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Soft and white inside, browned and slightly hardened on the outside, alone or as a side dish, the torta al testo has become a symbol of Umbria.

Bread has always been the fuel of the people, not just as a basic source of food, but also as a propulsion for the people’s revolts against tyranny and oppression. The rise of the price of bread has in many occasions throughout history been the pretext for uprisings and revolutions. Think of Chapter Eleven in Manzoni’s The Betrothed when the unreasoning crowd assaults the Forno delle Grucce baker’s shop, or the most notable sentence attributed to Mary Antoinette: «If they have no bread, let them eat cake». Within our regional borders, one may remember how the people of Perugia reacted to the papal victory of 1540 by boycotting his tax on salt, banishing it from the bread dough forever.

Though as the Nineteenth century approached with its industrial revolution bread became a common food, its preparation was still a long and laborious endeavor involving the entire family. Between one batch of bread and the other, 7 or 8 days could pass, because there were many ways stale bread could be employed and the mouths to feed were innumerous. The wait for more nutritious food could be very long especially for the peasants, bound to the hard work in the fields, so the torta al testo was born. 

 

prodotti tipici umbri

Torta al testo

The secret? How it is baked

Soft and white within, browned and slightly hardened on the outside, alone or as an accompaniment for the strong-flavored cheeses, the seasoned cured meats and the rich arrabbiata sauce used in the Umbrian tradition for meat stews – the torta al testo has become a symbol of our region. The dough is made with water, flour, salt and yeast – in the 1800s baking soda, sourdough or brewer’s yeast, in the 1900s idrolitina (baking soda and acid salt) was introduced, today ousted by baking powder. The name al testo refers to the half-inch thick disk used for baking.

Before gas stoves and cast-iron flat-pans became widespread, in the central-north areas of the region this disk was made of terracotta or river sand and clay and would be left to warm on a grill[1]. The testo – or panaro when in Gubbio and Città di Castello[2] – would have reached the perfect temperature when the flour doused on top turned yellow: then the bread, of the dimension and shape of the disk, would be laid on top to bake for about 15-20 minutes[3].

South of Todi, this white flat bread was cooked in the fireplace – previously warmed with the coals then brushed away – flipped and covered with warm ashes and cinder after it had browned. Half-way between the testo and the Terni-based fuoco morto (i.e. dead fire which cooks the pizza under the fire), were once more the peasants, who loved their torta al testo snacks in the fields. There, they could also pluck certain rock slabs, called dead or serene, later tempered to make sure it could resist heat and sudden changes in temperature[4] and turned into the perfect testo.

And if simplicity is not enough…

Creativity cannot be tied down and our forefathers knew this well, juggling restrictions and mouths to feed, they would refuse nothing that the land could offer. The torte al testo would sometimes include ciccioli[5] and pecorino cheese, olive oil – or pig fat -, eggs and grated pecorino cheese, diced bacon, raisins or dried plums, walnuts and yet again… pecorino, a prized ingredient in the mountainous areas where sheep herds were common.

The type of flour could also offer a curious variation, though today it has been abandoned for it is a painful recollection of a poor and difficult past[6]: corn flour was once used, mixed with wheat flour, salt and very hot water, forming a more granular dough which could only be kneaded by hand. This version of the torta would never be flipped and would cook for at least twenty minutes; it was often combined with cooked greens and potatoes, raw onions, beans and fava-beans.

A clarification

To be fair, Umbrians didn’t really invent this type of bread. In the way of cooking it, as in the dough and the shape, similar versions lost in the folds of time may be found, handed down from father to son, from conqueror to defeated.

If it is true that the torta al testo is originally nothing else but an unleavened bread, it is worth mentioning the Egyptian bread, which was similarly made out of spelt flour, water, salt and sometimes dates and coriander seeds. After some hours of rest, it was baked on a burning-hot stone, obtaining a bread with a «hard and shiny crust, dense, heavy and fragrant»[7].

Cato the Elder, in his De Agri Cultura dated 160 b.C., cites a certain placenta, similar in shape and lack of leavening to the torta al testo of the origins: «you shall carefully clean the fireplace, you will heat it to the right temperature, then you shall place the placenta. Cover it with a hot tile». Quite similar to the testuacium of Varro, similarly baked with the help of a roof tile, or to the panis artopticus, cooked under a bell[8].

Pliny the elder, on the other hand, offers a full list – though he himself specifies it is not complete – of the numerous types of bread available in Ancient Rome. One may note that for the Romans, there was no distinction between a focaccia (or pizza) and bread, especially when considering the panis subcinerinus or fucacius cooked under the cinder, the panis adipatus seasoned with bits of lard or bacon, or even the panis testicius, eaten by the legionaries after baking it on a clay tile, eloquent enough in its name[9].

The queen of the Umbrian table

Whether deriving from Ancient Rome or from the mefa made with flour, water and salt mentioned in the Tavole Eugubine, the torta al testo is the true queen of the Umbrian table. Easy, quick and tasty, it has the merit of deriving from a peasant’s meal and becoming a typical Umbrian dish. In its simplicity it is the expression of the local household and of the afternoons in the fields, with the sun shining on the bent backs and the lunch baskets full of this fragrant bread cooked on a testo.

 


[1] Cfr. R. Boini, La torta al testo, in «Percorsi umbri», n. 2-3 June 2006.

[2] In Gubbio the torta al testo is known as crescia (risen) because in the baking process it rises and thickens.

[3] Cfr. R. Boini, op.cit.

[4] The place where the blocks of stone were smoothened were called schiacciaie (“flatteners”) and the bread originally was called schiaccia (“flattened”). Cfr. O. Fillanti, La torta al testo in Umbria, Perugia, Promocamera, 2011.

[5] The ciccioli are the tiny bits of meat residual to the extraction of the pig fat, cfr. I. Trotta, Perugia a Tavola, Perugia, Morlacchi Editore, 2017.

[6] Cfr. R. Boini, La cucina umbra, Ponte San Giovanni (PG), Calzetti Mariucci, 1995.

[7] Cfr. www.vitantica.net, consulted on August 21st, 2019.

[8] Cfr. www.cerealialudi.org, consulted on August 20th, 2019.

[9] Cfr. www.taccuinigastrosofici.it, consultato il 19/8/2019.

One of the oldest versions of this pastry, made for the Christmas and New Year’s festivities in the Terni area, used to be white. The chocolate came much later, changing flavor and color, and only in few families does the old recipe endure, rarely found in writing.

One of the recipes for white Panpepato is owed to Giovanni Eroli from Narni, a curious and cultured man with many interests, from photography (one of the first in Narni to practice this art) to physics, from geography to astronomy. Among his passions was that of collecting cooking recipes. Giovanni Eroli (Narni 1813-1904) gathered local and extra-regional recipes, of any dish possible and imaginable, even pastries and deserts. Born in the Eroli Marquis’ family, old aristocracy established in Narni since the Fifteenth century, after graduating from La Sapienza University in Rome, he enrolled at the Ecclesiastic Academy and became prelate, later returning to his native town in his secular clothes. Here he dives into his many interests, even writing odes and sonnets; he became an inspector of antiquities and archeological excavations and a member of the Society of Homeland History and of the Society of Italian Geography. A multifaceted character, nowadays well-know, yet surely with more to uncover.

 

Food stylist Marisa Radicchi, photo di Riccardo Martinelli.

 

The many recipes he collected, some conserved in a manuscript, others as loose pages, have never been published, even though they had all the premises to become as successful as that of another personality of the 19th century, Pellegrino Artusi, known to this day for his publication The science in the kitchen and the art of good eating. Just by reading the recipe for the white Panpepato – refined by Marisa Radicchi – one shall definitely agree. The basic recipe (doses can always be doubled) foresees 100 grams of wildflower honey, 50 grams of sugar, 250 grams of almonds, 50 grams of candied orange peel, a tea spoon of fine freshly ground black pepper, ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg, the juice of one orange and half a teaspoon of freshly ground cinnamon.

Peel the almonds and crush till finely diced, add in the candied orange peel, 150 grams of flour and the spices. Let the honey melt in a bain-marie and rapidly mix with the dried ingredients, if the dough is too wet add in some flour and stir vigorously. Divide the dough into dome-shaped pastries, about 9 centimeters in diameter and let them cook for about 15 minutes in an oven preheated to 180°C. Let them cool and rest for a few days before serving.

Ingredients:

  • 500 g of flour
  • 5 eggs
  • 200 g of mixed cheese, possibly pecorino and Romanesco, half of which is grated and half into small pieces
  • 50 g of lard
  • 50 g of extra virgin olive oil
  • 60 g of brewer’s yeast
  • 7-8 pepper granules
  • salt
  • Oil or lard to grease the cake tin

Directions:

Place the pepper granules in a saucepan together with a little water and boil for 15 minutes, then leave to cool and strain. Mix the flour, the eggs, the lard, the oil, the cheese, the pepper-flavored water, a nice pinch of salt and the yeast, dissolved in a little warm water. Grease a tall cake tin, with the base narrower than the top, and fill it in half with the dough. Leave to rise until the cake has reached the edges of the pan (it will take about an hour – an hour and a half) then bake at about 160°. Cook for about an hour, raising to 180° towards the end of cooking. Remove from the oven and let cool before enjoying the cake, which can be kept for many days.

 

This is the modern version of the Easter Cheese Cake because it is baked in the oven, but it respects the traditional ingredients and shape. I owe it to Mrs. Carla Onorini di Magione, who incidentally, instead of mixing the pepper granules in the dough as the original recipe, flavored the cake with boiled pepper water. The pie – pizza in southern Umbria, crescia in Gubbio – with cheese, today is found all the year round in bakeries, but once it appeared on Umbrian canteens only during the Easter period and also on January 6th, Easter Day Epiphany which, according to popular tradition, is the first Easter of the year.

 


Courtesy of Calzetti & Mariucci.

Ingredients:

  • 400 g of roveja flour
  • 2 l of salted water
  • 5 anchovy fillets in oil, plus others to decorate
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • extravirgin olive oil to taste

Directions:

Put the pan with the salted water on the fire. As soon as the water boils, pour the roveja flour and mix vigorously with a whisk to prevent lumps from forming. At a low heat, keep turning the polenta with a wooden spoon for about 40 minutes. While the Farecchiata is cooking, heat the extra virgin olive oil with the whole garlic in a non-stick pan; when they are golden brown, remove them and insert the anchovy fillets, letting them melt slowly over low heat. Once the polenta is cooked, remove it from the heat, pour it into the dishes and season with the flavored oil you have prepared; let it rest for a minute, then serve with a rolled anchovy in the center of the plate. Your Farecchiata di Roveja is finally ready to be enjoyed.
A tantalizing variant: to make your Farecchiata more crunchy, cut it into slices, fry it and serve it with an anchovy fillet.

 

Farecchiata, (or polenta with Roveja flour), is a typical polenta with a delicate and slightly bitter taste that is prepared in different areas of the Marche region, but especially in the Castelluccio di Norcia one, in Umbria. It is a dish that belongs to pastoral tradition: an important source of sustenance for the families of shepherds and farmers of the Sibillini Mountains. A very poor dish that in the past was served as a breakfast to the local shepherds. The main ingredient is Roveja, a small and tasty brownish legume, similar to chickpeas but with a stronger flavor. Also known as field pea, robiglio or corbello, roveja is an ancient legume, which risks disappearing due to the difficulties related to the impervious conditions of the territory and the morphology of the plant. Nowadays, in fact, it only survives in a limited area of ​​Valnerina thanks to the efforts of some farmers who work in the locality of Preci (Cascia), where there is also an ancient water source called dei rovegliari. Extremely nutritious, with a high intake of proteins, phosphorus, carbohydrates and a reduced fat content, roveja is now a Slow Food Presidium.

Ingredients:

  • a few thin slices of fresh or dried pork cheek
  • a few sage leaves
  • a few tablespoons of white wine vinegar
  • salt
  • pepper

 

Directions:

Put the slices of bacon in a pan, let them lose the fat and throw it away. Put the slices of bacon in the pan together with the sage, after a minute or two add vinegar, if necessary adjust with salt and pepper and serve.

 

This preparation, almost in disuse, was typical of winter and was known throughout Umbria. In the area of Todi, sometimes people addes tomato. It was served for dinner, accompanied by some slices of bread.

 


Courtesy of Calzetti & Mariucci.

INGREDIENTS:
  • 600 g of leavened bread dough
  • 3 large onions
  • 12-15 sage leaves
  • ½ glass of extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt
  • olive oil or lard for the cake tin

 

DIRECTIONS:

Peel the onions, cut them into thin slices, roll them out on a baking tray and sprinkle with salt. Leave them for a hour, then squeeze them well. Grease a not too high rectangular cake tin, arrange the bread dough in a no more than a centimeter layer and sprinkle the surface with washed and dried slices of onion and sage leaves. Sprinkle the surface of the flatbread pizza with a little olive oil and cook it in the oven at about 180 ° for 30-40 minutes. The white flatbread can be served both cold and hot.

 

The crushed onion – which in Città di Castello it is called pampassato – is known throughout Umbria. The white flatbread can be made with the onion only or with the leaves of rosemary and, in the absence of anything else, only with a little salt on the surface. In Norcia, where it was usually made together whith the bread and where it was also called “spianata”, next to the poorer versions (with salt, ciccioli or rosemary), it is matched with zucchini, tomatoes and sometimes potatoes.

 

 

Courtesy of Calzetti-Mariucci

The itinerary between the flavors and aromas of Valnerina continues with other products of this territory.

After lentils, honey and the Nera’s trout, let’s discover other local delicacies.

Roveja

This is the story of some small colored seeds, two tenacious women and a glass jar. In 1998 Silvana and Geltrude, were reorganizing the cellar of their house, after the earthquake occured in 1979. On this occasion they found a dusty glass jar full of colored seeds, together with a faded sheet of paper with a mysterious name written in pencil: roveja. It is a legume which blossoms on the heights of the Central Apennines. Roveja is a small and heroic legume, a type of wild pea, often considered as a weed. It is now a Slow Food Presidium and it has survived thanks to Silvana and Geltrude. Since 2006 roveja has been restarting to grow and blossom in Valnerina.

 

Norcinerie of Valnerina, photo by Officine Creative Italiane

Norcinerie

There is a craft in the heart of Valnerina, which preserves the identity of a territory and recalls its ancient traditions and memories: the “Norcino”. It finds its roots in the Pagan worships, in which the killing of pigs was the apex of agrarian rituals and marked an important periodo f the year.
The processing of pork meats is still a triumph of flavors and ancient feelings in Umbria.  Over the centuries it has becomes the fulcrum of an impenetrable magical-superstitious tradition. It consists of identifying in some characteristics of the entrails of the slaughtered beasts, prophetic and revealing visions.

 

Saffron, photo by Officine Creative Italiane

Saffron

The mystery which surrounds the etymology of the word Crocus Sativus, scientific name of the Saffron, is lost in the legend of the Crocco, one of the character of the Metamorphoses of Ovidio. He fell in love with the nymph Smilace and he was turned into a blond saffron flower. Symbol of prosperità, even today, the Crocus Sativus is presented as a long-life wish due to the therapeutic and aphrodisiac properties which are able to renew the body. It was used over the centuries, not only to obtain the yellow color destined to frescoes and to dye garments and fabrics, but also for cosmetic and medicinal purposes because of its properties.
The cultivation of Saffron is part of the Umbrian identity and history. It is something which  preserves an important link with the  human element: from the preparation of the soil, to the choice of bulbs passing through the moment of blossoming, until to the packaging of the final product.

 


First part

It is not the first (and surely, not even the last) adventure in “perugino dialect” for Ida Trotta, author of five other books about the Umbrian cuisine.

The passion of the author, that allowed her to win two challenges thanks to her own recipes, so as to teach at the Mantignana’s Easter Cake School. Ida considers food as a collective good and eating good food as an expression of education and respect: all elements which find their roots in the umbrian excellence.
The Umbrian cuisine – with its rustic nobility and so hospitable, warm and relaxed (to paraphrase the author) – has demonstrated how its excellence derives from simple and genuine ingredients; it is the same simplicity that today distinguished chefs are looking for, removing elements from the elaborate dishes of the past. But Umbria, has always had this characteristics in its culinary tradition since ancient times. Ida describes this world recalling the typical aromas and flavors experienced during her childhood spent at her grandparents’ house.

 

 

The book continues with her personal recipes, but Perugia a Tavola is not a simple collection of recipes: every creation which belongs to the culinary tradition of Perugia, is accompanied by a presentation in verse, strictly in perugino dialect, with many curiosities about  umbrian customs and traditions. Ida is also the author of the illustrations of the first part of the book which is about appetizers, bread and savory pies, pasta dishes, soups, vegetable soups, second courses, side dishes, omelettes, cured meats and desserts.

But the book reserves another surprise too. At the bottom of this recipe book, there are the Minima culinaria, poems written in the local dialect of Perugia, approved by the Academy of Donca: the “donca” is, emblematically, the peculiar inflection which characterizes the area of Perugia and which identifies, the dialect itself. The section is curated by Sandro Allegrini, author of the preface.

To close the volume, a more touristic appendix: the author selected a series of places dua se magna bene (where you can eat well): a series of restaurants selected due to their way of interpreting and presenting the same recipes of the tradition mentioned in the book. The other criterion to choose these restaurants was their ability to promote and describe the territory. In a nutshell, a unique work by Ida Trotta, a true ambassador of the Umbrian cuisine and and the “perugino dialect”.

 


“Perugia a tavola – Tradizione, identità, cultura”

By Ida Trotta

Publishing House: Morlacchi Editore

Perugia 2017

369 pages

«Olive Oil and Umbrian wine are our cultural heritage such as Pinturicchio and Perugino».

Gianfranco Vissani does not need many presentations. It is perhaps the first chef appeared on television, when the chefs were still in the kitchen. Exuberant, outspoken and a genuine Umbrian. During our talk he remembers stories connected to his father: when he killed the pig or when he prepared the aromatic liqueurs so as the numerous things  that he taught him. Then the interview moves on to the Umbrian cuisine and to the bond to this land. At this point everything gets clear: “Mine is a true relationship with the territory”.

 

Gianfranco Vissani

What is your link with Umbria?

My origins are in Maremma but I was born in Umbria in Civitella del Lago in the province of Terni, At the lake of Corbara my father opened the first restaurant when there was still little electricity in the area and the streets were not very practical. When I was young, I was attracted by everything that was different, for this reason I traveled a lot thorough Italy: Venice, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Genoa, Florence and Naples, today all that is here represents my life. I love Umbria, I have a very deep bond with this land.

If Umbria was a dish, what would it be?

It would not be just a dish, but many. It would be hunting, the lentils of Castelluccio, the potatoes of Colfiorito, the truffle caved and not cultivated, the olive oil, the wines like Sagrantino, the torta al testo cooked under the embers, the “maialata” and the “sanguinaccio”, the thrushes of Amelia and the “palomba alla ghiotta” of Todi. We are a small region, but very important and innovative in the fileld of cuisine

An ingredient that can not miss on the table of an Umbrian…

Certainly the olive oil, for its small size, Umbria produces a lot, and the wine of Caprai and Lungarotti that were true innovators. These two products are our cultural heritage equal to Pinturicchio and Perugino.

How much, and how, has this region influenced your cooking and your work?

Very very much. Umbrian products are very present in my recipes.

Your latest book La cucina delle feste has this subtitle: “L’altro Vissani” Who is the other Vissani? Is there another one?

Yes, it’s another nuisance like me (laughs). It’s a subtitle that I enjoyed to choose.

A good chef is the one who cooks the best pasta with tomato sauce or the one who makes a great dish never made by others?

A good chef must know how to do both: starting from the simplicity of a pasta with tomato sauce to get to a more particular and complicated dish.

Little curiosity: is there a food that you can not stand? And one which you can not do without?

I do not like sauerkraut and I could not do without olive oil or ham, but the ham which doesn’t

How would you describe Umbria in three words?

Hills, nature and green landscapes.

The first thing that comes to your mind thinking of this region…

Quiet life and grape vines.

«Take a handful of chopped walnuts, a handful of raisin, a fistful of pecorino cheese cut into small dice, a pinch of the same grated cheese, a pinch of pepper, a little salt, five or six cloves, half a glass of red wine, lard and olive oil as required, and form a whole which has to rest for about ten hours. Join a kilo and a half of bread dough, forming a mixture to divide into three parts like separate loaves. On these you can practice a deep cross cut. When the mixture is leavened, you have to cook it in the brick oven».

A snack for farmers

The Yearbook of the city of Todi, dated 1927, reports this procedure for the preparation of the “pan pepato”, a bread enriched with tasty walnuts – sometimes even raisins – that the people of these areas used to consume during the Autumn period, especially when the worked in the fields.
This type of food due to its ingredients is extremely energetic and corroborating, so that it was choosen as  as the perfect snack for those who, during the cold November days, struggled along the grassy ridges because of the olive harvest. In fact, the small size of the damaged breadpan was perfect for having  something to eat without weighing down.

 

A sublimated version

Although there are several versions, both sweet and savory, the original recipe is the the one from Todi, which benefits not only from the softness of lard, but also from the sweet-savory contrast of raisins combined with pecorino. It seems that this preparation had already been codified in a treaty of the sixteenth, but similar preparations were already widespread in the classical world. The patriarch of Jerusalem Sofrone, during the sixth century, talks about a type of cheese bread for children, not to mention the innumerable preparations spreaded in the ancient Rome and then refined over the following centuries.

Literary appetizers

It is undoubted, then, that the “pan nociato”, or “pan caciato”, is an authentic delicacy, still appreciated today, on the Umbrian tables and served as an appetizer. A delight that spreaded from Todi throughout the Umbria. So known to deserve a place of honor in the poem “November” of Guido Discepoli, inside the “Sage of poems and religious folk songs of some Umbrian towns”, edited by Oreste Grifoni – unfortunately, today, out of print.

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