A Feast Worthy of Purgatorio

April 22, 2016 / Food & Wine
Lake Bolsena, Lazio

About seven kilometers from Gradoli, picturesque Latium hilltown on Lake Bolsena’s western shore, pull in at the 15th-century lavic stone church on the right, San Magno. Park near the church (probably closed) and cross the road to feast lakeside… in Purgatory.

Il Pugatorio - an old stone building, easy to bypass
Il Purgatorio - not to miss

That is, at Ristorante Il Purgatorio. Once a monastery refectory, the dining area has a huge barrel-vaulted ceiling and arched doorways of lavic stone but in good weather, diners prefer the outdoor tables lakeside, where ducks and a playful nutria or two entertain as you await the goodness.

Il Purgatorio - once a monastery, now a restaurant

About twenty years ago, una cooperativa of five men – co-workers and friends – rented the building from the Comune di Gradoli, opening their restaurant. Carlo keeps an eye on the risotto di pesce and the clam sauce, Gianni and Roberto team on table service and Angelo might be seated at a table outside the kitchen, cleaning a mountain of anchovies. But the specialty is Lake Bolsena’s whitefish, il coregone, grilled over the coals under the watchful eye of kitchen assistant, Stefania.

Carlo at the burners
Carlo's superb risotto
Gianni serves pleased guests coregone, whitefish of Lake Bolsena
Angelo cleans a pile of anchovies
Stefania keeps an eye on grilled coregone

At a lakeside table near ours, a jovial group enjoyed the grilled coregone and others reveled in a sauce of lakefish eel. We opted for homemade tagliatelle with a delicate sauce made of coregone and garden fresh piselli novelli (“new peas”) followed by a side dish of baked eggplant, peppers and zucchini. And here at Il Purgatorio, you can’t pass up the fagioli al purgatorio, the small white beans of the lake area, cooked with garlic, sage and bay leaf and then seasoned simply with local olive oil, salt and pepper.

Homemade tagliatelle with coregone and new peas
Seasonal baked vegetables
Fagioli del purgatorio and local red wine - a feast

The fagioli del purgatorio link to a cherished late 18th-century Gradoli tradition still celebrated every year on giovedi grasso (“Fat Thursday”), the beginning of pre-Lenten Carnevale. On that day, members of la Fratellanza del Purgatorio (“Purgatory Brotherhood”) in brown tunics with purple hooded capes solemnly walk the narrow Gradoli backstreets begging for “fat” donations, such as prosciutto, capocollo, salami. The collected foods are auctioned off; the proceeds assist needy families and will be used for the pranzo del purgatorio on Ash Wednesday.

When founded in the late 17th-century, the task of the Fratellanza was to succor souls in Purgatory through prayers, the celebration of Masses and good deeds. Their tie to il Purgatorio nowadays is simply a culinary one: the preparation of the traditional Ash Wednesday pranzo del purgatorio for over sixteen hundred Gradoli villagers. Tables are set up in the Cantina Sociale, the communal wine cellar, and each diner brings silverware, napkin and placemat. This past year, ninety confratelli cooked the feast in less than five hours! The menu di magro (“thin”, i.e, simple and without meat) always includes a risotto made with the broth of tinca, a Bolsena lakefish, fish stews and fried fish – and of course, the tiny white beans of the Gradoli area, i fagioli del purgatorio.

Every spoonful of “purgatory beans” convinces you that you’ve died and gone straight to Heaven… (bypassing Purgatory).

Lake Trasimeno

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.

23 Responses to “A Feast Worthy of Purgatorio”

  1. Nancy Mazza

    A very clever ending, Annie, and another interesting article about a place I’ve never heard of. I love your photos of the chefs and the food, with the glass of red wine well-placed. Makes me want to dig in!

  2. Riccardo

    Very interesting article with great photos. Seeing all the food will make my lunch very boring.

  3. Ginny Siggia

    Surely the menu features something “diavolo”and “al forno”. I have made it a retirement mission to read, and comprehend even at a tiny scale, the Divine Comedy.

  4. Gian Banchero

    Allora Anna, even though I well know I’m to take the plunge to the murky Netherworld for sure during my saddened journey I’ll indulge in a bowl of fagioli delPurgatorio affording a glance to the Heavens in hopes (‘<_')o Si', certo!! …. Grazie Anne for today's wonderful story and equally wonderful photos…

  5. Mary Cappiello

    Anne—You keep finding all these wonderful places that make those of us in the states want to explore ASAP! So, I guess it just means another great trip to Italy!

  6. Lucy Smith

    Another great story, Anne, AND fabulous photos of both people and their delicious dishes……mmmmm! Looking forward to seeing you soon!

  7. Suzanne and Jack

    Dear Anne, you’ve done it again. Another terrific story. I love the detail, the history, and the photos. You make me want to go to every place you write about. Many thanks

  8. Marianna Raccuglia

    You find these little “gems” then share them with your readers. Thank you for the interesting articles and your beautiful photos

  9. The lake looks so beautiful! Must be a great spot to visit in the summer!

  10. Anne, you have given us another day of mouthwatering memories…. the photos and your descriptions make me feel like I’m there. And, I will be soon. Thank you.

  11. Elise Haugh

    We cannot wait to visit in May and become acquainted with this beautiful area and wonderful food!!!

  12. I love your article and I look forward to a tour by you in the future!

  13. Anne, learning about individual town’s foods and culture and traditions always enriches my knowledge and love for Umbria. Your descriptions and photos are always amazing. Thank you!

  14. Mary Cay Oyler

    Anne treated us to an incredible lunch and then toured us through the town of Assisi. She knows everything and everyone in this region and you won’t be disappointed. Hope to work with her again soon!

  15. Catherine Williams

    Well, I can’t get there yet, Annie, but I “will await the goodness.” I’m pretty sure I won’t draw the “get out of Purgatory” card any eon soon. However, if anyone or any place could pull some strings, it would be you, and it would be San Magno. Plus your great writing and photos must for sure hasten the whole process.

  16. Stephanie W

    What a find! And what a great sense of humor these folks have! Purgatory is not on my bucket list, but now I think I’ll make an exception! As always, beuatiful pics and mouth watering descriptions to go along. Thank you for uncovering yet another tiny jewel in your beloved Italia.

  17. Only a true lover of rural Italia would know ristorante Il Purgatorio. Brava Anne! I will definitely search it next time in the area, for delicious food and experience. Viva il corpo e lo spirito italiano!

  18. Sandra Spector

    Every time Annie writes about … anywhere in Italy, I want to visit with her. What a joy that would be.
    Thanks again Annie. I love reading your posts


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