The Cooking of yesterday and that of today
Of the opening dishes defined as "d'apertura" is to remember the famous and always pleasureable «Tortino di patate con lenticchie e tartufo bianco»; a cake in which the potatoes are sliced very thinly and placed in alternative layers with mushrooms and aromatic herbs, they are offered on a base of lentils and sprinkled with white truffles. A dish, which through its ingredients represents three fundamental aspects of the territory of Umbria: the plain of Castelluccio with their excellent lentils, the plain of Colfiorito with the potatoes, and the Valtopina with the white truffles.
Passing to the first courses let us talk about the old vegetable soup of «Ceci e farro» (Chick peas and pearl barley). Cultivated pearl barley has been used since ancient times by the Etruscans in Umbria and is the tricutum durum dicoccum, dressed with compact and tapered ears, the only type of pearl barley that does not produce white flour, but dark, of the same external colour as the caryopsis; it is very tasty and needs to be soaked before cooking for at least two hours.
Another traditional vegetable soup with pearl barley and, for good reason, famous is that of «farro al prosciutto» which sees the adding of the ham bone and the chopped fat of the ham to the pearl barley and olive oil, and also grated cheese, carrot, celery and onion.
Let us also talk about the frascarelli, a substantial recipe for vegetable soup (minestra) reserved, at one time, above all for women who were breast-feeding. A rich pasta dish of eggs, a type of lumpy flour was cooked in chicken broth and served hot sprinkled with abundant pecorino cheese.
In the acutal Umbrian cooking there are present many refined revisions of recipes made from very humble foods, of the ordinary folk, such as the mash of broad beans and wild fennel: a mash of broad beans with slices of bread flavoured with fresh and dried wild fennel, served with homemade bread, toasted, and rubbed with garlic and served with abundant smoked ricotta cheese and a little extra virgin olive oil.
With this soup there is added the ceriole (rustic tagliatelle pasta flavoured with fried garlic in oil), the strascinati (a rough type of macaroni pasta served with fried sausages and egg mixed with mature cheese) and the umbrici, coarse spaghetti chopped by hand.
The meats are varied and with various methods of cooking. From the pig comes the spiedate di lonza, sausages and fegatelli with the rete and especially the famous «porchetta» spread throught all of Italy but of Umbrian origins in which the weaned, but not fat, animal is roasted whole on the spit in a wood-burning stove and is also stuffed with chopped liver, heart, lungs and mixed with pepper, garlic, salt and wild fennel. The sausages may be cooked also in a casserole with fresh grapes. From the bovine animal comes the «mungana», the veal and the «pagliata» (calf intestines) to be cooked on the embers of a fire with oil, salt and pepper. The lambs offer, other than meat, the «trecciole» (the entrails cooked on the embers of the fire, a true speciality) and mutton which is eaten boiled or roasted on the spit. Game assumes a particular importance naturally in relationship to the season. The hare is mostly cooked in stews with olives, white wine, broth and aromatic herbs. A dish which is common in Norcia and all of Valnerina is the beccacce alla norcina, stuffed with chopped giblets, sausages, butter, marjoram, thyme and, if in season, black truffles.