Our correspondant Lucie Shelbourne describes the summer months in the Umbrian hills….
Il lucciole (fireflies) in summer are mesmerising. They resemble an elfin diamond mine at midnight with the flashes and sparkles coming off their silver hammers as they toil away. Watching from my upstairs window, I feel like I am peeping into a secret world. The whole garden below is alive with a mute existence of minuscule fulgurations owned by these infamous insects. The lucciole herald the end of the scholastic year. Younger children come to school during this period with jam jars that hold the lucciola that they have managed to capture the night before. The poor thing is dying slowly like Tinkerbell, as its light becomes weaker and weaker. The little flying beetle emits a glow from its body due to a natural chemical stored in its abdomen. The innocent cruelty of children and tradition!
It’s early summer now and I happen to spy a lone scintilla; the last of the lucciole. Its light flashes more slowly as it makes its way over the grass, tired and almost spent. The cicadas are making a very loud din as they take the stage.
Last night, we sat out under the heavy scented Tilio trees, up in our village piazza, eating crostini and salami off a huge platter at the bottega there. We sipped smugly on our glasses of Marchese Antinori, anticipating the tagliatelle ai funghi that was to arrive next. The discussion was about which sagra we should choose to go to in the area next weekend. Each village in the summer months in Italy holds a special festa called a sagra with a typical theme, no village clashing with another regarding dates or menu. The Sagra della Pecora is one of my favourites as it’s mutton (which you never find these days) grilled on a wood ember barbecue with lemon squeezed over it. A local girl brings you your food on a tray with sautéed potatoes and a lettuce salad saturated in oil and vinegar. Along the table, heads are down, as eating is a serious thing in Italy (but so is talking and the noise level makes it impossible to hear yourself speak!)
We held a Summer Party of our own, and I’m hoping our guests thought it was marvellous. It was in the fresh air, under a star-spangled sky with near on forty close friends and family. One of the highlights of the evening was the truffle pasta course, cooked on the spot by our honoured guest Olga Urbani of Tartufi Urbani. Olga insisted on contributing in this very generous way and the result was superb, a delicious experience for the taste buds with the penne pasta perfectly cooked to al dente. Her glamorous appearance added to this ‘elite episode in our lives.’ The most important ingredient, of course, for the making of a successful party is the people, and these we had gathered that evening in abundance, eclectic, charming and witty, some having travelled up from Rome and many arriving by plane from London. The main course was porchetta from Domenico and Patrizia’s great little butchers in Monterchi. It was exquisite! I’ve eaten porchetta from various areas and this excelled them all. Not one slice remained apart from a curl of crackling, which I halved and gave to our two adorable canines. I was lucky to be able to serve the porchetta, having turned up the day before the party at the butcher with a request to serve 41 guests (it was a last minute change of ideas of what to eat). Domenico and his wife Patrizia just stood behind the glass counter of their very small shop, agog! But they came up trumps.
I had put all the white geraniums in pots, which looked very pretty round where the table was to be. The idea came from a wedding reception we once attended at the Quisisana Hotel in Capri. The effect was that they seemed to glow in the dark like the white bread crumbs of Hansel and Gretal, enabling guests to find their way along the wiggly path to the car park.
The next day, someone rang to thank me and told me that they’d put their heads round the door of the kitchen before they left and a thousand stacked dirty plates met their eyes. Well, that was a slight exaggeration if ever I heard one! But I had not been too far gone though in the early hours to scrape all the truffle remains left in the jars from the magnificent sauce Olga had brought and store them in the fridge to savour a second time round. Divine!