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Archive for July, 2015

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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gnocchi croccanti di SaurisFor my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Gnocchi Croccanti di Sauris (Crispy Stuffed Gnocchi). As the town of Sauris, located in northern Friuli’s Carnia mountains, is gearing up for their annual Festa del Prosciutto this month, it is only appropriate to feature this dish from Ristorante Alla Pace in Sauris di Sotto: potato gnocchi stuffed with locally cured prosciutto, pan-fried in butter, and served on a bed of wilted arugula. For my adaptation of their recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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