Join me in Italy this spring!
Italy taught me to cook. When I moved to Rome at 20, I had rudimentary kitchen skills. Over the course of the next couple of years, when I went out to eat I savored every bite, trying to understand how seemingly simple food contained so much flavor, and then I’d try to reverse-engineer those dishes back in the kitchen. Daily shopping in Campo de’ Fiori taught me the central answer: the quality of ingredients, grown nearby, is key. Practice (and lots of what I called “research eating”) taught me the techniques I needed. In the ensuing years I’ve built on that knowledge and turned it into a career as a food writer, photographer, teacher, and gardener. Now I get to share this passionate connection to one of the world’s great cuisines with you as I lead a ten-day cooking class in Umbria next spring.
While Tuscany has enjoyed tourism’s bright spotlight for decades, neighboring Umbria remains largely unspoiled by crowds and high prices. Known as Italy’s cuore verde (“green heart”) for its central location and prolific agriculture, Umbria boasts some of the country’s most profound culinary traditions, especially charcuterie; the town of Norcia is legendary for producing Italy’s best salumi, including prosciutto, guanciale, pancetta, and a dizzying variety of salame. Umbrian cooking, known as cucina povera, is a frugal, resourceful cuisine born out of respect for every ingredient. Besides cured meat, this approach features lots of green vegetables and a serious reverence for lentils and beans, so there will be much to learn (and eat)!
From March 17-27, 2019, join me at Civitella Ranieri, a gorgeous fifteenth century castle (yes, that one up top!) overlooking Umbertide that’s been home to an artist’s residency program since 1995. The castle’s kitchen, run by native Umbrian Romana Ciubini, will be our workshop. Under her tutelage we’ll learn the secrets of bread gnocchi, eggless pasta, torta al testo, and many other delicacies. I’ll show you some of my favorite dishes, including a couple of the Roman classics I learned when I lived there, and help you understand how these methods and recipes can work in your kitchens. We’ll eat outside under the pergola by the wood-fired pizza oven or in the large dining room next to the kitchen.
March marks the beginning of the Umbrian culinary year. In addition to the castle’s kitchen garden, local farmers’ markets will be overflowing with asparagus, artichokes, favas, and tons of greens. With Easter around the corner, we’ll learn about lenten foods like baccalà and tegamaccio and holiday traditions like crescia, the Easter cheese bread. Since it’s a season for sweets, we’ll also visit some of the new generation of artisanal chocolate makers in Perugia. Late winter also marks the conclusion of truffle season; we’ll hunt for the elusive fungus, and forage for other wild delights, and cook everything we find. We’re also planning a feast of cinghiale (wild boar) and capriolo (roe deer).
During our stay, Civitella will also host a one-day food fair as part of the Giornate del Patrimonio, a country-wide celebration run by Italy’s equivalent of the National Trust. Organic food producers and vendors from around the region will bring their goods for us to taste and learn about. We’ll also venture out for day trips to exceptional winemakers, farmers, porchetta masters, cheesemakers, and more. Diego Mencaroni, Residency Director at Civitella, will introduce us to these farmers and artisans. He’ll also show us some of the art historical treasures in towns where we stop to eat or shop. For those of you who write and/or photograph, We can also give expert advice and feedback on your words and pictures.
With VIP access to the best restaurants, farmers, and winemakers and expert staff guiding you every step of the way, this promises to be a gorgeous, immersive experience with an easy balance between learning and fun. Apart from the beauty of the castle and its grounds, the surrounding area’s incredible richness in food and culture, and the expertise of your hosts, above all this trip will change the way you cook. You will return home inspired, with a new perspective on food and the ways in which humble ingredients can be easily elevated to greatness. We’re very excited to share this beautiful place and its food with you.
The trip is limited to twelve lucky people. The fee of $3,500 per person will cover everything, including accommodations in the castle and lunch and dinner every day. Air travel to Rome (and any connecting flights you require) will not be included. There are a couple of double-occupancy rooms available for a reduced price of $3,250 per person.
To register and inquire about details and logistics, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read the New York Times profile of Romana and Civitella’s culinary program here.
Who we are:
Peter Barrett is a food writer, photographer, visual artist, and author of Project 258: Making Dinner at Fish & Game, a large-format book about the James Beard Award-winning restaurant in Hudson, New York. He’s spent the last dozen years growing, cooking, and preserving as much of his own food as possible, teaching others to do the same with his writing and in classes like this one.
Diego Mencaroni holds a Degree in Political Science and a Master’s Degree in Politics, Economy and Law of the EU. He has been the Residency Director at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Umbertide (PG) since 2006. He is member of the Steering Committee of the Ecomuseum of the Tiber where he carries out research on local traditions, especially folk music, food, and local language. He writes plays, short stories and poetry not only in Italian, but also in the Perugino dialect.
Romana Ciubini lives in Mercatale di Cortona on the border of Tuscany and Umbria. From 1992 to 1996 she owned and managed the restaurant Il Preludio in Cortona. Since 1998 she has worked as Head Chef at the Civitella Ranieri Center. Romana has studied at and visited food programs and conferences internationally, including Blue Hill restaurant in New York, Le Cordon Bleu, Slow Food conferences, Villa Le Balze in Florence, Tenuta Seliano in Paestum, the American Academy in Rome, and Terra Madre. She is the author of The Civitella Cookbook, published in 2015.
Some photos of the bedrooms: