Saturday, November 13, 2010

Trattoria la Torretta - Another Spoleto Gem

Trattoria la Torretta ( was another wonderful recommendation of Signor Diotallevi, the owner of Palazzo Dragoni, our hotel in Spoleto. I had asked Signor Diotallevi to recommend restaurants where I could find the best dishes typical of Spoleto and Umbria in general. The trattoria was located at 43 via Filitteria, a couple of blocks from our hotel.

Trattoria la Torretta

We were greeted by Signor Stefano Salvucci, one of the owners of the restaurant. He was very pleasant and dapper, attired in a sharp suit. The atmosphere inside was warm and comfortable. One of the walls was antique brick and mortar, several walls were a warm light orange, and there were sections of more modern brick. The tables were covered with an elaborate dark red table cloth covered by a white cloth. There was a rose on each table. There were also a couple of tables outside, but it was too cool to dine al fresco.

Signor Salvucci

As with many of the restaurants where we dined, an English-Language menu was available.

The meal was superb.

Linda and I shared an antipasto plate called The Tastes of the House (Gli Assagini della Casa) for €10. It had seven different items, including:
- Warm eggplant medallion with fresh tomato & basil (Medaglione caldo di melanzane con pomodoro fresco e basilico)
- A small salad of spelt, rocket, cherry tomatoes, shavings of grana padano cheese and balsamic vinegar (L'insalatina di farro con la rucola, i pomodorini, le scaglie di grana e l'aceto balsamico)
- Prosciutto & melon
- Vegetable quiche (La quiche con le verdure)
- A warm sausage and vegetable tart (Sfogliata calda con verdura e salsiccia)

Linda had:
- Thinly sliced veal in a sauce of a sweet Montefalco Passito wine (La Piccatina con il Sagrantino Passito di Montefalco) for €13
- Grilled vegetables (Verdure alla Griglia) for €4. The vegetables were zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes from the trattoria’s garden.

I had Spoleto-style strangozzi pasta (Strangozzi alla Spoletina), made with fresh rather than dried pasta. for €8. Spoleto-style strangozzi is cooked in tomato  sauce, garlic, red pepper, and parsley. Strangozzi is an Umbrian pasta. Another name for this pasta is strozzapreti. It means, “priest strangler.” Strangozzi also comes from a word meaning, “to strangle.” Supposedly, these names derive from the tradition of families inviting the parish priest to dinner and vying with one another to see who could best fill him with food. Strangozzi alla Spoletina is a typical dish of Spoleto. You can find a typical recipe for it at

For dessert, we both had Crescionda Spoletina, a traditional Umbrian chocolate cake, for €4 each. The ingredients were:
- eggs, milk, chocolate fondant, amaretto cookies, flour, sugar, anise, and lemon zest

Our wine was a red 2007 Antonelli Rosso di Montefalco made from sangiovese and sagrantino grapes for €13. It was very nice.

We ended the meal with an expresso for €1 each.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Norcia & The Sibillini Mountains National Park

During our stay in Spoleto, we made an easy day trip to the gastronomically famous town of Norcia, and the nearby Sibillini Mountains National Park (Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini). Norcia is famous for its pork products, truffles, lentils from nearby Castelluccio, and chocolates.

Norcia was 44 km (27 miles) east of Spoleto. The drive took about an hour and was very easy.  We arrived there about 1240. We took the SS3 about 5-6 km north from Spoleto and then took the SS685/SR209 (same road with two names) all the way to Norcia. The road was a good, 2-lane road that went through wooded valleys, small villages, etc. Just after we got onto the SS685/SR209, we went through a tunnel that was about 4 km long.

Norcia ( is a town of about 4,700 people and is about 2,000 feet above sea level. It was conquered by the Romans in 290 BC. They called it Nursia. It was the birthplace of St. Benedict (founder of the Benedictines and patron saint of Europe) and his twin sister Saint Scolastica. They were born there in 480 AD. The main basilica in town is dedicated to St. Benedict.

The old center of Norcia is flat, which is unusual for Italian towns, and it is surrounded by 14th Century walls. It has suffered many earthquakes, including several that were devastating.

 It is famous for its butchers, pork products, and lentils. In fact, butchers from Norcia are so well known for their skills throughout Italy, that one word for a “butcher” is a “Norcino” (man from Norcia). One story that accounts for the skill of the butchers is that the butchers learned their “surgical skill” from a well-known medical school in Norcia. Another is that the medical school learned from the butchers.

Many people emigrated from Norcia to the U.S. in the 19th Century.

We parked our car in a pay parking space just outside the walls and next to the Roman Gate (Porta Romana) through the old walls of the town. I went to a parking machine and paid 2 for 4 hours parking. The machine printed out a receipt, and I put it on the dashboard so it would be visible through the windshield.

The Roman Gate was massive and appeared to be at least 35 feet high. Toward the top were the words, “Vetusta Nursia” (Ancient Norcia).

The Roman Gate

We walked through the gate and down the corso Sertorio. There were a number of very nice food shops along this street. One of them was Moscatelli Tartufi (Moscatelli Truffles - It was full of truffles, hams, sausages, lentils, etc. One size jar of black truffles was the 50 gram size (1.76 ounces). It was selling for 45. The clerk working in the store said that the prosciutto (hams) hanging in the store were aged for at least 2 years before they were sold. On our way back to our car when we left town, I stopped back in this store and bought a bag of Castelluccio lentils for 6.50. These lentils, from the town of Castelluccio up in the nearby mountains, are perhaps the most famous in Italy. I have not been able to find them in the U.S.

Moscatelli Tartufi

Hams, Cheeses, & Wild Boar in Moscatelli Tartufi

One of the food stores displayed a box of “Cojoni di Mulo” (Mule Balls). They are not the real thing, but rather a type of salami that has the shape of the real thing. They are sold in pairs.

We walked into the small Piazza Vittorio Veneto, where there was a nice produce stand, a theater, and a memorial to fallen soldiers. Above the buildings at the rear of the piazza was a beautiful view of mountains rising up over the town.

We then stopped for lunch at the restaurant Granaro del Monte, the oldest restaurant in Umbria ( We sat at an outdoor table under awning. The temperature was perfect for dining outdoors. Our waiter was a gentleman named Franco.

Granaro del Monte

We started with Le Norcinerie, an antipasto of seven different types of cold cuts including regular prosciutto, wild boar prosciutto, and various salamis. There were also a couple of pieces of cheese. There was a fresh fig in the center of the dish. This wonderful platter cost 7.50. I had chosen this dish to taste some of Norcia’s justifiably famous pork products.

Linda had grilled sausages (Salsiccie alla Griglia) for 7.90 and rosemary potatoes (Patate al Rosmarino) for 3.50.

I had mixed mushrooms, including porcini, with garlic and parsley (Funghi Trifolati) for 3.80 and sausage and Castelluccio lentils (Salsiccie e Lenticchie di Castelluccio) for 9.90. I had chosen this dish because it combined local pork sausage with the famous Castelluccio lentils.

Our wine was a bottle of red 2007 Scacciadiavoli from Montefalco, made from Sagrantino grapes, for 14. It was very nice. “Scacciadiavoli” means, “Chase devils.”

We also had the usual bottle of mineral water.

The total cost of this wonderful meal for Linda and me was 53.70.

After lunch, we continued walking down the corso Sertorio to the Piazza San Benedetto (Piazza St. Benedict).

Among the buildings around the piazza, were the 13th Century Basilica of St. Benedict and the town hall. According to one account, St. Benedict and his twin sister were born in a house that once stood on the spot where the basilica was built. Attached to the basilica is a Benedictine monastery.

Looking up a street between the basilica and the town hall, one can see a mountain rising up over the town.

Basilica of St. Benedict

On another side of the piazza is the Castellina, a fortress built in the 16th century for the papal governors.

To the left of the Castellina is the town’s cathedral, St. Maria Argentea. Between the Castellina and the cathedral, one can see another of the mountains surrounding the town.

In the center of the piazza is a large statue of St. Benedict.

We walked out of the piazza onto via Giuseppe Mazzini and immediately came to a well-known chocolate shop, Cioccolateria Vetusta Nursia di Verucci. Above the store was an English-Language sign that stated, “We produced and we sell the bestest chocolate of the world.”  We enjoyed browsing around and chatting with the two ladies working in the shop, however, didn’t purchase anything because we did not want to carry chocolates with us.

Cioccolateria Vetusta Nursia

After leaving the chocolate shop, we returned to our car via the piazza and the corso Sertorio.

Our next objective was to drive up into the Sibillini Mountains National Park ( ). I had read about the park in Michael Tucker’s book, Living in a Foreign Language. I then checked it out on YouTube and elsewhere, and discovered it was as beautiful as Tucker said it was. If fact, it is even prettier in the spring when the Piano Grande, a high plain up in the mountains is carpeted with blooming flowers. This spring flowering is called, “La Fioritura” or “La Fiorita.” To get an idea of the beauty of the Piano Grande and the Fiorita, do a Flickr search on Castelluccio or see the following YouTube videos:

I also had looked at YouTube videos to check out the road to the park. It looked fine, if occasionally a bit narrow.

The distance from Norcia to where we stopped in the park above the Piano Grande was 20 km (12.4 miles). We drove on the SS685/SP476 on the west side of town and then due south about 7 km. Then we turned onto the SP477. From that point, we climbed up into the mountains. The higher up we went, the more spectacular were the views we saw - miles and miles of lush forested mountains and a long valley.

On the Drive up to the Park

During the last half of that drive, we climbed at least 700 meters  (about 3,000 feet) in altitude. The drive from Norcia took us about half an hour.

When we came up over the top of the hills, we pulled over to the side of the road and got out to enjoy the spectacular views. Below us was the Piano Grande stretching for miles and surrounded by mountains. Above us was a beautiful blue sky with scattered clouds.  On a hill in the distance was the small town of Castelluccio.

Piano Grande

In addition to the beauty of the Piano Grande and the surrounding mountains, we were greeted by a pleasant surprise - a number of horses, a baby mule, and an adult mule were walking nearby. They were very tame and easily approachable. They walked on the road and across the grass, and then continued on their way.

After enjoying the views for a while, we drove back down to Norcia and continued back to Spoleto. Shortly after we started down the road toward Norcia, our GPS lady, whom we had named Carmela, tried to take us back to Spoleto via a different route. I already knew from having studied the map that the GPS route would have been a mistake. Nice try Carmela.

 It took us an hour and 25 minutes to get back. We saw carabinieri (police) at four different places along the side of the road between Norcia and Spoleto. We arrived back at the hotel at 1805, after an easy drive.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

La Locanda del Castello - Fine Dining in a Tuscan Truffle Capital

La Locanda del Castello, San Giovanni d’Asso

I had decided to stop at the small town of San Giovanni d’Asso for lunch. This town is famous for its white truffles. There is a white truffle festival there in November. I had read that a very large percentage of this small town’s inhabitants were truffle hunters. The town is situated on a hill overlooking the Asso River Valley in the heart of Tuscany’s Crete Senesi. The town centers on the 16th Century Castle.

Entrance to La Locanda del Castello

In the castle is a restaurant called La Locanda del Castello (
 I had read wonderful reviews about this restaurant on Trip Advisor, and so I decided it would be the perfect place to stop for lunch en route from Spoleto to Montalcino. I made reservations via email. It turned out that our dining experience would be even better than I had expected.

We sat at a table on an outside terrace. The dining area was surrounded by waist-high plants. All of the other outside tables were occupied. One long table was occupied by what appeared to be a group of diners from one of the Nordic countries. The weather was perfect.

The restaurant owner, Massimo, was very charming, articulate, and attentive to our needs. He mentioned that he had lived in Southeast Asia for a number of years. His suggestions as to what we should eat were right on the mark. Every bite of every dish was mouth watering. (Massimo indicated that he also owns a restaurant in Pienza.) Although Massimo spoke excellent English, I preferred to chat with him in Italian because that was a lot more fun.


As an antipasto, Linda had a selection of four different pecorino cheeses from the Val D’Orcia with honey and fig jam, and about five slices of toast (Tagliere di Formaggi Pecorini della Val D’Orcia) for 12. The Val D’Orcia is a valley with low hills. It extends from south of Siena to Mount Amiata. It includes Montalcino, Pienza, and of course, San Giovanni d’Asso. It is famous for its pecorino cheeses.

 Linda's Cheese Board

Donna and I each had small potato pie with grilled tomino goat cheese and white marzuolo truffles from the Crete Senesi (Tortino di Patate con Tomino alla griglia e Tartufo “Marzuolo delle Crete Senesi”) for 12.

As a main course, Linda and I had fresh tagliolini pasta with white marzuolo truffles (Tagliolini Freschi al Tartufo “Marzuolo delle Crete Senesi”) for 15.

Donna had wild boar stew (Cinghiale in Umido) for 12. Massimo said he himself had hunted the wild boar 2 days earlier.

Our wine was a very nice 2003 Duemilatre di Argiano Rosso di Toscana for 20.

We also had a large bottle of mineral water for 2.50, and the cover charge was 2.50 each.

Massimo also treated us each to a glass of 1997 Avignonesi Occhio di Pernice Vin Santo wine made from Prugnolo Gentile grapes. This was quite a treat - a half-bottle of this wine currently retails for about $150 in the U.S.

Additionally, he gave Linda and Donna each a gift of a small oak plate with a ceramic dish insert.

 View from the Small Piazza Outside La Locanda del Castello

Porchetta Sandwiches - A Central Italian Delight

Porchetta is a type of wonderful pork that is used in sandwiches and is celebrated in central Italy (and by us). It is said to have originated in Umbria or Lazio (the region where Rome is located). It is most common in Umbria, Tuscany, and Lazio. It is also popular in some Italian communities in the U.S. and in southern Ontario, Canada - in areas such as Toronto, Hamilton, and St. Catherines. That probably accounts for why Donna, who lives in Ontario, has had great porchetta made by a friend of Italian origin. (See

Basically, fatty suckling pig stuffed with garlic, fennel, rosemary, salt, and pepper is slow-roasted for hours. The skin is cracklingly crispy and the meat is moist. The porchetta is served on wonderful rolls. It is generally sold from trucks.

I had read about porchetta in Michael Tucker’s book, “Living in a Foreign Language.” He had written about buying porchetta sandwiches from trucks on the via Flaminia outside of town. However, Signor Diotallevi, the owner of Palazzo Dragon, suggested that the best place to get porchetta would be to go to the Friday outdoor market and look for the porchetta truck with the longest line. We followed his advice and hit the jackpot.

The truck with the longest line was Mazocchi Serafino’s. His porchetta sandwiches were absolutely incredible. Linda, Donna, and I each had one. I can’t begin to describe how delicious they were. They cost 2 each. One could buy just the porchetta meat and not the sandwich, and pay by weight. Many people were buying just the meat.

The name “Serafino's” is inside the truck behind the counter. On the awning above the counter, it says, “Porchetta Panini Bibite.” At chest height, it says, “La Porchetta.”

In this age of social networking, even Serafino’s has a Facebook page and a blog, and there are even YouTube videos. The Facebook page has lots of complimentary posts in Italian, along with a photo of a hapless/delicious pig. The blog has very little. The YouTube video was taken in January, demonstrating that Serafino’s fans are devoted even in winter.