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As our plane began its descent into Fiumicino Airport, the sun cast its early glow on another beautiful Tuscan morning. Our excitement built. Once again we were returning to a land that is rich with “food for the eyes and dreams for the heart”. After the usual tour through customs and the trip through baggage claim, we picked up our car and were soon driving through the countryside we had just viewed from our plane.
When traveling from the airport to Tuscany or Umbria, our preference is to travel the country roads instead of the Autostrada del Sole. As we traveled through the countryside, the olive groves and the vineyards welcomed us. The occasional aqueduct
standing tall in the farmers' fields reminded us of the historical significance of this great land.
We had decided to expand our holiday this year to include some time in Umbria, known to many as “the Green Heart of Italy” before we headed to Casa Bellavista to visit our friends, Simonetta and Guido and their family. And so, the following story is about a unique and extraordinary culinary experience we had in the Umbrian village of Spoleto.
There were several items on our “list of things to see” including the Roman amphitheater, the Duomo and its piazza, the Casa Romana, the Rocca Albomoziana, the Ponte delle Torri,
the market and of course, a passeggiatta through the narrow streets of this magnificent medieval hill town. We were also looking forward to enjoying dinner at the Osteria del Matto, an osteria we had read about in one of our travel books.
Our first afternoon in Spoleto, we headed to the Osteria del Matto to make our dinner reservations. As we walked through the narrow streets, we visited the market and the
local macelleria (butcher shop). The Osteria del Matto is just a stone's throw from the market. Upon entering the osteria, we were greeted by a lady coming from the kitchen. We asked if we could make reservations for later that evening. Her response was a simple, but friendly “No”. She went on to explain that they were booked for the evening, but if we wanted to, we could reserve a place for the next night. We did. Then, we asked if we could see a menu. We were anxious to see what culinary delights we might have as we had read so much about the osteria. Again in a friendly tone, she replied “No”. I asked “Perché no”? Once again, her reply was simple...”I go to the market each morning and see what is fresh and good. Then I buy it, bring it back to my kitchen and begin to prepare it for dinner. So, your dinner will be a nice surprise.” The menu would be a fixed menu at the whim of the cook.
As we walked along the streets on our way back to the hotel, the anticipation of a surprise dinner was building. We could hardly wait for the next evening...and a delightful surprise it was!
The Osteria del Matto has what can best be described as an eclectic décor, featuring the creative use of Pinocchios, watering cans with candles, artwork, books, Christmas lights, wine bottles, etc. It is a riot of textures and colors. And in the midst of it all we were welcomed by Filippo, the owner, who has the ability to make everyone feel at home. One of the uniquely special events at Osteria del Matto is the exchange of conversation between tables in an atmosphere of true family dining.
Our dinner began when Filippo offered us a choice of wines. We selected the house red. Shortly, Filippo began bringing food to our table, a series of incredible offerings, some quite unusual and all delectable. Our Antipasti included zucchini stuffed with crisp bread crumbs and herbs, arancino, funghi (large) which had been cut in half and dressed with oil, salt, parsley, fried ricotta, and bruschetti with tomatoes and also with arugula, feta and radicchio (ciccoria).
Following the Antipasti and after a refill of the house red, we began the rest of our “surprise dinner” which included a marvelous selection of dishes. First, we were served spelt with onion and sausages. Following this, Filippo brought us spezzatini, a stew-like dish of small pieces of prosciutto in a homemade sauce whose taste was out of this world. We enjoyed conversations with other guests and more wine was poured. As the evening progressed, we realized we were dining with new friends, enjoying a myriad of flavors and textures of traditional Umbrian home-style cooking.
After a short break and more conversation with the guests, Filippo served us an insalata of warm cicoria greens with oil and vinegar, and servings of fried melanzana and strangozzi di pomodori. For dolci we enjoyed a delicious dish of blackberries with lemon, sugar and creola (a spiced liqueur).
After a relaxed and wonderful evening of visiting, eating and enjoying the “fruit of the vine”, it was time to head back to the hotel. There had been a short shower while we were dining and the cobblestone streets reflected the street lights, while the glow from the windows of the medieval buildings created a warmth to the fresh, evening air.
Our dinner at Osteria del Matto was beyond imagination...a truly enjoyable evening.
Edie and Dave