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Archive for January, 2018

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.

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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.

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