Posts Tagged ‘Italian food’

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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boreto alla gradeseFor my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Boreto alla Gradese (Grado-Style Fish Steaks with Vinegar). As Italians flock to the seaside during the Ferragosto holiday this month, many Friulians will be visiting Grado, one of Friuli’s most popular beach resorts. Not to be confused with the seafood soup “brodeto,” this fish dish from Grado is prepared with garlic and vinegar and traditionally served with white polenta. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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obelisk at Villa OpicinaSetting 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.

Trieste seen from Villa OpicinaAfter 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.

Trieste's Via NapoleonicaAfter 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.

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Trieste's Canal GrandeOn 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.

cevapciciHere is my recipe for cevapcici. As is customary throughout the Balkan countries of southeastern Europe, serve the sausages with ajvar sauce and finely chopped onion.

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.

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