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For my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Torta Sacher (Chocolate Cake with Apricot Glaze and Ganache). While this rich, decadent cake may be found throughout much of northeastern Italy, it is considered a local dessert in Trieste due to the city’s Austrian heritage. My version is based on Pasticceria Penso’s recipe, which adds ground hazelnuts to the cake batter and Maraschino liqueur to the glaze. Visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com for the recipe.

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With no more day trips planned, I allowed myself the luxury of sleeping in until 8:00am. While brushing my teeth that morning, I was startled by a loud ringing—presumably the doorbell. I had also heard the buzzer the night before while taking a shower, which struck me as odd since I knew no one in Trieste except my friends at Pasticceria Penso and I was certainly not expecting any visitors. Just outside my bathroom door, the security system’s video screen showed Antonello Stoppar waiting downstairs outside the apartment building. I studied the keypad, which consisted of a bunch of blank buttons with no instructions. Before I could figure out how to buzz him in or use the intercom to speak to him, the screen went black.

Within minutes, my phone rang. Antonello had been let inside and was calling me from the reception desk. He explained that he had come by the previous morning and left a note (which I never got) as well as the night before, to let me know that they would be baking putizza today, a day earlier than anticipated. Antonello knew that I had been looking forward to watching them prepare this local specialty, and I had been deeply disappointed when the event was postponed the previous week.

Around an hour later, I crossed the street from my apartment to Pasticceria Penso. The dough had already been prepared and portioned out into large, pillowy balls. Antonello was nearly finished making the filling, a sticky mixture of walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, candied orange peel, raisins soaked in rum and Marsala wine, melted chocolate, crumbled sponge cake, sugar, honey, lemon and orange zest, cinnamon, and vanilla.

I hung around until noon, watching the Stoppar family work their magic. First, the dough was rolled into large ovals and the filling spread on, leaving a small border around the edge. They let me roll one up, jellyroll-style, and then spiral it like a snail shell into a round cake. Just like the day they had allowed me to brush egg wash on a presnitz, everyone seemed somewhat surprised at my competency in the kitchen! I would have loved the chance to continue helping, but since they didn’t ask me to assist further, I contented myself to return to my perch in the corner.

When I was ready to leave for lunch, Antonello zipped to the front of the shop and wrapped up a little packet containing two of my favorite pastries, sachertorte and dobostorte. He also gave me the address of a restaurant he liked, suggesting that I try it for lunch.

Trattoria Da Mario was supposed to be at the southern end of Trieste’s waterfront, but even after scouring the street three times, I was unable to find it. So I backtracked to a restaurant I had passed called Osteria Istriano, one that had caught my eye the week before, with its waterfront location and seafood-heavy menu.

As was the case so often on this trip, I was the only diner there, yet the laid-back atmosphere made me feel instantly at ease. There were no stuffy waiters in tuxedos or fancy linen tablecloths or fine china engraved with the restaurant’s name. Instead, rustic wooden tables were laid with straw placemats, and the lone server was dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt.

There was no written menu, so after listening to the day’s offerings, I ordered as an antipasto the carpaccio di branzino: paper-thin slices of raw sea bass served over a bed of arugula, with pink peppercorns, cherry tomatoes, and a light lemon and olive oil dressing. During one of our conversations at the bakery, I had asked Antonello if there was any sushi in Trieste. He replied that carpaccio di branzino was the closest thing to sushi here and that the dish had become quite trendy. (Now, over ten years later, Trieste is home to quite a few sushi restaurants!)

For my main course, I had the grigliata mista di pesce, a plate of grilled seafood that consisted of baby calamari, a couple of larger calamari, and some sardoni barcolani (not sardines, as I once thought, but the tinier species of European anchovy). All the calamari were exceedingly tender, the babies being particularly infused with the deep, charred flavors of the grill. By comparison, the sardoni were a tad bland, not to mention filled with bones, but they were still thoroughly satisfying. I also ordered the only side dish available, strips of sautéed zucchini. And I mustn’t forget to mention the savory onion-topped focaccia in the bread basket, a happy departure from the usual slices of plain white baguette.

All in all, it was an extremely tasty lunch, definitely one of my better choices. Unlike many regional meals that tended to be heavy on meat, cheese, beans, and potatoes, the seafood here was light yet flavor-packed, perhaps more a reflection of modern Triestine cuisine than that of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.

When I was done, my check came to €21,30. I pulled out a €20 note and was in the process of digging through my coin purse for the remaining €1,30, when the waiter simply took the €20, saying that that was enough. I remember thinking it was awfully kind of him, though perhaps he was just in a hurry to tend to some other customers who had just arrived.

After lunch, I spent a relaxing afternoon in my apartment, writing a piece on Pasticceria Penso for my book Flavors of Friuli. Once I got into the groove, I worked for two hours straight, without even once checking the clock. Then I spent another hour transcribing notes for some other sections of my book. I was so glad to have brought my laptop along!

I still had yet to go to the market, so dinner was another meager one: a scrambled egg and the last of my cheese. At least I had the dobos and sacher cakes for dessert!

Although Antonello did give me Penso’s recipe for putizza, I eventually chose to recreate the one from Pasticceria Bomboniera. Both are scrumptious, but I especially love the chunks of dark chocolate in Bomboniera’s. Here is my recipe:

Filling:
1 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup rum
1-1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
3 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup finely crushed biscotti or amaretti cookies
3 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 egg whites

Place the raisins in a large bowl; add the rum and let soak for 30 minutes. Finely grind the walnuts in a food processor; add to the bowl of raisins. Stir in the chocolate, sugar, crushed biscotti, honey, lemon peel, cinnamon, and egg whites.

Dough:
1-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/3 cup warm whole milk (100° to 110°F)
1-1/3 cups cake or pastry flour, divided
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon rum
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and a pinch of sugar in the warm milk. Let rest until foamy, about 10 minutes. Whisk in 1/3 cup flour. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Stir in 1/2 cup flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, and the egg yolks. Cover and let rise for 1 hour.

Stir in the remaining flour and sugar, melted butter, rum, vanilla extract, salt, and lemon peel. Using a mixer with a dough hook attachment, knead for 10 minutes. (It may be necessary to occasionally scrape the ball of dough off the hook.) Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface; knead briefly by hand. (The dough should be smooth, elastic, and very soft.) Form the dough into a ball; cover loosely with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise for 1 hour.

To prepare:
1 egg, beaten to blend

Preheat oven to 350°F, placing a pan filled with water on the bottom rack to create steam. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to an 11- by 17-inch oval. Spread the filling over the dough, leaving a 1-1/2-inch border on all sides. Starting with one long side of the oval, roll up jelly roll style. Form the roll into a spiral, seam-side down; transfer to a greased 8-inch round cake pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise for 30 minutes. Brush the top of the spiral with beaten egg. Bake until golden brown, about 45 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before removing from the pan.

First three photos courtesy of Pasticceria Penso.

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Torta DobosFor my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Torta Dobos (Layer Cake with Chocolate Buttercream and Caramel), one of many desserts made popular in Trieste during the reign of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was created by Hungarian pastry chef József Dobos for Budapest’s National General Exhibition in 1885. This recipe was adapted from the one at Pasticceria Penso. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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putizzaFor my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Putizza (Dried Fruit, Chocolate and Nut Spiral Cake), a Triestine dessert traditionally served during the holidays. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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torta RigojanciArriving in Budapest the previous afternoon turned out to be somewhat more of a culture shock than Vienna had been. After many years of traveling throughout Italy, I had begun to take for granted the fact that I spoke the language. Even though I didn’t speak German, I had learned a few key phrases to help me get by in Austria—plus I was so familiar with the exchange rate that I could convert euros to dollars in my sleep. Hungarian, however, proved to be a decidedly more challenging language—I had bought a phrasebook but only managed to learn a couple of words—and the national currency took me back to my pre-euro visits to Europe. Fortunately, I found the people in Hungary to be incredibly friendly, and if they didn’t speak any English themselves, they could often round up a young person who did.

On my first morning, I was delighted by the selection at Hotel Art’s breakfast buffet. Along with the yogurt and muesli that I had become accustomed to, there were scrambled eggs, an assortment of salami and sausages, cheese, bread, and a platter of tomato and cucumber slices. After I had my fill, I set out to find the Keleti train station, so that I could buy my ticket for Trieste, where I would be heading two days later.

The closest Metro station was two blocks from my hotel, but once underground I found the ticket options to be rather perplexing. The choices included tickets with unlimited stops, three or fewer stops, a transfer with unlimited stops, and a transfer with five or fewer stops. I knew I needed to transfer from the blue to the red line, and so counted out on the map how many stops that would make, but then I couldn’t find any place to purchase tickets. I asked at a nearby newsstand, and though the girl working there didn’t speak English, she got her friend to assist me. This young man, who had been hanging around outside her store smoking a cigarette, steered me to a ticket window—small and rather hidden off to the side—and conveyed to the clerk exactly what I needed.

Once at Keleti, I succeeded in purchasing my train ticket, although I was surprised to learn that seat reservations were not given here. From the station, I retraced my course via Metro and then set off on foot toward Buda, the section of Budapest on the western side of the Danube River.

At the river, I crossed the Chain Bridge and climbed the steep steps to the Royal Palace (a.k.a. Buda Castle). I had hoped to visit Mátyás Church, but they had just begun mass and weren’t letting in tourists until later in the afternoon. On my way to the castle, I passed Ruszwurm Cukrászda, one of the city’s oldest bakeries. There, I bought a slice of Rigó Jancsi, snagged a spoon from the gelato counter, and took my treat to a bench outside. The squares of chocolate sponge cake were thinner than I expected and rather stale. The chocolate cream filling, on the other hand, was piled about two inches thick, and the top layer of cake was glazed with a sinfully rich chocolate ganache. While I had read that this dessert was popular in Trieste—and I was therefore hoping to include it in my book Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy—this was the first time I had ever tasted it.

As I was polishing off the last crumbs of my decadent treat, I felt the mist of a light drizzle beginning. Nevertheless, I continued my exploration, strolling around the outside of the castle to the Fisherman’s Bastion, a viewing terrace built in the late 19th century, complete with towers and turrets straight out of a fairytale.

As it was nearing lunchtime, I descended the steps and headed to Horgásztanya Vendéglő, professed by some to be Budapest’s best fish restaurant. I ordered the fish stew with carp, which was served in a mini cauldron hanging from a hook on a small cast iron stand. The dish came with a fiery paprika sauce on the side, so that I could make my meal as spicy as I liked.

After lunch, I decided to make the climb up Castle Hill once again, in hopes that Mátyás Church would be open. It was—and well worth the effort, for the interior was as gorgeous as the church’s brilliantly tiled roof. The walls were painted floor to ceiling in colorful, though somewhat muted, patterns: stripes, swirls, dots, flourishes, leaves, and flowers, the intricate designs lending an exotic Byzantine character to the Gothic arches and stained-glass windows.

From there, I made the descent a second time, but instead of returning to the eastern Pest side of the river, I walked south, past the Chain Bridge and Elisabeth Bridge, all the way to Szabadság Bridge. I spotted Hotel Gellért, famous for its spa and thermal baths, but was more interested in seeking out the Cave Church, a tiny chapel built inside a grotto underneath Gellért Hill. The walls were made of nothing but bare, natural rock, its niches filled with Catholic statues and altars.

Budapest's Pilates Balance StudioBy this time, fatigue was beginning to set in, so I returned to my hotel to rest for an hour. I wanted to feel refreshed for my late-afternoon appointment with Zsuzsanna Bokor, owner of Hungary’s first Pilates studio. As a Pilates instructor myself (and author of Balance on the Ball: Exercises Inspired by the Teachings of Joseph Pilates), I had recently written for the new Pilates Style magazine. I was now planning on submitting two articles for their “International” section: one on the Pilates studio in Milano, which I had visited in July, and another on this studio in Budapest.*

Budapest's Pilates Balance StudioMy plan was to walk all the way to Oktogon Square, where Zsuzsanna had arranged to meet me outside a Burger King. It was quite a distance to cover by foot, but I left my hotel extra early and even found time to stop and peek inside the magnificent Hungarian State Opera House on the way. When I arrived at Oktogon, it appeared that Burger King was a popular meeting spot for all sorts of people converging in this busy octagonal crossroads. Girls, boys, women, men—some alone, others in groups—all loitered casually in front of the American fast food icon, only to vanish once their companions arrived.

Budapest's Pilates Balance StudioI had seen Zsuzsanna’s picture on her website, so I knew who to be on the lookout for: an attractive brunette in her early 30s. I was startled, then, to be approached by a man, tentatively addressing me by name. It turned out to be Zsuzsanna’s husband, Gabor, whom she had sent to fetch me. We went directly to the Pilates Balance Studio, where Zsuzsanna and two of her instructors, Krisztián Mélykúti and Czech-born Vladka Mala, were waiting. Like me, they all had a background in dance—except Gabor, who was an orthopedic surgeon. Zsuzsanna and Krisztián were professional ballet dancers, and Vladka was a contemporary dancer. They all spoke English, and the interview flowed seamlessly. Even my camera, which had begun to malfunction in Vienna, managed to remain on long enough for me to snap a few photos of the instructors demonstrating Pilates moves.

After the interview, Zsuzsanna and Gabor invited me to dinner. I followed them to a nearby restaurant called Karma. The daylong showers had stopped by now, so we sat at one of the outdoor tables, a relief for me after having put up with far too many smoky dining rooms in the past few days. The menu was an ecclectic mix of international cuisines: Hungarian, Italian, Asian, Mexican, and Indian. I wasn’t terribly hungry, so I ordered a plate of grilled mozzarella and vegetables. Zsuzsanna had a quesadilla, and Gabor had tandoori chicken. To drink, they ordered sparkling lemonade for us all, though by the time the sun went down, the icy beverage had me shivering with cold.

We lingered at the restaurant until after 8:30pm, talking about our lives, our hopes and dreams. It was especially interesting to hear their take on the fall of Communism and how things in Hungary had changed over the past fifteen years. Having lived in Ohio for several years—Zsuzsanna once danced for the Cincinnati Ballet—their English was flawless. I felt overjoyed to have made friends who were not only close in age but also shared a similar background and values. Although we have since lost touch, I will never forget our friendship that chilly October evening.

* Shortly after I sent in my articles, Pilates Style hired a new editor. In fact, their entire editorial staff seemed to have turned over in a very short period of time. Although I submitted my pieces several times during the following year, they were never published.

torta RigojanciHere is my version of Rigó Jancsi (torta Rigojanci in Italian). The cake was named after the Hungarian gypsy violinist Jancsi Rigó, whose passionate affair with a beautiful American millionairess caused a worldwide scandal in the late 19th century. For picture-perfect slices, trim the cake edges before assembling.

Cake:
6 eggs, separated
1-1/4 cups sugar
2/3 cup cake or pastry flour, sifted
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder, sifted
Pinch salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar 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 and cocoa powder.

2. 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. Pour the batter into a greased and floured 11- by 17-inch jelly-roll pan. Bake until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool completely before removing from the pan. Slice the cake into two 8-1/2- by 11-inch sheets.

Chocolate Ganache:
6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

Melt the chocolate with the cream in a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Pour the ganache over one sheet of cake. Refrigerate until the ganache has set; slice into twelve squares.

Cream Filling:
8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
3 cups heavy whipping cream, chilled

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, stirring until smooth; remove from heat. Pour the cream into a large bowl. (For best results, chill the bowl in advance.) Beat until the cream forms stiff peaks. Stir about 1 cup whipped cream into the melted chocolate. Pour the chocolate mixture into the bowl of whipped cream; whisk vigorously until the chocolate is thoroughly incorporated. Spread the chocolate cream over the remaining sheet of cake. Place the twelve glazed squares on top of the cream layer. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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cjalsons di piedimFor my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Cjalsòns di Piedim (Pasta Filled with Chocolate and Nuts), one of my favorite Friulian specialties. Throughout the mountains of Carnia, each cook prepares his or her own unique version of cjalsòns (also spelled cjalcions and cjarzòns), merging herbs and spices and creating a distinct shape and form for the dough. This recipe, inspired by the cjalsòns from the village of Piedim, are decadent enough to serve as a special Valentine’s Day meal. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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Torta SacherFor my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Torta Sacher (Chocolate Cake with Apricot Glaze and Ganache). Known as Sachertorte in Austria, where it originated, this elegant cake has become ubiquitous throughout much of northern Italy and makes a festive addition to the holiday table. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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