Archive for the ‘Travel in Friuli’ Category

Val RosandraHaving lived, at the time, over fifteen years in San Francisco, I sorely missed seeing the gorgeous hues of autumn foliage. So when I traveled to Trieste in October of 2005, I found myself in a perpetual state of awe over the reds and oranges that were beginning to transform the countryside. Longing to immerse myself in the great outdoors, I planned a hike through the Riserva Naturale della Val Rosandra.

I set out early to do a few errands first: the produce market for some apples, the salumeria for a wedge of latteria cheese, and the tiny supermercato for my new favorite olive bread. Then, after dropping off my groceries and packing a picnic lunch, I swung by Pasticceria Penso to deliver the gift of Vitovska wine that I had purchased the day before at Osmiza Škerk. In return Antonello gave me a slice of sachertorte for the road.

I took the bus to the small town of Bagnoli at the mouth of the Val Rosandra, a huge gorge slicing through the mountainous Carso region. Numerous hiking trails had been cut through the forests of the nature reserve, and I set out on what seemed to be the most well-trodden path.

Val RosandraThere was no map, but I followed the trail until it emerged onto a ridge overlooking the gorge. From a distance, I could just make out the 118-foot waterfall that fed into the Rosandra Stream. The bora wind whipped through my hair as I struggled to keep my footing on the slippery gravel. The path hugged the cliffs, rising and falling with the curve of the mountain, until it descended once again deep into the woods.

Though the foliage was only just starting to turn, I still saw plenty of reds and golds mixed with the verdant evergreens. I crossed the stream near the ruins of an ancient Roman aqueduct, in an area I suspected to be very close to the Slovenian border. Then, I followed the path as it climbed the ridge on the other side of the ravine, the rough path giving way to a wider, paved road.

Here, with the chilly wind blocked by the limestone peaks above me, I found a warm spot in the sunshine to sit and eat my picnic lunch—cheese, olive bread, an apple, and that yummy slice of sachertorte. There were very few people on the trail that day. I had passed several hikers near the entrance to the park and another few along the initial rocky ridge. Since then, I had enjoyed complete and utter solitude.

Val RosandraAs I continued on my way, the paved road leveled out. I noticed the occasional sign marking a bicycle path, as well as an unmarked building that looked like a refuge of some sort. Unsure of where this road would lead, I plodded forward, winding around the mountainside and passing through tunnels. Eventually I was able to spot the town of Bagnoli in the distance across the gorge. The visibility was excellent on such a clear day, and from this vantage point, I could even see all the way to the Gulf of Trieste and the sea beyond.

I had been hiking for about two hours at this point, and I began to wonder if it was wise to continue in the same direction, whether the path I had been taking would eventually circle back to its starting point or if I had better begin retracing my steps back across the ravine. A map or some signs would really have come in handy just then.

Fortuitously, I passed a young woman walking her bike, and I asked her whether this road continued full circle. It did not, but she told me that up ahead there was a shortcut leading down to Bagnoli—but she warned me that it was quite dangerous, with steep slopes and slippery rocks.

I decided to follow her direction. The trail was not well marked, but I found the narrow path cut into the bushes, heading downhill on my left. She wasn’t kidding about the steep and slippery part! Wishing that I had brought my good hiking boots on this trip (though the boots I was wearing still had some traction), I managed to baby-step my way down the mountain without falling on my butt. An hour later, I emerged not too far from where I had started in Bagnoli—and I made it to the bus stop with only five minutes to spare before the next return bus to Trieste!

Buffet Da PepiI spent the afternoon back in my apartment, looking through the cookbook of Triestine desserts that Antonello had loaned me. Around 5:00pm I headed out for an early dinner at Buffet Da Pepi. Once again, I had the piatto misto, the pig-shaped platter of assorted types of pork, accompanied by a heaping portion of sauerkraut. And, of course, a glass of local red wine.

Read Full Post »

Pasticceria PensoSo far my efforts to visit an osmiza—a sort of pop-up tavern where small producers can sell wine out of their homes—had proved fruitless. Today being Sunday, I was determined to locate one at long last. My most recent attempt had revealed that daily listings of osmize were printed in a local Slovenian newspaper, so I headed to Pasticceria Penso in order to enlist the help of my friend Antonello. He immediately ran out to buy a copy of Primorski dnevnik and translated for me the listings of two osmize open that day. After helping me figure out the various bus routes, he then sent me on my way with a pallina di cioccolato, a yummy ball of chocolate, raisins, hazelnuts, and rum covered in sprinkles.

Casa CarsicaSince it was still early, I had time for a little detour. First, I caught the bus going to Rupingrande, so that I could visit the Casa Carsica, an 18th-century house now open to visitors as an ethnographic museum. In the architectural style typical of the Carso region, the home’s bedroom, kitchen, loft, and stable adjoined a central courtyard, which was surrounded by a high stone wall built to keep out the fierce bora winds.

Afterward, I went to lunch at the nearby Hotel Krizman. I started with a plate of gnocchi di susine: three potato dumplings, each stuffed with a small plum and topped with bread crumbs browned in butter. Sugar packets and a jar of cinnamon were provided for me to sprinkle on top as desired. The gnocchi were huge—nearly the size of tennis balls—and more dough than fruit. Regrettably, I was unable to finish them, as I needed to save room for my second course, pollo fritto. Chicken fried with a bread crumb coating sounded rather ordinary, but I had read that this was a dish typical of the Carso. Finally, despite being overly stuffed already, I couldn’t resist ordering dessert when I saw palacinche on the menu, particularly since I had missed several opportunities to try these crêpes in Vienna at the beginning of my trip. A traditional dessert throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to which Trieste belonged for several centuries, palacinche may be filled with fresh fruit, jam, cooked apples, sweetened ricotta, or pastry cream flavored with chocolate or nuts. The ones at Krizman were filled with a rich chocolate cream—delicious, though I could only manage to eat a few bites.

With an uncomfortably full stomach, I left the restaurant and leisurely made my way to the bus stop. Though quite warm in the sunshine, there was a certain autumn crispness in the air, a cool breeze rustling the yellow leaves as they drifted to the ground.

I took a bus to the town of Prosecco, then changed buses for the hamlet of Prepotto, where I was hoping to find an osmiza run by the Škerk family. Since I didn’t have a map, I was obligated to wander the streets looking for the trademark frasca, a leafy cluster of branches hung above the door to indicate that an osmiza is open. At first, the only human activity I saw was an agriturismo crowded with visitors enjoying an afternoon of snacks and wine tasting. I ventured inside, inquired at the bar for directions, and shortly found myself approaching my destination.

Osmiza SkerkAs expected, a frasca marked the entrance to Osmiza Škerk, where a few people stood milling around, glasses of wine in hand. I entered through the large wooden doors into a courtyard surrounded by a high stone wall, built in the same architectural style as the Casa Carsica. Picnic tables were set up in the courtyard, as well as in several ground floor rooms. All were jam-packed with guests drinking house-made wine and tucking into platters of cheese and salumi. With no room to squeeze in at a table, I ordered a glass of wine at the counter—Vitovska, a white wine I had never tried before—and stood against the wall sipping it, regarding the buzz and chatter of camaraderie all around me with just a touch of envy. Before leaving, I bought a bottle of Vitovska to take back to my friends at Pasticceria Penso, as a thank-you gift for their generosity in letting me hang out in their bakery kitchen during my stay.

Feeling thoroughly gratified by the day’s success, I returned to the bus stop to make my way back to Trieste. My return, however, would prove to be a bit more complicated. Most bus stops in the region post a schedule on or near the sign. This one, unfortunately, did not. But since I had no other way to get home, I was compelled to wait…and wait…and wait.

Presently, two elderly ladies joined me at the bus stop, though they didn’t know when the bus was expected to arrive either. They did, however, help me figure out that I didn’t necessarily need to backtrack. I could alternately take the bus heading the other direction toward Aurisina, then change buses to get to Trieste. I decided that I would just take whichever one came first. After waiting over an hour, I spotted the bus to Aurisina and jogged across the street to catch it. My connection for Trieste came within minutes, and I was soon back in my apartment, exhausted from a long day of exploring and still full from my enormous lunch.

palacincheHere is my recipe for palacinche with apricot jam—my favorite filling and perhaps one of the most popular.

2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons sugar
Pinch salt
4 eggs
2-1/2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
• • •
2 cups apricot jam
Confectioners’ sugar (optional)

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, melted butter, and lemon peel. Gradually whisk in the flour mixture.

Preheat a 10- or 11-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Pour 1/2 cup batter into the skillet, swirling to allow the batter to coat the bottom of the skillet. Cook until the crêpe begins to turn light golden in color, about 1–2 minutes on each side. Repeat using the remaining batter. (Stack the crêpes between layers of parchment or waxed paper; they may be warmed in a low oven or microwave before assembling.)

Spread each crêpe with about 3 tablespoons apricot jam; fold into quarters. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, if desired.

Read Full Post »

Italo StopparI had planned on leaving for Pasticceria Penso extra early the next morning, but a restless night of sleep made rousing myself at 6:30am hopelessly unappealing. So by the time I finally dragged myself out of bed and across the street to the bakery, the day’s work was already well underway. I found the Stoppar family busily preparing all sorts of decadent sweets: jam-filled crostate (tarts), mini tartlets filled with pastry cream and fresh fruit, cream-filled puff pastry horns, and candied orange peel dipped in dark chocolate. At one end of the vast stainless steel work table sat three specially ordered sheet cakes waiting to be picked up, each garnished with strawberry slices and fluffy flourishes of whipped cream.

Antonello StopparTwo days earlier, I had arrived to witness twenty-five chocolate cakes being pulled fresh from the oven. Now it was time to transform them into sachertortes. First, Italo Stoppar sliced each cake in half, assembling the layers with a glaze of Maraschino liqueur and apricot jam. Next, his son Antonello spread the cakes with a rich chocolate ganache. The sides were then garnished with chocolate sprinkles and the word “Sacher” expertly piped on top.

But of all the indulgent treats that found their way into the bakery’s display case that morning, one in particular seemed to be calling my name: the dobostorte. Unlike the round layer cakes I had sampled in the bakeries of Vienna and Budapest, these were rectangular, made to be sold as the bite-size pastries Italians call pastine. True to the traditional style, Penso’s version consisted of five thin layers of sponge cake, each spread with a light chocolate buttercream, to which the Stoppars added their own personal touch of ground hazelnuts. Crowning the torta was a sixth layer of cake covered in a lemon-scented caramel glaze.

I found it impossible to tear myself away until I was practically forced out at 1:00pm, when the family closed up shop for their afternoon break. Since it was already late, I went to lunch at the nearby Ristorante Al Bragozzo, an upscale seafood restaurant Mike and I had been to the previous year. I ordered the zuppa di pesce (fish soup), in order to compare it to yesterday’s lunch at La Marinella. This version had a wider range of seafood—one mussel, one clam, one shrimp, and one langoustine, as well as some fish and octopus—although the broth was barely tepid. In addition, I struggled to break open the langoustine without a nutcracker. (At my recent lunch at Muggia’s Ristorante Al Lido, the shells of my scampi all buzara had been pre-cut, though still a messy challenge to extract the meat even with the provided nutcracker!)

Trieste's Cattedrale di San GiustoAfter lunch, I took a walk up the hill to Castello di San Giusto. The castle interior was closed, but I spent some time exploring the grounds outside the gate, most notably the ruins of an ancient Roman basilica. Cattedrale di San Giusto was open, so I was able to view the splendid gold mosaics in its three domed apses. A unique structure, the cathedral was created in the 14th century, when two parallel churches were joined together. I descended the hill via a winding road through the Parco della Rimembranza, a park dedicated to the memory of fallen soldiers, and then passed briefly by the Teatro Romano (Roman amphitheater) before returning to my apartment at Residence Liberty.

Torta DobosHere is my recipe for Torta Dobos, inspired by the one at Pasticceria Penso:

For the Cake:
6 eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
1 cup cake or pastry flour, sifted
Pinch salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper. Trace two 8-inch circles onto each piece of paper.

2. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla extract, and lemon peel to the “ribbon stage,” about 5 minutes. (The batter will be pale in color and will leave a ribbon-like trail when drizzled over the surface of the batter.) Stir in the flour. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Soften the batter by stirring in a little egg white; fold in the remaining egg whites.

3. Spread about 3/4 cup batter onto each of the six parchment paper templates. Bake until the edges are golden brown, about 10–12 minutes. Transfer the cakes, along with the parchment paper, to wire racks; cool completely before removing the paper. Choose the best-looking cake to reserve for the top layer.

For the Caramel Glaze:
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon lemon juice

1. Combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a small saucepan; bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until golden amber in color, about 6–8 minutes. Pour the caramel immediately over the reserved cake layer. Spread using a buttered offset spatula, scraping away any caramel that has spilled over the edges.

2. Wait a couple minutes, until the caramel has begun to solidify but is still warm to the touch. Using the blunt edge of a buttered knife, score the cake into twelve wedges. When the caramel has cooled to room temperature, cut the cake into twelve wedges using a sharp, buttered knife.

For the Buttercream Frosting:
1 cup water
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1 tablespoon baking soda
1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup water to a boil over high heat. Add the hazelnuts and baking soda; cook for 5 minutes. Remove the hazelnuts and place in a colander under cold running water; rub off and discard the skins. Transfer the skinned hazelnuts to a baking dish; toast until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Cool completely.

2. Grind the toasted hazelnuts to a smooth paste in a food processor. In a large bowl, beat the hazelnut paste, butter, confectioners’ sugar, and cocoa powder until soft and fluffy.

3. Spread a thin layer of frosting over each of the remaining cakes, stacking to assemble the five layers. Spread additional frosting around the sides of the cake; use any extra to decorate as desired. Place the caramel-glazed wedges on top of the cake.

Read Full Post »

pastries at Trieste's Pasticceria PensoAs usual, I began this day with a visit to Pasticceria Penso. When I arrived, the patriarch of the family, Italo Stoppar, was busy preparing a number of cream-filled treats. Most involved slices of sponge cake placed inside rounded molds, which were then filled with chocolate, vanilla, and/or cherry pastry cream. Once unmolded, the pastries were then glazed with chocolate ganache or else covered with whipped cream and chopped walnuts. Slices often revealed a maraschino cherry tucked in the center.

apple strudel at Trieste's Pasticceria PensoAcross the giant stainless steel table, Italo’s sons Antonello and Lorenzo were baking a batch of apple strudel. While Austrian strudels are traditionally rolled up jellyroll-style in a paper-thin dough, I found puff pastry to be just as common in Friuli. The brothers added raisins, pine nuts, candied orange peel, and rum to the mix of chopped apples, along with some crushed savoiardi (ladyfingers) to soak up the sweet juices. After wrapping a rectangle of puff pastry around the filling, they decoratively arranged a strip of dough lengthwise down the center.

We all chatted for several hours, as I jotted down notes about the family’s recipes. Antonello gave me a couple of magazines to borrow, each with an article featuring Penso. By the time I was ready to leave, just before noon, the strudels had cooled enough for me to take a slice home for dessert.

From the bakery, I walked to Piazza Oberdan to catch bus #6 to Ristorante La Marinella, located north of Trieste between the seaside towns of Barcola and Grignano. Not knowing exactly where along the Viale Miramare the restaurant was located, I got off much too early. However, with the mid-October sun beaming down a soothing warmth and the light, salty breeze caressing my face, it turned out to be a very pleasant half-hour walk.

La Marinella had been recommended to me by Joško Sirk, owner of the now Michelin-starred La Subida in Cormòns, who declared it to be his favorite place for seafood in the region. As I entered, I spotted a prominently displayed photograph of the Pope shaking hands with a man I gathered to be the owner. I was surprised to find the dining room empty, save for one Austrian couple with a young child—but then it was getting rather late for lunch by the time I had finally arrived. A waiter, smartly dressed in a red jacket and bow tie, led me to a window table, where I could gaze across the busy highway toward the sea.

To start, I ordered the frutti di mare gratinati appetizer: a plate of scallops and razor clams baked with a bread crumb topping. Next, I had the zuppa di pesce (fish soup). Unlike many versions I have since tried, this one contained only fish, no shellfish or calamari. Slices of crostini were served on the side to soak up the savory tomato broth.

Trieste's Faro della VittoriaAfter lunch, I strolled back along the waterfront into Barcola, where I caught the next bus back to Trieste. It was such a beautiful day that I took a little detour on my way home, passing by the Jewish Synagogue, one of the largest in Europe. When I finally reached Residence Liberty, it was already late afternoon. I spent some time reading through Antonello’s magazines, prepared some mashed potatoes to accompany my improvised dinner of bread, cheese, eggs, and salad, and cozied up to watch an episode of “Alias” on my computer—with my slice of apple strudel for dessert!

Here is my recipe for apple strudel, adapted from the one given to me by Pasticceria Penso:

apple strudel3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided and softened
1/4 cup cold water
• • •
3 medium apples (about 1-1/4 pounds), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup finely crushed biscotti, amaretti, or savoiardi cookies
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup diced candied orange peel
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon rum
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• • •
1 egg, beaten to blend

For the Puff Pastry Dough:
In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Cut 2 tablespoons butter into cubes; blend into the flour mixture. Add 1/4 cup cold water; mix until crumbly. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead briefly. Flatten the dough to a 1/2-inch-thick disk. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Unwrap the dough and place on a lightly floured surface; roll to a 7-inch square. Roll the corners of the square away from the center to form four flaps, leaving a 3-inch square in the center at the original thickness. Beat the remaining 6 tablespoons butter with a rolling pin to form a 3-inch square; place in the center of the dough. Fold the flaps over to enclose the butter; turn the dough folded-side down. Roll to a 6- by 9-inch rectangle; fold in thirds (like a letter). Rotate the dough 90°. Roll again to a 6- by 9-inch rectangle; fold in thirds again. (This completes two “turns.”) Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Repeat rolling and folding the dough for two more turns. Wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Repeat rolling and folding the dough for two final turns. (This completes a total of six turns.) Wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using.

For the Filling:
In a large bowl, combine the apples, crushed biscotti, raisins, candied orange peel, pine nuts, sugar, rum, melted butter, lemon peel, and cinnamon.

To Prepare:
Preheat oven to 400°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry dough to a 12- by 15-inch rectangle. Transfer the dough to a large sheet of parchment paper. Brush the surface of the dough with beaten egg. Spread the filling lengthwise along the center of the dough. Wrap the dough around the filling, tightly sealing all seams; carefully turn the strudel seam-side down. Transfer the strudel, along with the parchment paper, to a baking sheet. Brush the surface of the dough with beaten egg. Bake until golden brown, about 25–30 minutes.

Read Full Post »

crostata at Trieste's Pasticceria PensoAs soon as I was awake and dressed the next morning, I headed straight to Pasticceria Penso. As usual, the kitchen was a flurry of activity. Twenty-five sachertortes had just been pulled from the oven to cool. The patriarch of the family, Italo Stoppar, was spreading sheets of sponge cake with chocolate pastry cream, then rolling them up jellyroll-style. His elder son, Lorenzo, was filling pastry horns with vanilla pastry cream, then dusting them with powdered sugar. Younger son Antonello was busy adorning crostate (tarts) with a colorful assortment of berries and kiwi.

I stayed for a couple of hours, chatting and observing, feeling in that moment as if I truly belonged there. Years earlier, when brainstorming things to do with my life after my dance career had suddenly been cut short, I had made a list of “fantasy jobs”—one of the top entries had been to work in a bakery. Even though I was not actually working at Penso, my experience of hanging out in the kitchen nearly every day sufficed to satisfy that craving.

Lorenzo Stoppar at Pasticceria PensoDuring our chat, Antonello casually mentioned how he wanted to open a bakery in San Francisco. This was not the first time an Italian had shared such an idea with me. When I was staying in Castiglioncello during the 1990s—first as a dance student, and later as a Pilates instructor, at the summer festival Pro Danza Italia—I had made the acquaintance of Rossano Bocelli, cousin of singer Andrea Bocello and owner of my favorite hangout, Gelateria Bocelli. I remember talking at length with him about his dream of opening a gelateria in San Francisco. At the time, I had actually taken him seriously, but of course those plans were never to materialize. So when Antonello expressed a similar desire, I knew better than to expect him to follow through. Still, I allowed myself a brief moment of fantasy, imagining myself quitting my job teaching Pilates in the dungeon of a gym in San Francisco’s Federal Building and spending my future days immersed in chocolate, pastry, and buttercream.

Around midmorning, I left to do a couple of errands. One of my goals on this trip was to procure a spiny spider crab shell in which to photograph the dish granzievola alla Triestina for my cookbook Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy. Called granzievola in the Triestine dialect (and granseola in Venetian dialect), this crab is native to Mediterranean and northeast Atlantic waters—a species I had no chance of finding back at home.

granzievolaThe night before, I had searched the phone book in the lobby of my apartment building, Residence Liberty, for seafood markets within walking distance. I set out from the bakery on a carefully planned circuit, hoping to buy a crab to cook in my tiny apartment kitchen, thus providing me with my sought-after shell. Although I had seen granzievole on prior trips to Venezia’s Mercato di Rialto, there were none to be found here in Trieste. I was told at several markets, where the workers were not too busy to ask, that it was still too early in the season and that I may start seeing granzievole toward the end of October.

Feeling defeated, I gave up and moved on to my next errand: visiting a couple of nearby bookshops I had discovered while scanning the yellow pages. I had better success there, with the purchase of two new cookbooks on Triestine and Istrian cooking to add to my growing collection.

Muggia's duomoAs it was time to start thinking about lunch, I walked up to Piazza della Libertà, a hub for buses outside the train station, and caught the #20 bus to the tiny fishing village of Muggia, south of Trieste on the very outskirts of the region. I arrived a half hour later and headed straight along Muggia’s waterfront to Ristorante Lido.

I had read about Lido in Friuli: Via dei Sapori, a gorgeous coffee table book that features a number of local restaurants, so I was expecting it to be fairly upscale in comparison to the casual osterie I had been frequenting. When I arrived, the spacious dining room was empty, save for a table off to the side where the hotel’s staff were enjoying their midday meal.

As a complimentary appetizer, I was served a little plate of fritto misto, mainly itty bitty fried calamari and breaded sardoni barcolani (European anchovies). Next, I ordered the granzievola appetizer. Unlike the “alla Triestina” preparation that is mixed with bread crumbs and served warm (and which eventually made it into Flavors of Friuli), this was a simple crab salad in a dressing of lemon juice and olive oil. But I was thrilled to see the crab served in its shell! Could this be my solution? As the waiter began to clear my plate away, I hurriedly explained about my cookbook project and asked if I could take the crab shell home with me. Despite my rather unusual request, he responded with surprising graciousness and took the shell to the kitchen to be washed. Minutes later he returned with a foil-wrapped package containing the shell—I couldn’t have been happier!

For my main course, I had scampi alla busara, an Istrian dish of langoustines served in tomato sauce. I had eaten scampi once before in Trieste and was prepared for the messy ordeal of breaking open the shells to extract the delicate meat. Fortunately, Lido provided all the proper tools: a nutcracker and tiny fork, a huge lobster bib, and most importantly, a finger bowl of water and some packages of moist towelettes.

Illy espresso cupAfter lunch, I took the bus back to Trieste and was walking home to my apartment when an Illy espresso cup caught my eye in the display window of a bar. I had been looking for a cup to take home with me so that I could style a photo for Flavors of Friuli, but all the cups I had seen so far had been sold in expensive packages of four or more. This one was being sold individually for a reasonable 4.50 Euros. I felt thrilled to have scored, in one day, not only a granzievola shell but also my coveted Illy cup!

A little further along the waterfront, I came upon the Chiesa di San Nicolò dei Greci, the city’s Greek Orthodox church. Though plain on the outside, its sumptuous interior popped with gold gilt, a checkered marble floor, paintings that covered walls and ceiling, and silver chandeliers holding dozens of sparkling tapered candles.

Back home that evening, I prepared a dinner plate of leftover zucchini and string beans, a tomato, some fresh mozzarella, and a slice of bread spread with baccalà mantecato (puréed salt cod) and settled in to watch an episode of “Survivor” on my laptop.

scampi alla busaraHere is my recipe for scampi alla busara. Since langoustines can be tricky to find in the United States—most are imported from Scotland—you may substitute any type of fish or shellfish that you like.

1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons dry bread crumbs
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce, or 1-3/4 cups
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 pounds whole langoustines

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic; cook and stir until the onion begins to soften, about 8–10 minutes. Add the bread crumbs; cook and stir until golden brown, about 2–3 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, white wine, parsley, and black pepper. Place the langoustines in the pot; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until the langoustines turn pink, about 3–5 minutes. Season to taste with salt.

Read Full Post »

presnitzMy friends at Pasticceria Penso had invited me to watch them bake presnitz the next morning, so I headed over there around 8:30am. This was one of the days I had been looking forward to the most! When I arrived, Lorenzo Stoppar was preparing a giant batch of puff pastry. As he fed the dough through the massive dough rolling machine, he explained that each batch contained four kilos (8.8 pounds) of butter! This being my first and only experience behind the scenes in a bakery, I was continually fascinated by the huge scale of everything—especially the oven, which was the size of a walk-in closet.

As Lorenzo prepared the dough, his brother Antonello made the presnitz filling. While he worked, I jotted down ingredients (he later gave me their full recipe): walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pine nuts, raisins, candied orange peel, crushed biscotti, sugar, honey, cinnamon, lemon zest, rum, and Marsala. When the dough and filling were ready, I watched as Uncle Giovanni wrapped a large rectangle of dough around a log of filling and deftly rolled it into a long rope. After forming the rope into a spiral on the baking sheet, he let me brush it with egg wash. As the family stood around me, watching intently—no doubt holding their collective breath and praying that I wouldn’t ruin it—I got the impression that they were somewhat surprised that I actually did a good job!

Though I could have stayed another hour, I left just before noon, so that I would have time to find my destination restaurant for lunch. I took a bus up into the hills above Trieste to what some have professed to be the city’s best restaurant, Antica Trattoria Suban. In business since 1865, Suban specializes in the unique blend of Friulian and Slovenian cuisine that is typical in the Carso.

I started with the palacinke alla mandriera, a crêpe filled with pesto, drizzled with a little cream and broth, and baked with a topping of cheese. For my main course, I was hoping to try their stinco di vitello (braised veal shank), but it was not available at lunchtime. To my delight, the owner, Mario Suban, offered to make up a tasting plate with samples of four different dishes: gulasch (Hungarian beef stew) with polenta, pork loin with bell pepper sauce and a fried potato “chip,” sausage with patate in tecia (coarsely mashed potatoes), and baked ham.

After ordering, I spoke at length with Mario about my book project and San Francisco. He apparently was acquainted with the chef at the San Francisco restaurant Acquarello and asked me to say ciao to him if I were ever to visit. (As it happened, several years later, my husband’s boss gave us a gift certificate to Acquarello, and I made good on Mario’s request.)

When I first arrived, Suban was practically empty, but by the time I had finished my meal, the restaurant was packed with customers. After requesting the check, I waited for over half an hour, watching people who had arrived after me leave, before I was finally able to pay. I caught my bus back down to Trieste’s city center and spent the rest of the afternoon writing in my apartment.

Here is my version of presnitz, adapted from the recipe given to me by Pasticceria Penso.

1 cup dried currants
1/4 cup rum
1/4 cup Marsala wine
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup hazelnuts, skinned and toasted*
1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds
3/4 cup finely crushed biscotti or amaretti cookies
1/3 cup diced candied orange peel
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
1 egg

1. Place the currants in a large bowl; add the rum and Marsala wine and let soak for 30 minutes.

2. Finely grind the walnuts, toasted hazelnuts, and almonds in a food processor; add to the bowl of currants. Stir in the crushed biscotti, candied orange peel, melted butter, pine nuts, sugar, honey, cinnamon, lemon peel, and egg.

3. On a sheet of waxed paper, form the filling into a 12-inch log. Wrap securely in the waxed paper and refrigerate for 1 hour, or until ready to use.

* To skin and toast hazelnuts: Preheat oven to 350°F. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup water to a boil over high heat. Add the hazelnuts and 1 tablespoon baking soda; cook for 5 minutes. Remove the hazelnuts and place in a colander under cold running water; rub off and discard the skins. Transfer the skinned hazelnuts to a baking dish; toast until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Cool completely.

Puff pastry dough:
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided and softened
1/4 cup cold water

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Cut 2 tablespoons butter into cubes; blend into the flour mixture. Add 1/4 cup cold water; mix until crumbly. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead briefly. Flatten the dough to a 1/2-inch-thick disk. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. Unwrap the dough and place on a lightly floured surface; roll to a 7-inch square. Roll the corners of the square away from the center to form four flaps, leaving a 3-inch square in the center at the original thickness. Beat the remaining 6 tablespoons butter with a rolling pin to form a 3-inch square; place in the center of the dough. Fold the flaps over to enclose the butter; turn the dough folded-side down. Roll to a 6- by 9-inch rectangle; fold in thirds (like a letter). Rotate the dough 90°. Roll again to a 6- by 9-inch rectangle; fold in thirds again. (This completes two “turns.”) Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3. Repeat rolling and folding the dough for two more turns. Wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Repeat rolling and folding the dough for two final turns. (This completes a total of six turns.) Wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using.

To prepare:
1 egg, beaten to blend

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry dough to a 10- by 13-inch rectangle. Unwrap the filling and place along the center of the dough. Wrap the dough around the filling, tightly sealing all seams. Gently roll and stretch the dough into a rope 2-1/2 feet long. Coil into a loose spiral and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

2. Brush the surface of the dough with beaten egg. Bake until golden brown, about 25–30 minutes.

Read Full Post »

My five-week trip was not even halfway over, yet evenings in my Trieste apartment had already been getting rather lonely. My then fiancé (now husband) had promised to send me a DVD containing episodes of various programs that I was missing back home, so that I could have something to watch besides Italian television. Every day since my arrival in Trieste, I had inquired at Residence Liberty’s reception desk, only to be told that I had no mail. On this particular morning, as I was turning the corner from the grand staircase into the lobby, the signore at the desk called to me that I had a package waiting. Finally! I slipped the envelope into my backpack and left to do my morning errands, feeling a surge of emotion in that momentary connection with home.

San SpiridioneMy first errand took me to the post office to mail home two large packets of travel brochures that I had collected in Vienna and Budapest. Next, I swung by the Serbian Orthodox church San Spiridione. Located just off the Canal Grande, its massive blue domes are visible from afar as one of the city’s most easily recognizable landmarks. With my busy schedule, the church’s opening hours did not always coincide with my windows of free time, and this was the first opportunity I had found on this trip to pay it a visit.

Even though mass was being held, I was able to tiptoe inside and gaze for a few minutes at the sumptuous interior. The central dome was reminiscent of the Byzantine style, with its “blue sky and gold stars” design. Light from a row of windows encircling the dome, as well as from the multitude of tapers, illuminated the arched ceiling covered in gold mosaics and reflected off icons of gold and silver, causing the entire room to glisten.

Several days earlier, I had stumbled upon a tantalizing shop that was part gastronomia and part gourmet grocery. Upon seeing their parsuto in crosta, a traditional Triestine dish where a leg of prosciutto is wrapped in a layer of dough and baked to form a crust, I had wanted to take some pictures but had regrettably left my camera back at the apartment. Today I was prepared, but unfortunately, the leg on display had been carved all the way down to the bone. I considered waiting for the one currently baking in the oven to be ready but decided instead to try again another day.

I finished up my morning of errands with some grocery shopping, buying apples and tomatoes at the produce market, cheese at the salumeria, and bread at the tiny supermercato.

After dropping off my groceries, I headed right back out for lunch. This time, I sought out one of the restaurants recommended by my friends at Pasticceria Penso: Trattoria Da Dino, located all the way at the southern end of Trieste’s waterfront. There was no menu, so I had to decide quickly while the waiter rattled off the list of choices.

I started with an antipasto plate of mixed seafood. All cold items, it included sarde in saor (marinated sardines), some tiny shrimp, an octopus salad, and a single canoccia (mantis shrimp). It did not disappoint—the octopus was incredibly tender, and the shrimp had a surprising amount of flavor for something so simple. For my main course, I ordered the baccalà con polenta. Salt cod stew had become one of my favorite regional dishes, but this one turned out to be pretty tasteless. I didn’t mind so much that it contained only one chunk of potato, but the lackluster, beige sauce was in desperate need of some seasoning.

I had lazily gotten out of the habit of double-checking the bill in restaurants, but for some reason, it occurred to me today to do so. It was a good thing, since they had overcharged me 1 Euro. Not a huge mistake, but nevertheless a good opportunity for me to practice my assertiveness!

fave dei mortiI had a little time to rest after lunch, before heading over to Pasticceria Penso at our agreed upon time of 4:00pm. This was the day the bakery was making fave dei morti for the upcoming Festa di Ognissanti (All Saints’ Day). When I arrived, brothers Antonello and Lorenzo were both there, along with their father, Italo, and uncle, Giovanni.

Translated literally as “beans of the dead,” these tiny almond cookies may be found throughout Italy during the months of October and November. While it was intuitive that the brown cookies were chocolate, I was intrigued to learn that the pink ones were flavored with rose water and the white ones with Maraschino liqueur. After being rolled into skinny ropes, the dough was cut into rounds, which were then passed through a giant, specially constructed sieve to weed out any that were malformed.

I stayed for a couple of hours, watching from my usual spot over by the industrial sized dough roller. I could have hung around until closing time, but I started to get hungry and decided to return home for dinner. After all, I was going to be coming back first thing the next morning to watch them make presnitz, a puff pastry spiral filled with dried fruit, nuts, and spices.

Back in my apartment, I finally got around to cooking the vegetables I had bought the day before. I prepared two sautés: string beans with garlic, and zucchini with onion and garlic. I also finished off the leftover smashed potatoes, along with some baccalà mantecato (salt cod purée) and a tomato. The highlight of my meal, however, sprung from a spontaneous burst of inspiration while slicing the zucchini. The squash had fortuitously come with the blossoms still attached, so I cut those off and tucked a piece of fresh mozzarella inside each one. After sautéing the veggies, I then used the residual garlicky oil to fry the zucchini blossoms. This was my one moment of culinary virtuosity on the entire trip!

I ended my evening curled up in one of the blue floral armchairs, contentedly watching an episode of “Amazing Race” on my laptop.

Here is my recipe for fave dei morti, adapted from the one given to me by Pasticceria Penso:

fave dei morti1 pound (about 4 cups) blanched slivered almonds
2-1/2 cups sugar, divided, plus extra as needed
1 egg
1 tablespoon rum
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon Maraschino liqueur
1 teaspoon rose water
Pinch powdered red food color

1. Finely grind the almonds in a food processor. Transfer to a large bowl, along with 2-1/4 cups sugar and the egg; mix until the dough forms a solid mass.

2. Divide the dough equally among three medium bowls. Mix the rum and cocoa powder into the first batch of dough, the Maraschino liqueur into the second, and the rose water and a pinch of red food color into the third.

3. Preheat oven to 300°F. Spread the remaining 1/4 cup sugar on a plate. Roll half-teaspoonfuls of dough into small balls; roll in sugar to coat, adding extra sugar to the plate as needed. Place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake until the cookies are dry and crisp but not yet brown on the bottom, about 12 minutes.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: