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Archive for the ‘Cookbook Corner’ Category

Albergo Ristorante SalonIn the hilltop hamlet of Piano d’Arta, on a serene lane lined with shady trees and wisteria blossoms, Albergo Ristorante Salon was long recognized for its innovative local cuisine. When Arta Terme’s thermal baths first opened in the late 19th century, the sudden influx of visitors spawned a proliferation of new restaurants and hotels in the valley. Salon was one of the originals, opened by Osvaldo Salon in 1910—first as an osteria and then expanding a few years later into a small pensione.

It was when Osvaldo passed the business down to his son Bepi, a budding mycologist, that the restaurant saw a significant transformation. In a tourist market where hotel menus typically featured “national” dishes such as spaghetti al ragù, lasagne, and tortellini in brodo, Bepi Salon pioneered the use of local ingredients and regional specialties. With his wife, Fides, commanding the kitchen, the pair introduced guests to such Carnian peasant fare as polenta, frittata, and goulasch.

Through the decades, nearly every ingredient was raised, cultivated, or hand-picked by the Salon family, or at least procured from a local source. From the garden were fresh greens and vegetables; chickens, ducks, and guinea hens were raised in backyard pens; wild game was obtained from local hunters; and trout, fresh from the valley’s river and streams, was purchased weekly and kept live in tanks until ready to cook.

It was Carnia’s abundance of wild edibles, though, that contributed most to the restaurant’s fame. With the sprightly nature of a sbilf, Bepi Salon would rise at the crack of dawn for his daily trek through Carnia’s forests and meadows, returning just hours later bearing baskets of freshly picked mushrooms, herbs, and berries. Signora Fides, drawing inspiration from her mother’s family recipes, would then prepare such creations as mushroom soufflé, risotto with seasonal greens, and crêpes with mushrooms and truffles. Daughter and pastry chef Antonella had a particular flair for incorporating wild strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and currants into her desserts.

Fides and Bepi Salon

Fides and Bepi Salon (photo from Il Mondo di Bepi Salon)

Sadly, Bepi died in 2010, and Fides passed away just three years later. Their daughter Antonella continued running the restaurant for four more years, until its closure in 2017. I feel fortunate not only to have eaten at Salon many times while researching Flavors of Friuli, but also to have had the pleasure of meeting Bepi during my last visit to Arta Terme in 2005.

My first visit was in 2004, when I spent the weekend in Arta Terme for the Festa dell’Asparago di Bosco, del Radicchio di Montagna, e dei Funghi di Primavera. Salon was one of a handful of restaurants offering a special tasting-menu during the festival. There, I enjoyed a seven-course feast of small plates: delicately fried frittelle di erbe (herb fritters), marinated trout with wild fennel and greens, dandelion soup with tiny Montasio cheese puffs, orzotto (barley cooked risotto-style) with morel mushrooms, lasagne with hop shoots and wild asparagus, pheasant breast with marjoram and roasted potatoes, and a wild strawberry spumone for dessert.

cjarsons

My rendition of Salon’s cjarsòns, as published in Flavors in Friuli

A week or so later, after my husband had joined me for a portion of my trip, we spent one night at Albergo Ristorante Salon. That evening at dinner I was thrilled to finally try their cjarsòns, a type of filled pasta native to Carnia. 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. After sampling nearly twenty versions of cjarsòns over the years, I can say without a doubt that those at Salon were my absolute favorite.

The following summer, I spent three weeks exploring the villages of Carnia and made Piano d’Arta my home base for a good portion of that time. During my stay, I was fortunate to meet both Bepi and Fides. On one particular evening Bepi sat with me for quite some time, answering questions about his restaurant, his life, and his passion for Carnian cuisine. When I began raving about how amazing their cjarsòns were, he excused himself and returned promptly with a copy of the recipe for me to keep!

Il mondo di Bepi SalonDuring our chat, he mentioned that a book was being published about his restaurant. When I returned to the region later that fall, I searched bookstores everywhere I went, all to no avail. Back at home, I sent several emails inquiring as to where I could purchase the book—to the town’s tourist office, to the publisher, and to the restaurant itself. Months went by with no replies, then out of the blue I received a package in the mail from the tourist office: it was a complimentary copy of the book, Il mondo di Bepi Salon by Sonia Comin and Bepi Pucciarelli. To my further surprise, several months later, I received another package, this time from the publisher, containing two complimentary books: Il mondo di Bepi Salon as well as a coffee-table book I’d been looking for, which I’ll review in my next post.

The book comprises three main sections. The first, titled “Bepi Salon: la sua storia, le sue stagioni,” comprises a brief biography of Bepi and his family, the history and cuisine of the hotel-restaurant, Bepi’s personal philosophy, and a description of his work from season to season. Readers can truly get a glimpse into the man behind the restaurant.

Next is a collection of recipes from Fides and Antonella, including the one for cjarsòns alle erbe that Bepi had given me. The common theme being wild herbs and mushrooms, other recipes include cestino di frico con funghi trifolati misti (fried cheese basket filled with polenta and sautéed mushrooms), risotto alle erbe di stagione (risotto with seasonal herbs and greens), and coscia d’agnello farcita agli asparagi di monte (leg of lamb stuffed with wild asparagus). Three pages are devoted to mushroom-centric dishes such as crostoni con patè di funghi (toasted bread with mushroom purée) and crocchette di funghi misti (mushroom and prosciutto croquettes). Antonella’s desserts include crostata ai frutti di bosco meringata (mixed berry tart with meringue) and bavarese alle fragola (Bavarian cream with strawberries).

The final section, titled “Erbe e funghi di Carnia” and spanning more than half the book, is an extensive list of wild herbs, fruits, and mushrooms that may be found in the surrounding forests and meadows. A full page is devoted to each species, with detailed information on its habitat, season, culinary and therapeutic uses, and more.

Since I have an extra copy of Il mondo di Bepi Salon, I’m holding a giveaway at the end of this month to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the publication of Flavors of Friuli. See my Facebook page for details.

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During the years I spent traveling in Friuli, doing research for my cookbook Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy, I purchased a number of cookbooks along the way. In this new column, I’m going to share with you my collection of books, starting with my favorite and one of the most exceptional: Via dei Sapori by Walter Filiputti.

I first encountered Via dei Sapori at dinner one summer evening at Ristorante Alla Pace in Sauris di Sotto. After telling the hostess Franca Schneider (who was also chef Andrea’s mother) about my cookbook project, she immediately brought me this gorgeous coffee-table book to peruse during my meal.

The book takes readers on a journey through Friuli-Venezia Giulia, stopping at 20 notable restaurants along the way. I’ve been to four of these featured restaurants: Alla Pace (Sauris), Al Lido (Muggia), All’Androna (Grado), and La Subida (Cormòns). I only wish I’d discovered this book sooner, so that I could have made a point of visiting more of them.

In addition to recounting the history and cuisine of each restaurant, Via dei Sapori provides recipes for some of their signature dishes. A number of these recipes were quite helpful in my process of recipe testing, particularly those for scampi alla busara (langoustines in tomato sauce), gnocchi di susine (plum-filled gnocchi), gnocchi croccanti di Sauris (crispy gnocchi stuffed with prosciutto), stinco di vitello (braised veal shank), patate in tecia (skillet potatoes), and boreto alla Gradese (fish steaks with vinegar).

Even more useful in my research was the book’s focus on the region’s cuisine, with sections on aspects of culinary history such as Carnia’s cramârs (spice merchants), the backstory of typical dishes such as frico and gubana, and spotlights on many local artisans and their products, including prosciutto di San Daniele and Montasio cheese. Being a renowned expert on wine, author Walter Filiputti naturally included extensive sections on the region’s wine zones and varieties.

After having spent several meals at Alla Pace flipping through Via dei Sapori, I determined to buy the book the next chance I got. When my three weeks in Carnia ended, I returned to Udine, the city I’d be using as a home base for the next week. I remembered seeing Via dei Sapori at the Enoteca di Cormòns earlier in my trip, so as soon as my bus arrived in Udine and I’d checked into my hotel, I jumped on the next train to Cormòns. The book was available there in several different languages, and I decided to buy the English translation, Path of Flavours.

Once I got back to my hotel and started reading, I realized that there was clearly an error in the translation of Alla Pace’s recipe for crispy stuffed gnocchi. I had taken notes while at the restaurant—and while sampling the dish itself upon Franca’s recommendation. In the English version, the ingredients for the dough and the filling were obviously switched, but I also saw that there were a couple of ingredients missing. Fortunately, during the final week of my trip, I was able to locate the Italian edition in one of Udine’s bookshops and confirm the recipe in my notes so that I could properly recreate it back home.

Despite that issue, having the English translation made my job much easier, as every other cookbook I purchased was in Italian and required extra effort to translate. But regardless of the language, the scope of the book and the gorgeous full-color photographs make Via dei Sapori possibly the best book on Friulian cuisine ever published!

back cover of Path of Flavours

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