On my first morning in Trieste, I woke up with a full-blown cold. The symptoms had crept up on me during my lengthy train ride from Budapest, and it was clear that I needed to spend this first day taking it easy.
Upon my late arrival the previous evening, I hadn’t had time to fully take in my new accommodations at Residence Liberty. In the morning light, I could see that the apartment was quite spacious—bigger, even, than my old studio apartment in San Francisco—with a separate narrow kitchen, a large bathroom off the foyer, and high ceilings in the main room. The living area was furnished with a couple of upholstered chairs, a small round table, an armoire, and a desk. The double bed occupied one corner and could be curtained off by floor-to-ceiling draperies, giving it the feel of a separate room. Blue-and-yellow floral curtains framed the windows that, from the eighth floor, overlooked a sea of terracotta-tiled rooftops. Though the windows rattled noisily in the strong bora winds, it was still mesmerizing to lie in bed that morning and watch the rain patter rhythmically against the glass.
I had been thrilled at the prospect of having my own kitchen for a change, but disappointment set in when I saw that there was no oven—just a stovetop burner atop the mini-fridge—and that the microwave was scarcely large enough to hold a saucer tilted sideways. Nevertheless, it was imperative that I stock the kitchen with essentials to last for my three-week stay.
When I could no longer postpone the inevitable, I pried myself out of bed, took a hot shower, and headed outside to the blustery streets. As luck would have it, I found a tiny supermercato on the next block, and there I bought staples like milk, juice, butter, eggs, bread, cheese, yogurt, and muesli, plus a few cans of fruit and fish. Since my kitchen was completely bare, I even had to buy salt, pepper, and olive oil, as well as supplies such as dish soap, sponges, and napkins.
The supermarket did not carry any fresh produce, so I dropped off my bags of groceries at the apartment and then headed to the Mercato Coperto on Via Carducci. This indoor market was filled with produce stands, and I picked up an assortment of bananas, apples, tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant, potatoes, string beans, onions, and garlic.
On my way back from the market, the handwritten menu outside a restaurant called Bagutta Triestino caught my eye. Their daily special was minestra di bobici—not only would this soup be perfect on such a rainy October day, but I could cross off another dish from my “to-try” list. This was my fourth trip to the region specifically for the purpose of researching its cuisine for Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy, and I had already tried most of the dishes that would eventually make it into my book. There were still a few, however, that remained elusive, mostly due to the seasonal nature of certain ingredients. Bobici was one of those that I had so far been unable to find.
Originally a specialty of the Istrian peninsula—and meaning “corn” in the Triestine dialect—bobici is a vegetable soup containing three key ingredients: corn, beans, and potatoes. Bagutta Triestino’s version was also loaded with carrots, onion, and fava beans. The steaming bowl was just what I needed for my stuffy head!
Later, after a much-needed nap, I set to work preparing my first meal in my new apartment. Because of my lengthy stay in Trieste, my game plan was to eat lunch out every day and then stay in and cook for dinner—a strategic means of saving both money and calories. The kitchen, however, was only marginally equipped for cooking. Since the only cutting board and skillet were too filthy and full of gashes to use, I resorted to slicing everything on a plate (with an extremely dull knife) and using the one medium-sized pot for cooking absolutely everything. This made the whole process more time-consuming than it should have been, having to cook each element in succession rather than simultaneously.
First, I boiled some potatoes, coarsely mashing them, skin on, with some butter, salt, and pepper. Then, in the same pot, I boiled the string beans and gave them a final sauté with some garlic and olive oil. Finally, I scrambled an egg—yes, in that same pot—which I served with the vegetables, an undressed salad of greens and tomato slices, a slice of bread, and some cheese.
Since the kitchen had no storage containers, and I hadn’t bought anything like plastic wrap or aluminum foil, I covered the bowls of leftover potatoes and string beans with plates before stashing them in the tiny fridge. Washing dishes was tricky, too, as there was no drying rack or dishtowel. I snagged the extra hand towel from my bathroom, but there was no place in the kitchen to hang it, except over the back of a chair. By the time my meal and chores were finished, I was beat and ready to collapse into bed and shut my eyes until morning.
Here is my recipe for minestra di bobici. The sweet corn and salty pancetta provide lots of flavor, making this one of my all-time favorite soups.
4 ounces dried borlotti (cranberry) beans
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 ounces pancetta, chopped
6 cups water
1-1/2 pounds white potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 ears corn, or about 2 cups whole kernels
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1. In advance, place the beans in a small bowl and cover with water. Let soak for at least 12 hours, or overnight; drain.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and pancetta; cook and stir until the onion softens and the pancetta is brown and crisp, about 15 minutes. Add the beans and 6 cups water; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low; simmer, covered, for 2 hours.
3. Add the potatoes to the pot; return to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium; cook until the potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes.
4. Shave the corn kernels off the cobs using a sharp knife; rub the blunt edge of the knife over the cobs to extract their milky liquid. Add the corn kernels and the liquid to the pot, along with the black pepper; cook 10 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season to taste with salt.
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