Peer-to-peer dining is the next big thing when it comes to travel. Holidaymakers are looking beyond the restaurant experience and are seeking out authentic, home-cooked food that encapsulates the best of the region. At Oliver’s Travels we’ve got a huge range of properties where local chefs (if not the owners themselves!) will pull out all the stops to craft a magical meal for their guests, and we decided to ask our favourites if they could enlighten us on their approach and philosophy when it comes to cooking.
This week’s foodie destination is Umbria, hosted by Stan Halcin at Villa Santini!
1) Have you noticed your guests taking more interest in the food you serve, where it comes from and how its prepared?
Guests are increasingly interested in exploring the local food and specialities, and often employ a local chef so they experience authentic recipes. They also ask for cooking lessons and wine matches, which we’re always happy to facilitate.
2) Do you work with a chef, or do you do the cooking yourself?
We use a local professional chef or a local housewife who cooks superbly, and we also cook some meals ourselves. It all depends on the clients’ wishes.
3) Assuming there’s no special requests or dietary requirements, what approach would you/your chef take in putting a menu together? Do they have a speciality dish?
Our chefs provide us with a list of possible menus and these rotate through the seasons according to the availability of local ingredients.
- Strangozzi with tartufi – Local egg free pasta with truffles or gnocchi with wild boar ragu would be typical first courses inspired by local ingredients.
- Lamb and pork are available locally and truffle omelette is also popular
- For those who prefer fish there are local trout farms – roasted trout stuffed with truffles is a favourite.
4) Can you give us an example of what a menu at your villa would look like?
- Pears roasted with pecorino cheese served on a bed of rocket
- Local pasta with wild asparagus
- Risotto with porcini mushrooms
- Pork with juniper berries
- Trout with wild porcini mushrooms
- Cream of chickpea soup with prawns
- Roasted radicchio
- Mixed grilled peppers and tomatoes
- Roasted potatoes with rosemary
- Spinach or other local greens with olive oil and chilli
- Fresh pineapple with pomegranate seeds
- Hot Ricotta tart
5) What kind of wines would you serve to compliment the courses?
Umbrian wines are not widely exported so we are keen for our guests to discover the excellent local wine. We regularly send our guests to the Antonelli winery at Montefalco which offers wine tasting with lunch.
- Trebbiano Spoletino has been an award winner and the Grecchetto grape is excellent for lunchtime quaffing
- Montefalco Rosso blends Merlot, Sagrantino and Sangiovese grapes for a delicious everyday wine.
- The Sagrantino grape is particular to this region, and this is an excellent accompaniment to meat.
- The region is also famous for the Sagrantino Passito wine to serve with dessert.
6) How much is your menu affected by seasonal produce? Would a menu in winter look totally different from a summer one?
Many of the villages locally celebrate with an annual Food Festival based on local ingredients; Trevi celebrates Black celery in October, Eggi celebrates wild asparagus in April/May, Red onions, lentils, ricotta cheese, olive oil, porcini mushrooms, and many others are typically centre stage in local festivities. Umbrians naturally use a cycle of ingredients according to the season so we are used to using ingredients as they come into season.
7) Is there one dish that you think totally encapsulates your region? If so, how?
Pork marinaded in Sagrantino wine and slow roasted until the skin is crispy and the meat is juicy. This is a stunning dish – especially when prepared for a large number!
8) How do you feel about sharing a table with the guests at your villa? Is it something you’d like to do, or do you prefer to be more ‘hands-off’?
The guests who enjoy experiencing authentic cuisine usually join us or the chef in the kitchen to learn how the meal is prepared and as conversations develop we typically join them over dinner or help to serve and pour the wine. This happens quite naturally as the passion for our local food infects the guests and we love it.
9) What kind of dining experience do you think you can offer guests that they couldn’t get at a local bar or restaurant?
A meal is very different if you have helped in the preparation. The experience of gathering in our large kitchen with a glass of wine and some hands on helping before dinner makes memories of a holiday very special. We can offer lessons in how to make pasta and accompanying sauces using local ingredients.
10) Finally, we’d love to publish a couple of recipes – do you have any you’d like to share with us?
Umbrian food is typically simple and uncomplicated; the flavours of the ingredients chosen carefully to create a mouthwatering experience.
PEAR WITH PECORINO RECIPE:
- Wash a ripe pear and slice it horizontally into thin slices, placing these on an oiled baking tray;
- On each slice of pear put a slice of pecorino cheese. Bake in a moderate oven for 10-20 mins until the cheese is melted;
- Serve on a bed of fresh rocket with a drizzle of Umbrian olive oil across it and add a circle of balsamic glaze;
- A little freshly ground black pepper on top just before serving