Love in Bettona, Umbria

If you’ve read IBC, you’ll know that our relationship with Sante, Conci, their son Silvano and his wife Roberta began in the most accidental of ways.

Given that, it’s amazing how much like family they’ve become.

Over the year we lived in Spello, I don’t even know how many times we dined at their table, to say nothing of learning to roll pasta and flip torta al testo. Each time, we sank into a familiarity and affection which seems odd considering the circumstances.

For some reason, they seem to actually love us. They bring out their jewel-like cherry wine from le Marche so we linger longer over a meal, they take the trouble to enunciate clearly (Sante calls it “finishing his words”), they brought a bundle of flowers to my book party in Spello two years ago, they never let us leave empty handed (homemade wine in giant bottles, olive oil in jars, a dozen eggs) they still delight in Nicolas’s love of pasta, in the photos Conci is almost always beaming at one of the children, and when we are in Umbria, they greet us like long-lost cousins. 

Nowadays, our visits back center on the restaurant Silvano and Roberta opened, Osteria Straccaganasse. As far as I can tell from Conci’s miming, I think the name translates to the tiredness in your jaw after you eat a good meal. How odd that we don’t have an English word for that.

We first visited the restaurant in 2015, during Bettona’s Sagra dell’Oca, their festival of the goose. The osteria is in a gorgeous location—an ancient Baglioni palace, with several levels, including an outdoor terrace. We feasted on gnocchi and tagliatelle with goose, along with sampling after sampling of both traditional and creative Umbrian antipasti. Just like dining at Sante and Conci’s table, we found Osteria Straccaganasse to pride itself on locally sourced and excellent quality ingredients, made with love and devotion to detail.

During our April of 2017 visit, we were glad to find that goose was still on the menu, and if anything, the cuisine was even better than before (and they've added a Bed and Breakfast!). We loved the restaurant the first time, but two years of operation has lifted the quality from great to extraordinary and worth going out of one’s way for. I had a pasta with duck and orange that I had to eat with my eyes closed so I could meditate on the flavor, and Keith said that his cappellacci (a filled pasta) with gorgonzola and nuts was the best pasta he had the whole trip.  Like last time, the antipasti platter was a treat, with local specialties I’d never heard of, and the Bettona wine was the perfect complement. I particularly praised the pancetta, and Sante reached across the table to clasp my hand with pride. Turns out that pancetta was raised by their family from a special breed of black Subasio pig. Shortly after that, Sante and Conci invited us to vacation with them at the sea. I like to think it's because I knew enough to know that that pancetta was something special.

But the highlight of the meal for us was just being with our Bettona family again. We canvassed topics small (like US politics) and grand (how a mother never stops worrying over her children). Roberta’s arrival from the kitchen was hailed with cheers, and we were so glad that she sat with us, as we savored our spiced wine Silvano made in the medieval style. And they still didn't let us leave empty handed—forcing us to take a jar of pomegranate jelly and the Cannara red onion marmalade which added a swoon-worthy piquancy to pecorino cheese. Both, of course, made in house.

There are moments of grace in our lives.

This family is one of ours.