Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Paris Love Story Leads Us To Umbria

Spello, a medieval town not far from Assisi, sits resplendent on its Umbrian hill. It's not a famous travel destination, but it is one of those Italian towns that makes me want to buy a small stone house on a terraced hillside. There I'll sit on my shaded arbor, looking out over my thriving olive trees and grape vines. Neighbors will stop by to talk and I'll open a bottle of my award-winning wine. Maybe they'll stay for dinner - something simple - a soup made with locally-grown farro and fresh vegetables, a salad dressed with my own pungent olive oil and for dessert some pecorino cheese from the neighbor down the hill.

The town of Spello is beautiful, but it's possible that this urge to stay forever was enhanced by the sheer relief of having survived the four hours of challenging driving on the various Italian roads and autoroutes that lead from Pisa to Spello. Why we were in Spello is another story and goes back more than 20 years to a clear October evening.

We were in Paris that year and my younger sister came to visit for a month. Early in her stay, she and our then 13-year-old son decided to go out for dinner. I suggested a small Italian restaurant nearby. As fate would have it, in the kitchen was a young Italian chef. Their eyes met and well, you know the rest... except that he only spoke Italian and French and she only spoke English.

She came home from dinner that night, told me she had a date at midnight and needed to take our son along as translator. "No," I said. "He's a great guy, Mom. He's going to be my uncle!" "Don't be ridiculous," I said to my son. "This guy is not going to be your uncle."

So here we were, 23 years later, in Spello visiting my sister, my 21-year-old niece and my son's Italian uncle, who has family in Spello and nearby Spoleto. He is a great guy and boy, can he cook. It turns out his whole family can cook.

In between meals - pasta with truffles, gnocchi with fresh tomato sauce, risotto with porcini mushrooms, wild boar stew, homemade prosciutto, and in a nod to Paris, crepes with chocolate sauce - we even managed to see a bit of the wonderful art and architecture of Spello. With the family eating schedule, we'll need at least a couple of more visits to see the whole town. I can hardly wait until next year.

To see photos of Spello, click here.

For my brother-in-law's gnocchi recipe, click here.




  1. Oh, you are making me want to pick up and move to Spello! It looks beautiful--I've been to Assisi and loved that whole area of Umbria. And now, recipes, too?! Fabulous! Such a romantic post.

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