Chef Sheila Santolamazza is the very talented sister of our very own Romer Perez. She is an accomplished chef and lives in Umbria, Italy in the beautiful town of Todi, a town and comune of the province of Perugia. We are excited to share her knowledge of the beautiful country, authentic recipes, and stories of her travels each month on our blog!
Located right in the center of The Boot, Umbria is known as “The Green Heart of Italy”, thanks to its verdant rolling hills which yield an abundance of agricultural riches. It is Italy’s only completely land-locked region and for centuries was under the control of popes, dukes and emperors who relied on its fields and forests for their supply of wine, olive oil, meat, grain and other abundant crops, not to mention its impressive production of artisanal crafts.
In terms of culinary tradition, Umbria prides itself on simple cuisine which showcases its prime ingredients in recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation. A perfect example of this are “umbricelli” (pronounced oom-bree-chel-lee), as they are called in Perugia, Umbria’s capital, as well as around Lake Trasimeno, site of one of the Roman army’s worst defeats when Hanibal advantageously used the surrounding topography to outwit the Roman soldiers.
This “poor pasta” resembles thick spaghetti noodles and is made only with flour and water. It stems from a time when, if a peasant was lucky enough to have eggs, it was preferable to take them to the village market or set them aside as nourishment for a young child, than to splurge and use them to make fresh egg pasta. Similar recipes can be found in the rest of Central Italy though the name changes from town to town with some fanciful monikers recalling the slippery eels found in the rivers and lakes (later to become a local delicacy of their own) and even criminal acts against the clergy!
Best adapted to a variety of simple condiments and prepared only with fresh ingredients, umbricelli are one of the most genuine foods in traditional Umbrian cuisine. In the spring, they are commonly served with wild asparagus or you can also find them dressed with fresh tomato concassé and chili pepper. But the best way to sample this “peasant food” is with the diamond of the culinary world: the truffle. Umbria is a leading truffle producer and many a truffle hunter and his dog fiercely protects his secret truffle patch with his life. Whether one is lucky enough to find the prized white truffle or the more common, but nonetheless appreciated, black truffle, Umbricelli al tartufo is a dish to be savored in quiet contemplation.