Anticipating our upcoming Bike the Wine Roads of Umbria cycling tour, I am reading a new book on this lovely region, “Umbria: A Cultural History” by Jonathan Boardman. A very readable overview of the fascinating culture and history of the “Green Heart” of Italy, chronicling how historical events continue to shape modern culture and traditions.
In the chapter on Food: Timeless Umbria, Boardman describes a typical Umbrian village food festival, which are actually common all over Italy. The locals would gather at the pro loco, the social center or village hall. The meal would start with a wide selection of antipasti, then move on to a primi piatti, which is usually pasta, which participants would have made in their home kitchens and brought to the event, an Italian pot luck. The second course, secondi, “which will almost certainly be prepared on the spot. Barbecued meat are the staple of such village feasts, and it sometimes looks as though a whole Viking funeral pyre is prepared to furnish sufficient quantities of smoldering ash to grill the meat.”
Next week, I am holding a small version of one of these village feasts, my final fundraiser this year for my Pan-Mass Challenge ride. While not quite a small village, there are now over 20 participants, gathering to cook, feast, and support a worthy cause. My planned menu is just as above, lots of antipasti to start, a pasta as our primi piatti – which we will make ourselves. Our secondi will be cooking on the grill as our pasta course is finished in the kitchen.
When entertaining a large group with a wide array of tastes, I find variety is best. Everyone can find something that appeals to them. So for this event, I’ll be supplying a selection of skewers, or spiedini. I’m planning a lamb spiedini with an olive basil pesto, a sausage one with peppers and zucchini, and two seafood offerings, a swordfish skewer with a red pepper pesto, this one, a spiedini di seppie (squid) with fennel.
Last year I enjoyed a glorious September day in Sirmione on Lago di Garda with a good friend. We had a wonderful, leisurely lunch, feasting on lake fish with citrus, al agrumi. The citrus sauce that adorned the grilled fish that day inspired the marinade/dressing I created for this dish.
Juice and zest of 1 orange
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
1/2 cup white wine
1 clove garlic, microplane or minced
1 pound cleaned squid – tentacles and bodies, bodies cut into 2 inch thick circles
2 heads fennel, thick outer leaves removed, cut lengthwise into 1/3 inch thick slices
3/4 cups extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3-4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs – basil, chives, mint
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
If using wooden skewers, soak in water for 30 minutes prior to use.
Combine the orange and lemon juice, zests, white wine and garlic in a medium bowl. Pour half the juice and wine into a small resealable container, reserving for the sauce. Add the squid to the juice mixture that remains in the bowl, and marinate the squid for 2 hours or so.
Alternately thread the squid and fennel slices onto skewers. Brush with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Grill skewers over medium high heat until squid is just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
While skewers are grilling, combine the reserved juice mixture with the 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, fresh herbs and hot red pepper flakes. Whisk to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve skewers topped with a generous spoonful of the citrus-olive oil-herb dressing.