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Posts Tagged ‘Forni Avoltri’

This piece was originally published in the June-July 2013 issue of Dream of Italy under the title “Simple Pleasures in Friuli’s Carnian Alps.”

Hidden in the mountains of northern Friuli–Venezia Giulia are the seven valleys, twenty-eight villages, and 121 hamlets of Carnia. In this remote area where Italy meets Austria, Alpine farmhouses dot the landscape, cows graze in verdant pastures, and time almost seems to stand still. Rugged peaks and long, treacherous roads have served to separate Carnia from the rest of Friuli, and it is precisely because of this isolation that the people have maintained many of their deep-rooted customs.

We begin our journey in Tolmezzo, the gateway to the Carnian Alps. Known for its long-standing textile industry, the town is home to the Museo Carnico delle Arti Popolari. This ethnographic museum contains a collection of all aspects of Carnian life and culture—from weaving to woodcraft, clothing to cookware, and metalwork to masks. Many of these ancient traditions are still practiced by the people today, particularly when it comes to the arts and crafts. In addition, most locals still speak Furlan, a nearly obsolete Romance language with German and Slavic influences.

Venturing north into the heart of Carnia, we pass Zuglio, the site of an ancient Roman settlement whose ruins may still be seen in the center of town. Just a mile up the road is Arta Terme, where a tributary of the Tagliamento River supplies healing waters to the Terme di Arta spa. While the Japanese-style pagoda that houses the thermal baths catches the eye as a rather conspicuous manifestation of the modern world, much of the surrounding landscape has not changed for centuries.

Throughout Carnia, fields and forests are filled with the echoes of birdsong, the fragrance of pine, and numerous wild edibles that have become a part of the local cuisine. In the hilltop hamlet of Piano d’Arta—located just above Arta Terme—Ristorante Salon has earned a reputation for its use of such ingredients. Its late owner, Bepi Salon, was an avid mycologist and was known to rise at the crack of dawn for his daily trek through the countryside. After returning with baskets of wild mushrooms, greens, and berries, his wife, Fides, would then transform these humble pickings into delectable meals for the restaurant.

Among the regular menu listings at Salon, one standout deserves special mention—the cjarsòns. A type of ravioli native to Carnia and having a multitude of possible fillings, cjarsòns (also spelled cjalsòns) often combine flavors of sweet, savory, and even smoky. Salon’s are filled with a complex blend of eighteen ingredients, including apple, pear, cinnamon, cocoa, and an assortment of fresh herbs. In traditional Carnian style, they are served in melted butter, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, and garnished with smoked ricotta cheese.

Thanks to the ancient spice merchants called cramârs, exotic flavors such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, chocolate, paprika, caraway, and poppy seeds have made their way into the cuisine of Friuli. Many of these traveling peddlers lived in Carnia but spent the winter months trading spices, medicinal herbs, fabrics, and other goods throughout central Europe. The unsold spices that they brought home in the spring were then utilized in the family’s cooking.

Throughout history, the Carnian people were poor and often plagued by famine, especially during the region’s long, brutal winters. As in the rest of Friuli–Venezia Giulia, the foods of poverty—polenta, beans, and potatoes—are dietary staples, with pork being the predominant meat. Carnia’s cuisine has also been strongly influenced by its former ties to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as is evident in the numerous varieties of dumplings and strudels.

The restaurant at Hotel La Perla in Ravascletto is one of many to specialize in traditional Carnian fare. Toç in braide (polenta with ricotta sauce) and blècs (buckwheat pasta triangles) are two examples of dishes that have been around for centuries. Drawing inspiration from Austrian cuisine, La Perla also prepares gnocchi stuffed with apples and raisins, as well as a scrumptious apple strudel. Their local version of cjarsòns is a sweet one, filled with chocolate, ricotta, and raisins.

The town of Ravascletto, located in the center of Carnia, is best known as a wintertime ski resort but also makes a fine base for summertime hiking. Perched high in the hills, Albergo Ristorante Bellavista certainly lives up to its name—the hotel’s comfortable rooms offer a stunning panoramic vista of the Valcalda valley and the towering Monte Zoncolan.

Every June, throughout the rural hills of Carnia, cows are herded from dairy farms in the valleys to mountain huts called malghe. All summer long, these cows may graze in tranquil Alpine pastures, providing milk twice a day for the production of formaggio di malga (the name for any cheese made in a malga). Near the top of Monte Zoncolan is Malga Pozôf, one of the many malghe to also serve as an agriturismo. Visitors gather at communal wooden tables to sample not only the Gortani family’s homemade cheeses, but also dishes such as herb gnocchi and mushroom orzotto (barley prepared risotto-style).

In addition to making formaggio di malga, malghe are also established producers of ricotta affumicata. This cheese is made by leaving balls of fresh ricotta above a fogolâr (fireplace) to smoke until the texture becomes firm and the exterior turns a smoky brownish orange. Easily grated, it is used to top everything from cjarsòns to gnocchi and could easily be considered Friuli’s most distinctive cheese.

On the other side of Monte Zoncolan, the town of Ovaro hosts a summer festival called Mondo delle Malghe, where malgari (herdsmen) demonstrate cheese production and take visitors on excursions to nearby malghe. Of course, there is much cheese-tasting to be done: formaggio di malga, fresh and smoked ricotta, formaggio salato (salted cheese), formaggio alle erbe (herbed cheese), and formadi frant (a golden hued cheese made from mixing cheeses of varying stages of maturation). In addition, vendors offer tastes of such dishes as butternut squash gnocchi and Hungarian-style goulasch.

To the north near the Austrian border, the town of Forni Avoltri is home to another food festival, the Festa dei Frutti di Bosco. Countless craft booths sell everything from jewelry to woodworking to dried flowers, while food stands serve up treats such as crêpes, biscotti, and frittelle (fritters). Most enticing, though, is the festival’s elaborate spread of berry-themed desserts. There are cakes and pies of all shapes and sizes, from jellyrolls to fruit-studded tarts, each one featuring wild berries from the local forests. To cap off the festival, a parade takes visitors on a journey back to medieval times. Dressed in velvet gowns and brocade tunics, townspeople march through the streets accompanied by a band of drummers and minstrels.

At the westernmost point of Carnia, where Friuli meets the Veneto, Forni di Sopra presents a spectacular view of the Dolomites. Just outside town, the restaurant Polenta e Frico epitomizes the region’s cuisine with its eponymous dish: a decadent fried cheese and potato pancake served with a wedge of polenta and, in what many would consider overkill, smothered in another layer of melted cheese.

Of all the villages in Carnia, the road to Sauris is perhaps the most hair-raising, with dark tunnels boring through the mountainside, bridges suspended over a turquoise lake, and hairpin turns winding ever higher to the summit. More so than most, Sauris has retained a sense of otherworldly charm, its characteristic multi-story homes—white masonry below and wooden framework above—hinting at the region’s Austrian past. Throughout the town, chickens crowd backyard pens, while hay, deftly woven into the latticework, dries on the upper floors of rustic cottages. Potted flowers in a rainbow of hues draw attention to decorative balconies and railings, which are often embellished by intricate patterns and demonstrate the Carnian people’s time-honored skill at woodcraft.

Sauris actually consists of two towns: the upper Sauris di Sopra and lower Sauris di Sotto. The lower village is home to the Wolf Sauris prosciutto factory, which has been producing hams since 1862. Prior to salting and curing, the legs are smoked for several days using a combination of wood and herbs, which gives the ham its distinctive smoky flavor and aroma. Naturally, prosciutto di Sauris is showcased in all of the town’s restaurants, including Ristorante Alla Pace, whose signature dumpling, the gnocco croccante, is stuffed with prosciutto, sautéed in butter until crispy, and served on a bed of wilted greens. Every July, pastoral Sauris comes alive for the Festa del Prosciutto—two weekends of music, dancing, and food, all in celebration of Wolf’s prized ham.

During spring and summer, Sauris’s surrounding grassy meadows are strewn with wildflowers, and its steep, forested peaks invite hikers to explore the region’s endless mountain paths. Legend says that in these woods dwell some furtive and impish beings called sbilfs, who hide in tree trunks, shady thickets, and dense underbrush and play mischievous tricks on unsuspecting passers-by. An evolution of Celtic folklore, these fantastical creatures are said to be visible only to those humans who show a true appreciation for nature. Over time, sbilfs have become more than just an old wives’ tale; they have come to embody the spirit of the forest. As an integral part of Carnian culture, sbilfs may in fact be considered a symbol of Carnia itself.

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The final stop on my festival tour that July was Forni Avoltri, located in Carnia’s far north near the Austrian border. Celebrating the berries of the forest, this festival was the largest of all those I attended in Carnia. The village straddles the Degano River, and most of the festival events were to take place on the farthest side where traditional wooden homes scale the forested hills. On the day I arrived, workers were erecting carnival rides in an empty parking lot and setting up booths along the steep roads. I took a short hike up into the mountains, past a dribbling brook and miniature waterfall, to the Goccia di Carnia plant, where fresh spring water is bottled for sale.

Back in town, I passed a tiny, pink stucco church, the Chiesetta di Sant’Antonio. Across the street, an old woman tending her garden greeted me with a jovial “Mandi!” (Similar to the Italian word ciao, mandi is the Friulian greeting for both “hello” and “goodbye.”) As we chatted, I learned that there was to be a cookbook-signing event at the town hall that evening. I made a mental note to have an early dinner so that I could attend.

When I arrived for dinner at Ristorante Al Sole, it turned out Forni Avoltri’s mayor was dining there, too. Having an American visitor was apparently a novelty in this out-of-the-way village, and before long we were introduced. Learning of my interest in Friulian cuisine, the mayor formally invited me to the book-signing (for Cucina Della Carnia by Melie Artico), where I was presented as a special guest.

The next morning, I crossed the river to the festival. Carnival rides were in full swing, and rows of booths wound upward through the streets. By this time, I had started to recognize some of the same artisans selling their crafts at each festival, and I leisurely perused everything from jewelry to woodworking to dried flowers. As always, though, I was most enticed by the food vendors. In addition to samples of prosciutto and cheese, there were sausages, herb-filled tortelli, barley soup, and of course, frico. Once again, I couldn’t resist trying the cjalsòns. By this time, my standards had been set extremely high, and these were a bit heavy due to the potato-based, gnocchi-like dough.

Luckily, my lunch was redeemed by the elaborate spread of sweets. Countless stands were serving up cookies, crêpes, frittelle (fritters), and even gelato, but the biggest tent of all held a vast display of berry-themed desserts. There were cakes and pies of all shapes and sizes, from jellyrolls decorated with whipped cream to tarts studded with a kaleidoscope of fruit. Everything featured wild berries—strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, red currants, and even gooseberries. I chose for my treat a huge slice of crostata with a thick cookie crust, mixed berry jam, and fresh blueberries peeking through the lattice top.

Later that afternoon, I caught up with a parade of townspeople dressed in rich medieval costumes—velvet gowns and brocade tunics, complete with faux swords and shields. I followed the procession back across the river, accompanied by drummers and minstrels.

Before dinner that evening, I was reading quietly in my hotel room when I suddenly heard trumpets blaring outside my window. It was a marching band heading down the street toward town hall. Grabbing my room key, I dashed downstairs and into the piazza, where I joined the crowds to watch the Miss Carnia beauty pageant. A pom-pom-waving drill team kicked off the event, which then presented eight model-thin girls posing in bikinis and formal wear. The microphone was broken, so no one could hear the announcements, but I stayed to the end to see which waif would win the title.

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crostata alla marmellataFor my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Crostata alla Marmellata (Mixed Berry Jam Tart), in honor of the Festa dei Frutti dei Bosco in Forni Avoltri. The jam is freshly prepared with raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries (although store-bought jam may be substituted). The cookie-like crust is enriched with almonds and flavored with cinnamon, cloves, and a bit of lemon zest. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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berriesIt was the day of the Festa dei Frutti di Bosco in Forni Avoltri, and gauging by the number of tables set up, it looked to be the largest of the food festivals I had so far attended. The village straddled the Degano River, and most of the events were taking place on the farther side. Carnival rides had been erected in an empty parking lot, and rows of booths wound upward through the streets. By this time, I had started to recognize some of the same artisans at each festival—selling crafts such as jewelry, woodwork, paintings, dried flowers, and soap.

Forni Avoltri Though I was tempted by the vast array of food stands, I decided to wait and eat a little closer to lunchtime. So I took a short hike up into the mountains, past a dribbling brook and miniature waterfall, to the hamlet of Pierabach. The road was paved but climbed steadily uphill the entire way. I stopped after about an hour, when I had reached the Goccia di Carnia plant, where fresh spring water is bottled for sale.

Along the way, I had passed Osteria Al Fogolâr, one of the restaurants I had read about but hadn’t been able to find on my initial day of exploration. It was only 10:30am, however—still too early for lunch. Later, on my way back down to Forni Avoltri, I peeked in to see if there were any tables available, but by then the place was completely packed. No matter, I told myself, since I had planned on eating lunch at the festival anyhow.

In addition to handing out samples of prosciutto and cheese, vendors were selling sausages, herb-filled tortelli, barley soup, and of course, frico. But as always, I couldn’t resist trying the cjarsòns. I slid to the rear of the long line to wait, and to my surprise, standing in front of me were none other than Giacomo del Fabbro, president of the Centro Culturale and host of the previous evening’s cookbook event, and the mayor, whom I also recognized from the event. When they saw me, I got a major chiding from both of them for leaving the book-signing prematurely. I had assumed that the event was over when, at 10:00pm, everyone stood up and headed for the door. Apparently, that had only been the intermission. Later, there had been a food tasting, and I had missed it! I really kicked myself for that mistake, but it just shows how badly the fatigue of traveling was beginning to affect me.

After the scolding, the mayor handed me a free voucher for the cjarsòns. Then, following an interminably long wait, I finally got my plate. By this time on my trip, my standards for cjarsòns had been set extremely high. Regrettably, these fell a bit short. Made with a potato-based dough, they were heavy and doughy, over-sweetened and overcooked, and I could only bring myself to eat one.

jellyrollLuckily, my lunch was redeemed by the elaborate spread of sweets. Countless stands were serving up cookies, crêpes, frittelle (fritters), and even gelato, but the biggest tent of all held a vast display of berry-themed desserts. There were cakes and pies of all shapes and sizes, from jellyrolls decorated with whipped cream to tarts studded with a kaleidoscope of fruit. Everything featured wild berries—strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, red currants, and even gooseberries. I chose for my treat a huge slice of crostata with a thick cookie crust, mixed berry jam, and fresh blueberries peeking through the lattice top.

Forni Avoltri paradeAfter a brief rest in my room at Hotel Scarpone, I went back out in the afternoon to see the parade. Townspeople were dressed in rich medieval costumes—velvet gowns and brocade tunics, complete with faux swords and shields. I followed the procession from the center of the festival back across the river, accompanied by drummers and minstrels, and followed by a logjam of cars, everyone trying to beat the traffic out of town.

At 5:00pm, I paid a visit to the town’s Collezione Etnografica, an ethnographical museum located down the street from my hotel. Though tiny, it showcased many aspects of traditional Carnian home life, including furniture, clothing, cookware, and crafts.

Afterward, I returned to my room to rest some more before dinner. I was quietly reading, when suddenly I heard the sound of trumpets blaring. I stuck my head out the window and saw a marching band heading down the street toward the town hall. Grabbing my room key, I dashed downstairs and followed the crowd to the piazza. A pompom-waving drill team was performing, after which the Miss Carnia beauty pageant was announced. Eight model-thin girls proceeded to compete in three outfits: t-shirt and pants (or skirt), formal dress, and swimsuit. The microphone was broken, so no one could hear the announcements, but I stayed the full 90 minutes to see which waif would win the title.

It was my final night in Forni Avoltri, and not having made a reservation elsewhere, I took a chance on dinner in my hotel again. Of course, the frico was still not available, but they did have the cjarsòns. I ordered those, along with a light second course of prosciutto e melone and an insalata mista. Unfortunately, it appeared that the cjarsòns were the exact same ones being served at the festival—it did seem plausible that the hotel could have catered the event. At least these tasted fresh, though the filling was ice cold. For once, I voiced my dissatisfaction, though no offer was made to bring a new plate. As I was eating, I noticed another table being served pizzas, which were not even listed on my menu! Yet again, I was flummoxed by the obviously disparate menus. Later, when the waitress came to inquire about dessert, I had to remind her that she had not yet brought my salad. When it was finally time for dessert, I requested only a couple of apricots, which were served with knife and fork, just like my grapes two nights earlier. One of the apricots, however, was moldy inside. This time, I didn’t bother to complain; I just left the fruit open-side up on my plate, its blue and white fuzz clearly visible.

crostata alla marmellataHere is my recipe for crostata alla marmellata, inspired by the mixed berry jam tarts at both Forni Avoltri’s Festa dei Frutti di Bosco and Sauris’s Festa del Prosciutto:

Marmellata:
1 cup fresh blackberries
1 cup fresh raspberries
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup sliced fresh strawberries
1 medium apple, peeled, cored, and grated (or puréed in a food processor)
2-1/2 cups sugar

Place the blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and apple in a large pot, mashing slightly with a spoon. Cook over medium heat until the berries soften and release a little of their juice, about 5 minutes. Stir in the sugar. When the liquid begins to boil, reduce heat to low; cook until thickened, about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. (When the jam is ready, a small amount of syrup will hold its shape when cooled. To test, dip a spoon into the liquid; as it cools, the syrup will thicken and coat the spoon.) Transfer the jam to a medium bowl; cool to room temperature.

Dough:
2 cups blanched slivered almonds
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 eggs

1. Finely grind the almonds in a food processor. Transfer to a large bowl; stir in the flour, sugar, lemon peel, salt, cinnamon, and cloves. Blend in the butter, a little at a time, until crumbly. Add the eggs; mix until the dough forms a solid mass. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Divide the dough into two parts, about two-thirds for the bottom crust and one-third for the lattice top. (Keep the reserved third of dough refrigerated until ready to use.) Roll the dough on a lightly floured sheet of waxed paper to form a 10- by 15-inch rectangle. Invert the dough onto a greased 10- by 15-inch baking sheet. (Any rough or broken areas may be easily patched.) Spread the jam over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border on all sides. Roll out the reserved third of dough on a lightly floured surface. Cut into 3/4-inch-wide strips; arrange the strips over the jam to make a lattice crust. Bake until the crust is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

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Forni Avoltri's Chiesetta di Sant'AntonioOn my first full day in Forni Avoltri, I would be visiting the Val Pesarina, the last of Carnia’s seven valleys on my itinerary. After an ample breakfast at Hotel Scarpone—yogurt topped with some cereal flakes, a slice of chocolate Bundt cake, a banana, and a glass of grapefruit juice—I set out to buy my bus ticket.

Since I had some time before my bus would arrive, I took a walk across the river. There I found a delightful little church, the Chiesetta di Sant’Antonio, its pink stucco walls standing out in contrast against the pale blue sky. On my walk back, a woman who was tending her garden called out the traditional Friulian greeting, “Mandi,” and I stopped to chat. Americans don’t typically venture as far north as Forni Avoltri, she told me. I must have been a real novelty, for she then called to her cousin, “Vieni a vedere l’americana!Come see the American! After I told them about my interest in Friulian cuisine, the women mentioned that there was to be a presentation on the cooking of Carnia at the Municipio that very evening.

At the bus stop moments later, I saw a flyer announcing the event, a book-signing for Cucina della Carnia by Melie Artico, a book I had coincidentally just purchased the previous week. While waiting, I asked an elderly lady which building was the town hall, and she pointed to it in the piazza behind the bus stop, also commenting that they never see any American visitors there. I told her about the book I was writing, and she said she hoped it would bring more tourists to their small town. Continuing our conversation on the bus, she asked the name of my book, so I presented her with my business card, which gave both my name and the book’s title, Flavors of Friuli. An old man sitting behind her piped up and asked for one too—as if I were someone of particular importance!

My bus arrived in Comeglians, where I had almost two hours to wait for my connecting bus to Prato Carnico. There was nothing to do or see in Comeglians, but I found a tiny church, Chiesa di San Nicolò, where I could sit and escape the harsh sun.

Prato CarnicoI arrived in Prato Carnico after a brief 15-minutes ride. The sight that caught my eye first was a home straight out of a fairy tale, with its tall, brick walls, green-tiled roof, immaculate white trim, dark green shutters, and colorful flower garden. (The green-tiled roof was a style characteristic of the nearby Val Degano, and this was the most charming example I had ever seen.)

Fortunately, the town’s one restaurant, Ristorante Ai Sette Nani, was open. Inside were several paintings of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, a tribute to the restaurant’s name—one that seemed oddly appropriate after having just passed that storybook cottage with the green roof. There were only three menu items available—understandable, perhaps, given that it was a slow day and I was the only customer. I ordered the gnocchi di zucca but was dismayed when I glanced over at the bar area and saw the cook putting my plate into the microwave. Rustically misshapen—from the technique of dropping spoonfuls of dough directly into the cooking water—these pumpkin gnocchi had the potential to be delicious had they been fresh. As it stood, they were tough, doughy, and obviously reheated—a far cry from the delicate ones I had had several years earlier at Ristorante Al Fogolâr in Brazzacco.

One of the dishes on my “to-try” list that I hadn’t yet found on any menu was pendalons. I had read that this side dish of string beans and potatoes was native to the Val Pesarina, so I asked the waiter if they ever served it. They did, although he said that string beans were not currently in season. When I had finished my meal, I declined to order dessert; nevertheless, the waiter brought me a plate of crostoli—strips of fried dough dusted with powdered sugar, a traditional Carnevale treat.

As I was paying my bill at the counter, the cook (and apparently the owner/waiter’s mother) came out of the kitchen to explain to me how she prepares pendalons. Basically a potato purée mixed with string beans, hers are topped with a sauté of pancetta, onion, garlic, parsley, and chives. I took careful notes, so that I could recreate her dish at home.

Prato CarnicoAfter lunch, I took a walk to explore the tiny town. Along the highway, I passed the campanile pendente (leaning tower); its church was destroyed in an earthquake in 1700, and only the tower had been renovated. Then, finding a road leading down to the river, I crossed the bridge and wandered uphill through a residential area amid shady woods and winding roads.

Back on the highway later, I realized how far I had strayed from Prato Carnico. Instead of heading back, however, I took a gamble that I’d reach the next village, Pesariis, in time to catch my return bus. Speed walking most of the way, I made it with just five minutes to spare! Pesariis is known for its Museo dell’Orologeria, or “museum of watches.” I wished I had had time to visit, but the buses in this valley were so infrequent that I had no choice but to return to Forni Avoltri—via Comeglians again, where I had a full hour to wait for my connecting bus.

I left for dinner early, hoping that I would finish in time to attend that book-signing event. I had made a reservation at Ristorante Al Sole, located a short distance across the river. When I arrived, owner Tiziana Romanin immediately introduced me to Giacomo del Fabbro, president of the town’s Centro Culturale, who was hosting the event. He sat at my table for a few minutes before I ordered, as amused as everyone else seemed to be that an American was visiting their out-of-the-way village, and especially pleased that I was writing a book about Friulian cuisine.

Instead of handing me a menu, Tiziana suggested some of their specialties. I started with the cjarsòns, her aunt Lia’s recipe. Prepared with a potato-based dough, the pasta was filled with a mixture of fresh ricotta, raisins, crushed amaretti cookies, parsley, and cinnamon, and served with melted butter, cinnamon, and ricotta affumicata. To drink, she recommended a glass of Verduzzo, its honey and citrus notes pairing perfectly with the sweetness of the cjarsòns.

Next, I had the frico, which came with a slice of polenta, some saucy sautéed wild mushrooms, and a couple bites of veal stew. Though Tiziana had originally specified that the frico was going to be prepared con patate, what I was served actually contained no potatoes. Instead, it was a less common type called frico friabile: crunchy deep-fried cheese with the unique appearance of a porous sea sponge. I had tried this kind of frico once before, at a food festival in Arta Terme, and found it to be extremely greasy. Careful not to express any criticism, I discussed with Tiziana the various types of frico, and she eagerly brought me a thin wedge of frico made with potato and onion. This was the frico I had fell in love with several years earlier—crispy on the outside, soft and cheesy on the inside. To accompany this portion of my meal, Tiziana brought a glass of housemade red wine.

When I finished eating, I was in a hurry to pay my bill so that I could make it to the book-signing by 8:30pm. I tracked down Tiziana on my way to the front counter, and to my complete astonishment, she refused to let me pay for a thing!

Cucina della CarniaI arrived at the Municipio just in time. The room was already crowded with dozens of people seated in rows of folding chairs, but Signor del Fabbro spotted me and led me to an empty, reserved seat in front. During his opening speech, he introduced me as “a special guest from America.” The author was there, of course, along with a panel of scholars, but rather than focusing on the region’s cuisine, the discussion centered around the efforts of translating her cookbook into the Furlan language (each recipe is printed in both Italian and Furlan). I understood some of what was said, but not enough to fully hold my attention—my stomach was full, the room was uncomfortably toasty, and I was exhausted from my long walk earlier. When everyone stood up an hour later, I assumed the event was over (although, to my great embarrassment, I learned the next day that it had only been the intermission). I approached Melie Artico to autograph my copy of her book, and then, after not being able to find Signor del Fabbro to say goodbye, I just left.

During the lecture, I had noticed raindrops beginning to pelt the room’s large window. By the time I left, the skies had unleashed a full-blown thunderstorm. Not having had the foresight to carry my umbrella, I pulled my light jacket up over my head and sprinted the few blocks back to Hotel Scarpone.

pendalonsHere is the recipe for pendalons from Ristorante Ai Sette Nani:

12 ounces string beans, cut into 1-inch-long pieces
1-1/2 pounds white potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Place a steamer rack inside a large pot; fill with 1 inch of water. Place the string beans on the rack. Bring to a boil over high heat; cover and steam until just tender, about 10–15 minutes.

2. Place the potato slices in a large pot, along with 1 cup water; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until the potatoes are tender, about 20–25 minutes, stirring occasionally as the water begins to evaporate. Remove from heat; coarsely mash the potatoes. Stir in the string beans and black pepper. Season to taste with salt.

Topping:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 ounces pancetta, chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta, onion, and garlic; cook and stir until the onion softens and the pancetta is brown and crisp, about 7–8 minutes. Add the parsley and chives; cook and stir until wilted, about 1–2 minutes. Serve the topping over the potatoes.

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Forni AvoltriI left Forni di Sopra early, catching the 9:15am bus east to Villa Santina, where I had about 90 minutes to wait for my connecting bus north to Forni Avoltri. This was to be my final stop in Carnia—a festive one, for the town was hosting the annual Festa dei Frutti di Bosco that weekend. I arrived at 12:30pm and checked into Hotel Scarpone, conveniently located directly across the street from the bus stop.

Without even bothering to unpack, I immediately headed down to the hotel’s restaurant for lunch. Having recently learned some valuable lessons regarding pensione protocol, I didn’t hesitate to request the regular menu, explaining that I was conducting research on Friulian cuisine for a cookbook I was writing. Upon handing me the menu, however, the waitress proceeded to point to a couple of the least interesting-sounding pastas—the same ones from their pensione menu and, apparently, some of the only items available. Skimming down the list, my heart jumped when I saw cjarsòns and frico, my two favorite dishes. Unfortunately, she informed me that neither was being served that day for lunch, but that I could return and order them for dinner.

With only a few choices available, I opted to start with the ravioli alle erbe (herb ravioli). Dull and bland, they tasted like prepackaged ravioli from the refrigerator section of my supermarket back home. My second course was a huge portion of capriolo (venison), served with more polenta than I could eat. For dessert, the two selections were a crostata ai frutti di bosco (mixed berry tart) and a bowl of fresh berries with gelato. Feeling already pretty stuffed, I requested just the fruit, no ice cream. A taste of what was yet to come at the festival, the bowl contained plump blackberries, sweet strawberries, and the tiniest wild blueberries I’d ever seen.

After lunch, I took some time to unpack and settle into my room. Of all the hotels I’d stayed in that summer, this one was, on the whole, the most comfortable. Though the bed was a little firm, I found the bathroom to be unusually spacious, impeccably clean, and obviously newly renovated with its shiny pink tiles and dish of fragrant rose potpourri.

As was my custom upon landing in a new town, I took a walk to get my bearings. Across the Degano River, I found Albergo Al Sole and went in to check out the menu. At the counter, I met owner Tiziana Romanin and made a dinner reservation for the following evening. Then, I continued up the hill a ways, where I found a splendid lookout point. As I stood there surveying the valley, dismal, gray clouds began encroaching on the pale blue sky, and a few drops of rain began to fall. This was my cue to head back to my hotel, where I spent the rest of the afternoon in my room working on my laptop—and repairing a broken hinge on my umbrella (rather ingeniously, I thought) with the stripped-down wire from a twist tie.

For dinner, I returned to Hotel Scarpone’s restaurant with high hopes of trying their cjarsòns and frico. Initially, the waitress offered me the same primi choices as at lunchtime. When I asked about the cjarsòns and frico, she said that there would be no frico until tomorrow, but that they did have the cjarsòns. Enthusiastically, I ordered them, along with the petto d’anatra (duck breast)—the only second course available. Within minutes, however, the waitress returned with the news that the cjarsòns were not available after all. Disappointed, I ordered only an insalata mista to go with my meal.

As I ate, my chagrin deepened when I overheard the table behind me being offered a set of completely different menu items. Not that anything they ordered would have furthered my research any more than what I was currently having, but the disparate choices perplexed me. Later, the waitress did offer an apology for not having the cjarsòns and frico as earlier promised and assured me that they would have them tomorrow. (Since I had just made those reservations at Al Sole, I wouldn’t be able to dine at Scarpone tomorrow, though perhaps I could my final evening.)

For dessert, I had the crostata ai frutti di bosco. The tart was filled with pastry cream and topped with blackberries, blueberries, and red currants. Then, I figured that since I was already paying the pensione price for a full multicourse meal, but hadn’t ordered anything for my first course, it would not be out of line to request some fruit (one of the choices offered for dessert). The grapes on the sideboard behind me had caught my eye, and the waitress graciously brought me the entire bowl—along with, curiously, a knife and fork.

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Flavors of FriuliIt was June 2004 when Mike and I returned to San Francisco. I had over a year to prepare for my next trip, which would take me once again throughout Friuli–Venezia Giulia. Since Udine made a convenient home base for me to explore the region, I planned two separate weeks there, bookending a three-week journey through Carnia. Two of my main objectives were to visit at least one malga and to attend several more food festivals, so I arranged to travel to Carnia’s major villages—Sauris, Arta Terme, Ravascletto, Forni di Sopra, and Forni Avoltri—all by bus. During my time in Udine, I would take day trips to now-familiar towns such as Cormòns, Cividale, and San Daniele, as well as new ones like Marano Lagunare, Bordano, and Maniago. I would tour three prosciutto factories, climb two mountains, and panic during one very frustrating train strike that stranded me in Venzone. Please join me in the weeks and months to come, as I continue chronicling my Friulian adventures.

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