Posts Tagged ‘travel’

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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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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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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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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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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Risiera di San SabbaOn 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.

Risiera di San SabbaIn 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.

Trieste's Municipio buildingI 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.

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