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.
My 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!
I 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:
1 pound (about 4 cups) blanched slivered almonds
2-1/2 cups sugar, divided, plus extra as needed
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.