Archive for June, 2013

Hotel Pa'KhraizarI awoke early to the sound of a light rain pattering against our windows. It was the perfect day to sleep in, yet Mike and I had plans to leave Sauris and drive eastward toward the town of Arta Terme. For once, I had not made a hotel reservation for the night, so we needed to find a place to stay.

Our breakfast at Hotel Pa’Krhaizar was the most memorable of any I’ve ever had in Italy. Instead of the all-too-common packaged toast and dry, tasteless rolls that are typically accompanied by those tiny, plastic packets of jam, we were served a basket of soft, warm, freshly-baked rolls along with the most delicious condiments ever: three small dishes of homemade preserves—orange marmalade and cherry and strawberry jams—as well as pots of honey and freshly churned butter. In addition, there was plenty of the thin European-style yogurt that I love, most likely made from the milk of local cows (and especially delicious with a swirl of strawberry jam).

LateisMid-morning we began the tortuous drive down from the hamlet of Lateis, back through the spooky, cave-like tunnels toward Ampezzo. Originally, we had planned on driving west to Forni di Sopra, but with the rain, we realized there wouldn’t be such a great view of the Dolomites. (The following summer, I would return to Carnia and visit Forni di Sopra, along with several other towns.) So instead, we headed east to Villa Santina, where we took the road north through the Val Degano.

Even though Mike was getting used to driving a stick-shift, we still had this anxiety (mostly unfounded) over parking the car, for fear we might not get it started again. Therefore, we didn’t make as many stops along the way as I would have liked. We did pull over in Ovaro, though, when I spotted a bakery and wanted to look again for esse di Raveo. The town of Raveo, after which these “S”-shaped cookies were named, was in this same valley, although we had passed the turn-off a few minutes earlier. Unfortunately, this bakery only sold the cookies in large tubs, which I passed up in hopes of finding individual cookies elsewhere.

Albergo Ristorante BellavistaWe continued north to Comeglians, when we turned eastward into the Valcalda. We stopped in Ravascletto for lunch at the Albergo Ristorante Bellavista. Since it was still May and not yet peak summer season, the restaurant was empty. Instead of being seated in the dining room, we were served at one of the casual tables in the front room. Given how much we had been eating as of late, we opted for only a single course. The restaurant offered two types of cjarsòns—savory with herbs and sweet with raisins—and we ordered a plate of each. Neither one was particularly memorable.

Matteo MaieronFrom Ravascletto, we headed east and then south toward Arta Terme. Earlier on the trip, I had enjoyed my meal at Albergo Ristorante Salon and was disappointed that their famous cjarsòns were not on the menu due to the weekend’s food festival (and special tasting-menu). In hopes of another chance to try them, we made Salon our next stop. Like at Bellavista, there were few guests, so we had no trouble booking a room. Matteo Maieron, who was the waiter at my tasting-menu lunch, remembered me and greeted us both with youthful enthusiasm.

Our room was a triple with a large, red-tiled bathroom and a pleasant view of the hills behind the hotel. After a brief rest, we drove to Tolmezzo, ten minutes further south, and paid a visit to the Museo Carnico delle Arti Popolari. This ethnographic museum contained a collection of all aspects of Carnian life and culture—thirty rooms full of clothing, cookware, furniture, musical instruments, masks, and portraits. Afterward, we scoped out another bakery in our search for a snack of esse di Raveo. Apparently, the cookies were not sold individually anywhere, so we purchased a plastic tub of them for the road. As we drove back toward Arta Terme in the late afternoon, nibbling on the crisp, sweet cookies, we could see the fog curling in through the valley like tendrils of smoke.

Albergo Ristorante SalonDinner at Ristorante Salon that evening was one I will never forget. Ever since my first bite of cjarsòns several years earlier, I had become obsessed with the dish, trying it at every possible opportunity. In fact, I had already sampled two different versions at lunch this very day. But it was the reputation of Salon’s cjarsòns that led me to visit their restaurant in the first place, and I was not to be disappointed this time. After sampling nearly twenty versions over the years, these were—and still are—my absolute favorite. Filled with a sublime combination of apple, pear, and herbs, and tossed with butter, sugar, cinnamon, and ricotta affumicata, they were the perfect balance of sweet, savory, salty, and smoky.

Fortunately, Mike and I both began with the cjarsòns, because the rest of the meal was acutely anticlimactic. For my second course, I ordered the pheasant breast, which came with French fries and salad. The pheasant was gray and bland, not nearly as tasty as the one prepared two weeks earlier as part of the tasting menu. The salad was deftly prepared to order by Matteo, who assembled the garden-fresh ingredients from a table-side rolling cart; however, the French fries were nothing but a cop-out on the part of the kitchen staff. Mike’s entrée was no more appealing: thin slices of overcooked roast beef, which also came with French fries and salad. The meal was redeemed only slightly by a slice of warm apple strudel for our dessert.

cjarsonsThe memory of those cjarsòns drew me back to Salon repeatedly the following summer. Here is my adaptation of the recipe given to me by owner Bepi Salon:

Pasta Dough:
1 cup semolina flour
1/4 cup boiling water, plus extra as needed
1 tablespoon olive oil

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, boiling water, and olive oil. Transfer the dough to a clean surface; knead until the flour is fully incorporated and the mixture becomes smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (If the dough is too dry or crumbly, lightly moisten your fingers with water during kneading until you reach the desired texture.) Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.

1 white potato (about 8 ounces), peeled and quartered
1/4 cup finely crushed biscotti
1/4 cup grated apple
1/4 cup grated pear
3 tablespoons grated ricotta affumicata
2 tablespoons dried currants
2 tablespoons apricot jam
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram

1. Place the potato in a medium pot filled with water; bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the potato and place in a medium bowl; mash well. Cool to room temperature. Stir in the crushed biscotti, apple, pear, ricotta affumicata, currants, apricot jam, sugar, lemon peel, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and salt.

2. Melt 1 teaspoon butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the parsley, basil, mint, and marjoram; cook and stir until wilted, about 1 minute. Stir into the potato mixture. Refrigerate for 1 hour, or until ready to use.

To prepare:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup grated ricotta affumicata
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Working in batches, feed the dough through the rollers of a pasta machine until very thin (setting #7 on most machines). Cut out 3-inch circles from the dough. Place 1 teaspoon filling on each circle. Moisten the edges with water and fold in half to make a semi-circle, sealing the edges tightly. Pinch the sealed edge into four points.

2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Working in batches, place the cjarsòns in the water; cook until they rise to the surface, about 1–2 minutes. Drain.

3. Melt 1/2 cup butter in a large skillet over medium heat; remove from heat. Stir in the ricotta affumicata, sugar, and cinnamon; add the cjarsòns and toss to coat with butter.

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cheese at Mondo delle Malghe in OvaroCheck out my latest travel “Highlights” on Afar.com: a festival of cheese and Friuli’s largest palazzo.

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authorsdbCheck out my new author page at authorsdb.com. And don’t forget to cast your vote in their Book Cover Contest: here are links to my books Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy and Balance on the Ball: Exercises Inspired by the Teachings of Joseph Pilates (click on “Image Rating” and then choose a star). If you are an author, join today and get listed in their ‘Official’ Authors Database!

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Villa ManinThis was the day Mike and I began our road trip through Friuli. We got an early start and managed to make it out of Udine, albeit getting a little lost trying to find the highway. Our final destination was Sauris, where we had reservations for the night, although I had planned for us to make several stops en route: Villa Manin, Spilimbergo, and San Daniele del Friuli.

Driving southwest, we took a slight detour through Codroipo and the nearby town of Passariano, where we had hoped to visit Friuli’s largest palazzo. Villa Manin was originally the summer residence of Ludovico Manin, the last doge of Venice, and during the 1797 signing of the Treaty of Campoformido, which ceded much of northern Italy to Austria, this palace was briefly home to Napoleon Bonaparte. Today, Villa Manin is currently used for rotating exhibitions of contemporary art.

Villa ManinWhen we arrived, I was immediately struck by the enormity of the palace’s courtyard and its semicircular colonnade, which was modeled after Rome’s Piazza San Pietro. The doors were wide open, so we wandered in, looking around for the biglietteria. Within moments, though, we were accosted by the staff and asked to leave. Apparently, the museum was closed for the installation of a new exhibit. This was disappointing, but I determined to return the following year.

Spilimbergo's Palazzo ErcoleNext, we headed north to the town of Spilimbergo, which lay on the other side of the Tagliamento River. We stayed only long enough to stroll through the cobblestone streets of the town center and find the Palazzo Ercole (also known as the Casa Dipinta), whose 16th-century frescoes illustrate the mythical life of Hercules. Once again, I resolved to return on my next visit, when I would have more time to explore.

As it was nearing lunchtime, we crossed back over the Tagliamento River and drove north to San Daniele del Friuli. After Mike succeeded in parallel parking our tiny Fiat in an especially tight spot on one of the town’s steep hills, we took a quick, self-guided tour of the Duomo di San Michele Arcangelo and the Chiesa di Sant’Antonio Abate. The latter, one of my personal favorites, is often called the “Sistine Chapel of Friuli” for its vividly colored fresco cycle by Renaissance artist Martino da Udine (a.k.a. Pellegrino da San Daniele).

Chiesa di San Daniele in CastelloHaving read about the prevalence of trout in Friuli’s rivers, I was curious to sample the smoked trout made by Friultrota, a San Daniele company. We found a package of trota affumicata in a local gourmet food store and took it up the hill to the castello for a pre-lunch snack. In the shady grove outside Chiesa di San Daniele in Castello, we sat on a park bench overlooking the expansive countryside, its rolling hills mottled with shades of sepia, olive, and chestnut. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the trout had both the appearance and flavor of smoked salmon. (Later, I concluded that it was trota salmonata, which has the same rosy flesh as salmon.)

For lunch, we ate at Antica Osteria Al Ponte. Since it seemed negligent to order any other antipasto while in San Daniele, we started with a huge platter of prosciutto di San Daniele. Next, I had spaghetti with cherry tomatoes and mozzarella, while Mike had tagliatelle al prosciutto in cream sauce. For dessert, we shared the tortino di pere—a warm cornmeal cake baked with chunks of pear and drizzled with caramel sauce, the plate sprinkled with powdered sugar and cocoa in a template that read “Al Ponte.”

From San Daniele, we headed further north into Carnia. The drive to Sauris—which took another hour and a half—turned out to be one of the most hair-raising of my life. While Mike found the ride somewhat of a thrill, I was terrified by the constant blind hairpin turns, which were far too narrow for the breadth of two cars. It appeared to me that no one else seemed to mind, as all the other cars kept racing around the bend toward us at breakneck speed. I did, however, enjoy the long, dark tunnel carved into the mountainside (which we jokingly referred to as the “bat cave”).

Hotel Pa'KhraizarOnce we arrived, I could finally breathe a little easier. Our hotel was located in the hamlet of Lateis—on an entirely separate hill from Sauris proper. With a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains, Hotel Pa’Krhaizar was without a doubt the quaintest hotel I had ever stayed in. The small room was made entirely of pine—walls, floor, ceiling, door, and furniture—with fluffy pillows gracing the tall bed, which sagged dreadfully in the middle. Though minimally decorated, the tiled bathroom was surprisingly spacious given the diminutive size of the room. Through a pair of small picture windows, we could see out over the verdant hills, strewn with yellow and purple wildflowers, although the view was gradually becoming obscured by a bank of wispy fog rolling in through the valley below.

Sauris di SopraAfter settling in, we drove down the hill and took a walk along the turquoise Lago di Sauris before driving up to the towns of Sauris di Sotto and Sauris di Sopra. In the upper town, we parked the car and ventured out into a grassy field, the skyline dominated by a not-so-distant ridge of snow-capped peaks. There, in the middle of the meadow, I had a moment straight out of “The Sound of Music,” arms wide open and twirling with joy like Julie Andrews.

By the time we returned to Hotel Pa’Krhaizar, it had started to rain. We took a cozy late afternoon nap and then went downstairs for dinner. We began our meal with a platter of prosciutto di Sauris, which had a subtle smokiness in comparison to the prosciutto we had tasted earlier in San Daniele. Next, I ordered the cjalsòns, which were filled with herbs and raisins, while Mike had more tagliatelle, this time prepared with sausage and leeks. To finish, I had the goulasch con polenta (still no tomatoes—I was beginning to wonder if they were ever used in the dish after all), and Mike had cold, sliced roast beef served with mushrooms and arugula. Our meal was, of course, accompanied by a generous quantity of house red wine!

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prosciutto di SaurisCheck out my new travel “Highlights” on Afar.com: a prosciutto festival in Sauris and Muggia’s disgruntled winged lion of Saint Mark.

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Petti d'Anatra ai Frutti di BoscoFor my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Petti d’Anatra ai Frutti di Bosco (duck breasts with berry sauce). Duck is widely served throughout central Friuli, especially in the province of Pordenone. This recipe makes use of the wild berries that grow in the region, as well as spices that came to Friuli from overseas. Visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com for the recipe.

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Rosa Mistica in CormonsHaving taken the train from Trieste back to Udine and dropped our bags off at Hotel Principe, Mike and I set out for our very first Italian rental car adventure. Mike was to be the designated driver for this trip, since I don’t drive (at least not anymore, though I did learn as a teenager). A few weeks earlier, Mike “learned” how to drive a stick-shift using his aunt’s truck, so we thought we were well-prepared.

The plan was to pick up our car—it was a tiny Fiat Punto—and drive to Cormòns for lunch. Mike’s driving lessons, however, proved to be far less than adequate. After finally getting the car going, with countless jerks and starts and to the tune of a dozen locals honking at us, we managed to make it a couple of blocks before stalling in a rotary. As Mike was desperately gunning the engine, a polizia car passed us and paused briefly, the officers turning their heads to stare at us in utter disgust.

We finally made it out of Udine but realized that Mike needed somewhere to practice before battling the urban traffic again—someplace like a large, empty parking lot. We found just the place behind a massive warehouse on the side of the highway. Here, Mike could practice using the clutch without feeling any pressure. As he was getting the hang of it, the Fiat advanced forward a few feet at a time, until the wheels hit the curb and we could go no further. Then the trouble really began: we couldn’t figure out how to shift into reverse! This was certainly problematic, I thought, panic beginning to set in. I had learned to drive on a stick, so I was familiar with where reverse should be, but it simply wasn’t there. After a half hour of feeling dumbfounded, I had the brilliant idea of pulling the owner’s manual out of the glove compartment. Reading in Italian, I learned that in order to shift into reverse, you needed to pull up on the stick’s collare (collar). Finally, it all made sense, and we both felt like complete idiots.

Duomo in CormonsWith a great sense of accomplishment, we then drove the rest of the way to Cormòns. After a quick visit to the Duomo di Sant’Adalberto and the Chiesa di Santa Caterina (better known as Rosa Mistica), we stopped for lunch at Trattoria Al Giardinetto. To begin, we were served several complimentary antipasti: lardo (cured fatback), pâté of oca affumicata (smoked goose), and a gnoccho di ricotta (ricotta dumpling) with tomato and zucchini purée (plated for a patriotic red, white, and green effect). For my first course, I had the cjalsòns, which were filled with potatoes, speck, and sage, and served in melted butter with pancetta and aged Montasio. Mike ordered the orzotto (barley cooked “risotto-style”) with shrimp and artichokes. Next, I had the goulasch (again, there was no tomato in the sauce, though I did detect some spicy paprika and fennel) served with späetzle verde (tiny German-style spinach dumplings), while Mike had asparagus wrapped in smoked pork with a potato tortino and horseradish sauce. After finishing our meal, we stayed at our table for a long time, delaying the inevitable drive back to Udine.

Once we had returned to Udine, we stopped by several other car agencies, but as I had expected, automatic transmission was simply not available. A period of moodiness followed, as we lay in our hotel room, contemplating whether we should cancel all our plans for the next few days. Finally, Mike got up the nerve to take the car out for another spin. We drove around the block at least a dozen times before returning to the hotel with a bit more confidence.

Udine's Piazza della LibertaOn our way out to dinner, we joined our friends Steno and Liviana at a bar in Piazza della Libertà. Over glasses of prosecco, we chatted and exchanged gifts. I had brought them a batch of homemade cookies with white chocolate chips and dried cranberries—flavors I thought they would find to be rather exotic. Liviana gave me two books: the cookbook Le Ricette Tradizionali di Trieste by Maria Frausin, which I had just seen in a bookstore in Trieste and fortuitously passed over, as well as Guida di Udine by Maurizio Buora, a guide to the city’s history, art, and architecture.

Afterward, Mike and I returned to Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo for dinner. I had the tortellini al ragù (looking back, I’m not sure why I ordered something so un-Friulian—perhaps I just needed a break from my research) and sarde in saor with polenta, while Mike had spaghetti alle vongole and frico con polenta. When we left the restaurant, the sky had darkened, warning us of an impending storm. As lightning flashed to the north and thunder rumbled threateningly, we hurried to make it back to our hotel before the rain started.

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