"You could see so far and it was so beautiful," Diggs recalls. "But now, with the earthquake, so much has been destroyed."
Norcia, birthplace of St. Benedict, was reduced to rubble when a magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck Italy before dawn on August 24. The temblor killed at least 290 people, injured hundreds more, and leveled medieval towns.
To raise funds for the Italian Red Cross on the ground helping displaced victims and families, Diggs decided to host dinners at Il Palio this Thursday and Friday. Fully one hundred percent of proceeds—from drinks and appetizers at the bar to full meals and wine in the restaurant—will be donated to the cause. Bacco Selections, an Italian wine importer based in Pinehurst, has donated wine for the occasion and will offer tastings from its portfolio.
Centered some sixty miles north of Rome, the area affected by last week's earthquake neighbors the village of Amatrice, which celebrates the pasta dish at this time of year that made its name familiar around the world: Amatriciana.
Diggs expects the Bucatini all'Amatriciana
to be the sentimental choice for many this week. He fine-tuned his recipe for the rich guanciale- and tomato-sauced dish, dressed with a snowy drift of pecorino, after eating it at a top restaurant in Rome this summer.
"I've been making it for years, but I did edit my version to taste more like what I had there," he says. "It may be a while until we can be there again, but we can eat the dish and send our positive energy—and funds for recovery."
"Before this summer, I wouldn't have had a connection to it," Diggs says of the region. "Massimo, one of our servers, told me there was a horrible earthquake in his hometown when he was six that killed 1,200 people. His brother is a police officer in Naples and they sent him to Amatrice to help with the relief effort."
Such associations, plus many more that Il Palio has forged over the years with Italian purveyors, inspired Diggs to plan the fundraiser.
"They are our friends, the people who support what we do here in Chapel Hill," he says. "We are very connected and want to do what we can to support them."
To make reservations, call Il Palio at 919-918-2545 or reserve online at Open Table
Il Palio at the Siena Hotel
1505 E. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill
For the past two years, Il Palio has sent executive chef Teddy Diggs to Italy to master classic techniques, bring back traditional recipes, and scout the best ingredients. He was directly involved in the latter in July, when he hiked the majestic mountains of Norcia at the southeastern edge of Umbria with the Chapel Hill restaurant's local truffle hunter.