For my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Gnocchi di Susine (Plum-Filled Gnocchi), a dumpling of Austro-Hungarian origin that may be found on tables from the Czech Republic all the way down to Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. While the season for Italian plums is fairly short (September through early October), this recipe works with any variety of plum—even dried. Served in melted butter with a topping of toasted bread crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon, these gnocchi are decadent enough to pass for dessert! For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.
Posts Tagged ‘food’
It was the day of Trieste’s famous Barcolana sailing regatta, and I had discovered the perfect vantage point. Setting out midmorning, I took the direct #42 bus (as opposed to the long scenic #42 I had taken the previous day) to Villa Opicina and followed the footpath known as Via Napoleonica, from the Opicina obelisk to the town of Prosecco. All along the way, from the cliffs overlooking the Gulf of Trieste, I could see specks of white dotting the sea like tiny brushstrokes on a vast blue canvas.
Founded in 1969, the Barcolana always takes place on the second Sunday in October and begins in the waters between Trieste and Castello di Miramare. Over 2,000 yachts take part in the race, which may be viewed by several hundred thousand spectators. It is the biggest event of its kind in the Mediterranean and one of the busiest in the world.
Sailing near Trieste can be especially challenging this time of year, as the strong bora winds can sometimes reach gusts of 100 mph. Fortunately for the sailors, the weather on this particular day was quite lovely—blue sky, lots of sunshine, and not too breezy.
There were hundreds of people strolling Via Napoleonica that morning, all with their eyes trained on the sea. I took my time, eventually ending up in Prosecco, where I wandered the back streets and country roads for another hour, nibbling on my picnic lunch of bread, cheese, and an apple. I was still hoping to stumble upon an osmizza (see my post about the previous day, Trieste: Villa Opicina) but realized with clarity that I would need to ask someone for help.
I took the #42 bus back to Villa Opicina and headed straight to Antica Trattoria Valeria, the restaurant where I had eaten lunch the day before. The young woman working there didn’t seem to know anything about osmizze, so she asked an older gentleman who was standing at the bar drinking an espresso. With a sage nod of his head, he opened his newspaper and pointed to the listing of these rustic pop-up taverns. That day there were three, all near the village of Santa Croce. Unfortunately, bus service did not run there on Sundays. The man also explained that it was still a little early in the season for osmizze and that there would be many more open by the end of October. At least now I knew to look for a listing in the newspaper.
Feeling pretty exhausted from my long walk, I took the bus straight back to Trieste, where I had an early dinner of leftover vegetables and sardines from a can. My apartment was starting to feel like home, despite the awkwardness of the tiny kitchen. My biggest complaint at the moment was the cigarette smoke wafting into my bathroom from the adjacent apartment. This, I found, only happened at certain times of day, so I was easily able to adjust my schedule in order to avoid it. Now, if only I could do something about the size of the microwave!
Setting out the next morning, on my way to Piazza Oberdan, I first stopped by Pasticceria Bomboniera, one of Trieste’s oldest bakeries, and bought a slice of apple strudel for my breakfast. While some bakers, including my friends at Pasticceria Penso, prepare strudel with puff pastry, Bomboniera uses the paper-thin dough that is traditional throughout Austria and Hungary.
My destination for the day was Villa Opicina, a town high in the hills above Trieste, marked by a striking obelisk erected in 1830 to honor Emperor Franz Josef. While Opicina is most directly accessible by the tranvia—a combination electric tram and funicular—I decided to take the scenic route on bus #42.
From the transportation hub of Piazza Oberdan, the ride took about 40 minutes, passing through a dozen villages of the Carso (the name given to the rocky plateau surrounding Trieste), including Monrupino, Borgo Grotta Gigante, and Prosecco. My mission, once I reached Opicina, was to find an osmizza, a farmhouse open to the public for wine tasting and the sale of artisinal products like cheese and salumi. These temporary roadside taverns are indicated by a frasca—a leafy cluster of branches hung above the door. The custom began in 1784 with an imperial decree that allowed peasants to sell their excess wine and produce in an unlicensed restaurant for eight days each year. Given the region’s proximity to Slovenia, the word osmizza is thus derived from the Slovene word osem, meaning “eight.”
Since I didn’t have any directions to follow, I set out walking along the road from Opicina to Monrupino, keeping my eyes peeled for a frasca. Before long, I had gotten myself lost amid a maze of streets in a quiet neighborhood just off the highway. Thirty minutes later, I came to the end of a stretch of homes on a deserted country lane, so I turned around and headed back. I did spot a couple of houses along the way that had a tiny bundle of decorative twigs on their gates, but those gates were locked, the yards were empty, and the twigs just didn’t look like what I was expecting. It was clear I would need some guidance going forward.
All around me, leaves were beginning to turn various shades of red, orange, and brown. The smell of burning firewood filled the air, and a chilly wind was blowing in from the north, as if to say, “Winter is coming.” I realized that, of my numerous trips to Italy to date, this was my first ever visit in autumn.
I eventually emerged back on the main highway, fortuitously close to Antica Trattoria Valeria—just in time for lunch. There, I ordered the tris della casa, a trio of three different pasta dishes: gnocchi di ricotta, spatzle al basilico, and rollata di spinaci. The gnocchi were served in a cheese sauce and the spatzli in a basil cream sauce. The rollata (also sometimes called rotolo or strucolo) was the most unique of the three, taking the form of an Austrian strudel. A spinach filling was rolled up jellyroll-style inside a large sheet of pasta; after being boiled, thick slices were served with a drizzle of meat broth. I also had a side of kipfel di patate (also called chifeleti): U-shaped pieces of fried potato dough. In contrast to my lunch the other day at Siora Rosa, these were fresh, though still rather heavy and doughy.
After lunch, I walked back to the obelisk, which marked the beginning of Via Napoleonica (a.k.a. Strada Vicentina), a footpath stretching along the cliffs to the town of Prosecco. In the hills above the path lay the Bosco Bertoloni, a forest traversed by several more hiking trails. As I meandered along the shady lane, I passed only a few other people, each out for a peaceful afternoon stroll or jog. Whenever an opening appeared amid the lengthy row of cliffside trees, exposing the blue vastness of the sea, I paused to gaze out over the graceful city sprawl in the distance.
After I had been hiking for about 45 or 50 minutes, the dirt path gave way to a paved road, flanked by the sea on one side and a massive cliff rising dramatically skyward on the other. Several people perched precariously on the face of this gray-and-white karst rock, practicing their rock-climbing skills.
Although the morning had been clear and sunny, a few clouds had drifted in after lunch. Shortly after I reached Prosecco, the rain suddenly began pouring down. Luckily, I didn’t have long to wait for the return #42 bus. It was so crowded, however, that I wasn’t able to squeeze past the other passengers to punch my ticket. This ride was decidedly much less scenic than earlier, what with my being squished and jostled and unable to see anything out the rain-fogged windows. Back in Trieste, the bora winds had picked up, rendering my umbrella completely useless. Anxious to be somewhere warm and dry, I hurried home to Residence Liberty as quickly as I could.
On my third morning in Trieste, I got up early and headed straight for Pasticceria Penso, eager to spend more time in the bakery watching my friends Antonello and Lorenzo Stoppar bake and decorate the countless varieties of pastries for their shop. This time, however, the brothers were swamped preparing for the influx of tourists expected at the upcoming weekend’s Barcolana regatta. The guys didn’t have time to chat just then, so Antonello suggested that I come back in a couple of hours, when he hoped to have more free time to answer my culinary questions while they worked.
The weather being perfectly clear and my cold much improved, I decided to take a walk and explore a section of the city I had not yet seen: the area around Via Carducci and Via Cesare Battisti. Along the way, I had the misfortune of passing underneath a scaffold at precisely the wrong moment and getting a bucket of debris—perhaps sand or cement dust—dumped on my head. Brushing it off as best I could, I curtailed my walk so that I could return to my apartment and get cleaned up.
Shortly afterward, I returned to the bakery to find everyone working at just as frantic a pace as earlier. Antonello was obliged to postpone our visit once more. There were simply too many cakes to bake—and would be through the entire Barcolana weekend. With obvious chagrin, he invited me to come back on the following Tuesday, when he assured me things would be calmer.
I sat by the water’s edge for a bit, reassessing my plans for the day, until it was nearly lunchtime. I then decided to eat at Ristorante La Tecia, a casual osteria in the Borgo Teresiano district. Mike and I had eaten dinner there the previous year, and I remembered it being one of my favorite meals on that trip.
For lunch, I ordered cevapcici (grilled sausages), served in the traditional manner with diced onion and a roasted bell pepper sauce called ajvar (also spelled haivar). The menu listed the dish as being accompanied by French fries, but I asked if they might substitute patate in tecia instead—they were happy to oblige. A popular method of cooking vegetables in Trieste—and after which this restaurant was named—in tecia refers to the cast-iron skillet traditionally used. The potatoes were coarsely mashed, with savory bits of pork and onion throughout. To accompany my meal, I ordered a glass of red Terrano wine.
La Tecia soon became one of my favorite places to eat in Trieste. I always felt comfortable going there by myself, just like at Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo in Udine. The lunch crowd at La Tecia seemed to consist of mainly white collar employees and other workers from nearby businesses. That particular day, there were two other women who were each also dining alone—I felt like I fit right in.
During lunch, it had unexpectedly started raining. As I didn’t have my umbrella with me, I scurried straight back to my apartment at Residence Liberty. While I was out, the maid had come in for her biweekly cleaning: the floors were swept, the bed made with fresh sheets, the kitchen stove and counters cleaned, and the trash taken out. I was excited that, in addition to giving me fresh towels for the bathroom, she also left me a dishtowel for the kitchen, as well as a new supply of toilet paper. (I had been wondering if it was my responsibility to buy my own toilet paper, just like I needed to buy dish soap, sponges, and napkins for the kitchen.)
As always, I had come prepared to wash my clothes by hand. I had brought a few clothespin hooks as well as a new travel clothesline that attached to the walls with suction cups. Since this was a residential apartment rather than a hotel, however, there were washers and dryers available downstairs off the lobby. I thought I would give them a try—it would sure save me a lot of hassle during my stay of more than three weeks. I had used a washing machine on two separate trips to Italy, when I was staying for an extended time in someone’s house, but this particular machine was not so user-friendly. There were no instructions—just a series of un-self-explanatory symbols—and no one was at the reception desk to ask. Even though I managed to come out with a clean, albeit excessively drippy, load, I decided to hang the clothes to dry in my spacious bathroom rather than spend more money on the dryer.
By this time, the rain was pouring down, and it seemed like a good idea to stay in for the rest of the afternoon. I would have many such days on this trip: not feeling any pressure to rush around sightseeing, but instead spending time working on my book Flavors of Friuli.
For the Cevapcici:
8 ounces ground beef
8 ounces ground pork
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Dash cayenne pepper
In a medium bowl, combine the ground beef, ground pork, onion, garlic, paprika, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Roll the mixture into sausages about 3 inches long and 3/4 inch in diameter.
Preheat grill (or heat a large skillet over medium-high heat). Place the sausages on the grill; cook until done, about 5–6 minutes, turning to brown each side.
For the Ajvar:
1 large red bell pepper
1 small eggplant
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
Dash cayenne pepper
Preheat oven to 400°F. Place the bell pepper and eggplant on a baking sheet; bake until the eggplant is tender and the bell pepper skin begins to brown, about 30–40 minutes. When the bell pepper is cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin, stem, and seeds. Slice open the eggplant and scoop out the flesh. Place the bell pepper and eggplant in a food processor, along with the olive oil, vinegar, sugar, and cayenne pepper; purée until smooth. Season to taste with salt.
On my second morning in Trieste, it was a relief to see the sun finally beginning to peek out from an otherwise cloud-covered sky. I still had the sniffles but was feeling a little more energetic after getting close to nine hours of sleep. Since I would be spending about three and a half weeks in Friuli–Venezia Giulia’s capital city, it was a welcome change not to feel pressured to spend every waking moment in a ceaseless cycle of sightseeing. My new leisurely approach left plenty of time to sleep in, to wander aimlessly, to relax and enjoy myself without feeling hurried. In advance, I had laid out a general plan for my stay, with no more than one destination each day and lots of open-ended time to hang out with my friends at Pasticceria Penso across the street.
I set out midmorning to catch a bus to the Risiera di San Sabba, located in the industrial outskirts just south of Trieste. This former rice-husking plant was taken over by the Nazis during World War II and served as a prison for hostages, political prisoners, and Jews, as well as a transit camp for deportees on their way to Auschwitz. When the Germans fitted the building with a giant gas oven, the Risiera became Italy’s only concentration camp to be used for mass exterminations. At least five thousand prisoners are believed to have been executed here between the 1943 German invasion and the liberation of Trieste in 1945.
In 1965, the Risiera di San Sabba was declared a national monument. Inside the austere brick and concrete structure, visitors can view actual prison cells, the death chamber, and a permanent exhibit of photographs and documents. The crematorium was destroyed by the Nazis during their retreat, but some of its remains are still visible along one wall of the stark courtyard. Today, the space where the oven once stood is memorialized with a large steel pavement and serves as a chilling reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust.
Feeling rather somber afterward, I slowly made my way to the bus stop and rode back into Trieste’s city center. There, I had lunch at one of the city’s traditional buffets, Siora Rosa. Not a buffet in the American “all-you-can-eat” sense, but more of an old-world fast-food counter providing quick bites for dockworkers and shopkeepers, this particular establishment had been in business since before WWII.
I ordered the parsuto in crosta, a traditional Triestine dish in which a leg of prosciutto is wrapped in a layer of dough and baked to form a crust. The thick, pink slices of ham were served with another local specialty, chifeleti di patate. These were prepared with potato dough similar to gnocchi, formed into U-shapes, and deep-fried. I was expecting them to have a nice, crispy outside and a soft interior, but these had been reheated in the microwave and came out dismally soggy and limp. To wash it all down, I ordered a glass of local, red Terrano wine.
After lunch, I stopped at a bakery on Via di Cavana and bought a mini version of each of Trieste’s three native desserts: presnitz, putizza, and pinza. While I had previously sampled these at Pasticceria Bomboniera—and would soon have a chance to try them again at Pasticceria Penso—I wanted to taste yet another bakery’s recipes for the sake of comparison. In addition, I bought a small bag of fave dei morti, the tiny pink, brown, and white almond cookies that were popular during the months of October and November.
I had plenty of questions for my baker friends, about these desserts and much more, so next I paid a visit to Pasticceria Penso. Brothers Antonello and Lorenzo Stoppar were both there, and as usual, they invited me into the kitchen to watch them work. I would have many such days in the coming weeks, perched on a stool with a front-row view, the life cycle of desserts passing before my eyes in a calm flurry.
When the shop closed at 1:00pm for the family’s afternoon break, I took a long walk through the winding streets around Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia and found both a bookshop and an Internet café still open. After checking my email—I had brought along my laptop for writing, but there was no available Internet service at Residence Liberty—I headed back to my apartment.
My thrown-together dinner was much the same as the previous evening: a salad of greens and tomato slices, bread, cheese, a scrambled egg, and leftover string beans and potatoes. I also sautéed some eggplant with onion and garlic.
Getting used to my new kitchen was requiring a great deal of adaptability and patience. When I first arrived, the fridge was not cold, so I had turned down the temperature—apparently much too low, for this morning all my food was frozen. The microwave was so tiny that the only dish that would fit was a small saucer, and even that needed to be tilted awkwardly sideways—not ideal for reheating food. And without the luxury of a drying rack or sufficient counter space on which to set my dishes, I had to dry each piece immediately after washing, using a hand towel from the bathroom—the same towel that was doing double duty as a potholder.
Even though I had become very accustomed to traveling alone, evenings on this trip would prove to be a rather lonely time of day for me. During dinner, and for several hours afterward, I would usually watch television, endeavoring to improve my Italian language skills. Sometimes my fiancé and I would talk briefly on the phone. Sometimes I would organize my notes and make plans for the next day. More often than I’d like to admit, however, I found myself turning to repeated, mindless games of Solitaire to pass the time until I was ready to hit the sack.