Spring is much delayed in the Northern Hemisphere as anyone watching European weather reports back home will know. And here around Orvieto in Umbria we’re glad the local trattorias have yet to put away their winter menus, because we need fuelling against the weather, particularly after a morning battling winds among the splendours of this hilltop town.
And so to lunch. Top of the menu is wild boar, the local specialty around here, where it is served mostly as a hunter-style stew (cacciatore) with tomatoes, olives and spices or as a ragu with pasta. It’s big and rich either way, and best left to those who are game for gamey tastes.
More refined palates can take heart from that other off-season specialty of this region: the black truffle, which is hunted October to March and in abundance right now. We had them served on scrambled eggs in a phyllo pastry nest, and shaved onto a veal carpaccio. In nearby Todi, we noted a dish of ‘grilled cut beef steak with Cyprus black salt and truffle slivers’.
At simpler meals we are grateful for the Italian talent for soups of all kinds: mashed chickpea soup with squares of puff pastry and a crescenza soft fresh cheese; barley soup with polish mushrooms; spelt soup traditional style, or one of creamed beans with slivers of sheep’s milk cheese.
I was charmed to find the word ‘pluck’ on the menu in Todi, in a dish that appeared to refer to lamb’s offal of some sort, served on focaccia bread. Old English used ‘pluck’ for the heart, liver and lungs of an animal, but it’s rare now. Hard to know if our menu writer was being coy about ‘offal’ or was merely translating from an antique reference.