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Udine's Osteria Al Vecchio StalloMy three weeks in Carnia were over, and it was time to return to Udine for the final week of my trip. From Forni Avoltri, I caught the bus to Tolmezzo, where I made the connection to Udine. I arrived just before noon, checked into Hotel Principe, and went out immediately to have lunch at Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo. The restaurant was packed, rather unusual for a Monday at lunchtime, although perhaps it was due to increased holiday travel. It was, after all, late July. I ordered the deliciously creamy baccalà (salt cod stew) with polenta, along with a side of grilled eggplant, zucchini, and red bell peppers.

After lunch, I took some time to unpack and rest—it was a relief to have a day without any strenuous hiking or sightseeing. Then, around 4:30pm, I headed across the street to the train station and caught the next train to Cormòns. It was a short trip, and by having my dinner at the town’s enoteca (wine bar), I would be able to get back to my hotel early and call it a night.

On my way into Cormòns, I stopped at the COOP supermarket and stocked up on apricots and peaches. After five weeks of eating in restaurants, I was really starting to miss fresh fruit.

Enoteca di CormonsWhen I arrived, the Enoteca di Cormòns was nearly empty, save for a man and woman in biking attire having wine at the bar. I sat at one of the long, wooden tables and ordered an antipasto plate of assorted cheeses, salami, prosciutto D’Osvaldo, and olives, along with a glass of Ribolla Gialla. Noticing that the couple at the bar were Americans, I invited them to join me at my table. It turned out that they were on a cycling tour of northeast Italy and had just tasted at least twenty local wines. Tempted by my plate of goodies, they ordered the same. I found it refreshing not only to be speaking English after a month of nothing but Italian, but also to not be eating alone for a change.

Friuli: Path of FlavoursThroughout my trip, I kept coming across the book Friuli: Via dei Sapori by Walter Filiputti. Since it was a large, heavy coffeetable book, however, I wanted to wait until the end of my trip to purchase it, so that I wouldn’t have to lug it around any more than necessary. Seeing that the enoteca carried copies of the book in several languages (including the English translation, Friuli: Path of Flavours), I decided to go ahead and buy it. Of all the books in my Friulian cookbook collection, this one is by far the most gorgeous, with full-color photos throughout. It features several of the restaurants I have been to—Alla Pace, La Subida, All’Androna, Al Lido—along with recipes for some of their signature dishes. The book also discusses the history of Friuli, as it pertains to the region’s cuisine, with detailed descriptions of its typical foods and artisanal products.

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Forni Avoltri's Chiesetta di Sant'AntonioOn my first full day in Forni Avoltri, I would be visiting the Val Pesarina, the last of Carnia’s seven valleys on my itinerary. After an ample breakfast at Hotel Scarpone—yogurt topped with some cereal flakes, a slice of chocolate Bundt cake, a banana, and a glass of grapefruit juice—I set out to buy my bus ticket.

Since I had some time before my bus would arrive, I took a walk across the river. There I found a delightful little church, the Chiesetta di Sant’Antonio, its pink stucco walls standing out in contrast against the pale blue sky. On my walk back, a woman who was tending her garden called out the traditional Friulian greeting, “Mandi,” and I stopped to chat. Americans don’t typically venture as far north as Forni Avoltri, she told me. I must have been a real novelty, for she then called to her cousin, “Vieni a vedere l’americana!Come see the American! After I told them about my interest in Friulian cuisine, the women mentioned that there was to be a presentation on the cooking of Carnia at the Municipio that very evening.

At the bus stop moments later, I saw a flyer announcing the event, a book-signing for Cucina della Carnia by Melie Artico, a book I had coincidentally just purchased the previous week. While waiting, I asked an elderly lady which building was the town hall, and she pointed to it in the piazza behind the bus stop, also commenting that they never see any American visitors there. I told her about the book I was writing, and she said she hoped it would bring more tourists to their small town. Continuing our conversation on the bus, she asked the name of my book, so I presented her with my business card, which gave both my name and the book’s title, Flavors of Friuli. An old man sitting behind her piped up and asked for one too—as if I were someone of particular importance!

My bus arrived in Comeglians, where I had almost two hours to wait for my connecting bus to Prato Carnico. There was nothing to do or see in Comeglians, but I found a tiny church, Chiesa di San Nicolò, where I could sit and escape the harsh sun.

Prato CarnicoI arrived in Prato Carnico after a brief 15-minutes ride. The sight that caught my eye first was a home straight out of a fairy tale, with its tall, brick walls, green-tiled roof, immaculate white trim, dark green shutters, and colorful flower garden. (The green-tiled roof was a style characteristic of the nearby Val Degano, and this was the most charming example I had ever seen.)

Fortunately, the town’s one restaurant, Ristorante Ai Sette Nani, was open. Inside were several paintings of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, a tribute to the restaurant’s name—one that seemed oddly appropriate after having just passed that storybook cottage with the green roof. There were only three menu items available—understandable, perhaps, given that it was a slow day and I was the only customer. I ordered the gnocchi di zucca but was dismayed when I glanced over at the bar area and saw the cook putting my plate into the microwave. Rustically misshapen—from the technique of dropping spoonfuls of dough directly into the cooking water—these pumpkin gnocchi had the potential to be delicious had they been fresh. As it stood, they were tough, doughy, and obviously reheated—a far cry from the delicate ones I had had several years earlier at Ristorante Al Fogolâr in Brazzacco.

One of the dishes on my “to-try” list that I hadn’t yet found on any menu was pendalons. I had read that this side dish of string beans and potatoes was native to the Val Pesarina, so I asked the waiter if they ever served it. They did, although he said that string beans were not currently in season. When I had finished my meal, I declined to order dessert; nevertheless, the waiter brought me a plate of crostoli—strips of fried dough dusted with powdered sugar, a traditional Carnevale treat.

As I was paying my bill at the counter, the cook (and apparently the owner/waiter’s mother) came out of the kitchen to explain to me how she prepares pendalons. Basically a potato purée mixed with string beans, hers are topped with a sauté of pancetta, onion, garlic, parsley, and chives. I took careful notes, so that I could recreate her dish at home.

Prato CarnicoAfter lunch, I took a walk to explore the tiny town. Along the highway, I passed the campanile pendente (leaning tower); its church was destroyed in an earthquake in 1700, and only the tower had been renovated. Then, finding a road leading down to the river, I crossed the bridge and wandered uphill through a residential area amid shady woods and winding roads.

Back on the highway later, I realized how far I had strayed from Prato Carnico. Instead of heading back, however, I took a gamble that I’d reach the next village, Pesariis, in time to catch my return bus. Speed walking most of the way, I made it with just five minutes to spare! Pesariis is known for its Museo dell’Orologeria, or “museum of watches.” I wished I had had time to visit, but the buses in this valley were so infrequent that I had no choice but to return to Forni Avoltri—via Comeglians again, where I had a full hour to wait for my connecting bus.

I left for dinner early, hoping that I would finish in time to attend that book-signing event. I had made a reservation at Ristorante Al Sole, located a short distance across the river. When I arrived, owner Tiziana Romanin immediately introduced me to Giacomo del Fabbro, president of the town’s Centro Culturale, who was hosting the event. He sat at my table for a few minutes before I ordered, as amused as everyone else seemed to be that an American was visiting their out-of-the-way village, and especially pleased that I was writing a book about Friulian cuisine.

Instead of handing me a menu, Tiziana suggested some of their specialties. I started with the cjarsòns, her aunt Lia’s recipe. Prepared with a potato-based dough, the pasta was filled with a mixture of fresh ricotta, raisins, crushed amaretti cookies, parsley, and cinnamon, and served with melted butter, cinnamon, and ricotta affumicata. To drink, she recommended a glass of Verduzzo, its honey and citrus notes pairing perfectly with the sweetness of the cjarsòns.

Next, I had the frico, which came with a slice of polenta, some saucy sautéed wild mushrooms, and a couple bites of veal stew. Though Tiziana had originally specified that the frico was going to be prepared con patate, what I was served actually contained no potatoes. Instead, it was a less common type called frico friabile: crunchy deep-fried cheese with the unique appearance of a porous sea sponge. I had tried this kind of frico once before, at a food festival in Arta Terme, and found it to be extremely greasy. Careful not to express any criticism, I discussed with Tiziana the various types of frico, and she eagerly brought me a thin wedge of frico made with potato and onion. This was the frico I had fell in love with several years earlier—crispy on the outside, soft and cheesy on the inside. To accompany this portion of my meal, Tiziana brought a glass of housemade red wine.

When I finished eating, I was in a hurry to pay my bill so that I could make it to the book-signing by 8:30pm. I tracked down Tiziana on my way to the front counter, and to my complete astonishment, she refused to let me pay for a thing!

Cucina della CarniaI arrived at the Municipio just in time. The room was already crowded with dozens of people seated in rows of folding chairs, but Signor del Fabbro spotted me and led me to an empty, reserved seat in front. During his opening speech, he introduced me as “a special guest from America.” The author was there, of course, along with a panel of scholars, but rather than focusing on the region’s cuisine, the discussion centered around the efforts of translating her cookbook into the Furlan language (each recipe is printed in both Italian and Furlan). I understood some of what was said, but not enough to fully hold my attention—my stomach was full, the room was uncomfortably toasty, and I was exhausted from my long walk earlier. When everyone stood up an hour later, I assumed the event was over (although, to my great embarrassment, I learned the next day that it had only been the intermission). I approached Melie Artico to autograph my copy of her book, and then, after not being able to find Signor del Fabbro to say goodbye, I just left.

During the lecture, I had noticed raindrops beginning to pelt the room’s large window. By the time I left, the skies had unleashed a full-blown thunderstorm. Not having had the foresight to carry my umbrella, I pulled my light jacket up over my head and sprinted the few blocks back to Hotel Scarpone.

pendalonsHere is the recipe for pendalons from Ristorante Ai Sette Nani:

12 ounces string beans, cut into 1-inch-long pieces
1-1/2 pounds white potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Place a steamer rack inside a large pot; fill with 1 inch of water. Place the string beans on the rack. Bring to a boil over high heat; cover and steam until just tender, about 10–15 minutes.

2. Place the potato slices in a large pot, along with 1 cup water; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until the potatoes are tender, about 20–25 minutes, stirring occasionally as the water begins to evaporate. Remove from heat; coarsely mash the potatoes. Stir in the string beans and black pepper. Season to taste with salt.

Topping:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 ounces pancetta, chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta, onion, and garlic; cook and stir until the onion softens and the pancetta is brown and crisp, about 7–8 minutes. Add the parsley and chives; cook and stir until wilted, about 1–2 minutes. Serve the topping over the potatoes.

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Luca ManfeI recently had the opportunity to interview Luca Manfé, Friuli native and winner of MasterChef Season 4. Originally from Aviano in the province of Pordenone, Luca moved to the U.S. in his early 20s to follow the American dream. Having worked in a pub in his hometown from the age of 16, he continued in the restaurant business, working his way up from being a busboy to the position of restaurant manager. Luca currently resides in New York with his wife, Cate. Read on to learn about Luca’s favorite foods, his childhood, places he likes to visit in Friuli, his current culinary ventures, and so much more…

I’ve read that your mother was your biggest culinary inspiration. What were some of your favorite childhood foods?
I loved my mother’s meatballs! I could never stop eating them. Her tiramisu is fabulous, and all her pastas are fantastic.

My own son, David, won’t eat ham. Were there any foods you strongly disliked back then?
I never disliked anything! I really eat everything!

Some traditional dishes, such as musetto e brovada and jota, are an acquired taste to many foreigners, yet they are favorite comfort foods for some of my older friulani friends who grew up eating them. How do those foods rate for you?
I love them! I do not spend a holiday season without making muset and brovada at home. I don’t think it is just about being an acquired taste, but it is also because they are not very familiar and popular dishes here in the States.

In your words, how would you describe la cucina friulana?
La cucina friulana is a cuisine made from very poor ingredients. Back in the days everybody had fields, farms and gardens, so after selling the products, women had to use the leftovers from the production to feed the family. I think it’s a very creative cuisine, perhaps rich, but it’s not easy to make such delicious food from such simple ingredients!

Do you and/or your family speak Furlan?
Of course, everybody at home speaks Furlan!

Aside from spending time in the kitchen with your mother and grandmother, did you have any particular hobbies or interests growing up?
Soccer, soccer, soccer.

Luca ManfeIs there a special place in Friuli–Venezia Giulia where your family would spend vacations?
We had a house up in Claut, in the mountains, so in summer I would always spend a month up there with my grandparents from my dad’s side, and then we would go another month in Lignano Sabbiadoro at the beach with my mother’s parents.

Where are your favorite places to visit in Friuli–Venezia Giulia?
Right now I really like to go where there is history: Palmanova, Cividale, Aquileia or Trieste. When I go back to Friuli now my visits are all food-related, so I do not necessarily go to the most beautiful town, but where the best restaurants are.

What are your favorite restaurants in Friuli–Venezia Giulia? What dishes do you like to order?
My favorite restaurants are always the hosterias. I always like to order classic dishes, especially frico.

What are your favorite Italian cities or towns outside of Friuli–Venezia Giulia?
I love Rome—there is really something magical in that city. I like Florence as well, and I think the Amalfi coast is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Since you moved to New York 10 years ago, you have been exposed to numerous ethnic cuisines. What are some of your favorites?
I absolutely love Asian flavors, from sushi to authentic Chinese.

Is there any particular ethnic cuisine that you dislike?
Indian.

In the season finale, Gordon Ramsey complimented your short ribs, saying that it was the kind of dish he would want for his last supper. What would your last supper include?
Raw scampi, sea urchin, truffles, foie gras.

Tell me about your current venture, Dinner with Luca.
“Dinner with Luca” is a great intimate service. I go to people’s kitchens and cook a great dinner with them and for them. It’s been a great journey so far. I get to travel the States a lot because people are booking parties from all over, even in Canada. The particularity of this service is that who books the parties are people who followed my journey on the show and cheered for me all season. I like it because these people know my story.

You’ve talked a lot about your dream of opening a restaurant in New York. Can you describe your vision?
The restaurant is my final project. I am working on it right now and trying to find a location. It will be in Brooklyn. It will be a modern tavern with food inspired, of course, by the region of Friuli.

My Italian KitchenLuca’s cookbook, My Italian Kitchen: Favorite Family Recipes, will be released in May 2014.

Follow Luca online at:
www.lucamanfe.com

www.twitter.com/MC4Luca
www.facebook.com/MC4Luca
www.instagram.com/lucamanfe 

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Flavors of FriuliCookbook author Sharon Sanders has written a fantastic review of Flavors of Friuli, with two bonus recipes: Cjalsòns di Treppo Carnico and Cevapcici con Ajvar. Read it here at SimpleItaly.com.

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After publishing Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy, I realized that writing a cookbook comes with its own set of editing considerations. The following are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Be precise with measurements, cooking times, and instructions

zucchiniIn my recipe-developing process, I needed to translate many existing Italian recipes in order to come up with what I felt was the best version of a particular dish—in essence, a recipe that not only worked but worked well. My frustration was twofold: not only did I have to convert from metric to American measurements, but far too many authors listed ingredients such as “a handful of parsley”—or even worse, simply “parsley.” This may be how many chefs (and home cooks) would actually prepare a dish, but it doesn’t fly when writing a recipe. If you want your readers to end up with the same fantastic result as you, be as specific as possible.

Cooking times will obviously vary; this depends on many factors, such as the type of pan being used, as well as your individual oven. (This last point was made extra clear to me when our oven began leaking gas and needed to be replaced; the new stove burners were each different, so “medium heat” became less about the position on the dial and more a subjective estimation of the flame’s strength.) When possible, provide your cooking time in a narrow range, along with a visual cue. For example, “Bake until golden brown, about 20–25* minutes.”

* Note that an en dash, rather than a hyphen, denotes the word “to.”

2. Develop a style for your text—and stick with it

mushroomsThis is your voice, whether descriptive and flowery or concise and to the point. Some “experts” have disparaged the typical magazine style where, in order for recipes to occupy as little space as possible, editors take shortcuts in sentence structure, such as omitting extraneous words like “a” and “the” (for example, “place chicken in skillet” rather than the wordy “place the chicken in the skillet”). These critics feel that this style doesn’t allow the reader to get to know an author’s personality.

On the other hand, many readers (myself included) prefer to cut to the chase. I like numbers or bullet points for each step. I don’t want to have to spend a long time reading through pages of instructions before beginning to cook. When I’m in the middle of cooking and have a question, it’s important for me to be able to skim the text quickly to find my answer.

Both approaches are valid; it’s just a matter of your personal style and the experience you want your readers to have. Even if you choose a more succinct style, you can still rely on an introductory paragraph to insert history, anecdotes, and descriptive phrasing about the dish.

3. Be consistent with your formatting

borlottiThis point takes my first two tips just one step further. Not only should your ingredients and directions be specific, there should be consistent formatting from one recipe to the next. Whether you decide to say “powdered sugar” or “confectioners’ sugar,” use the same term throughout your cookbook. Choose whether you will write “1/2 cup butter,” “4 ounces butter,” or “1 stick butter”—or perhaps even a combination of these to enhance clarity, such as “1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter.” Each ingredient presents a similar choice; make sure you are consistent in your terminology.

Once you have developed a style for the text of your instructions, try to use the same words to convey the same steps that may appear often in your recipes. For example, “Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Working in batches, place the cjalsòns in the water; cook until they rise to the surface, about 1–2 minutes. Drain.” There are four recipes for cjalsòns in Flavors of Friuli, and I made sure that this particular phrasing was consistent in each; this way, any deviations (such as the one recipe for larger cjalsòns that take longer to cook) will stand out to the reader.

4. Spend the time to create a functional index

asparagusA final consideration, and one that many writers overlook, is the index. Many would say that this is the most tedious part of writing a cookbook. Depending on the length of the work and the number of recipes, creating an index can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. The process involves creating a list of topics and subtopics, and then going through the manuscript page by page, tagging every keyword and linking it to the appropriate index topic. Programs such as Adobe’s InDesign simplify this for you and will generate a formatted index based on the words you tag.

Believe it or not, there are actually professionals out there who specialize in indexing, people who take pleasure in its tedium, and I was surprised to discover how much I enjoyed it myself. It takes a certain amount of “left brain” meticulousness and linear thinking, and for me it was an unexpectedly satisfying task.

Are you writing a cookbook? Would you like help editing your recipes? Are you intimidated by the mere thought of indexing? If so, I can help you. Please email me at info@FlavorsofFriuli.com for more information. Buon appetito!

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Flavors of FriuliVisit BookGoodies.com to read my recent interview and try my recipe for Gnocchi di Zucca.

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Elisabeth Antoine CrawfordCheck out my new Author page at Goodreads.com—and don’t forget to rate/review my books!

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