Posts Tagged ‘Italian food’

My five-week trip was not even halfway over, yet evenings in my Trieste apartment had already been getting rather lonely. My then fiancé (now husband) had promised to send me a DVD containing episodes of various programs that I was missing back home, so that I could have something to watch besides Italian television. Every day since my arrival in Trieste, I had inquired at Residence Liberty’s reception desk, only to be told that I had no mail. On this particular morning, as I was turning the corner from the grand staircase into the lobby, the signore at the desk called to me that I had a package waiting. Finally! I slipped the envelope into my backpack and left to do my morning errands, feeling a surge of emotion in that momentary connection with home.

San SpiridioneMy first errand took me to the post office to mail home two large packets of travel brochures that I had collected in Vienna and Budapest. Next, I swung by the Serbian Orthodox church San Spiridione. Located just off the Canal Grande, its massive blue domes are visible from afar as one of the city’s most easily recognizable landmarks. With my busy schedule, the church’s opening hours did not always coincide with my windows of free time, and this was the first opportunity I had found on this trip to pay it a visit.

Even though mass was being held, I was able to tiptoe inside and gaze for a few minutes at the sumptuous interior. The central dome was reminiscent of the Byzantine style, with its “blue sky and gold stars” design. Light from a row of windows encircling the dome, as well as from the multitude of tapers, illuminated the arched ceiling covered in gold mosaics and reflected off icons of gold and silver, causing the entire room to glisten.

Several days earlier, I had stumbled upon a tantalizing shop that was part gastronomia and part gourmet grocery. Upon seeing their parsuto in crosta, a traditional Triestine dish where a leg of prosciutto is wrapped in a layer of dough and baked to form a crust, I had wanted to take some pictures but had regrettably left my camera back at the apartment. Today I was prepared, but unfortunately, the leg on display had been carved all the way down to the bone. I considered waiting for the one currently baking in the oven to be ready but decided instead to try again another day.

I finished up my morning of errands with some grocery shopping, buying apples and tomatoes at the produce market, cheese at the salumeria, and bread at the tiny supermercato.

After dropping off my groceries, I headed right back out for lunch. This time, I sought out one of the restaurants recommended by my friends at Pasticceria Penso: Trattoria Da Dino, located all the way at the southern end of Trieste’s waterfront. There was no menu, so I had to decide quickly while the waiter rattled off the list of choices.

I started with an antipasto plate of mixed seafood. All cold items, it included sarde in saor (marinated sardines), some tiny shrimp, an octopus salad, and a single canoccia (mantis shrimp). It did not disappoint—the octopus was incredibly tender, and the shrimp had a surprising amount of flavor for something so simple. For my main course, I ordered the baccalà con polenta. Salt cod stew had become one of my favorite regional dishes, but this one turned out to be pretty tasteless. I didn’t mind so much that it contained only one chunk of potato, but the lackluster, beige sauce was in desperate need of some seasoning.

I had lazily gotten out of the habit of double-checking the bill in restaurants, but for some reason, it occurred to me today to do so. It was a good thing, since they had overcharged me 1 Euro. Not a huge mistake, but nevertheless a good opportunity for me to practice my assertiveness!

fave dei mortiI had a little time to rest after lunch, before heading over to Pasticceria Penso at our agreed upon time of 4:00pm. This was the day the bakery was making fave dei morti for the upcoming Festa di Ognissanti (All Saints’ Day). When I arrived, brothers Antonello and Lorenzo were both there, along with their father, Italo, and uncle, Giovanni.

Translated literally as “beans of the dead,” these tiny almond cookies may be found throughout Italy during the months of October and November. While it was intuitive that the brown cookies were chocolate, I was intrigued to learn that the pink ones were flavored with rose water and the white ones with Maraschino liqueur. After being rolled into skinny ropes, the dough was cut into rounds, which were then passed through a giant, specially constructed sieve to weed out any that were malformed.

I stayed for a couple of hours, watching from my usual spot over by the industrial sized dough roller. I could have hung around until closing time, but I started to get hungry and decided to return home for dinner. After all, I was going to be coming back first thing the next morning to watch them make presnitz, a puff pastry spiral filled with dried fruit, nuts, and spices.

Back in my apartment, I finally got around to cooking the vegetables I had bought the day before. I prepared two sautés: string beans with garlic, and zucchini with onion and garlic. I also finished off the leftover smashed potatoes, along with some baccalà mantecato (salt cod purée) and a tomato. The highlight of my meal, however, sprung from a spontaneous burst of inspiration while slicing the zucchini. The squash had fortuitously come with the blossoms still attached, so I cut those off and tucked a piece of fresh mozzarella inside each one. After sautéing the veggies, I then used the residual garlicky oil to fry the zucchini blossoms. This was my one moment of culinary virtuosity on the entire trip!

I ended my evening curled up in one of the blue floral armchairs, contentedly watching an episode of “Amazing Race” on my laptop.

Here is my recipe for fave dei morti, adapted from the one given to me by Pasticceria Penso:

fave dei morti1 pound (about 4 cups) blanched slivered almonds
2-1/2 cups sugar, divided, plus extra as needed
1 egg
1 tablespoon rum
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon Maraschino liqueur
1 teaspoon rose water
Pinch powdered red food color

1. Finely grind the almonds in a food processor. Transfer to a large bowl, along with 2-1/4 cups sugar and the egg; mix until the dough forms a solid mass.

2. Divide the dough equally among three medium bowls. Mix the rum and cocoa powder into the first batch of dough, the Maraschino liqueur into the second, and the rose water and a pinch of red food color into the third.

3. Preheat oven to 300°F. Spread the remaining 1/4 cup sugar on a plate. Roll half-teaspoonfuls of dough into small balls; roll in sugar to coat, adding extra sugar to the plate as needed. Place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake until the cookies are dry and crisp but not yet brown on the bottom, about 12 minutes.

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patate in teciaFor my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Patate in Tecia (Skillet Potatoes). One of the few dishes considered native to Trieste, these potatoes are often served as an accompaniment to Goulasch (Hungarian-Style Beef Stew) or Stinco di Vitello (Braised Veal Shank). Trieste’s popular method of cooking vegetables “in tecia” refers to the cast-iron skillet traditionally used. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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Following a hectic week, during which Pasticceria Penso had been busily preparing for the Barcolana crowds, I was looking forward to finally getting some face time with my bakery friends. First thing that morning, though, I needed to get my grocery shopping out of the way. By now I had a routine down, an easy circuit of produce market, gastronomia, and corner supermercato. In addition to my usual staples, I bought a small container each of baccalà mantecato and liptauer cheese, two dishes that would eventually make it into my book Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy.

mini crostate at Pasticceria PensoI arrived at Penso promptly at our agreed upon time of 10:00am and was relieved to find the atmosphere much less harried than the previous week. Antonello needed a few more minutes to put the finishing touches on a tray of mini fruit tarts and offered me a tiny rectangle of torta Dobos to enjoy while I waited. The thin layers of sponge were filled with a light hazelnut chocolate buttercream and topped with the requisite caramel glaze.

We chatted awhile about the bakery’s history, before then delving into the details of their most popular pastries, including torta Sacher, torta Dobos, putizza, presnitz, and apple strudel. I took copious notes as Antonello relayed ingredients, special techniques, and historical facts. Being already mid-October, it was nearing time for the bakery to prepare a giant batch of fave dei morti for the upcoming Festa di Ognissanti (All Saints’ Day), and I was invited to come back the next day to watch them make the tiny pink, brown, and white almond cookies.

Illy cupBefore leaving for lunch, I enlisted Antonello’s help in procuring a photo of an Illy espresso cup for the section in my book on Illycaffé. An empty cup was not my preference, but since I don’t drink coffee, taking a photo in a bar was not an ideal solution for me. I couldn’t see myself ordering an espresso, snapping the photo, and leaving the full cup on the counter untouched. As the bakery had some of Illy’s designer cups in their display case, it was easy enough to take a few pictures there, to have as a backup.

However, my point-and-shoot camera—which I had only been using for indoor shots since my SLR film camera didn’t have a flash—was just marginally working at this point. In addition to the annoying automatic shut-down problem that had begun upon my arrival in Vienna, the viewfinder had since gone black, so I couldn’t see what I was shooting! I blindly took a few photos of one cup but soon decided my best option would be to shop around for a cup I could take home for staging my own shot.

As I wandered around looking for some place to eat lunch, a red-and-white sign in the shape of a life preserver caught my eye. It read Salvagente Osteria con Cucina. I was also intrigued by the menu posted outside that listed, among other traditional dishes, stuffed calamari. But, as was my experience all too often, there were actually only a few choices available. The waitress offered pasta with either seafood or tomato sauce, stew (what sort I neglected to take note of) with polenta, sardoni apanadi, sauerkraut, and patate in tecia. I chose the breaded sardines with a side of potatoes.

sardoni barcolaniSince the restaurant was not busy, I took the time to clarify exactly what type of fish were used, since these were tiny, appearing more akin to anchovies than true sardines. In fact, sardoni—or as they are also called locally, sardoni barcolani—are not sardines at all. They are related to sardines but are known in English as European anchovies. These were butterflied, lightly breaded, and fried. The potatoes were mixed with bits of onion and pork and had a nice brown color from being cooked in the traditional cast iron skillet called a tecia.

Monte GrisaAfter lunch, my plan was to take the bus to Monte Grisa, an eclectic sanctuary built in the 1960s upon the karst cliffs just north of Trieste. I boarded the #42 bus in Piazza Oberdan, a central hub for many bus lines in the city. Since not every #42 stopped at Monte Grisa, I needed to check the overhead sign for its route. This one looked questionable, but the bus was too crowded with school kids for me to reach the driver to ask. So when another #42 pulled up alongside us, I squeezed out the back door and asked its driver which bus I should take for Monte Grisa. He pointed to the bus I had just come from, so I crammed myself back on.

Monte GrisaNot surprisingly, it didn’t go to Monte Grisa at all but ended up terminating in Prosecco. I got off there and caught the next #42 to Opicina. Of course, it was not the direct #42 but what I’ve dubbed the scenic #42, following a circuitous route through Rupingrande and Monrupino. At Opicina, while the bus was parked, I checked the schedule posted at the stop. Seeing that the same bus would be returning to Trieste via Monte Grisa, I immediately climbed back aboard. Ten minutes later, the bus departed, and I managed to finally arrive at Monte Grisa.

Monte GrisaDuring my two boat excursions to Castello di Miramare, I had noticed the trapezoidal structure of Monte Grisa perched on the cliff overlooking the sea, but up close the church was even more striking: a web of triangular concrete frames and glass panels, inside and out. As Monte Grisa was surrounded by evergreen forests, I spent my remaining time—I had only an hour before needing to catch my return bus—strolling along a shady footpath through the woods. Aside from the few older couples I passed, I was quite alone, no sound but the wind rustling in the trees and the low rumble of distant traffic.

Fortunately, the bus arrived on schedule, and my return to Trieste was entirely uneventful. On my walk back to Residence Liberty, I stopped at Pasticceria Bomboniera and picked up a slice of torta Rigojanci for my dessert later. Having tried the mousse-filled chocolate cake in Budapest, and having read of its popularity in Trieste, I had been searching bakeries throughout the city. Bomboniera was the only place I had thus far been able to find it.

After stopping also at a bookstore and purchasing yet another cookbook on Triestine cuisine, I made it back to my apartment around 6:30pm. Too exhausted to do any cooking, I threw together a plate of leftover potatoes, some fresh mozzarella, a tomato, some baccalà, and a slice of bread spread with liptauer cheese. The liptauer I had seen in Vienna was an orange-pink color from the addition of paprika, one of many savory ingredients. Both times I had tried liptauer in Trieste, however, the cheese was white. At the gastronomia where I had purchased this one, I had taken note of the ingredients listed on the display label: it was simply ricotta mixed with gorgonzola and sprinkled with spicy paprika. Not being particularly fond of blue cheese, I can’t say I really cared for this liptauer, so I was happy to finish my meal and dig into my Rigojanci. Between the two layers of chocolate sponge was a thick layer of dark chocolate mousse, the top of the cake glazed with a rich chocolate ganache. It was a perfect, decadent ending to a rather trying day!

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Gnocchi di ZuccaFor my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Gnocchi di Zucca (Butternut Squash Gnocchi), in honor of this month’s Festa della Zucca. After having been cancelled for the past two years due to financial difficulties, the popular festival is returning to the town of Venzone on the weekend of October 24-25. In addition to a plethora of medieval-themed entertainment and activities, the town’s taverns and restaurants will be offering special tasting-menus, naturally featuring the celebrated pumpkin. Gnocchi di zucca will undoubtedly be one of the star dishes. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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Castello di MiramareIt was another gorgeous, sunshiny day in Trieste, although the wind had picked up and there was a decidedly autumn chill in the air. I decided to take advantage of the blue sky and return to Castello di Miramare to retake some photos. I had already been to the castle several times, but sadly, all but one visit had been plagued by inclement weather, including the time Mike and I had taken the ferry. Despite the grayish background of an overcast sky, the view of the castle from the sea had been stunning, and I was now hoping that a crystal clear day would provide an even more dramatic approach.

Castello di MiramareFrom the Molo dei Bersaglieri, the boat took about an hour to reach the harbor of Grignano, from which it was a short walk uphill to the castle’s entrance. This time I would forgo paying to enter the castle—I had been through the sumptuous interiors twice in the past few years—and was planning to visit the Parco Tropicale instead. Located within the castle grounds, this tropical garden is filled with numerous species of plants indigenous to South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia and provides a home for a variety of wildlife, including butterflies, parrots, hummingbirds, flamingos, bats, and reptiles. Unfortunately, the garden was now only offering guided visits and I had just missed the start of the midmorning tour.

I considered waiting for the next tour, but sitting by the castle overlooking the water proved to be too nippy to tolerate for long—plus, my stomach was beginning to remind me that it was almost lunchtime. So, I caught the next bus from Grignano back into Trieste.

There, I stopped for lunch at a buffet called Re di Coppe. Being the only customer when I arrived, I seated myself at a long wooden table. It was here that my long-standing goulasch dilemma was finally resolved. Early in my research, I had read in a Triestine cookbook that the recipe for this Hungarian beef stew called for tomatoes. Since then, while dining at restaurants throughout the region, I had only been able to find the more traditional version of goulasch—lacking any sort of tomato, tomato sauce, or tomato paste. Although the meat at Re di Coppe was a bit fatty, the goulasch was most definitely prepared with tomatoes, a fact that I quickly confirmed with the cook, Bruno. Accompanying the stew was a healthy serving of patate in tecia, a local side dish of potatoes and onion, coarsely mashed and cooked in a tecia (cast iron skillet).

GoulaschI have since learned that my confusion over the preparation of this dish should not have been all that surprising. There seems to be an endless debate among locals as to which version is most authentically Friulian. Here is my recipe for Triestine goulasch—with tomatoes! It is typically served with polenta, patate in tecia, or gnocchi di pane (bread dumplings).

1/2 cup olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 pounds beef rump roast or stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
1 bay leaf
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce, or 1-3/4 cups
2 cups water

Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions; cook and stir until soft and translucent, about 25–30 minutes. Sprinkle the beef with salt; add to the skillet with the onions. Increase heat to medium; cook and stir until the beef begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the flour, paprika, rosemary, marjoram, and bay leaf; cook and stir 5 minutes longer. Add the tomato sauce and water; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low; cook, partially covered, until the beef is tender and the sauce has thickened, about 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove the bay leaf; season to taste with salt.

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gnocchi di susineFor 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.

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Trieste's Barcolana regattaIt 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.

Trieste's Via NapoleonicaSailing 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!

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