For my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Baccalà in Bianco (Salt Cod Pur e). As the iconic Carnevale di Venezia is already well under way this year, I can’t help reminiscing about some of my favorite Venetian meals. One of my favorite dishes is baccalà mantecato—often referred to as baccalà in bianco in Trieste, where it is a popular snack at many of the city’s traditional buffets. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.
Posts Tagged ‘Friuli Venezia Giulia’
As soon as I was awake and dressed the next morning, I headed straight to Pasticceria Penso. As usual, the kitchen was a flurry of activity. Twenty-five sachertortes had just been pulled from the oven to cool. The patriarch of the family, Italo Stoppar, was spreading sheets of sponge cake with chocolate pastry cream, then rolling them up jellyroll-style. His elder son, Lorenzo, was filling pastry horns with vanilla pastry cream, then dusting them with powdered sugar. Younger son Antonello was busy adorning crostate (tarts) with a colorful assortment of berries and kiwi.
I stayed for a couple of hours, chatting and observing, feeling in that moment as if I truly belonged there. Years earlier, when brainstorming things to do with my life after my dance career had suddenly been cut short, I had made a list of “fantasy jobs”—one of the top entries had been to work in a bakery. Even though I was not actually working at Penso, my experience of hanging out in the kitchen nearly every day sufficed to satisfy that craving.
During our chat, Antonello casually mentioned how he wanted to open a bakery in San Francisco. This was not the first time an Italian had shared such an idea with me. When I was staying in Castiglioncello during the 1990s—first as a dance student, and later as a Pilates instructor, at the summer festival Pro Danza Italia—I had made the acquaintance of Rossano Bocelli, cousin of singer Andrea Bocello and owner of my favorite hangout, Gelateria Bocelli. I remember talking at length with him about his dream of opening a gelateria in San Francisco. At the time, I had actually taken him seriously, but of course those plans were never to materialize. So when Antonello expressed a similar desire, I knew better than to expect him to follow through. Still, I allowed myself a brief moment of fantasy, imagining myself quitting my job teaching Pilates in the dungeon of a gym in San Francisco’s Federal Building and spending my future days immersed in chocolate, pastry, and buttercream.
Around midmorning, I left to do a couple of errands. One of my goals on this trip was to procure a spiny spider crab shell in which to photograph the dish granzievola alla Triestina for my cookbook Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy. Called granzievola in the Triestine dialect (and granseola in Venetian dialect), this crab is native to Mediterranean and northeast Atlantic waters—a species I had no chance of finding back at home.
The night before, I had searched the phone book in the lobby of my apartment building, Residence Liberty, for seafood markets within walking distance. I set out from the bakery on a carefully planned circuit, hoping to buy a crab to cook in my tiny apartment kitchen, thus providing me with my sought-after shell. Although I had seen granzievole on prior trips to Venezia’s Mercato di Rialto, there were none to be found here in Trieste. I was told at several markets, where the workers were not too busy to ask, that it was still too early in the season and that I may start seeing granzievole toward the end of October.
Feeling defeated, I gave up and moved on to my next errand: visiting a couple of nearby bookshops I had discovered while scanning the yellow pages. I had better success there, with the purchase of two new cookbooks on Triestine and Istrian cooking to add to my growing collection.
As it was time to start thinking about lunch, I walked up to Piazza della Libertà, a hub for buses outside the train station, and caught the #20 bus to the tiny fishing village of Muggia, south of Trieste on the very outskirts of the region. I arrived a half hour later and headed straight along Muggia’s waterfront to Ristorante Lido.
I had read about Lido in Friuli: Via dei Sapori, a gorgeous coffee table book that features a number of local restaurants, so I was expecting it to be fairly upscale in comparison to the casual osterie I had been frequenting. When I arrived, the spacious dining room was empty, save for a table off to the side where the hotel’s staff were enjoying their midday meal.
As a complimentary appetizer, I was served a little plate of fritto misto, mainly itty bitty fried calamari and breaded sardoni barcolani (European anchovies). Next, I ordered the granzievola appetizer. Unlike the “alla Triestina” preparation that is mixed with bread crumbs and served warm (and which eventually made it into Flavors of Friuli), this was a simple crab salad in a dressing of lemon juice and olive oil. But I was thrilled to see the crab served in its shell! Could this be my solution? As the waiter began to clear my plate away, I hurriedly explained about my cookbook project and asked if I could take the crab shell home with me. Despite my rather unusual request, he responded with surprising graciousness and took the shell to the kitchen to be washed. Minutes later he returned with a foil-wrapped package containing the shell—I couldn’t have been happier!
For my main course, I had scampi alla busara, an Istrian dish of langoustines served in tomato sauce. I had eaten scampi once before in Trieste and was prepared for the messy ordeal of breaking open the shells to extract the delicate meat. Fortunately, Lido provided all the proper tools: a nutcracker and tiny fork, a huge lobster bib, and most importantly, a finger bowl of water and some packages of moist towelettes.
After lunch, I took the bus back to Trieste and was walking home to my apartment when an Illy espresso cup caught my eye in the display window of a bar. I had been looking for a cup to take home with me so that I could style a photo for Flavors of Friuli, but all the cups I had seen so far had been sold in expensive packages of four or more. This one was being sold individually for a reasonable 4.50 Euros. I felt thrilled to have scored, in one day, not only a granzievola shell but also my coveted Illy cup!
A little further along the waterfront, I came upon the Chiesa di San Nicolò dei Greci, the city’s Greek Orthodox church. Though plain on the outside, its sumptuous interior popped with gold gilt, a checkered marble floor, paintings that covered walls and ceiling, and silver chandeliers holding dozens of sparkling tapered candles.
Back home that evening, I prepared a dinner plate of leftover zucchini and string beans, a tomato, some fresh mozzarella, and a slice of bread spread with baccalà mantecato (puréed salt cod) and settled in to watch an episode of “Survivor” on my laptop.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons dry bread crumbs
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce, or 1-3/4 cups
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 pounds whole langoustines
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic; cook and stir until the onion begins to soften, about 8–10 minutes. Add the bread crumbs; cook and stir until golden brown, about 2–3 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, white wine, parsley, and black pepper. Place the langoustines in the pot; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until the langoustines turn pink, about 3–5 minutes. Season to taste with salt.
My friends at Pasticceria Penso had invited me to watch them bake presnitz the next morning, so I headed over there around 8:30am. This was one of the days I had been looking forward to the most! When I arrived, Lorenzo Stoppar was preparing a giant batch of puff pastry. As he fed the dough through the massive dough rolling machine, he explained that each batch contained four kilos (8.8 pounds) of butter! This being my first and only experience behind the scenes in a bakery, I was continually fascinated by the huge scale of everything—especially the oven, which was the size of a walk-in closet.
As Lorenzo prepared the dough, his brother Antonello made the presnitz filling. While he worked, I jotted down ingredients (he later gave me their full recipe): walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pine nuts, raisins, candied orange peel, crushed biscotti, sugar, honey, cinnamon, lemon zest, rum, and Marsala. When the dough and filling were ready, I watched as Uncle Giovanni wrapped a large rectangle of dough around a log of filling and deftly rolled it into a long rope. After forming the rope into a spiral on the baking sheet, he let me brush it with egg wash. As the family stood around me, watching intently—no doubt holding their collective breath and praying that I wouldn’t ruin it—I got the impression that they were somewhat surprised that I actually did a good job!
Though I could have stayed another hour, I left just before noon, so that I would have time to find my destination restaurant for lunch. I took a bus up into the hills above Trieste to what some have professed to be the city’s best restaurant, Antica Trattoria Suban. In business since 1865, Suban specializes in the unique blend of Friulian and Slovenian cuisine that is typical in the Carso.
I started with the palacinke alla mandriera, a crêpe filled with pesto, drizzled with a little cream and broth, and baked with a topping of cheese. For my main course, I was hoping to try their stinco di vitello (braised veal shank), but it was not available at lunchtime. To my delight, the owner, Mario Suban, offered to make up a tasting plate with samples of four different dishes: gulasch (Hungarian beef stew) with polenta, pork loin with bell pepper sauce and a fried potato “chip,” sausage with patate in tecia (coarsely mashed potatoes), and baked ham.
After ordering, I spoke at length with Mario about my book project and San Francisco. He apparently was acquainted with the chef at the San Francisco restaurant Acquarello and asked me to say ciao to him if I were ever to visit. (As it happened, several years later, my husband’s boss gave us a gift certificate to Acquarello, and I made good on Mario’s request.)
When I first arrived, Suban was practically empty, but by the time I had finished my meal, the restaurant was packed with customers. After requesting the check, I waited for over half an hour, watching people who had arrived after me leave, before I was finally able to pay. I caught my bus back down to Trieste’s city center and spent the rest of the afternoon writing in my apartment.
Here is my version of presnitz, adapted from the recipe given to me by Pasticceria Penso.
1 cup dried currants
1/4 cup rum
1/4 cup Marsala wine
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup hazelnuts, skinned and toasted*
1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds
3/4 cup finely crushed biscotti or amaretti cookies
1/3 cup diced candied orange peel
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
1. Place the currants in a large bowl; add the rum and Marsala wine and let soak for 30 minutes.
2. Finely grind the walnuts, toasted hazelnuts, and almonds in a food processor; add to the bowl of currants. Stir in the crushed biscotti, candied orange peel, melted butter, pine nuts, sugar, honey, cinnamon, lemon peel, and egg.
3. On a sheet of waxed paper, form the filling into a 12-inch log. Wrap securely in the waxed paper and refrigerate for 1 hour, or until ready to use.
* To skin and toast hazelnuts: Preheat oven to 350°F. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup water to a boil over high heat. Add the hazelnuts and 1 tablespoon baking soda; cook for 5 minutes. Remove the hazelnuts and place in a colander under cold running water; rub off and discard the skins. Transfer the skinned hazelnuts to a baking dish; toast until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Cool completely.
Puff pastry dough:
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided and softened
1/4 cup cold water
1. In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Cut 2 tablespoons butter into cubes; blend into the flour mixture. Add 1/4 cup cold water; mix until crumbly. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead briefly. Flatten the dough to a 1/2-inch-thick disk. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. Unwrap the dough and place on a lightly floured surface; roll to a 7-inch square. Roll the corners of the square away from the center to form four flaps, leaving a 3-inch square in the center at the original thickness. Beat the remaining 6 tablespoons butter with a rolling pin to form a 3-inch square; place in the center of the dough. Fold the flaps over to enclose the butter; turn the dough folded-side down. Roll to a 6- by 9-inch rectangle; fold in thirds (like a letter). Rotate the dough 90°. Roll again to a 6- by 9-inch rectangle; fold in thirds again. (This completes two “turns.”) Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Repeat rolling and folding the dough for two more turns. Wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Repeat rolling and folding the dough for two final turns. (This completes a total of six turns.) Wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using.
1 egg, beaten to blend
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry dough to a 10- by 13-inch rectangle. Unwrap the filling and place along the center of the dough. Wrap the dough around the filling, tightly sealing all seams. Gently roll and stretch the dough into a rope 2-1/2 feet long. Coil into a loose spiral and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
2. Brush the surface of the dough with beaten egg. Bake until golden brown, about 25–30 minutes.