Picantissima Pila!

September 4, 2014 / Events
Pila, Umbria

According to some scholars, the late Etruscan life-sized bronze sculptural masterpiece, “the Orator” (now in the Museo Nazionale Arcaelogico di Firenze) was found near Tuoro on Lake Trasimeno.  But the townspeople of Pila (near Perugia) know better: as you enter the Parco dell’Arringatore, a sign next to the wrought iron gate affirms that the Arringatore was found in 1566 by a farmer, Costanzo, while plowing the Mansuetti villa vineyards outside Pila.  The Etruscan presence is confirmed in the village name, “Pila” from pilae, the Latin word for stone mounds, i.e., the shape of Etruscan burial sites. The Parco encompasses the lands and gardens surrounding Villa Umbra built on the ruins of a 14th-c castle and shaded by the towering Mediterranean pines, popularly called “umbrella pines.” 


What  a site for one of Umbria’s  most delightful sagre, Picantissima, Festival del Peperoncino. While the other area sagre fete local Umbrian specialties, Pila’s festival showcases not only favorite Umbrian dishes but also those of southern Italian regions where peperoncino reigns, each region starring for two nights of the festival.  Sicilian spicy dishes lead off for the first two nights, followed by Calabria, then Puglia with Basilicata next and Campania wrapping up.  

We caught one of the two Campania nights with Pino opting for a mild dish – the famous mozzarella di buffala campana – while I chose fusilli tricolori di Amalfi all’ortolana con limone e pepperoncino. A buonissimo medley of summer vegetables, Amalfi coast lemons and peperoncino made this pasta dish a festival favorite.


At an adjacent table, a more “conservative” (culinarily speaking) Perugia couple opted for a local dish, stinco di maiale con patate (pork shank with roasted potatoes).  Animated groups of families and chatting young couples filled the tables around us and a magician wandered about entertaining open-mouthed children (and their mystified parents).


As at any sagra, ballroom dancing draws diners towards the music of a live band after dinner. At this sagra, exhibitions from local dance schools preceded the dancing: first belly-dancers and then a hip-hop group. The local dancing teacher closed her students’ performances with a dance pertinent to the Picantissimo Festival: she writhed and leaped her way across the dance floor to the music of a pugliese folk dance, la pizzica (“the bite”) – a dance of the “tarantella” group – rooted in the therapeutic rituals for the cure of bites of scorpions or tarantulas.

And speaking of bites: at Pila, savor the bite of peperoncino in countless tasty dishes. Picantissimo!

– Image of the Orator kindly provided by Cornelia Graco, (Creative Commons license CC BY 2.0). Many thanks!



Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See www.annesitaly.com for more on her Umbria tours. Do see www.stayassisi.com for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

20 Responses to “Picantissima Pila!”

  1. Janet Eidem

    Thanks Anne, and thanks Italian Notebook! It’s great to have you back.

  2. Anne Robichaud

    …and good to be back! And for me, too, seeing Italian Notebook yesterday in my computer helped making the end of the summer vacations alot more pleasant!

  3. The small towns and villages — and their festivals — are where the true Italy resides. Not only are they friendly and fun, they’re chock full of food and facts. And Umbria is a quiet source of all of the above.

  4. Cathy Vignale

    The statue looks like Trapattoni, former coach of the Italian National soccer team!!

  5. Janice Peters

    What a great article–I learn so much from you. So glad you enjoyed Ferragosto!

  6. Kathy Kelsey

    Anne, I still remember when you took us to a Sagra. So much fun. Loved reading your great article.

  7. Mary Jo Barbato

    Looking forward to our time together soon in the Assisi area! Still talk about our trip in 2004. Thanks for making Italy truly come to life for us.

  8. Thanks Anne, your words are aways so inviting!
    I hope to be able to attend a Sagra when we are in Assisi next month!
    A presto…

  9. Sarah Waltrs

    A sagra is a must for my next trip to Assisi! The food looks fantastic and I want to try some of that ballroom dancing! Must I bring a dance partner with me????

  10. Christina Pedota Polidore

    Fantastico photographs of the Sagra, especially the event poster which lists the regioni, very poignant. I must do more research regarding these regioni. I can feel the energy of the dancing crowd!

  11. How fun is this!! Makes me miss Italy. I never knew this even existed– great to know! Love the photos of the different dishes… Especially the Amalfi dish – as Amalfi has a special place in my heart! Looking forward to some more sagre stories– love them!

  12. Candace Utroska

    Anne, your article about pepperoncini made me yearn for something hot and spicy. Your articles are cultural treasures.

  13. Suzanne and Jack

    Dear Anne, Your articles always bring rural Italy to us. Thank you.
    We miss Umbria, Assisi and, of course, you.

  14. Fryderyka Wiener

    Anne, these delicious descriptions make me long for yet another trip to Umbria. See you soon!

  15. carol weed lundin

    i always love to read your narrations of life in italy (another chapter for your book!)


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