Golden Day Thirty-Nine: Spello With Advice From Chef Andrea Tiberi
Through the wonderful way that Italian connections happen, my friend Carol Coviello-Malzone, (author of Flavors of Rome), introduced me to Chef Andrea Tiberi, a young, super-talented gentleman who was born and grew up in Umbria–on a farm just outside of Assisi. Andrea’s passion and gift for cooking took him up the professional ladder (he’s cooked for The Pope!) and four years ago he moved to the USA to head up Eatalian, a company that promotes the cuisine of Italy–through catered events and deliveries in the Connecticut Tri-State area. Eatalian also offers fun cooking classes (in collaboration with Select Italy) in a cool Soho Loft space.
One of Andrea’s most beloved spots in Umbria is Spello–a walled jewel-of-a-village (population 8000) set on the slopes of Mount Subasio. You enter through one of its three Roman or Medieval gates and immediately get that feeling of stepping back in time as you explore its alleys and quiet piazzas, all done up in a beautiful mix of pink, white, and gray stone.
There are over 20 churches to explore, many adorned with Renaissance masterpieces. The one definitely not to be missed is Santa Maria Maggiore, built over a Roman temple that was dedicated to Juno and Vesta. Inside is the Cappella Bella (Beautiful Chapel) with a triptych by Pinturicchio, including this Nativity.
“I was on the Spello basketball team while I was in culinary school in Assisi,” Andrea told me. He was, in his charming, enthusiastic way, eager to give travel advice.
“There are so many events going on in Spello through the year,” he said. “You can come in June (in 20011, June 26) for the famous Infiorata, when the streets are decorated with paintings made of flower petals, for the celebration of Corpus Domini. This is something Spello prepares for all year. In early December there is a festival to celebrate the olive harvest, and the town is also famous for Presepi (Nativity Scenes) for Christmas celebrations. In fact, Spello has a live Nativity Scene–my brother once played San Giuseppe! In summer there are concerts held at the Villa Fidelia–a beautiful 19th century building that also has gardens you can tour.” Click here for Spello event info.
Andrea also recommends stopping by the Museo di Norberto in the town center (Via Cavour 61, 0742 652 044). Norberto is a contemporary artist who is famous for his paintings of Umbrian villages and countryside scenes. His son, or maybe the master himself, will be there when you visit.
As for the food, Spello is famous for its olive oil and also wines, such as Sagrantino. “You taste them at Sportoletti Winery (Via Lombardia 1, 742 651 461),” says Andrea. It’s a family run spot you can visit by appointment. On restaurant menus, also look out for Umbrian wines by Paolo Bea and Arnaldo Caprai, both of Montefalco, who have made this wine region world famous.
A small white bean that resemble rice, called risina is used in many dishes in Spello–in salads, soups, or pureed for a bruschetta topping. There are also delicious pork products–salumi and sausages. Black and white truffles add earthy flavors, shaved over pastas. The traditional pastas of Spello, according to Andrea, are taglierini (thin, ribbon-shaped) and strozzapreti. Strozzapreti (short, thick curled pasta) means “Priest Stranglers”–a name that came about because in olden days priests could get free meals at restaurants and homes, so cooks invented this shape that might possibly choke them, so the priests wouldn’t live to eat up an expensive second course. That’s the rough version of the story–I’ve heard a milder one that says strozzapreti was created to be an especially filling pasta, so the priests would be satisfied and not want a second course.
So where do we eat? I asked and my expert answered:
Il Cacciatore (V. Giulia 42, 0742 301 603), is always filled with locals, and a good place to get the traditional dishes. For something more elegant, go to La Bastiglia (a converted olive mill), that’s a Michelin starred restaurant with an extensive wine cellar.
AND THEN there is: The meal you will never forget, that is not in any guidebook, that only locals will tell you about—at Ristorante L’Ulivo (Via Monte Bianco 23, Matigge di Trevi, 0742 78969) A chef friend of mine and his wife built this place in the middle of an olive grove, about a 20 minute drive from Spello. There is no menu, you pay maybe 20 to 30 euro for the meal with wine and they keep coming with food–24 courses–or until you say, “Okay, stop!” I had my farewell dinner there when I moved to the US four years ago.
As for Where To Sleep, Andrea recommends:
Palazzo Bocci (via Cavour 17), an elegant seventeenth century palace, with frescoed salons and a restaurant.
Outside of Spello is the Terme Francescana, a spa resort that was built 10 years ago over thermal springs the Romans bathed in.
And further into the nearby countryside is an Agriturismo, run by a friend of Andrea’s: Fonte Rosa (331 435 8591, Via Tevere 23). “It’s a good place to get the experience of the country, you can ride horses, the food is very good,” says my trusty chef friend. “There is no website yet, so you write to me and I tell you more about it,” he continues, and then he has to rush off to cook up something delicious…So go ahead and write to firstname.lastname@example.org for the rest of that story…
GRAZIE for inspiration to visit Bello Spello, Chef!