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The Springs of the River Clitunno
The ancient Via Flaminia led Roman citizens and emperors alike, including Caligula, to the Springs of the River Clitunno to consult and to worship the oracles of the river god, Clitumnus. Today, the more modern E45 highway gets you there in far less time, hours better spent strolling in the stillness and beauty that has inspired generations of poets, from Virgil and Pliny the Younger in ancient times to Carducci who composed an ode in honor of these springs in the nineteenth century. Umbrians still insist that drinking these magical waters renews one’s youth. So why not seek out the tiny town of Campello sul Clitunno, situated in the region of Spoleto near Trevi, where these springs are to be found in a veritable oasis? In a tranquil park, the waters surge from limestone rocks forming a small lake. Swans and mallard ducks glide gracefully across the glistening waters that mirror the tall poplars and wispy willows planted long ago along the meandering river. Below the surface, moss, ferns and aquatic plants paint a shimmering blue-green canvas.
In antiquity, many villas and spas surrounded a more abundant lake and along its banks, theatrical performances and competitions were held during religious festivals. Today, one can dine on a small terrace restaurant overlooking these same waters. It would be difficult to find a more enchanting backdrop to a lunch of Umbrian specialties in a region known particularly for its olive groves.
About one kilometer further along the Via Flaminia, a small temple sits on the banks of the Clitunno. Once a pagan shrine dedicated to the river god, it is considered to be an authentic monument of classical antiquity, most likely realized in several building phases by exploiting materials taken from the numerous mausoleums and villas that existed at the beginning of the first millennium. For this reason, it has been difficult for historians to date its precise origins or at what point it was converted to a Christian church now dedicated to San Salvatore. General opinion, based on its architectural elements, however, is that it dates to the fourth century. Inside the Tempietto there are the faded traces of two eighth-century frescos depicting Jesus and Sts. Peter and Paul.
Sometime in the 14th century, the Comune of Spoleto built a water mill for grain and oil near the Temple/Church, utilizing the force of the water from the Springs of Clitunno. Over the centuries, travelers journeying along the Via Flaminia would stop here for refreshment. A recent restoration has turned these old stone buildings into the Vecchio Molino, a charming inn. Guests enjoy the proximity to the river, which meanders through the gardens outside their rooms, or they can watch the waters flow from inside the mill itself.
The Springs certainly satisfied our longing for a stroll in a peaceful, idyllic setting. But the second reason for making this trip to Campiello sul Clitunno was to lunch at Le Casaline, a local restaurant known for its creative interpretations of wild game dishes and other regional specialties. The time had come to satisfy our physical appetites, but no amount of strolling could have prepared us for the abundance of Benedetto Zeppadoro’s tasting menu. Nothing - short of a three-day fast prior to sitting at his table! To list what we consumed that day would be embarrassing, as we have never been offered a more abundant array of antipasti in all of Italy and that is saying something! Their house specialties, to name only a few, feature wild boar salamis with goose fat, duck prosciutto, carpaccio di buffalo, pecorinos accompanied by honeys and other relishes, and smoked goat mozzarella. These were followed by pastas, and meat courses and finally, to our horror (and our delight) by a plate of not just one, but four desserts. Would I recommend this restaurant and tasting menu? Absolutely, but with reservation. One must arrive absolutely famished. Or, if you are a meat lover, order just the Antipasti of house specialties and follow up with desert and a coffee. You won’t leave hungry or disappointed.
Benedetto has been dishing up specialties since he was 18 years old – that’s a lot of experience. He and his family have been hosting a New Year's Eve dinner at Le Casaline for the past 23 years. And each year, a close family friend who happens to be ex-mayor of the town, designs and executes a poster for the event. These delightful graphics are framed and hang on the walls of the restaurant, tempting dinner guests to ring in the New Year with the Zeppadoros. Here’s my question. If what we were offered, mid-week, on an ordinary day, was so extraordinary, can you imagine what a New Year’s dinner would be like! Seating is limited to 60, so one must book early, in October, and that would probably be a good time to set some dietary guidelines for yourself to drop a few pounds prior to this festive dinner. Buon appetito!
Ristorante Le Casaline
Piatto del Presidente
Benedetto’s Recipe for Porcini-stuffed Gnocchi with a truffled cheese sauce
Boil one kilo of potatoes, leaving the skins on. While still hot, peel the potatoes and pass them through a potato ricer. Add flour, a little at a time, and knead until it has reached a soft consistency. Roll into a log and let rest for 30 minutes. Slice off a wedge and roll into a long shape, to the thickness of one finger. Cut into gnocchi about 1-1/2 inches long. Insert a small piece of porcini mushroom in each gnocco and with your hands roll the dough around the mushroom, shaping it into a little ball. Place each gnocco on a floured board.
Make a cheese sauce. Blend cream and Parmesan cheese, adding some black truffles and finely chopped tomato. Bring to a gentle boil for a few minutes.
Add the gnocchi to the boiling salted water; they cook very quickly. Remove with slotted spoon when gnocchi rise to the surface. Gently place them in the sauce, stir gently to coat, adding more grated parmesan and minced truffles. Serve with an Umbrian Sagrantino.
About the Author
© Ginda Simpson, 2009
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