With origins that date back as far as the Etruscan civilization, the cuisine of Umbria remains simple and seasonal, relying on dishes created with a minimal amount of fuss or ingredients. It is often called “cucina povera” for this reason. But make no mistake, these dishes are abundantly flavorful and wholesome in every way, created with the rich grains, vegetables, herbs and olive oil of the region. Add to this the prized mushrooms, wild asparagus and truffles of its fields and forests, and the meals become veritable feasts. Appetizers and pastas are prepared with the coveted truffles, and in the fall and winter months festivals abound to celebrate their goodness.
There is nothing better than a simple bruschetta drizzled with golden olive oil, or a platter of cured meats and aged cheeses. In springtime, fresh fava beans and pecorino cheese make the sun shine brighter. Pork is king but wild game can make a royal appearance in such dishes as Pappardelle alla lepre (wild hare sauce) or Stringozzi con ragù di cinghiale (wild boar sauce). Grilled pork and lamb are favorites year round. Lentils, beans, chickpeas and chestnuts, paired with fresh vegetables, make for hearty soups that bring warm comfort when days begin to announce winter's chill.
It is not surprising that Umbria, a region with deep spiritual roots, would have sweets named Baci of San Francesco, meaning St. Francis kisses, and Biscottini delle Monache, nun cookies. An interesting note about Umbrian bread has to do with the church as well. The Pope imposed a tax on salt in the 16th century, and because of this, the Umbrians began making their bread without salt, a practice still common today.
As you travel around Umbria, keep these specialties in mind. The Upper Tiber valley is known for their white truffles, while black truffles come from the Valnerina area. Norcia is known throughout Italy for the art of pork butchery, so much so that butchers throughout the peninsula use the term norcineria to indicate the quality of their pork products, from their prosciutti to their sausages. Don't miss an opportunity to try the flat breads prepared on a hot griddle, known as torta al testo. They are often stuffed with different salumi or sautéed greens. Lentils from Castellucio di Norcia and farro (spelt) from Monteleone di Spoleto are a wholesome treat. Have a glass of refreshing Orvieto white wine, or a robust Sagrantino from Montefalco.
Finally, give yourself a kiss: the famous Baci, chocolate and hazelnut delights, come from Perugia.