O, to be the Duke of Urbino…

…especially in place of Federico da Montefeltro, duke of Urbino from 1444 to 1482. He may have been missing one eye and a piece of his nasal passages, but Federico knew how to live and chose his artistic protegés well.

We took a morning bus to this wonderful walled city, whose centerpiece is the ducal palace of Federico. Until the Borgias ousted the family, this was the center of power in Urbino. While Federico also controlled Perugia, and had another palace in Gubbio, this was his showplace. It has things in common with Gubbio, such as the studiolo, and a wonderful collection of other examples of the art of inlaid wood. A glorious palace, though maybe a bit too much.

Urbino’s other claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Raphael, whose home is still there and available for viewing. Could only take pictures while huddled under the video cameras in each room, but – trust me – this is one gorgeous home.

Next to the ducal palace is the cathedral, which was renovated after the earthquake of 1789 took down the dome.

Other moments in this town were equally wonderful. This is one of those carefully curated places that is a real joy to explore on a gorgeous spring day.

To close, here is one observation about the teenagers we have seen lately in Italy. While young men in France seemed enchanted by Brooklyn, there is more fascination with the ghetto vibe here. Harlem is the New York neighborhood of adolescent fantasy for many. Guess they haven’t heard how real estate prices have skyrocketed and gentrified the ‘hood.

Don’s Food Corner

What a beautiful day in such as beautiful town as Urbino to break our two-day fast from Italian food.  And we found a great place down a narrow side street that had a lovely outdoor seating area.

Intent on sticking with regional specialties, we started with deep-fried stuffed olives.  It’s not clear what the olives were stuffed with.  It looked like a puree of mushrooms and breadcrumbs, but I’m not sure.  The crust around the olives made them almost nut-hard and nearly impossible to attack with knife and fork so we resorted to eating them by hand.

Next was a salad featuring sauteed procini mushrooms, served warm, on rocket with generous shavings of sharp Parmesan cheese.

After those two nice starters, we moved onto pasta.  Jo tried the local dish, strozzapreti ll norcina — strangling priest pasta with a sauce of cream, sausage and truffles.  We’d soon be leaving truffle country so it was time to load up.  This time the truffle was not grated on top of the pasta fresh at the table but was instead incorporated directly into the sauce.  But the pronounced fresh truffle taste was unmistakable.

I tried the pappardelle del ducca — wide pasta strips with wild boar ragu.  I wouldn’t say that the wild boar — again, a specialty of the region — was dramatically different from a standard pork ragu, but it might have been somewhat darker in color.  What impressed me the most about this particular dish at this particular restaurant was the freshness of the pasta.  It really does make a difference.  I keep thinking about how we’re going to have to upgrade our our pasta preparation back home.

This fine meal was topped off by a very fine local white wine that had been recommended by the waiter.

OK, we’ve returned to the Italian kitchen and there’s no turning back.



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