Feeds:
Posts
Comments

For my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Sardoni in Savor (Marinated Sardines), in honor of this month’s Carnevale di Venezia. Called “sarde in saor” in Venetian dialect, this ancient dish is evidence of the Venetian influence throughout Friuli. While sardines are used in much of Friuli and the Veneto, European anchovies—known locally as “sardoni barcolani”—are more common in the area around Trieste and the nearby town of Barcola. Visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com for the recipe.

Advertisements

Since it had been several days since I had done any grocery shopping, I spent the early part of my morning picking up milk, bread, and another can of tuna at the mini supermercato down the street, a hunk of latteria cheese at the salumeria on Via di Cavana, and an eggplant and a tomato at a nearby produce market. I just needed enough food to get me through my final three days in Trieste.

After dropping off my groceries, I headed back out to Pasticceria Penso, finding my friends busy as always in the kitchen. Antonello was putting the finishing touches on a dozen sachertortes, a batch of presnitz was in the oven, and Lorenzo was preparing some puff pastry. Their father, Italo Stoppar, was assembling three flavors of sponge cake—cherry, mocha, and rum—which were layered with a flavored cream filling, glazed, and sliced into small rectangular portions.

As my trip was nearing its end and I still had many unanswered questions about the local cuisine, I pulled out my notes, perched myself on the stool in the corner near the puff pastry roller, and proceeded to pepper the family with questions. We discussed dishes with Austro-Hungarian origin such as goulasch and others with Slavic origin such as cevapcici. We chatted about dishes popular in the Carso such as bobici and strucolo di spinaze and debated the differences between the markedly similar desserts presnitz, putizza, and gubana.

Around mid-morning, one of Antonello’s uncles showed up—not Uncle Giovanni, with whom I was already well acquainted, but another uncle whose name I regret to have forgotten. As we were introduced, Antonello explained that his uncle used to be a waiter on the cruise ship Lloyd Triestino, to which the uncle was proud to clarify, “a waiter in first class.” He seemed to know a lot about cooking, so I directed some of my queries toward him, getting many helpful answers as well as some not so helpful, as he had a tendency to wander off on unrelated tangents.

Other visitors kept popping in all morning, including a deliveryman whose father was from Honolulu. Antonello introduced each visitor to me as if I were a VIP guest. None departed without being treated to a complimentary pastry.

When it was time for lunch, I headed out to Ristorante Al Bagatto, just around the corner from the bakery. Mike and I had splurged on a nice dinner there during our trip in June of the previous year, and Antonello and Lorenzo had just mentioned that the place had recently been written up in a list of Trieste’s best restaurants. Despite the pricey menu, I felt compelled to return.

That afternoon I was the only woman in the restaurant, surrounded by six tables of businessmen with expensive suits and no doubt generous expense accounts. I started with the zuppa di pesce, also locally called brodeto alla Triestina, a dish I had ordered the last time I dined at Al Bagatto. There was one significant change, however: the langoustine, shrimp, mussel, and clam were each served in the shell, while the first time all the shellfish had been removed from their shells. This did not detract from the dish in the slightest, notwithstanding the usual difficulty of extracting the langoustine meat. The bowl also featured flaky chunks of white fish and rings of tender calamari, while a few croutons floated on the surface of the tomatoey broth.

At my dinner with Mike, I had been rather envious of his plate of fritto misto, a crispy mix of teeny-tiny fried sea critters. I was therefore looking forward to ordering a plate all for myself. But this time, many of the morsels weren’t so teeny-tiny at all. There were a few small shrimp and tiny whole fish, along with two breaded sardines, two medium-sized shrimp in the shell, some rings of calamari, and a whole langoustine. As with the zuppa di pesce, the shells made both dishes a bit tedious to eat, but everything tasted fresh and amazing. I especially liked the itty-bitty shrimp whose crunchy shells were reminiscent of soft-shell crab.

Back in my apartment, I spent another afternoon working on my book Flavors of Friuli. Unlike the previous day, I had a great deal of trouble getting started. I reread my partially written rough drafts, flipped through some notes, and stared at an annoyingly blank screen. When 4:00pm rolled around, I still hadn’t written a word. I felt frustrated and tired, but I stuck with it and ended up finishing a first draft about the Carso.

By 7:00pm I could no longer ignore the sound of my stomach growling, so I shut off my computer. For dinner I prepared another tuna melt, again having to use my deep-sided saucepan. It was still awkward to maneuver the spatula inside the tall pot, but this time I managed to flip it without making a total mess. To go with the sandwich, I sautéed some eggplant and sliced up a tomato. The putizza from Pasticceria Bomboniera was still sitting on my kitchen table, so for dessert I continued nibbling my way through the sticky, chocolatey, cinnamon-laced spiral cake.

Here is my recipe for brodeto alla Triestina:

1 pound fish fillets (such as sea bass or cod), skinned and cut into 2-inch pieces
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce, or 1-3/4 cups
1/2 cup dry white wine
1-1/2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
12 mussels, scrubbed and debearded
12 clams, scrubbed
4 whole jumbo shrimp
4 ounces squid, bodies sliced into 1/2-inch rings, tentacles left whole
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

Sprinkle the fish fillets with salt; dredge in flour. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Place the fish in the skillet; cook until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork, about 2–4 minutes on each side.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic; cook and stir until soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, white wine, 1-1/2 cups water, and black pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the mussels, clams, shrimp, and squid; cook until the shrimp turn pink and the mussel and clam shells open, about 4–5 minutes. (Discard any shells that do not open.) Add the cooked fish fillets, along with the parsley. Season to taste with salt. Serve with crostini.

For the Crostini:
1 small baguette (about 4 ounces), sliced 1/4-inch-thick
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced in half

Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush both sides of the baguette slices with olive oil; place on a baking sheet. Bake until crisp and golden brown, about 10–12 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Rub the bread with garlic to taste.

Presnitz photo courtesy of Pasticceria Penso.

For my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Blècs (Buckwheat Pasta), a dish commonly found throughout the mountains of Carnia. While these triangular sheets of pasta may be served with any type of sauce, here they are tossed simply with browned butter, toasted cornmeal, and smoked ricotta. Visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com for the recipe.

For my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Torta Sacher (Chocolate Cake with Apricot Glaze and Ganache). While this rich, decadent cake may be found throughout much of northeastern Italy, it is considered a local dessert in Trieste due to the city’s Austrian heritage. My version is based on Pasticceria Penso’s recipe, which adds ground hazelnuts to the cake batter and Maraschino liqueur to the glaze. Visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com for the recipe.

With no more day trips planned, I allowed myself the luxury of sleeping in until 8:00am. While brushing my teeth that morning, I was startled by a loud ringing—presumably the doorbell. I had also heard the buzzer the night before while taking a shower, which struck me as odd since I knew no one in Trieste except my friends at Pasticceria Penso and I was certainly not expecting any visitors. Just outside my bathroom door, the security system’s video screen showed Antonello Stoppar waiting downstairs outside the apartment building. I studied the keypad, which consisted of a bunch of blank buttons with no instructions. Before I could figure out how to buzz him in or use the intercom to speak to him, the screen went black.

Within minutes, my phone rang. Antonello had been let inside and was calling me from the reception desk. He explained that he had come by the previous morning and left a note (which I never got) as well as the night before, to let me know that they would be baking putizza today, a day earlier than anticipated. Antonello knew that I had been looking forward to watching them prepare this local specialty, and I had been deeply disappointed when the event was postponed the previous week.

Around an hour later, I crossed the street from my apartment to Pasticceria Penso. The dough had already been prepared and portioned out into large, pillowy balls. Antonello was nearly finished making the filling, a sticky mixture of walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, candied orange peel, raisins soaked in rum and Marsala wine, melted chocolate, crumbled sponge cake, sugar, honey, lemon and orange zest, cinnamon, and vanilla.

I hung around until noon, watching the Stoppar family work their magic. First, the dough was rolled into large ovals and the filling spread on, leaving a small border around the edge. They let me roll one up, jellyroll-style, and then spiral it like a snail shell into a round cake. Just like the day they had allowed me to brush egg wash on a presnitz, everyone seemed somewhat surprised at my competency in the kitchen! I would have loved the chance to continue helping, but since they didn’t ask me to assist further, I contented myself to return to my perch in the corner.

When I was ready to leave for lunch, Antonello zipped to the front of the shop and wrapped up a little packet containing two of my favorite pastries, sachertorte and dobostorte. He also gave me the address of a restaurant he liked, suggesting that I try it for lunch.

Trattoria Da Mario was supposed to be at the southern end of Trieste’s waterfront, but even after scouring the street three times, I was unable to find it. So I backtracked to a restaurant I had passed called Osteria Istriano, one that had caught my eye the week before, with its waterfront location and seafood-heavy menu.

As was the case so often on this trip, I was the only diner there, yet the laid-back atmosphere made me feel instantly at ease. There were no stuffy waiters in tuxedos or fancy linen tablecloths or fine china engraved with the restaurant’s name. Instead, rustic wooden tables were laid with straw placemats, and the lone server was dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt.

There was no written menu, so after listening to the day’s offerings, I ordered as an antipasto the carpaccio di branzino: paper-thin slices of raw sea bass served over a bed of arugula, with pink peppercorns, cherry tomatoes, and a light lemon and olive oil dressing. During one of our conversations at the bakery, I had asked Antonello if there was any sushi in Trieste. He replied that carpaccio di branzino was the closest thing to sushi here and that the dish had become quite trendy. (Now, over ten years later, Trieste is home to quite a few sushi restaurants!)

For my main course, I had the grigliata mista di pesce, a plate of grilled seafood that consisted of baby calamari, a couple of larger calamari, and some sardoni barcolani (not sardines, as I once thought, but the tinier species of European anchovy). All the calamari were exceedingly tender, the babies being particularly infused with the deep, charred flavors of the grill. By comparison, the sardoni were a tad bland, not to mention filled with bones, but they were still thoroughly satisfying. I also ordered the only side dish available, strips of sautéed zucchini. And I mustn’t forget to mention the savory onion-topped focaccia in the bread basket, a happy departure from the usual slices of plain white baguette.

All in all, it was an extremely tasty lunch, definitely one of my better choices. Unlike many regional meals that tended to be heavy on meat, cheese, beans, and potatoes, the seafood here was light yet flavor-packed, perhaps more a reflection of modern Triestine cuisine than that of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.

When I was done, my check came to €21,30. I pulled out a €20 note and was in the process of digging through my coin purse for the remaining €1,30, when the waiter simply took the €20, saying that that was enough. I remember thinking it was awfully kind of him, though perhaps he was just in a hurry to tend to some other customers who had just arrived.

After lunch, I spent a relaxing afternoon in my apartment, writing a piece on Pasticceria Penso for my book Flavors of Friuli. Once I got into the groove, I worked for two hours straight, without even once checking the clock. Then I spent another hour transcribing notes for some other sections of my book. I was so glad to have brought my laptop along!

I still had yet to go to the market, so dinner was another meager one: a scrambled egg and the last of my cheese. At least I had the dobos and sacher cakes for dessert!

Although Antonello did give me Penso’s recipe for putizza, I eventually chose to recreate the one from Pasticceria Bomboniera. Both are scrumptious, but I especially love the chunks of dark chocolate in Bomboniera’s. Here is my recipe:

Filling:
1 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup rum
1-1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
3 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup finely crushed biscotti or amaretti cookies
3 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 egg whites

Place the raisins in a large bowl; add the rum and let soak for 30 minutes. Finely grind the walnuts in a food processor; add to the bowl of raisins. Stir in the chocolate, sugar, crushed biscotti, honey, lemon peel, cinnamon, and egg whites.

Dough:
1-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/3 cup warm whole milk (100° to 110°F)
1-1/3 cups cake or pastry flour, divided
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon rum
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and a pinch of sugar in the warm milk. Let rest until foamy, about 10 minutes. Whisk in 1/3 cup flour. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Stir in 1/2 cup flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, and the egg yolks. Cover and let rise for 1 hour.

Stir in the remaining flour and sugar, melted butter, rum, vanilla extract, salt, and lemon peel. Using a mixer with a dough hook attachment, knead for 10 minutes. (It may be necessary to occasionally scrape the ball of dough off the hook.) Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface; knead briefly by hand. (The dough should be smooth, elastic, and very soft.) Form the dough into a ball; cover loosely with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise for 1 hour.

To prepare:
1 egg, beaten to blend

Preheat oven to 350°F, placing a pan filled with water on the bottom rack to create steam. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to an 11- by 17-inch oval. Spread the filling over the dough, leaving a 1-1/2-inch border on all sides. Starting with one long side of the oval, roll up jelly roll style. Form the roll into a spiral, seam-side down; transfer to a greased 8-inch round cake pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise for 30 minutes. Brush the top of the spiral with beaten egg. Bake until golden brown, about 45 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before removing from the pan.

First three photos courtesy of Pasticceria Penso.

For my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Gnocchi di Pane (Bread Gnocchi). These gnocchi are quite similar to Austria’s knödel, demonstrating the influence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on Triestine cuisine. Visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com for the recipe.

Despite the unseasonably warm weather, the radiator in my apartment had remained on all night long. The blankets that I had, in my feverish state, piled on myself the afternoon before were now tossed in a pile at the foot of my bed. Even so, I slept soundly—except for a disturbing dream about missing my alarm. When my alarm woke me reliably at 6:30am, I was relieved to find my cold to be much better, with no lingering trace of food poisoning. I did have a bit of a sinus headache, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from taking one final day trip from Trieste.

During nearly every one of my trips to Friuli, a day trip to Venezia was requisite. Even though it’s one of the most touristy cities in Italy, I can’t help ranking it my favorite place in the world. Admittedly, there’s much to dislike about Venezia. Well, actually just one thing: the incessant masses of people that descend upon the city, particularly during Carnevale, Christmas, and summertime. These noisy, unrelenting crowds have made many of my visits less than enjoyable, and sometimes downright miserable. On this particular October day, I would happily be avoiding the high seasons that I had landed amidst in years prior.

It was another muggy day, quite foggy when I set out first thing in the morning. On my way to Trieste’s train station, it even began to sprinkle a little. Fortunately, the sky had cleared by the time I arrived at Venezia Santa Lucia station around 11:00am. Unlike my other recent day trips, I had no agenda at all, other than to wander aimlessly and to eat plenty of cicchetti.

Following the well-worn path through the Cannaregio and across the Rialto Bridge, I ended up at Cantina Do Mori. Established in 1462, it is officially the oldest bacaro in Venezia. There, I had a glass of prosecco with a plate of assorted cicchetti: velvety grilled eggplant, crispy fried zucchini, a savory polpetta (meatball), crostini topped with creamy baccalà mantecato (puréed salt cod), and a succulent crab claw.

From there, I wandered through the fish market, stopping frequently to admire all the beautiful seafood. On my last trip, having followed a similar route, I remember wishing that I had had an apartment, so that I could take some mussels or baby octopus home to cook. This time, I did have an apartment in Trieste, but I was dissuaded by the mere fact that any fish I bought would remain unrefrigerated for the entire afternoon, including the two-hour train ride back. (Five years later, that dream of being able to shop in the fish market would finally come to fruition, when my family rented an apartment in Venezia for the Christmas holidays!)

I crossed back over the Rialto Bridge and wound my way through San Marco. Across the Accademia Bridge, I headed straight for my favorite bacaro, Cantinone Già Schiavi. There, I had another glass of prosecco with another plate of assorted cicchetti. Già Schiavi specializes in crostini (or sometimes referred to there as crostoni), those little slices of bread with various toppings. I chose toppings of baccalà mantecato, sarde in saor (marinated sardines), and salsa tartara di tonno e cacao amaro (tuna salad sprinkled with cocoa powder).

Instead of venturing back into the fray of the more lively neighborhoods, I spent some time strolling through the relatively tranquil alleys of the Dorsoduro. When I tired of walking, I found a bench on the Zattere, the promenade that runs along the southern shore of the Dorsoduro. I sat there awhile, gazing across the water toward the island of Giudecca. In contrast to the tight, confined alleys, out here in the wide-open space, I could relish the cool breezes drifting off the lagoon.

After my brief respite, I headed back across the Accademia Bridge, where I came upon a man playing the saxophone for tips. The melody was hauntingly beautiful and literally brought a few tears to my eyes. I dropped a €2 coin into his hat and continued on to Chiesa di San Vidal, where my mom and I had attended a performance by the string ensemble Interpreti Veneziani the previous winter.

Having seen the group on several previous trips, my mom had a growing collection of their CDs. On our trip together, I had stopped in to buy her a couple of CDs for Christmas, but not remembering which albums she already owned, I asked the attendant which ones were the newest. With cheerful courtesy, she pointed out their two most recent releases, which I bought. This time, still not recalling which ones my mom owned, I repeated my question. I recognized the attendant to be the same woman as before, but now she looked at me as if I had just asked the most idiotic question on Earth. Even though I spoke Italian, she responded tersely in English, “None of them are new! They are classical music, not rock!” Sigh. So I just picked one at random to purchase—happily, it turned out to have been a good choice.

It was mid-afternoon by now, so I began making my way back to the train station, aiming to arrive in time to catch the 4:10pm train. Inevitably, though not at all regrettably, I got myself turned around in circles. As long as there was no great urgency, I always rather enjoyed the experience of getting lost in Venezia.

I made it to the station just before 4:00pm to find that an earlier train was running late, and I had just enough time to catch that one. My headache had never completely gone away all day, so I was glad for the chance to sit and stare out the window for the duration of the ride back to Trieste.

I arrived back in my apartment by 6:30pm, in time to fix a bite to eat. As my days in Trieste were drawing to a close, I hadn’t bothered to stock up on many groceries. I was out of bread and had no more fresh fruits or vegetables. I made myself a scrambled egg, accompanied by a hunk of cheese and some leftover sautéed eggplant.

Most evenings I had been eating an apple after dinner, but since I had no more fresh fruit, I decided to finally open the single can of pineapple I had bought on my first trip to the mini supermercato nearly three weeks earlier. My cans of tuna had had pull-tops, so this was my first time using the apartment’s can opener. With growing frustration, I found that the gears wouldn’t turn and the blade wouldn’t even clamp down onto the can. Turning the piece-of-shit can opener sideways, I managed to clamp it down tightly enough to puncture the side of the can. Repeating this, I slowly poked holes all the way around, until I was able to remove the lid.

But after all that effort, I found the pineapple to be cloyingly sweet, with the unpleasant texture of rubber. I just couldn’t force myself to eat it. So I pitched it and instead dug into the putizza I had bought at Pasticceria Bomboniera a few days earlier. With chunks of dark chocolate and rum-soaked raisins spiraling through the tender dough, it was a much better choice for dessert!

%d bloggers like this: