

Luca, Guilio and Ray watch the demonstration.

Once the flour and eggs were combined, the kneading began.  With the palms of her hands pushing the dough into itself over and over, the mixture became perfectly smooth and evenly yellow.  Once in a while, Mirella would add just a tiny bit of water if it felt dry.

The kneading took longer than I expected.  We took turns and after 15 minutes, it was ready to roll.

Mirella kneaded the pasta for at least 15 minutes.

The next step was to roll the dough into a thin sheet.  Again, this took some patience.  With a long rolling pin, we eventually succeeded in spreading it all the way to the corners of the cutting block.

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When our arms were exhausted, and the pasta was stretched so thin that it draped over the table, Mirella let it sit and dry out a little.  In half an hour it was ready to cut.  The sheet of pasta was folded over and over until it was about 3 inches wide. Each layer had a little flour sprinkled on top so it wouldn’t stick.  Then she sliced it all into thin strips less than a centimeter wide.  After all the tagliatelle was cut, Mirella shook the long strands out to separate them from each other.  Then she set the pasta aside until it was time to add it to the boiling water.

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Next we walked outside to the cantina where Luca’s parents store their canned foods and home-cured meats.  Giulio brought a prosciutto inside the house so he could prepare a platter of charcuterie for an appetizer.

Touring the cantina

Out in the cantina, Mirella filled a bag for me to take home with peaches, jam, hot peppers and pasta sauces.  To my surprise, she also gave me two pounds of tagliatelle that she had made the day before!

Giulio offered us slivers of proscuitto while he worked.

Giulio offered us slivers of proscuitto while he worked.

Several other guests arrived as Mirella and Giulio finished making dinner.  Earlier they had prepared a mixed grill including sausages, marinated pork ribs and pork livers wrapped in stomach lining.  We skewered them on iron stakes and set them in the fireplace where Giulio kept an eye on them while they cooked.  Finally, after Mirella boiled the pasta and tossed it with a tomato meat sauce, we sat down at the table for a feast.

The meats cook near the fire over hot coals.

The meats cook near the fire over hot coals.

The first course.

The first course.

Luca and Giulio serve the meat.

Luca and Giulio serve the meat.  Ray politely declined the barbecued liver.

We sat around the table until after 10 pm eating plates of food and drinking wine from the neighbor’s grapes.  It was unreal.  The whole day was an Italian fantasy.  I was so happy to wake up the next morning with a bag full of provisions from Mirella and Giulio sitting on my kitchen table.  We already used one jar of sauce and a pound of tagliatelle.  I’ll save the second batch for a special dinner since I don’t know if I will be making pasta by myself away from the magic of Mirella’s kitchen.

Florence 23 years later

Florence back in 1990 with my mom, Stacia and Kelli

Twenty-three years ago, I spent my junior year in Florence.  This week I took a few days by myself for a little reunion with this incredible place.

Every hotel in Florence claims to be centrally located.  This dense city is tightly packed with a wealth of paintings, architecture, food, history, sculptures, craftsmanship, fashion and tourists.  I can’t imagine a greater concentration of art and admirers anywhere in the world.

Although my hotel room was dark and tiny, the view from the roof was stunning.

During the two-hour train ride from Perugia, I wrote down a list of all the things I wanted to do in Florence.  It quickly became apparent that three days is not enough time to get it all done.  It was time for an honest talk with myself.  Could I return from a stay in Florence without going inside the Duomo?  How shameful would it be to walk by the walls of the Uffizzi without going in to awe at Bottecceli’s Birth of Venus? Could I possibly pass up the chance to see the David in person?  The answer was yes, because when it gets right down to it, eating, shopping and aimless walking sounded like so much more fun.  (I can’t believe I just admitted that.)

Before setting out, I tried to look up some of the best streets to window shop.  As luck would have it, I found the website of Maren Erickson, an American woman offering shopping tours of the finest in Florentine leather, silk, paper and gold.  I met her at Piazza Santa Croce.  We hit it off immediately.  It turns out she is from Seattle but lives here six months out of the year.  (In fact, her daughter worked at my husband’s real estate company last year.)  Bottom line, we had a blast.  She took me to some of the most incredible stores where I met some people who have worked in the trade all their lives.  It was so fun to breeze by all the tourist traps of mass-produced, cheap goods and find the best that Florence has to offer.  

Ricardo in his silk store selling gorgeous scarves and ties

Nino’s shoe store. That’s him in the middle. Maren is on the right, and the cute girl on the left helps find the right fit.

After a couple hours, we stopped for an apertivo and decided to meet later for dinner.  So after a long walk through familiar streets and nostalgic piazzas, I met Maren on the site of an ex-prison converted-into-trattoria where we enjoyed a long, long dinner.  It was one of those nights where the problems of the world were solved, and I felt sure that I was in the company of a wise philosopher (and at times was one myself).  I’m sure it was due in no small part to the bottle of Chianti that we ordered, but nonetheless, we had such a good time that we made dinner plans for the following night.

Dinner with Maren

Big meals were sort of the theme of my stay.  The next afternoon I planned my day around a solo lunch at Zeb.  A friend from Perugia told me that it’s one of the best spots in town.  I was the first to arrive at this tiny place and sat at on one of the 15 stools surrounding part of the kitchen.  Behind the counter was Alberto and his mom, Giuseppina.  They were super sweet to me and called me “tesoro” (treasure) when they dropped off a new plate of food.  I went completely Italian on them and ordered every single course offered (pasta, meat, vegetables, dessert, coffee). I managing to finish every bite, more out of appreciation than out of hunger.  I loved it all.  The best plate was the pici al pesto.

The counter at Zeb

Mamma Giuseppina and Owner Alberto

Before dinner with Maren, I took my stuffed self to a couple alternative museums.  The Salvatore Ferragamo museum had a really cool Marilyn Monroe exhibit featuring all the shoes she owned by the famous Italian designer.  I also learned a couple things about Ferragamo himself.  For one thing, he studied anatomy so he could know how to build the perfect shoe.  Then I headed to Palazzo Strozzi to peek at a 1930’s art exhibit.  I don’t know much about designer shoes or 1930’s Italian art, so both made me feel a little clueless.  Then I took a long walk up to Piazza Michelangelo which looks out over the entire city.  And who should I see but a copy of the David!  I got a little Renaissance art after all.

On top of Piazza Michelangelo

The next day I had to pack up and head home.

I left Perugia kind of nervous about traveling solo.  Sometimes I feel self-conscious when I’m walking around by myself, or especially when I go out to a restaurant alone.  There’s no one with whom to share the new experience, and there’s no one to look at when I eat.  Sometimes I had to fight the urge not to think of myself as a bit of a loser.

I decided there are two virtues I’d like more of: courage and confidence.  The past few days taught me that courage is a choice.  I can identify my fears and consciously face them.  (This trip offered some opportunity for that.) Confidence, on the other hand, is not a choice, but is a result of acting courageously.  In other words, self-assurance was earned once I confronted my fears.

There, enough big thoughts.  Do you like my new leather boots?

A Great Butcher

Macelleria Rinaldo Gerbi

Rinaldo Gerbi, owner

We eat so much meat here.  When I count my blessings, one of the first things on my list is: thank God I’m not a vegetarian.

Down the stairs and across the street from our apartment stands Perugia’s oldest butcher shop, Macelleria Rinaldo Gerbi.  The name changes with the owner, but the establishment has remained the same.  It is passed down through generations unless there is no heir, in which case, proprietorship gets handed to a long-time employee. Signor Rinaldo has worked here since he was 13 years old.  And now, his son Francesco works along beside him.

Rinaldo and Francesco Gerbi

We visit the butcher several times a week.  It’s our first choice for an easy dinner.  Rinaldo sells tons of ready-to-cook meals including chicken skewers, stuffed pork loin, meatballs, and roasted chicken.  In addition, he sells his own olive oil and makes his own prosciutto, one of the shop’s specialties.   The prosciutto hangs on the walls in the back of the store.  When a customer orders some, Francesco slices it by hand.  It’s some of the best prosciutto in the city.

When we ask, Signor Rinaldo is willing to teach us how to cook wonderful meals with his freshly butchered animals.  Last week, Matt and I blocked out an entire morning to learn how to cook a three-hour meat sauce to serve with another of Cristiano’s pastas.   There is a certain ragu that Perugians swear by.  It’s called “sugo alla contadina” or “pasta sauce of the country folk” (meaning that nothing is wasted).  Rinaldo claims, as everyone does, to have the best recipe.  As we wrote down his directions, he selected more than 15 different pieces of meat including ground pork, veal, ribs, stomach, kidney, neck and feet  (just to name a few).  When we got home, we laid them out for examination.

I volunteered to be the photographer, which left Matt with the responsibilities of ragu chef.

To make this celebrated dish, heat several tablespoons of olive oil on a large pot.  When it’s hot, add one finely chopped small onion, three chopped carrots and two ribs of chopped celery.  Add salt.  Cook and stir until all the vegetables are soft, but not brown.  This can take awhile, even up to 20 minutes.  When it’s done, it will look like this:

Then add about a half a cup of white wine and a splash of white wine vinegar.  Continue cooking until the wine reduces.  Next, add a half teaspoon of sugar, a generous amount of coarse salt and stir.  Then it’s time for the meat.  Add the following:  1/2 pound of ground pork, 1/2 pound of ground beef, several pork ribs, a sausage, 3-4 medium pieces of meat of your choice (pork, beef, or chicken), several organs from a chicken including liver, kidney and stomach.  Add chicken feet and neck.  Add the tail of an animal (I don’t know which one; these instructions are spoken to me quickly and in Italian).  If there is anything else you recognize in the photo that I didn’t mention, go ahead and throw it in.  Make sure you cut the organs into teeny tiny pieces.  You don’t want to get a mouthful, you just want the organs to smooth out and flavor the sauce.

After you add all the meat to the pot, cover it with a jar of really good tomato puree.  Then add a can of diced tomatoes.  Fresh diced tomatoes are good, too.  Heat it over the stove until it starts to bubble, then turn down the heat and slowly simmer the sauce for two hours.  Keep the pot slightly covered.  Stir often.  Add water if the sauce gets too thick or needs more liquid.

When you are ready to serve, remove the pieces of meat and set them on a serving platter.  This will be your second course.  (You can discard the chicken feet and anything else you don’t want.)  Then take the sauce and toss it with fresh tagliatelle.  Serve with lots of Parmesan cheese.

The kids liked this pasta a lot.  They ate it happily for two days.  Matt and I had different opinions.  One of us thought it was the best sauce we’ve had in Perugia.  The other just couldn’t get the chicken feet and organ images out of his head.

Finding the Sauce (fresh pasta, part 2)

“caserecce” with sautéed zucchini and tomatoes

Italians are more careful than I am about pairing pastas with sauces.  I usually don’t pay too much attention to what noodle goes with what sauce; however, out of respect for the attention Cristiano puts into his shapes, I ask for recommendations each time I visit.  Last week I tried six different fresh pastas.  While each one would have been delicious with just melted butter, the variations he offered me were wonderful.  I will try to explain each one, but the recipes can be difficult to duplicate; Christiano used words like “a little” or “some” or “however much you want.”  He never provided measurements.   Furthermore, Italian ingredients can vary from what we are use to back home.  Things like cream and gorgonzola taste different here.

The first day I visited Cristiano’s store, I bought umbrecelli.  This is a thick pasta made with “white dough” meaning there are no eggs added.  The name for umbrecceli is different in every Italian city.  And while it’s always thick, it can be long like spaghetti or short like penne.  In Cortona, it’s called “pici.”  In Spoletto it’s “stringozzi.”  In Terni it’s “cerioli.”  In Genoa it’s called “truffie.”  My favorite word is from the region of Veneto where they call it “strozzapreti” which means “priest choker.”  This name comes from the old days when priests were associated with their big appetites and tendency to partake in the good life.  While scarfing down second helpings of this thick noodle, they were known to occasionally choke on it.

about four servings of umbrecelli

I dressed the umbrecceli with amatraciana sauce, a simple crowd pleaser.  There are as many ways to make amatraciana as there are names for umbrecelli; however, Cristiano says to begin by sautéing half of a small onion in olive oil.  After it becomes pale and soft, add seven ounces of thick pancetta cut into small pieces. Cook for five minutes then add a big splash of white wine.  When the sauce reduces, add two cups of tomato puree and gently simmer for 45 minutes adding water if it gets too  thick.  Serve with pecorino cheese.

The next day I bought agnolotti.  This is an egg pasta stuffed with meat.  It’s a popular pasta in the region of Emilia Romana.  We tried it when we visited Bologna.  Cristiano doesn’t make it much because he says Perugians prefer the smaller shape of cappelletti with a meat filling.  (Each city is so loyal to their traditions.)  With agnolotti, Cristiano explained how to make a super easy salsa rosa:  Simply bring to a simmer about two cups of heavy cream then add a quarter cup of tomato puree.  Stir.  Season with salt.  Serve with Parmesan cheese.

agnolotti with salsa rosa

The next day was my favorite.  Cristiano made “caserecce,” a short egg pasta, and told me how to make a zucchini and tomato sauce.  (See photo at the top of this post.)  Begin by sautéing half a small onion in plenty of olive oil.  Add a generous sprinkle of dried chives.  Slice up three zucchinis in rounds and add them to the oil.  Add salt.  Turn the zucchinis over when they brown.  After both sides are cooked, add two small chopped tomatoes.  Toss with the pasta and serve with Parmesan cheese.

caserecce up close

The fourth pasta I made was gigli all’arrabbiata.  Gigli are short, twirly, whimsical noodles.  “Gigli” means “lilies” in Italian. “Arrabbiata” means “angry” (because this tomato sauce is spicy).  Begin by sautéing a small chopped onion and several cloves of chopped garlic.  Add salt.  Add plenty of hot pepper flakes.  When the onions begin to look translucent, add three cups of tomato puree.  Gently simmer for 25 minutes.  This is a versatile sauce and can be served on umbrecceli too.

Matt’s plate of gigli all’arrabbiata.

Next, we tried ravioli.  Every day Cristiano makes ricotta and spinach ravioli.  But on special days, he makes beet ravioli.  We arrived on a special day.   As he wrapped up my tray of pasta, Cristiano explained what to put on top:  Place a big wedge of gorgonzola cheese in a double boiler over hot water.  Let it slowly melt while occasionally stirring.  When it’s hot, drizzle it over the ravioli and sprinkle toasted walnuts on top.

This picture is kind of dorky, but the ravioli was good.

Finally, we tried cappelletti (little hats).  Traditionally Perugians eat this for Christmas in broth, but it’s good any time of year.  I wanted to try making a broth, so Cristiano told me to go to the butcher and get several pieces of veal, beef, and chicken, all on the bone, then put the meat in a pot with an onion, several carrots and some celery and cover with water.  Add plenty of coarse salt and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for two hours.  Remove the meat and strain the broth.  Let it cool in the fridge and then skim off the fat that rises and solidifies.  Reheat and cook the cappelletti in the broth for 8 minutes.  Serve with Parmesan cheese.  The meat from the stock can be served as a second coarse with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of fresh parsley.

Bowls of cappelletti in broth.

One last thing I wanted to share about pasta making is a short list of rules that all Italians swear by.  I can’t tell you how many time I hear the following:

1.  Before cooking the noodles, add plenty of salt to the boiling water.  Americans are use to adding a sprinkle, but here they add a small handful.  It should be as salty as the ocean, they say.  (And never add oil to the water, it prevents the noodles from absorbing flavor.)

2.  Cook the noodles al dente.   I thought I knew what this meant, but Italians cook their noodles even less than I expected.   Overcooked pasta tastes like baby food, the Italians say.  They would rather serve underdone than overdone pasta.  (This is the rule I worried about the most when I had Italian company over for dinner.)

3.  Before draining the noodles, add a ladle or two of the hot pasta water to the sauce.  They say the starchy water is good for creating a silky sauce, and it somehow makes the sauce stick to the noodles better.

4.  Before serving, add drained noodles to the sauce in the saucepan and combine, instead of serving a ladle of sauce on top of the noodles.  The Italians even cook the noodles with the sauce for a minute or two.  (Just make sure you’ve added the pasta to the sauce before it’s done so you don’t overcook them.)

Matt’s adding gigli to the salty, salty water

The Pasta Man

The storefront of Bottega Artigiana Pasta Fresca

We’ve met so many people in Perugia but none as awesome as Cristiano, the pasta man.  Tucked away in a tiny kitchen down a narrow alley, Cristiano works six days a week making all kinds of Umbrian pasta (and by request, a few types from other regions as well.)  It’s easy to pass by his store; there is no sign indicating a name or what’s for sale inside.   I found Cristiano after hearing of his legendary work.  When Perugians talk about fresh pasta, Cristiano’s store is synonymous with excellence. The first time we met, I ordered four servings of fresh umbrecelli.  That night, after my first bite of these thick, homemade noodles covered in a spicy tomato sauce (which he explained how to make) I decided that we should visit his store every day until we’ve sampled each one of his creations.  That was last week, and I have been back six times.

Cristiano with a platter of cappettelli

Yesterday when I stopped by to pick up my casarecci noodles, I brought my camera to take a few pictures.  Cristiano invited me to stay for the entire morning while he made pasta.  This was one of the best days I’ve had in Perugia.  While I snapped photos, he talked about his life as a pasta maker.  Then we talked about Italy.  Then we talked about soccer and school and Christmas feasts.  Occasionally, he’d get going about Italian politicians before shaking his head in disgust and suggesting another topic.  “Let’s talk about pasta again.  Pasta is the most beautiful subject of all,” he said.

(Some of the other topics of conversations would distract Cristiano from his work.)

I asked Cristiano how he got into the business.  He told me that his mother, Marisa, opened the store back in the 70s.  Times were hard then, and she needed money.  After passing by a storefront in the seaside town of Rimini, she noticed a huge crowd gathered outside waiting to get in.  It was a pasta store.  It was the busiest store around.  So she decided to return to Perugia and open her own.   Fast forward twenty years later.  Cristiano had just completed his third year of college.  He was studying geology.  His mother asked him what he wanted to do with his life.  He didn’t know, so she suggested he spend a day in the store with the noodles.  He found the work well suited for him, so he left school and has been working there since.

As we were talking, Marisa stopped by the store to see Cristiano. When I asked if I could take a picture, she grabbed a handful of pasta and smiled.

During the rest of the morning, I watched Cristiano make more than 500 cappettelli.  The pasta dough is made with flour, water, salt and eggs.  Once it is mixed together, Cristiano puts it in his huge pasta extruder.  Within seconds, little squares come tumbling out ready to be filled.

Cappelletti is similar to tortellini except the filling is a little different.  Cristiano stuffs his with ground pork, ground beef, egg, sweet white wine, and Parmesan cheese.  He grinds the meat and makes the filling every morning in his shop.   When it’s ready, he swiftly packs each little square of pasta dough with the meat then tosses it against a wooden back-splash and into the growing pile of goodness.

Throughout the day, pasta making was interrupted by customers.  When people entered, Cristiano would greet them at the cash register and wrap up their order on a tray covered in crisp, white paper.  Each order looked like a present.

At the end of the day, Cristiano told me there was one last thing to do.  He handed me a square of dough and told me to make a cappelletti.  I started laughing and told him I didn’t know how and that mine would look so ugly compared to his.  He shook his head and said, “Il fare insegna” which means “doing is what teaches”.  So after several attempts, I folded a cute little cappelletti.  But I’m sure it would have totally fallen apart if dropped in boiling water.

In my next post, I will include pictures and recipes from all six pasta dishes that Cristiano taught me this week.

The list of pastas that hangs on the wall at Bottega Artigiana di Pasta Fresca. Next to each noodle are the ingredients, price, and minutes it takes to cook them.