Food: The Amazing Villa Roncalli

Have you ever found a restaurant where, after the first bite, you felt you were home? Or the home you wish you had grown up in, in which your mom’s Michelin Star was stuffed somewhere in a drawer or had slipped behind the refrigerator? Such a place is Villa Roncalli in Foligno and that cook would be the one and only Maria Luisa Scolastra.

I had heard extraordinary things about Villa Roncalli and when some friends suggested we go I was all in. Not easy to find on the Viale Roma outside the town center, I guarantee it is well worth the trouble, so use your GPS. My advice, once you’ve stepped back into the 19th century and are seated in the Villa’s elegant dining room, is to do the tasting menu. You will be rewarded with a seven course meal — wave after wave of extraordinary taste sensations — that is pure heaven. It was one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had.

As my friends will tell you, I’m not shy about going up and asking a chef how she made something. Yes, this can often yield a recipe but, if they give me just an ingredient list (as they usually do), you can be assured I will go home and try it until I get it right. At Villa Roncalli I was itching to know the chef and asked to speak to her.

What I didn’t expect was how personable and open Maria Luisa would be. She invited me into her kitchen for a look around, which is of course what I couldn’t dare ask for but wanted to see anyway. We talked for 15 minutes and an idea for a culinary tour was born. I followed up with an email and floated the idea by her. She was all in on it and said she’d be delighted to do a lesson for me.

Fast forward a year: With aWeekinUmbriaCooks 2015 tour fully booked, I returned to talk with Luisa in June and got to spend almost two hours planning a lesson menu. Of course she offered me something to eat and, being no dummy, said yes. I sat in her kitchen while she whipped up one of her famous apple cakes. She told me about her mother and what a great cook she was and how she had grown up working beside her. Her passion for cooking was palatable. When I asked about the recipes, she told me she loved coming up with recipes based on the traditional ones her mother had taught her. That way the past continued but in a new way. While the cake was cooking she took me to see her garden. It was all magical.

So this past August, thirteen of us showed up for that amazing lesson. What was supposed to last 4 hours ended up being 7 and no one knew where the time had gone. Maria Lusia was as wonderful as the food and we listened and watched — I pitched in because I can’t help myself — and ate and drank ourselves happy. It was a lesson and a meal I don’t think any of us will forget.

To my surprise, this week a copy of Maria Luisa’s (out of print) cookbook arrived with a lovely inscription. It roughly translates to: “Cooking is a wonderful art; there are three principal ingredients: love, passion, and a pinch of insanity.” The book also came with an invitation for me and a friend to come to lunch on a Sunday. So today Anneke and I were there in a flash for yet another fantastic meal. Have a look . . .

So when you come to Umbria, and I hope you do, you will surely need to block out some time for an amazing meal. And tell Luisa I sent you.

Villa Roncalli, Viale Roma, 25, 06034 Foligno PG, http://villaroncalli.com/
Telefono: 0742 391091

Upcoming tours: You can also join one of the three culinary tours I am planning for next year. Go to:
https://aweekinumbria.com/cooking/aweekinumbriacooks/ for more information. We will spend a day with Luisa on each tour as well as time with other friends — all local chefs and wonderful cooks. It will be a blast. See you then.