Category Archives: Viterbo

A Typical meal from Viterbo, Lazio

By Jennie Kitaychik

Jennie enjoying a gelato

The first time I ever had a full course Italian meal was in our culinary class. That day was the first time in Italy I knew what it was like to be full.

We started off our class with making desserts. I later learned this to be a common theme of making desserts first so that they would be ready by the end of the evening. For this class, we made the delicious dolce of Tozzetti. Though it was made first, it was eaten last.

1st stage of cooking the biscotti as long sausage shapes

Cutting the tozzetti, ready to be cooked again

For our antipasti, we had three different cheeses along with three different type of salumi

Locally cured Prosciutto crudo, capocollo and locally made salami

We were instructed to try some of the cheeses with honey. Though, I would never think to combine the two normally, the combination was such a pleasant surprise.

All pecorino cheese - primo sale, al cacciatore and alla Romana

local honey

For our primi, we had prepared Lombricheli alla Amatriciana which is a dish native to the Viterbo, Lazio region. The noodles were so thick and filling that it was hard to imagine that there would still be a secondi dish. It was ultimately a tasteful pasta dish with tomato sauce. It was a delicious dish that did not take too long to prepare.

Lombrichelli all'Amatriciana

For our secondi, we had made Pollo con le Olive Nere, a dish native to the Lazio region. The contorni that accompanied this chicken dish were green string beans. It was the first time since being in Italy that I finally had some form of meat in my diet. The fact that it was chicken in a delicious wine, garlic, rosemary, and onion sauce, made this dish exquisite.

pollo con le olive

After our secondi, we all had some ricotta cheese again with honey. At this time the tozzetti were already made and ready to be eaten. This dinner took a total of four hours. We did not eat for all four hours, but instead took much needed breaks in between each course. I will never forget my first full Italian meal.

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The joy of fresh eggs

Patrizia's double yolk egg wonders

Around the corner from our apartment is a small, unmarked shop, identifiable only by a cardboard sign hung from one of the doors when the shop is open. The sign says: “Pollo” along with a few other words I haven’t yet translated. When the owner is in, the characteristic curtain of hanging beads marks the entrance, which leads to a dark space filled with a meat case, several wood stumps for sitting on, usually a large box of eggs and often a customer or relative chatting with the owner, Patrizia.

Patrizia sells chicken: whole or cut up, minced or kebabed, in pate, for pasta, and occasionally rabbit or turkey breast and of course, eggs. That’s it. She talks as fast as any Italian I’ve met and she has taken us in as her “Americani amici.” She’s met all our visitors, sold us servings of just about everything she has (whether we intended to buy it or not). She greets us on the street with kisses, she asks about our children, and she has taught us the difference in taste between frozen supermarket chicken and fresh chicken that she cuts quickly and perfectly to give us the choicest part of whatever we need. Her eggs are often gathered the same morning we buy them and sometimes, as in the photo above, every single egg she sells us has a double yolk. They make the best (American) breakfast you can imagine, are wonderful in carbonara and even in egg salad sandwiches. She’s on Via Carlucci in San Pellegrino in Viterbo…open mornings and afternoons.

Hunting for wild asparagus

Asparagus in the wild in early spring.

Foraging for wild plants to serve with a meal is a favorite activity of many Italians. Last fall we saw dozens of families picking up hazelnuts from the sides of the roads around Lago Vico. We’ve seen people picking greens on the side of the highways and read stories about families who jealously guard information about where to find the best mushrooms in the fall.  We’ve harvested fennel flowers from the fields around Viterbo and dried them for use in risotto.

Last weekend we took a lovely walk that included serious hunting for wild asparagus. Richard led the way, armed with a plastic bag and a sharp eye for the tiny shoots that are nearly indiscernible from small sticks. The secret is to find the asparagus plant itself, recognizable by light green frothy fronds. The challenge is to find the small individual shoots that appear at random intervals near the main plant. The narrow asparagus spears are quite dark and often nearly overgrown by the surrounding dry grass.

Between the four of us we managed to pick enough to make one generous asparagus frittata. The taste is very subtle but definitely has an asparagus flavor. Because we gathered them ourselves, they tasted particularly delicious and fresh and wild. Asparagus hunting is definitely a worthwhile spring activity!

Italian snack food: Pizza di Pane

Pizza di Pane from Il Fornaio on Via San Lorenzo, in Viterbo

The bakeries in Viterbo bake a variety of breads, from ciabatta to pugliese grano duro, in a variety of sizes and shapes. One of my favorites (though not the healthiest choice) is pizza di pane: thin bread baked with lots of olive oil. It resembles the focaccia found in some parts of northern Italy, but is generally thinner and crisper. Each bakery makes a slightly different version. My current favorite is from Il Fornaio, on Via San Lorenzo, although Artigipan on Via Annio makes a good version too, that is a little thicker and less saltier.

While you rarely see Italians eat anything while walking or standing (except for gelato), the one thing I do occasionally see is someone munching a piece of pizza di pane. It’s a popular breakfast for children on the way to school or for shoppers and workers for a mid-morning snack. Many bakeries are only open in the morning and most have some version of this crispy treat. It’s best eaten right from the bakery although a few minutes in a toaster (or on a griddle pan – toasters are rare in Italy) will refresh a piece perfectly later in the day.

Winter greens in abundance

Insalata mista (mixed greens) ready for a flavorful fresh salad

Every time I shop at one of the local produce shops I am reminded again of how much the seasons are represented by what’s filling the bins on any given day. This month the stores are overflowing with wonderful deep greens and purples: spinach, chicory, chards, kales, endive, broccoli, cauliflower, romanesco, fennel and artichokes. Many grocers are selling insalata mista which makes a wonderful green salad right out of the bag.

A good recipe to try this time of year to take advantage of winter greens is a local soup called aquacotto or aquapazza (literally “crazy water”), a traditional meal of Viterbo and surrounding villages.

One of my favorite produce shops on via Mazzini, Viterbo

More mixed greens, chicory, erbelle and other greens

More mixed greens, erbelle, chicory and other greens.