The landscape around Trasimeno lake might be one of the most beautiful I've ever seen, the thing you have in mind when someone mentions Italian countryside- hillsides dotted with olive trees, pines, and cypresses, surrounding a lake the color of the clouds with three islets floating in the middle of it all. Then there are the little towns (some of them sleepy, some of them lively), with their cobbled streets, lake views, castles, lazy cats, ceramic ateliers and local delicacies spreading in front of the shops. My wish to see this landscape came from, again, Frances Mayes- her carefree wanderings around the lake made me imagine the two of us driving from town to town, detouring for one or another little castle, eating fried or stuffed lake fish with a glass of Colli del Trasimeno wine.
We came from Cortona to Passignano sul Trasimeno late in the afternoon, a perfect timing to catch the afternoon light illuminating the leaves on the trees and to watch the colors of the lake and the sky turn purple. A house we stayed in was a bit further from the town, up in the hills, with the most beautiful views of the lake. We rented a room in Villa Primaluce, but as there were no other guests at the beginning of October (what a shame, I don't think the weather could have been any more perfect), we had the house, the terraces and the garden all to ourselves. Staying in that house, cooking in a rustic kitchen with a lake view, catching the play of shadow and light on old wooden furniture and cobbled floors, making ourselves a bath in the evening with a white ceramic jug, sipping wine by the fireplace while listening to opera, and especially, having breakfast on the colorful, ceramic table surrounded by all that greenery (some of it already starting to reveal its autumn colors) while soaking in the lake scenery, are some of my favorite memories of that trip.
That evening we descended to the town for dinner in one of the restaurants proposed by my friend Erika that has friends in Passignano (how beautiful!). Trattoria del Pescatore was just what we needed on a fresh autumn evening- I wanted to try the local fish, and they had plenty to satisfy my food cravings. I had a carpa regina in porchetta, carp stuffed with porchetta, Luka had a tegamaccio, tasty stew made of seasonal fish. The food was hearty, flavory, warming, a real autumnal treat. After dinner, we went for a walk on the quiet streets of Passignano, and then by the lake- where the silence would be occasionally interrupted by splashing sounds of the fish.
The next morning, we had a long (and I mean looong) breakfast on the terrace, all the usual suspects rounded up on the flowery table: local cheese, salami, ricotta, apples, some bread and butter, a cup of tea...as we do! It was the first morning of our little holiday, and I wanted to enjoy those views and October sun as long as we still had some time left for a drive around the lake. Since we weren't rushing anywhere, our drive was full of unexpected stops, beautiful distractions in form of cypress lined paths, castles overlooking the lake, ducks swimming among the cattail and walled towns. We loved taking a walk on literally empty streets of Monte del Lago (if we set two cute identical cats aside). I read later than almost twenty years ago it had 167 inhabitants- I'm wondering, how many of them still live there? And how many just come during the weekend or summer holidays? Beautiful potted plants in front of some houses still look like someone is taking well care of them. I wouldn't mind having one of those pretty stone houses overlooking the lake as a summer (and occassionally autumn) retreat.
The road led us further, winding around the bays covered in cattail, through vineyards and olive groves, until the view of Castiglione del Lago opened up. Castiglione is a "proper" town, its modern neighborhoods spreading outside of the walled town center. We entered the old town through Porta Senese arch and crisscrossed the streets leading to Lion Rock Castle in a quest for ceramics, beautiful doors, and local delis. We both fell in love with a couple of colorful, ceramic tables (similar to the one our hosts had), but the price tag and the lack of space in our car stopped us for taking one home. From what was on display in front of delis, local delicacies were cheese, olive oil, lentils, pasta and wine- which got us in the mood for some Italian food. We found a restaurant with a lake view and ordered pizza with prosciutto, radicchio, parmigiano and two glasses of beer- with all that sun, it might have as well been summer! Pizza, if not the best we've had in Italy, was quite good and had a bonus of coming with a view.
The castle, La Rocca del Leone, dates back to the 13th century and has a pentagonal shape dominated by an unusual triangular tower with crenelated walls. I read that it suffered several attacks during middle ages thanks to its strategic location- nowadays, it is hard to imagine bloody battles in that peaceful landscape.
On our way back to Passignano, we stopped at Tuoro, a town a bit up on the hill above the lake. From there, we could observe the lake landscape and the cypresses and olive trees casting long shadows in the afternoon sun. This little town was lively- we saw the nonnas chatting on a bench with a view, kids playing ball on a steep street up the hill, and cars driving up and down that same street. In front of a macelleria (the butcher shop) stood a sign, "Porchetta oggi" ("Roast pork today")- and who can resist a roasted porchetta for dinner? There, we had to wait until the elderly lady bought a week's worth of meat. In the store next to the macelleria I got inspired by porchetta and picked the fresh fennel, garlic, tomato sauce and pasta to go with it. Later that evening, while I was improvising a recipe that turned out to be one of the best pasta dishes I've ever made, Luka opened a bottle of wine and set a Bruce Springsteen playlist- since we've only been to his Italian concerts, we always connect his music to Italy. Maybe because his Italian fans are so affettuosi? Anyhow, our hosts came by to say hi just when the sauce was ready- the smell was so fragrant that they had to try it (he tried just a bit, they were very polite, even though we invited them to join us). He said something like buonissimo or veramente buono, which means really, really good, and to get that from an Italian? Lucky me!
I have never really shared a recipe on this blog, at least not my recipe, but this one was really good, and I want to write it down, even just for me. So, here it is:
Porchetta and fennel in tomato sauce (for 2 persons, and some more)
1 slice porchetta, about 1,5 cm thick, cut into cubes
1 small fennel, including leaves
3-4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 bottle of passata, preferably from pomodori datterini, a 350-400 g package
dried herbs such as oregano, basilico or thyme
about 1 dl of white wine
salt and pepper for seasoning
half a package of spaghetti
Sautee the garlic and the fennel in olive oil on low heat for a couple of minutes, the garlic should not burn. Add white wine and continue cooking until the wine evaporates and the fennel softens. Then add the porchetta cut into cubes. Sautee for a couple of more minutes (just for the smell and the juices to come out, as the porchetta is already roasted). Add the entire bottle of tomato sauce, the herbs, and the seasoning. Cook for another 15-20 minutes, adding water when the sauce dries out. As long as you cook, as flavory it is going to be. Cook abut half a package (250g) of spaghetti, al dente. Add them to the sauce with half a cup of the cooking water. Stir everything up and drizzle with olive oil. Serve immediately. (If you wish, you can add some grated parmigiano or pecorino, we didn't however). Buon appetito!
After Trasimeno, we headed further, to Perugia and Assisi, and as the landscape changed, the time changed as well. Trasimeno turned out to be our late summer retreat, and then autumn began.
I will be writing about Perugia soon (there will mostly be our excitement about the food), but in the meantime, I would love to hear if some of you have ever been to Umbria, and did you love it? I know you did, so please share your stories!
Also, I added a vertical image below in case you want to pin this article! Thank you! :)