“I never met a Lasagna I didn't like” –Garfield
"Everything you see I owe to pasta" - Sophia Loren
I’ll never forget the Lasagna or the Strangled Priests.But it is our Perugian friends who hold center stage in our hearts.
So let’s toast to all three.
Pour yourself a glass.And if it’s not past noon yet, don’t worry.
It’s gotta be past noon somewhere in the world.
Here’s to the Lasagna
The best lasagna we had in Italy and I ate way too much.
Now, don’t mistake that for complaining.Coming into our visit to Perugia we knew that we would be having uncharacteristic dining for tourists. Our friends had plans for us to eat at their homes and local eateries whose offerings would be typical regional specialties. And one anticipated treat we were really looking forward to was Graziella’s lasagna. Graziella is our friend Cris’s mother. We dined as royalty in her home and I discovered that unlike here in the States, they really do eat multiple courses at their formal meals. Very multiple.
And like I said, I ate way too much.
Antipasto means "before the meal" and is the traditional first course of an Italian meal. We were served Prosciutto wrapped cantaloupe. Additionally, Graziella served cheese bread that she baked that same day called “Torta di Pasqua al Formaggio”. The name translates as “Easter Cheese Cake” and is traditionally served on Easter morning with all the breakfast fixings.
I ate the antipasto like it was the pasto.
I ate the antipasto like it was the pasto.
The Primo (The First Course):
Lasagna. Her baked pasta dish was a capolavoro; a masterpiece. Graziella had handmade the wide, flat egg noodles that day.
A busy lady she was this day.
Her lasagna had alternating layers of mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, a tomato meat sauce and a savory béchamel sauce (a white sauce made by stirring milk into a butter-flour roux).
I went for seconds and was bursting my buttons. I pushed myself away from the table, leaned back and tried to relax.
Secondo (The Main Course):Pork Roast. I had thought that we were done with the meal after finishing off the lasagna. But Graziella walked out of the kitchen bearing a plate with a roast. Yes, a roast. We in fact were only getting started.
Her pork roast was seasoned with bacon, pepper, rosemary, garlic and other flavorings and was excellent. That roast was succulent, fragrant and flavorful. Accompanying the roast were two side dishes; fried potatoes and a tossed green salad.
I loosened my belt. I was going to be here a while.
Dolce (The Dessert):
Zuppa Inglese. Zuppa Inglese in Italian means "English soup" and is an Italian custard-based dessert. It is similar to an English trifle, a pudding made by inter-layering cake with cream and other ingredients.
Graziella’s "Zuppa Inglese" was defined by strata’s of savory sensations. Chocolate doughnuts cut into slices and sopped in coffee. Then a baptismal dunking in a sweet liquore. A thick homemade egg custard pastry cream layered with artisan skill. Her Zuppa Inglese was topped off with a layer of dark chocolate pastry cream.
I stared in wonder. I wondered where I was going to fit the dessert sitting before me.I checked and the only room I had left was my pants pockets.
Dolce (The Dessert-Round Two)
Macedonia Fruit salad. We were all served a lovely salad of cut fruit. The salad is popular across Europe. The variety of fresh fruit alludes to the rich diversity of peoples associated with Macedonia through the ages.
And I ate way too much.
An Italian proverb says, “Chi va a letto senza cena tutta la notte si dimena”.
Which translates, “He who goes to bed without eating will regret it throughout the night”
I coined a new one that says, “He who goes to bed with excessive eating will regret it throughout the night”
Here’s to Strangled Priests
Strangled Priests is not a Metal Rock band nor Stephen King’s latest.
Not a bad idea for a title, but we are talking food.
It’s an Umbrian dish that we enjoyed near the town of Assisi at Ristorante La Tavola Rotonda. And this regional specialty is called Strangozzi.Strangozzi means "strangled priests," and the story is that its name is a reference to a time in antiquity when parish priests in Umbria regularly dined at the homes of parishioners. And in order to make sure they left happy and well fed, the Padres were served noodles sufficient to “strangle a priest”.
Strangozzi are long and irregularly hand-cut pasta. The noodles are thicker and rougher than spaghetti noodles. Rougher to allow better absorbency of the tasty sauces. Our Strangozzi was a handmade egg pasta and came dressed in a rich, fragrant truffle sauce made with tomatoes, olive oil and garlic. The shavings of truffles grated into the mix were excellent. The grilled meat in the sauce was a mix of sausage, pork roast and puntarella (a type of chicory found there). Each bite held a hint of spiciness.
And again, I ate way too much.
And Here’s to Good Friends
I sit here with a bottle of Montefalco Rosso 2007 and the memories come in a rush. When I think back to our trip abroad to Italy, Perugia will always be our singular experience. In the planning for years, my wife and I wanted to see Rome, Cinque Terre and Florence for sure. But Perugia was our real destination because there is where our good friends live.We have known Cris for years and last year she got married. On our recent trip there, we had the pleasure of meeting her husband for the first time.
He is a new and good friend and he gifted this Montefalco to us.
The bottle holds special meaning to him as this wine was served at their wedding celebration. And now the Montefalco holds special meaning for us.
Perugia, the capital of Umbria is a medieval hill town that overlooks the famous Tiber River to the east whose course runs past Rome. If you were to push a pin into its location on a map, you'd find that Perugia is very nearly at the exact center of Italy.Kind of like the heart of Italy.
It certainly was the heart of our trip.
And it was our friends that made it so.
Thank you, friends; Italy would not have been the same without you.
Here’s to Lasagna, Strangled Priests and good Friends.