Did you watch Stanley Tucci’s Umbria episode of Searching for Italy? We were excited to see a familiar face! This article about Giorgio Barchesi aka Giorgione (who made porchetta for Stanley) originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Dream of Italy.
When my nonna visits me in Rome, she spends as much time as possible with her notebook and pencil in front of the television, writing down our favorite chef’s recipes while he broadcasts on the Italian Gambero Rosso channel. One chef has captured her eye, and her stomach, more than others with his home-grown ingredients and his lack of measuring cups in the kitchen. Just like my nonna, Giorgione, is a fan of ‘’a drizzle’’ of this or ‘’a handful’’ of that.
Giorgione is the affectionately given nickname of Giorgio Barchiesi, a favorite in our house. He’s a farmer, a chef and an advocate for the regionality of Italian cuisine. Born in Rome, where he lived until the age of 19 when he decided to leave to study veterinary sciences and traded the metropolis for Umbria. He began to produce olive oil in the Montefalco and by 2006, he opened his first restaurant called Alla Via di Mezzo.
Unlike other Italian chefs who are cultivating an avant-garde, modern Italian cuisine, Giorgione knows if the recipes and tastes ain’t broke- why fix ‘em? His food plays on tastes that have been loved and admired in Italian cuisine for centuries like fresh olive oil, soft homemade pastas with rough, less-refined flours and an array of pork products like guanciale (pork cheek) that will never go out of style.
His dishes are either made with ingredients he grows himself or that he buys from trusted local farmers and fishermen. The recipes on his TV show Giorgione: Orto e Cucina reinforce the title of the program in that most ingredients pass directly from his orto (garden) to his cucina (kitchen).
After years of admiring his ever-present denim overalls and dreaming of tasting his dishes, my family and I take a day trip from Rome to visit his Villa Selva Country House in Gualdo Cattaneo in the province of Perugia. Winding country roads guide us up the hills of the surrounding Umbrian countryside until we see a beautiful stone building set behind an iron gate. The 90-minute drive has felt like a pilgrimage for us and we arrive at 1 p.m., hungry and excited, and oh yes- wearing Giorgione’s staple denim overalls.
Villa Selva is a restaurant and an agriturismo with rooms for rent and a pool for summer months. It is run primarily by Giorgione’s three children, Giuseppe, Michele and Maria. They have certainly inherited their father’s gift for creating dishes perfect to be had in company, full of flavor and jam-packed with quality ingredients. Everyone on the staff can tell you who the farmer or winemaker was for whatever you are eating or drinking.
Giorgione’s image is all over the restaurant on clocks, on paintings and table markers. The fire is on in the inviting dining room and our waitress seats us close enough to feel the warmth. The Sunday lunch menu we are about to enjoy is a price-fixed 29.50€, excluding beverages, and it includes an antipasto buffet, two family-style pasta dishes, two family-style meat dishes, and two desserts.
Around an alcove I see the wait staff is beginning to prep the antipasto for the lunch. What seems like hundreds of jars and slabs fill the buffet corner containing stuffed peppers, bean salads, foccaccie, prosciutti, different types of salami and cheeses, soups- like a hearty bean soup and a pappa al pomodoro made of tomato puree and softened bread, patè, veggies in olive oil and baked breads stuffed with meats, sauces and cheeses. We dig in.
Within a few minutes, the pasta arrives…Tagliatelle with a goose ragù and ravioli filled with ricotta and covered in a sauce of zucchini and guanciale, which is cured pork jowl, are on the menu today and they arrive on heaping platters. I take the final ravioli after winning a rock, papers, scissors game with my husband. Victory is sweet! Or savory in this case.
Today’s specials are braised beef in a Sagrantino wine sauce made of the wine from the nearby Montefalco, and guinea fowl in a truffle sauce. The smell of the truffles fills the entire dining room when the platters exit the kitchen and my family actually applauds when the dishes are placed on our table. The meal is complete with a berry cheesecake and a panna cotta accompanied by coffees and digestive liquors.
Villa Selva Country House is a place to visit on an empty stomach. You will fill up on the delicious plates, the warm atmosphere, and the fresh, clean Umbrian air on the surrounding grounds. If you are lucky, you will end your meal with a serenade of classic Italian songs, sung by Giorgione himself!
— Danielle Abbazia
Villa Selva Country House
Via Loreto, 1
(39) 074 2951321
Rates: Double rooms range from 82 to 120 € per night; apartments start at 170 €
Open Thursday to Saturday for dinner and Saturday and Sunday for lunch. The restaurant is closed Monday to Wednesday.