Ferragosto Days (What’s Ferragosto? Click here.): Sagra di Umbrichelli – Monteleone (Umbria)
Cars line both sides of the road, with many parked up on the sidewalk. Finding a spot for ours was no easy task, but we finally did. (Whew.) Now we’re walking up the street – following the aroma of grilled meat and wood fire and pasta sauce.
The village of Monteleone is always one of our favorites for its restaurants, winding avenues and spectacular views. But tonight it’s all about umbrichelli – a typical pasta of this part of Umbria. In a community kitchen situated behind sprawling white dining tents, women from Monteleone have been slaving over floured pasta boards all day, hand rolling umbrichelli for the throngs of people who are now arriving to enjoy it. They’ll keep making fresh pasta like this every day, until the town’s festa comes to a close.
The dining tents are set up halfway up the main street that leads directly the oldest part of Monteleone – its centro storico. The line to the entrance is at least 40 deep, so we decide to meander up into old town and walk around a bit first. It’s getting dark and a warm summer breeze is stirring the leaves in the stately trees that line the avenue. Their thick trucks have raised parts of the sidewalk here and there.
We’re just a few steps along and a band starts up – horns blazing. It’s a military band and their leader is lively – moving his trumpet back and forth to the beat of the song. They’re singing as they play, a fun song about eating pasta (What else?!). I hear someone remark that they’ll play even better after they’ve eaten something. Who would ever doubt it?
We walk under the medieval archway and take a leisurely stroll along old cobblestone alleyways. Tunnels lead off here and there and we make our way to the fortressed wall at the edge of town. The views are spectacular, and as the twilight sky deepens to midnight blue the lights of neighboring villages twinkle in the valley below.
As we make our way back to the food tents, we stop to admire the colorful banners with medieval designs and symbols along the way. Others, pre or post umbrichelli, meander along the avenues too – enjoying the lovely summer evening. We notice the stage set up in the nearby park – glowing under bright blue lights. Children are already staking their claim up front, where they’ll have the best seats in the house once the music begins.
Back at the dining tents, paper menus and pencils sit on a table outside the entrance. The routine at such feasts is to take a menu, mark your choices and pay at the booth. Servers will refer to your marked menu once you find a place inside.
The umbrichelli sauce choices are aglione (big garlic), ragù (meat and tomato sauce), sugo d’oca (goose), funghi e tartufo (mushroom and truffle) and olio e parmegiano. I’m tempted by the mushrooms and truffles, but then I remember what my friend, Antonetta (who has been making umbrichelli for nearly 70 years), once told me. “Umbrichelli e algione sempre, Pamela.” Well then, aglione it is.
Pamela Haack creates and hosts boutique-style small group tours, artists’ workshops and retreats that are a combination of the very best of Italy: the exciting and the peaceful, the popular and the secret, the talked about and the never-heard-of-before. From art experts and operettas to authentic cooking classes and ancient Etruscans, Pamela helps guests experience the spectacularly beautiful, endlessly interesting cities and countryside of Italy in an up-close and personal way – off the beaten strada.
Pamela is also the author of Top 10 Favorite Etruscan Sites. She lives with her husband, Lou, in Umbria, Italy.