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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.

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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.

presnitzFilling:
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.

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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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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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fave dei mortiFor my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Fave dei Morti (Almond Cookies). While other countries around the world are gearing up for Halloween or Dia de los Muertos, Italians are preparing to celebrate La Festa di Ognissanti (All Saints’ Day). While variations of these cookies—which translate literally as “beans of the dead”—are found in regions throughout Italy, they are especially popular in Trieste, where bakeries prepare them during the months of October and November. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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apple strudelFor 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. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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