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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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For my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Gnocchi di Pane (Bread Gnocchi). These gnocchi are quite similar to Austria’s knödel, demonstrating the influence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on Triestine cuisine. Visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com for the recipe.

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Despite the unseasonably warm weather, the radiator in my apartment had remained on all night long. The blankets that I had, in my feverish state, piled on myself the afternoon before were now tossed in a pile at the foot of my bed. Even so, I slept soundly—except for a disturbing dream about missing my alarm. When my alarm woke me reliably at 6:30am, I was relieved to find my cold to be much better, with no lingering trace of food poisoning. I did have a bit of a sinus headache, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from taking one final day trip from Trieste.

During nearly every one of my trips to Friuli, a day trip to Venezia was requisite. Even though it’s one of the most touristy cities in Italy, I can’t help ranking it my favorite place in the world. Admittedly, there’s much to dislike about Venezia. Well, actually just one thing: the incessant masses of people that descend upon the city, particularly during Carnevale, Christmas, and summertime. These noisy, unrelenting crowds have made many of my visits less than enjoyable, and sometimes downright miserable. On this particular October day, I would happily be avoiding the high seasons that I had landed amidst in years prior.

It was another muggy day, quite foggy when I set out first thing in the morning. On my way to Trieste’s train station, it even began to sprinkle a little. Fortunately, the sky had cleared by the time I arrived at Venezia Santa Lucia station around 11:00am. Unlike my other recent day trips, I had no agenda at all, other than to wander aimlessly and to eat plenty of cicchetti.

Following the well-worn path through the Cannaregio and across the Rialto Bridge, I ended up at Cantina Do Mori. Established in 1462, it is officially the oldest bacaro in Venezia. There, I had a glass of prosecco with a plate of assorted cicchetti: velvety grilled eggplant, crispy fried zucchini, a savory polpetta (meatball), crostini topped with creamy baccalà mantecato (puréed salt cod), and a succulent crab claw.

From there, I wandered through the fish market, stopping frequently to admire all the beautiful seafood. On my last trip, having followed a similar route, I remember wishing that I had had an apartment, so that I could take some mussels or baby octopus home to cook. This time, I did have an apartment in Trieste, but I was dissuaded by the mere fact that any fish I bought would remain unrefrigerated for the entire afternoon, including the two-hour train ride back. (Five years later, that dream of being able to shop in the fish market would finally come to fruition, when my family rented an apartment in Venezia for the Christmas holidays!)

I crossed back over the Rialto Bridge and wound my way through San Marco. Across the Accademia Bridge, I headed straight for my favorite bacaro, Cantinone Già Schiavi. There, I had another glass of prosecco with another plate of assorted cicchetti. Già Schiavi specializes in crostini (or sometimes referred to there as crostoni), those little slices of bread with various toppings. I chose toppings of baccalà mantecato, sarde in saor (marinated sardines), and salsa tartara di tonno e cacao amaro (tuna salad sprinkled with cocoa powder).

Instead of venturing back into the fray of the more lively neighborhoods, I spent some time strolling through the relatively tranquil alleys of the Dorsoduro. When I tired of walking, I found a bench on the Zattere, the promenade that runs along the southern shore of the Dorsoduro. I sat there awhile, gazing across the water toward the island of Giudecca. In contrast to the tight, confined alleys, out here in the wide-open space, I could relish the cool breezes drifting off the lagoon.

After my brief respite, I headed back across the Accademia Bridge, where I came upon a man playing the saxophone for tips. The melody was hauntingly beautiful and literally brought a few tears to my eyes. I dropped a €2 coin into his hat and continued on to Chiesa di San Vidal, where my mom and I had attended a performance by the string ensemble Interpreti Veneziani the previous winter.

Having seen the group on several previous trips, my mom had a growing collection of their CDs. On our trip together, I had stopped in to buy her a couple of CDs for Christmas, but not remembering which albums she already owned, I asked the attendant which ones were the newest. With cheerful courtesy, she pointed out their two most recent releases, which I bought. This time, still not recalling which ones my mom owned, I repeated my question. I recognized the attendant to be the same woman as before, but now she looked at me as if I had just asked the most idiotic question on Earth. Even though I spoke Italian, she responded tersely in English, “None of them are new! They are classical music, not rock!” Sigh. So I just picked one at random to purchase—happily, it turned out to have been a good choice.

It was mid-afternoon by now, so I began making my way back to the train station, aiming to arrive in time to catch the 4:10pm train. Inevitably, though not at all regrettably, I got myself turned around in circles. As long as there was no great urgency, I always rather enjoyed the experience of getting lost in Venezia.

I made it to the station just before 4:00pm to find that an earlier train was running late, and I had just enough time to catch that one. My headache had never completely gone away all day, so I was glad for the chance to sit and stare out the window for the duration of the ride back to Trieste.

I arrived back in my apartment by 6:30pm, in time to fix a bite to eat. As my days in Trieste were drawing to a close, I hadn’t bothered to stock up on many groceries. I was out of bread and had no more fresh fruits or vegetables. I made myself a scrambled egg, accompanied by a hunk of cheese and some leftover sautéed eggplant.

Most evenings I had been eating an apple after dinner, but since I had no more fresh fruit, I decided to finally open the single can of pineapple I had bought on my first trip to the mini supermercato nearly three weeks earlier. My cans of tuna had had pull-tops, so this was my first time using the apartment’s can opener. With growing frustration, I found that the gears wouldn’t turn and the blade wouldn’t even clamp down onto the can. Turning the piece-of-shit can opener sideways, I managed to clamp it down tightly enough to puncture the side of the can. Repeating this, I slowly poked holes all the way around, until I was able to remove the lid.

But after all that effort, I found the pineapple to be cloyingly sweet, with the unpleasant texture of rubber. I just couldn’t force myself to eat it. So I pitched it and instead dug into the putizza I had bought at Pasticceria Bomboniera a few days earlier. With chunks of dark chocolate and rum-soaked raisins spiraling through the tender dough, it was a much better choice for dessert!

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For my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Pane di Zucca (Butternut Squash Bread), in honor of Venzone’s Festa della Zucca. This bread is one of numerous baked goods featured at the festival, celebrated in the medieval-walled town every October. Visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com for the recipe.

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Having woken up with a stuffy nose and headache—my second cold of the trip—I spent the entire morning in my apartment at Residence Liberty, organizing maps and schedules for my return trip to Vienna the next week. When it was getting towards lunchtime, I walked to the train station and caught the #20 bus to Muggia. I was looking forward to having a good meal at Taverna Cigui, located on the outskirts of Muggia and known for its local Triestine and Istrian cuisine.

Making a guess as to which would be the closest stop, I got off the bus and hiked uphill for 30 minutes to the hamlet of Santa Barbara. I found the farmhouse at the end of a country road, surrounded by vineyards and olive trees. The front door was locked and all seemed to be deserted, except for a loud noise emanating from around the side of the house. I followed the sound to find a woman vacuuming a rug on the porch. Her back was to me, and she obviously couldn’t hear me over the machine, so I waited patiently for her to finish. Finally she turned around, startled to notice me standing there. To my dismay, I learned that the restaurant was closed while the owners were in Austria and wouldn’t reopen until later that week.

Drenched with sweat, partly from the unusually hot, muggy weather and possibly also from a slight fever, I made my way back downhill to the nearest bus stop to return to Trieste. Given my past difficulties trying to find a restaurant that didn’t close on Mondays, I headed immediately to one that I knew would be open, a place I had been to once before: Ristorante Al Granzo.

When I was there the previous year, I had gotten sick after eating their granzievola alla Triestina. But since this was a dish I planned to include in my cookbook Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy, I wanted to sample it one more time before recreating it at home. Still, it was with some apprehension that I took a seat at my table.

To start, I was served a complimentary antipasto: a mini panna cotta topped with one tiny shrimp and a balsamic reduction. The granzievola alla Triestina was just as I remembered: warm crabmeat mixed with garlic, parsley, and bread crumbs, served in the shell of a spiny spider crab. Next, I had the zuppa di pesce, which I noted in my journal was the worst I had ever eaten. The soup contained two mussels, a couple of razor clams, one extremely tough calamaro (squid) stuffed with crabmeat, a bunch of tiny whole shrimp, and some pieces of fish that had an unpleasantly bitter taste.

Not surprisingly, my stomach was sick again after eating at Al Granzo. Whether due to food poisoning or the cold I was fighting, I was feeling quite chilled by the time I got back to my apartment. I spent the rest of the day curled up in bed under all the blankets I could find. I never did get to eat at Taverna Cigui.

Here is my recipe for granzievola alla Triestina:

1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 pound lump crabmeat
1 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the bread crumbs and parsley; cook and stir until the bread crumbs begin to turn golden brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the crabmeat, water, and lemon juice; cook until the crabmeat is warm, about 4–5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt.

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torta di meleFor my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Torta di Mele (Apple Cake), in honor of the Festa della Mela, celebrated in the town of Tolmezzo every September. Visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com for the recipe.

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