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Archive for the ‘Food and Recipes’ Category

In centuries past, the people of central and northern Friuli-Venezia Giulia were typically poor and often plagued by famine. This was especially true during the long, brutal winters in the Carnia mountains, when snow would barricade the few existing roads, leaving families to fend for themselves. Until modern times, most Friulians were farmers. Their cuisine was a diet of poverty, consisting primarily of hearty grains and vegetables, particularly those with a long shelf life like potatoes. Beans, barley, and corn could easily be dried for lengthy storage. Turnips and cabbage were preserved through fermentation to make, respectively, brovada and sauerkraut. All of these foods are still an important part of the region’s cuisine today.

In contrast, Trieste, having long been the chief port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was an exotic crossroads of culture, with influences from around the world helping to shape its cuisine. While the foods of poverty remain dietary staples for many families here, it is the abundance of fresh seafood that best defines Triestine cooking.

The following are five of FVG’s most well-known soups:

Jota (also spelled “iota”) is considered to be one of Trieste’s native dishes. The main ingredients are beans, potatoes, and sauerkraut. A similar soup is made in Carnia using brovada (pickled turnips) in place of the sauerkraut.

 

 

 

Minestra di Bobici is prepared with beans, potatoes, and corn. Originally a specialty of the Istrian peninsula, this tasty soup is now popular in Trieste (where “bobici” is dialect for corn) as well as in the villages of the Carso. The sweet corn and salty pancetta provide lots of flavor, making this one of my all-time favorite soups.

 

 

Orzo e Fagioli is a hearty soup made with barley and beans. You’ll find the dish throughout Friuli, where it is perfect for a cold winter’s evening.

 

 

 

 

Paparòt is made with spinach and cornmeal. It is typical of central Friuli’s home cooking, especially in the province of Pordenone.

 

 

 

 

Brodeto alla Triestina is virtually indistinguishable from the numerous varieties of zuppa di pesce (fish soup) found throughout the Mediterranean, including Livorno’s cacciucco, Ancona’s brodetto, and Marseille’s bouillabaisse.

 

 

 

Recipes for all five of these soups can be found in my cookbook Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy.

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For my Recipe of the Month, I have chosen Orzo e Fagioli (Barley and Bean Soup), a hearty soup perfect for a cold winter’s evening in Friuli—or practically anywhere you happen to live. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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For my Recipe of the Month, I have chosen Cuguluf (Chocolate-Marbled Cake). Called “kugelhupf” in German, this classic Viennese cake is commonly eaten for breakfast or as a special treat with coffee or hot chocolate. While other recipes may include raisins, almonds, pine nuts, or candied fruit, this chocolate-marbled version is typical of bakeries in Gorizia. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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For my Recipe of the Month, I have chosen Cevapcici con Ajvar (Grilled Sausages with Bell Pepper Sauce). These tiny sausages were inspired by the Middle Eastern spiced meat patties brought to the region by the Ottoman Turks. Eaten throughout Slovenia and Croatia, as well as in the provinces of Trieste and Gorizia, they are typically served with chopped onion and a red bell pepper sauce called ajvar. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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My rendition of gubana delle Valli del Natisone, as featured in Flavors of Friuli

While doing research for Flavors of Friuli, one of my most nagging questions was this: is there any difference between gubana and the similar-looking spiral pastries from Trieste, putizza and presnitz, or are they simply regional names for the same dessert? On one of my trips I spoke to a woman working at Pasticceria Ducale in Cividale del Friuli, and she gave me what was the clearest explanation I’d yet found.

Derived from the Slovene word guba, meaning “wrinkle” or “fold,” the name gubana is suggestive of the swirls and spirals in the pastry. While literary sources date similar recipes to the Middle Ages and perhaps even the Romans, the first document to mention gubana by name was written in 1576. There are two types of gubana: gubana delle Valli del Natisone and gubana Cividalese.

Putizza, photo courtesy of Pasticceria Penso

Gubana delle Valli del Natisone is a large spiral cake made with a yeast-based dough and filled with dried fruit, nuts, and spices. It appears very similar to putizza, the spiral cake from Trieste, which gets its name from the Slovenian pastry called potica. As it was explained to me at Pasticceria Ducale, putizza contains chocolate, while gubana delle Valli del Natisone typically does not; otherwise they are quite similar. Later, as I sampled multiple versions of both cakes, I discovered several other differences, notably that this type of gubana is baked as a free-form loaf, while putizza is baked in a round cake pan (or in some bakeries, a paper mold). As I began to test-bake recipes, I came to understand the reason for this. The dough for putizza is much softer and doesn’t hold its shape when filled, necessitating a pan to contain the spiral. In addition, putizza tends to have a higher filling-to-dough ratio, making it a richer, more decadent treat.

Gubana Cividalese, Pasticceria Ducale

Gubana Cividalese contains the same filling as the Valli del Natisone version but is prepared with puff pastry and rolled into a snake-like spiral. When gubana was first conceived, puff pastry required equipment and knowledge only available to the upper classes, making gubana Cividalese the aristocrat’s pastry of choice in the prominent city of Cividale, while gubana delle Valli del Natisone was the version typically prepared by peasants living in the valleys around the Natisone River.

Presnitz, photo courtesy of Pasticceria Penso

Like gubana Cividalese, presnitz, named after the Slovenian Easter cake called presnec, is made with puff pastry and contains a filling of dried fruit, nuts, and spices. In our conversation, the woman at Pasticceria Ducale asserted that gubana Cividalese and presnitz were entirely identical. Since then I have learned that, while this may be true for modern versions of the pastries, historically there is one significant difference. Because Trieste’s wealth during the Hapsburg era brought an increased availability of exotic imports such as spices, nuts, and liqueurs to the city, presnitz was considered a more refined pastry and typically comprised a much longer ingredient list than its counterpart from Cividale. Presnitz was first presented to the empress Elisabeth during a mid-19th century visit to Trieste.

Recipes for gubana delle Valli del Natisone, gubana Cividalese, putizza, and presnitz may be found in my book Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy.

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cavucinFor my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Cavucìn (Butternut Squash Purée), in honor of this month’s Festa della Zucca. Held annually in the tiny, medieval-walled town of Venzone, this festival celebrates pumpkins of all varieties with a weekend of food, art, music, and dancing. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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For my Recipe of the Month, I have chosen Strucolo de Pomi (Apple Strudel), in honor of the Festa della Mela, held in mid-September in the Carnian town of Tolmezzo. While apple strudel is popular throughout Friuli, this version using puff pastry is based on the recipe given to me by Trieste’s Pasticceria Penso. Visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com for the recipe.

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