Brigolante holiday rentals in Assisi, Umbria

Self-catering apartments in Assisi's town center and nearby countryside.

Food and Wine in Umbria, Italy Blogging Roundtable

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Holiday Munchies: Addormentasuocere

Our monthly Italy Blogging Roundtable takes on the theme of “sweet” this month! Take a look at posts by Kate Bailward, Jessica Spiegel, Melanie Renzulli, Alexandra Korey, Gloria, and Michelle Fabio. (If you missed the previous months, take a look here.) Welcome back to our table…come pull up a chair and join in on the conversation.

Paolo is a bit of a modern Renaissance man, if by “Renaissance” one intends beer-brewing aerospace engineers with a talent for photography, a passion for grunge, and a mouth that would shame an Irish sailor. He’s also a man-about-the-kitchen, and when I stopped by his darkroom the other day to irritate him with my amateur questions, wildly off exposure times, and tendency to drip caustic liquids pretty much everywhere, I rediscovered one of the simple pleasures of snacking that had slipped my mind: addormentasuocere.

My love for these simple-yet-addictive candied hazelnuts has two roots: 1. the fabulous name (addormentasuocere can be loosely translated as “mother-in-law tranquilizers”, one assumes because the act of popping them in the mother-in-law mouth prevents the mother-in-law tongue from wreaking its usual havoc) and 2. the most amazing gelato EVER that I tasted a couple of years ago on the Adriatic, that was addormentasuocere flavored. I still fantasize about it.

Paolo had a plate of his homemade addormentasuocere on hand in his darkroom, which paired well with our ice-cold Peronis and steady stream of banter. I was still thinking about them the next morning, and decided to try my hand at mixing up a batch myself for our traditional Family Christmas Movie Extravaganza. They also work well for munching during holiday card games and tombola (a bingo-like game played in Italy for New Year’s).

Here’s what you need:

  • 100 grams of peeled, toasted hazelnuts
  • 50 grams of sugar
  • 5 T of water

I couldn’t find toasted hazelnuts, so I had to toss them in the oven on a cookie sheet for a few minutes until they turned slightly golden. Then I had to keep myself from eating them immediately, which may have been the hardest step of the entire process. Have you ever smelled freshly toasted hazelnuts? They’re pretty tempting.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper where you’ll cool the candied nuts.
  • Mix the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for about 6-7 minutes, until it just starts to thicken into a syrup.
  • Add the nuts, stirring constantly so they don’t clump.

  • Continue stirring over medium heat until the sugar coating starts to carmelize (turning a slightly darker color).
  • Pour the nuts onto the prepared baking sheet and separate any that have stuck together with a fork (or, if you’re a fan of burnt fingertips, your hands).
  • Let cool completely (or, if you’re a fan of burnt tongues, sample them constantly while still roughly the temperature of the sun.)
  • Enjoy, with or without a Renaissance man.

Read the posts, leave comments, share them with your friends – and tune in next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic!

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The Torta al Testo Taste Test

I snort when I laugh really hard. I do. And there are only a couple of people in this world who can regularly make me laugh so hard I get to snorting. Jennifer McIlvaine, blogger, chef, and irreverent Philly girl, is one of those people. She’s a foodie with attitude, an ironic commentator on the quirks of living shoulder to shoulder with the Umbrians, and one of the most talented chefs I know. She is also the mother of lovely Olivia and Gabriele and wife of Federico, one of the region’s experts on food and wine. I love her food-centric blog (her recent post on canning is one of my favorites) and I was so happy to have her stop by this week with a post about one of my favorite Umbrian staples.

Four takes on this most traditional of Umbrian dishes (Copyright Jennifer McIlvaine)

Will the real Torta al Testo please step foward?

Umbrians are by definition, traditionalists. So I was floored the other day when, dining at one of my favorite local spots, I tried a piece of Torta al Testo (a traditional Umbrian flatbread) NOT made in the traditional way – its was spongy, and yeasty…different!

Torta al Testo is eaten throughout Umbria and its name comes from: Torta, meaning bread or pizza and Testo, the heavy disc on which the bread is cooked. In ancient times the testo was made from clay and placed over coals in the fireplace. Modern times have brought us the contemporary version made from iron and aluminum, and placed directly on the stovetop. Of course, Umbria being Umbria, full of small, walled medieval towns, it seems that everywhere you go, the torta is known by a different name: Torta al Testo in the central-north area, Crescia in Gubbio, Ciaccia on the border with Tuscany, and Pizza sotto il Fuoco in the South. So many names for such a simple bread in such a small region!

So, as I mentioned, I was very surprised to try a new version of this classic; as it was chewy and had a yeasty flavor, it inspired me to do a little experimentation…

I used 4 “rising agents” to test the different recipes:
#1: I used a very old recipe, just flour, baking soda, salt and water.
#2: I used a classic recipe with Lievito Pizzaiolo – which is kind of like a cross between baking powder and instant yeast
#3: I used brewer’s yeast
#4: I used a natural (sourdough) bread starter that I made from grape yeast.
In the 2nd-4th recipes, I also added a little milk, olive oil, and parmigiano to the mix, known here as condita, or flavoured.

(In doing my research, I did also find recipes that contained eggs, but these are widely considered heresy – no good Umbrian would add such rich ingredients – if you are going to go down that route, why don’t you just add some butter as well? Will never happen.)

My willing guinea pigs where comprised of 1 expert from Assisi, 2 from Todi, 1 from Foligno, 2 from Cannara, 1 from Puglia and 1 American, as well as my 19 month-old daughter – a certified bread afficianado.

My hypothesis was that torta #1 would most likely be chosen at the true torta visually, but I was hoping that torta #4 would be chosen for taste. Astonishingly, EVERYONE picked the torta made with the natural bread starter (#4) as the true torta al testo based on visuals – it was highest and most leavened. This surprised me, because, the tortas that I have eaten have always been relatively flat and compact without a lot of air bubbles.
However, when it came to taste, almost everyone chose #1, the most simple, made with just baking soda (also the most dense). Those who did not choose #1, chose #4, sticking with the natural starter. Tortas #3 & #4 were considered good but standard. Naturally, all of this experimentation sparked a lively debate on what the REAL traditional recipe is, some swearing up and down that a rising agent is unnecessary – just use flour, water and salt. I conducted a sub-experiment without the rising agent and the result was a little pasty. This recipe could be used if cooked in the antique way – in the fireplace, under the ash, but must be eaten immediately.
And the winner is… well, my results remain inconclusive, but I think we all agreed that simplicity is best. So my quest to create the perfect Torta al Testo continues… The goal is to get a good rise and a rich flavor from the most basic of ingredients.


The Torta al Testo dates back to Etruscan times as a simple quick flat bread that did not need a long rising time – should we just keep it that way? Maybe some of us will break with tradition, but only within our own private medieval walls…

The Recipes

Torta #1
500g flour
1 heaping teaspoon baking soda
1 level teaspoon salt
about 350mL warm water

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until a ball of dough is formed. If the dough is sticky add a little bit more flour. Knead the dough with your hands for about 5 minutes until it becomes a smooth ball. Let the dough rest in a warm place covered with a towel for about 40 minutes. Roll dough into a disc. Place directly onto preheated testo or griddle pan (without oil!). Prick with a fork and let cook over a medium-low heat until brown on one side. Flip and continue to cook on the other side. Let rest for a few minutes off the heat. Cut into wedges and fill each with either prosciutto, cheese or greens and sausage. Buon Apetito!

Torta #2
500g flour
1 packet (15g) Lievito Pizzaiolo
220mL warm water (or one Nutella glass)
3 tbs olive oil
2 tbs milk
3 tbs parmigiano
pinch of salt

Make a well with the flour and add the lievito and water mix well. Then add the rest of the ingredients, leaving the salt for the end and mix well. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes then, let rest for 40-60 minutes. Continue as above.

Torta #3
500g flour
25g brewer’s yeast (fresh or dry)
220mL warm water
½ tsp sugar
3 tbs olive oil
2 tbs milk
3 tbs parmigiano
pinch of salt

Dissolve the yeast in warm water with sugar. Add to flour, add rest of ingredients and continue as above, letting the dough rest 1-1 ½ hours.

Torta #4
500g flour
100g natural bread starter
220mL warm water
½ tsp sugar
3 tbs olive oil
2 tbs milk
3 tbs parmigiano
pinch of salt

Same as above, letting the dough rise for 6 hours.

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A Thousand Words for Norcia

There are words you are not supposed to use in quality travel writing. They are the Banned Words, and you can pretty much guess which ones they are. Gem, especially hidden. Picturesque, or simply stunning. Cozy, charming, and—close cousin—quaint. Off-the-beaten-path. Nestled. Mecca, especially foodie. And nothing must ever boast anything.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty tough to describe Norcia—incidentally, one of my favorite towns in Umbria—without dipping into the Banned Words pot. This hilltown-without-a-hill is, indeed, a hidden gem, picturesquely nestled in the stunning Sibilline mountain peaks. It’s an off-the-beaten-path foodie mecca, and simply oozes (Oops. Another banned word.) charm, with its cozy low buildings and quaint little shops. It also boasts one of the prettiest piazzas in Umbria.

But let’s pretend I didn’t just say all that. Given that a picture is worth a thousand words (Oh. One more rule: avoid overused aphorisms. Sorry.), I’ll show you a bit of Norcia and you can use your own words. I won’t judge you. Unless you use Tuscan. I hate that word.

 

Boar, boar, every where.

 

 

 

Signs of the Times

 

Artisanal mule balls. (Not kidding.)

Bunga Bunga cheese. (Not kidding.)

Ahem. Well, yes. This is a family show, so I won't translate these. They're pretty funny, though.

Huh. Peter Rabbit's black sheep cousin.

 

Food, Glorious Food

 

 

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