Archive for April, 2013

Udine's Torre dell'OrologioTraveling to do research for a cookbook sounds like a dream job, but in fact, it can be hard to keep up the pace. With a limited schedule, I usually found myself running nonstop, visiting a different town each day and attempting to see as many of the sights as humanly possible. Occasionally, though, I needed to give myself a break. This was one of those days, in between my excursion to Arta Terme and my upcoming meeting with cooking instructor Gianna Modotti.

I decided to spend the morning exploring Udine’s markets, bakeries, and food shops. I began in Piazza Matteotti, whose farmer’s market stands were overflowing with a bounty of spring produce: mushrooms, fava beans, artichokes, and the celebrated white asparagus from Tavagnacco. (This market has recently been relocated to the newly renovated Piazza XX Settembre.) From there, I headed to my favorite cheese shop, La Baita, where I bought an etto (100 grams) each of the three types of Montasio: fresco, mezzano, and stagionato. Next, I wandered a bit more around the city center, peeking into every food shop and bakery I passed. I ended up buying some prosciutto di Sauris and formaggio di malga at Alimentari Tami Galliano and a selection of small rolls—zucca, noci, patate e rosmarino, and patate e formaggio—at Panificio Pasticceria Bacchetti.

When the shops began closing their doors for the afternoon, I returned to my room at Hotel Principe for a picnic lunch. I unwrapped my cheeses and spread my feast before me on the bed. The sight was mouthwatering. As it was still too early in the season for fresh formaggio di malga (cheese produced during the summer in the mountain dairies of Carnia), the slice I had purchased had been aging since the previous summer. It was quite firm and had a flavor reminiscent of aged Asiago.

Montasio cheeseThe three types of Montasio were easy to discern. The fresco (aged 2 to 4 months) was soft, creamy, and white in color, with a mild, delicate flavor. The mezzano (aged 5 to 10 months) was golden in color, firmer, and a bit more piquant. The stagionato (aged over 10 months) was extremely sharp and hard like Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Produced at the Wolf Sauris factory in Sauris di Sotto, the prosciutto was sweet with just a hint of smokiness. The rolls were soft and fresh from the oven—the potato rosemary roll went especially well with the cheese and prosciutto, while the pumpkin roll with walnuts and raisins made a nice dessert.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon sorting my notes and reading through my new Friulian cookbooks. Earlier on this trip, I purchased Vecchia e Nuova Cucina di Carnia by Gianni Cosetti and Friuli in Cucina by Adriano Del Fabro. Today, I added to my growing collection the heavy tome La Cucina del Friuli–Venezia Giulia by Alessandro Molinari Pradelli—an encyclopedic compendium of Friulian recipes. By now I had compiled a list of those recipes that I felt were most characteristic of the region and that I planned to include in Flavors of Friuli. In addition to tasting those dishes in restaurants, my goal was to gather as many published recipes as possible, in order to jump-start the recipe-testing process once I returned home.

Osteria Al Vecchio StalloFor dinner that night, I was determined to try someplace new. My plan “A” was a restaurant I had read about in my guidebook called Trattoria All’Allegria, but unfortunately it was closed—or rather nonexistent behind a wall of plywood and scaffolding. (It reopened several years later as a chic hotel and restaurant.) My plan “B” was the nearby Osteria Al Canarino; however, this one turned out to be filled with smoke and old men—not a comfortable environment for me. (Anti-smoking laws were not passed until the following year, 2005.) Therefore, predictably, I ended up back at Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo, where I felt right at home. I started with a bowl of sfregolotz agli spinaci. A recipe I had discovered in Gianni Cosetti’s cookbook only that afternoon, these were misshapen, pea-sized, emerald-green gnocchi topped with ricotta affumicata. Next, I ordered the cevapcici: tiny, finger-shaped sausages that are especially popular in the neighboring Slavic countries. They were served with polenta, chopped onion, baby greens, and a bitter red pepper purée called ajvar.

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wine tasting in CormonsCheck out my article “Wines of Friuli–Venezia Giulia” at travellady.com.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACheck out my new travel “Highlights” on Afar.com: cheese-tasting in the Italian Alps and a San Daniele church dedicated to the patron saint of pork butchers.

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Ristorante Alle Vecchie CarceriThe morning after the Arta Terme festival, I returned to Udine. My bus pulled in promptly at noon, and my plan was to enjoy a leisurely lunch somewhere in the city and spend the afternoon practicing la dolce far niente. But after dropping off my bags at Hotel Principe, located conveniently next door to the bus station, I made the impromptu decision to return to the station and grab a bus to San Daniele. The ride would take only 45 minutes, and I would arrive just in time to have lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, Ristorante Alle Vecchie Carceri.

On my previous visit, I had shown up—in typical American fashion—precisely as the restaurant was opening to find myself the only customer. This time, however, the restaurant was filled with happy diners, the air abuzz with conversation. Since it was rather late, not to mention busy, I was seated all by myself in the courtyard, which was disappointing at first but ultimately turned out to be quite pleasant and peaceful. Vines of ivy covered the gray stone walls of the former prison, while a border of pink flowers in terracotta pots awarded the impression of a Mediterranean garden.

To start, I was served the chef’s complimentary appetizer of a small mound of polenta topped by two wafers of frico croccante (Montasio cheese crisps), a pile of ricotta affumicata (smoked ricotta cheese), and a sprinkling of poppy seeds. This was followed by an antipasto plate of white asparagus tips, ricotta affumicata, anchovies, capers, and more wafers of frico croccante. Next, I had intended on trying something new but could not bring myself to pass up the irresistible cjalsòns: round, plump ravioli, shaped rather like flying saucers, with a filling made with mashed potatoes, caramelized onion, and raisins. The cjalsòns were served in a generous pool of melted butter and topped with cinnamon, sugar, and ricotta affumicata. Cinnamon sticks and piles of raisins garnished the plate. To finish, I ordered the torta di mele, an individual apple cake, served warm and topped with toasted pine nuts, whipped cream, and a drizzle of vanilla and caramel sauces. As an added touch, the plate was garnished with an artsy stencil of powdered sugar in the design of two forks.

San Daniele in CastelloAfter lunch, I took a walk to the Chiesa di San Daniele in Castello and was pleased to find the church open (unlike my last visit). Under a pane of glass in the floor, I was able to view some of the ruins of the medieval castle that once stood on this site. Next, I revisited the tiny Chiesa di Sant’Antonio Abate, a true gem of a church, often referred to as the “Sistine Chapel of Friuli” for the vividly colored fresco cycle by Pellegrino da San Daniele.

Back in Udine that evening, I returned to Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo for dinner. Of all the restaurants in the city, I found their menu to offer the greatest variety of traditional Friulian dishes, and it had become a personal challenge to work my way through their daily-changing menu.

To begin, I ordered gnocchi di Sauris, which were essentially gnocchi di pane (bread dumplings similar to German semmelknödel) with the addition of some chopped prosciutto di Sauris. In the style typical of Friulian gnocchi, they were served in melted butter and topped with ricotta affumicata; however, like much of the gnocchi served at Al Vecchio Stallo, I found them to be rather heavy and bland. Next, I had the pitina all’aceto balsamico, a variation on the traditional salame all’aceto, where slices of salami are sautéed (often with onions), simmered in vinegar, and served with polenta. This version used pitina, a cured meat from the mountains of Pordenone province that is often made with mutton, goat, or venison. The seasoned, ground meat is rolled into balls, dredged in cornmeal, and placed above a fogolâr (fireplace) to smoke. The pitina comes out gamey and smoky, and the vinegar in the dish helps to cut the fattiness.

Here is my version of salame all’aceto, which may be prepared with any type of salami you like:

Salame all'aceto2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
8 ounces salami (about 2 inches diameter), sliced into eight 1/2-inch rounds
1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion; cook and stir until it begins to soften, about 8–10 minutes. Add the salami slices; cook until brown, about 3–5 minutes on each side. Add the vinegar. Reduce heat to low; simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Serve with polenta.

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