Bringing a taste of Umbria to Soho

Word has gotten out that I’m a decent cook. While some of it is thanks to my mother, I have to credit the generosity of my wonderful friends here in Bettona who have shared their recipes and techniques so freely. They’ve helped me become a better cook but gotten me to understand the essential flavors of Umbria.

But some credit must also go to my own culinary tenacity. When eating out, I have no shame about asking to speak to a chef and asking how something was prepared. They always seemed flattered and I’ve yet to have someone not divulge their ingredients or technique. Its all one big cooking adventure here and I’m enjoying myself tremendously.

Italian friends are surprised that the American can be so fearless in an Italian kitchen. When the work on the palazzo was finished, the first meal I made for the workers was Italian. A friend who attended thought it brave that an American would cook Italian food for Italians. “What did you expect,” I said, “Chinese?

Last year a friend I admire for her skill at all things from cooking to tango finally accepted an invitation to dinner. She lives in nearby Todi but still I had not been able to have her over. I was a tad nervous suspecting she was a food snob but that didn’t stop me. The meal was a huge success and she was sufficiently humbled. She made a toast over dessert (a torta Caprese) she announced that although she was an avowed food snob (told you) she had been impressed at every course. She also said she’d never turn down another invitation to a seat at my table.

That reputation has spread to my American friends as well and I am frequently invited to cook over at their place. One such friend has had me cook for her guests at least half a dozen times. AT and Rob live in Soho and have allowed me to cook for one particular group of Indian friends who have purchased a dinner for 10 at an auction to benefit of a music institution. They have purchased this four years in a row and AT and I have prepared the last three together.

Just before heading back to Umbria this spring I was at it again to equally delicious results and a deliriously sated group. Here’s what I served:

• The passed antipasti were both fried. (I love frying things and guests always think it such a treat since frying has such a bad rap and they don’t like to fry anything at home.) I battered and fried fresh sage leaves and then small pieces of baccala. Both were a huge hit.

• Then the first course was a trio of roast peppers and mozzarella panini, stuffed mushrooms, and an eggplant rollatini.

• The pasta course was homemade ravioli with ricotta and parmigiano filling in a sage and butter sauce.  I love adding parsley to the pasta instead of the filling as it makes a wonderful presentation.

• For the main course AT flash grilled lamb chops to perfection and I plated them with my roast leeks and delicious roasted Brussels sprouts.

• Dessert was a traditional lemon pound cake with lemon icing and a garnish of lemon slices, and a fresh blueberry sauce. And of course there was espresso.

To our great delight, the meal was accompanied by a selection of wines from Rob’s expansive cellar. We finished the evening with a Sagrantino passito so delicious that it made me long for home – Umbria.

Thank you AT and Rob.