Learning to Cook in Umbria

artichokes and oranges

fresh artichokes and oranges

flavorful sun-ripened tomatoes

Before I married Maurizio and came to live in Umbria, I had never cooked!  My family in California was, to say the least, of limited culinary flair.  
Maurizio’s traditional family here in Umbria, as was common 45 years ago, had help in the house…including a professional cook!  My mother-in-law (perhaps with a just a bit of concern for her son’s welfare) 
sent Adelina three 
afternoons a week for three years to help me learn to cook, to teach me all 
she knew – to explain, illustrate, share non-recipes,
 to show me the basic Italian cooking techniques. What a luxury  – and what fun we had!

Adelina also taught me how to shop for the very best ingredients (no easy task since so much was still sold in bulknot packaged – and I wasn’t at all familiar with the metric system).  I remember having no idea how many grams of pepper, how many etti of meat, how many kili of potatoes I needed.  Those were 
the years of individual tiny specialty 
shops scattered all over town on narrow streets, of
 five-to-seven-stop grocery shopping…a good 15 
years before the first facsimile of a supermarket came 
to town. Convinced of better quality control and liking the personal service, I continue to 
use these specialty shops with locally grown food as much as possible.

Adelina not only guided me in recognizing the best ingredients of every type, she also taught me
 about the seasons for the primizie of local fruits and vegetables, advising (actually warning) me to always buy local – buy in season – saying that Mother Nature was generous in Umbria and gave us everything… and more that we could possibly need.  To this day, I still drive out of my way to go to my favorite local farmer.

the joy of making pesto

We visited butcher shops
 where she proudly marched me back to the large refrigerators 
to teach me the names of the various parts of the animal and explained (in her no-nonsense way) which 
cuts to use for boiled, grilled, braised or roasted meat dishes   –   the local dairy to watch them make  casciotta and the freshest 
mozzarella… where we could never resist enjoying one right out of 
the large copper vat – unforgettable flavors!

tagliolini with Umbrian black truffle

We practiced the fine art of cooking with wine, of risotti, we made egg noodles, sauces, reductions, we cooked grains, beans,
 soups, parmigiane, roasts, cakes
, used herbs…and even weeds in ways I had never imagined.

crusty luscious lasagne

Cooking for my family these many years has allowed me to make good use of those lessons as I continue to experiment, invent, create, perfect, learn and enjoy the art of cooking real food.

little vegetable

fried eggplant, zucchini towers

What fond memories I have of those several years of three afternoons a week!

-Mary