It was a picture-perfect day, with crystal clear skies and only the slightest autumn chill in the air. Hoping to explore the Carso a little more, I left Trieste midmorning and caught bus #42 to Monrupino. My plan was to visit the Santuario di Monrupino and then have lunch at Ristorante Furlan. I arrived around 10:00am and wandered up the tree-lined road toward the white campanile towering above the surrounding stone walls.
Built on a hill above the ruins of a prehistoric fort, this medieval church is the site of the Carsic wedding ceremony, the Nozze Carsiche, which takes place in August every two years. This rite is based on the traditional marriage ceremony of the late 19th century and today attracts thousands of observers. The festivities last four days, beginning with the bachelor and bachelorette parties, followed by the transport of the dowry to the groom’s house. The party culminates on Sunday with the wedding ceremony at the sanctuary, where around five hundred people participate, all dressed in traditional costume. This is followed by a bridal precession to the town of Repen (Rupingrande), where the bride is given away to the groom’s family at the Casa Carsica. After the ceremony, guests are served a traditional veal stew called zvacet at the reception dinner.
Entering the courtyard, I passed the parish house, one of the oldest structures in the Carso. Adjacent to this gray stone building was the small but imposing Santuario. Inside the church, I was greeted by an older woman whose Italian I struggled to understand. When she switched to English, I learned that she was originally from Alabama and had lived in Monrupino for forty years. It appeared that she was a caretaker of sorts at the church, but before I could ask how she came to live there, she disappeared abruptly with a curt explanation about how she needed to go do her ironing. She also mentioned, on her way out the door, that my restaurant would probably not be open today.
I still had a long time to kill before lunch, so I found a smooth rock to sit on, in the grounds behind the fortified walls of the church. I read for about 40 minutes, then meandered back down the hill to the town. I found Ristorante Furlan quite easily, but as the woman had predicted, it was in fact closed for lunch.
The bus schedule showed a return bus to Trieste in 15 minutes, but to my considerable annoyance, it never came. Neither did the next one an hour later. It was only upon closer inspection of the sign—for the fourth or fifth time—that I realized that the bus to Trieste didn’t actually stop in Monrupino but in the next town over, Repen. The timetable also indicated that the bus did make a stop in Monrupino going in the opposite direction toward Opicina, so I waited another 20 minutes for that bus.
By this time, I was feeling somewhat lightheaded and nauseous, from sitting for so long in the direct sunlight as well as from hunger. I greatly regretted not having packed any snacks. Luckily, the bus to Opicina came as expected, with a perfectly timed connection for Trieste. I arrived back in Piazza Oberdan just before 2:00pm, with the urgent need to find something to eat as soon as possible.
There were several restaurants on Via G. Carducci leading away from the bus stop. The first one I passed, at the corner on Via C. Battisti, had no free tables. The next offered buffet-style food at its bar, but the stand-up counter was also too crowded. Another didn’t have any local dishes on their menu, and despite my gnawing hunger, I was determined to find some traditional Friulian/Triestine food. After all, researching the region’s cuisine was my sole reason for this trip! I walked up and down the street, finally ending up back at the first restaurant, Buffet Marascutti, which had all but cleared out by then.
Founded in 1914, Marascutti is one of the oldest buffets in Trieste. Across from my table, several enlarged black-and-white photographs spanned the gray stone walls, giving the place a decidedly old-world feel. I ordered the rotolo di spinaci: slices of boiled pasta “strudel” filled with spinach. I understood the waitress to say that it was served with a little brodo di carne (meat broth), which is the traditional presentation for the dish. Consequently, I was puzzled to find a pork chop on my plate in addition to the strudel. I was positively famished by this time, so the extra food was a welcome surprise!
As I left the restaurant, I could see dark clouds approaching from the north—evidently the storm I had seen forecast on TV the night before. I took a little detour on my way back to my apartment: first, a limone (lemon) and yogurt gelato at Gelateria Zampolli, and then a brief stroll through the department store Coin.
I spent the rest of the afternoon working on the computer, transcribing my notes from the past few days. For dinner, I had some leftover potatoes and string beans, which I heated in the ridiculously tiny microwave, on a saucer that would only fit when wedged in at a sharp angle. I also had a can of tuna and thought I’d throw together a tuna melt sandwich. The problem was that the apartment didn’t come with a usable skillet. Well, actually there was one, but I hadn’t used it because it was full of gashes and its non-stick coating was peeling off. The only other cooking vessel available was a medium-sized pot, the one I had been using to boil and sauté vegetables. It was just large enough to hold a slice of bread, so I layered on some cheese and then half the can of tuna, topped by another slice of bread. It was only then that it dawned on me: how was I going to flip the sandwich when the wide spatula couldn’t maneuver down inside the deep pot? So as it happened, my tuna melt swiftly turned into a tuna explosion!
Rotolo di spinaci may also be referred to as a rollata or strucolo (Triestine dialect for strudel). It can be prepared with either traditional pasta dough or potato-based gnocchi dough. My version here uses pasta dough. If Montasio stagionato is not available, you may substitute Parmigiano-Reggiano or any other aged cheese.
1 pound fresh spinach leaves
1 cup fresh ricotta
3/4 cup grated Montasio stagionato
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• • •
3/4 cup semolina flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
• • •
1/2 cup beef broth, heated
For the Filling:
Place the spinach (plus 1–2 tablespoons water if using packaged, prewashed spinach) in a large pot over medium-low heat. Cook, covered, until wilted, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain the spinach thoroughly, squeezing out all excess liquid. Coarsely chop the spinach and place in a large bowl; cool to room temperature. Stir in the ricotta, Montasio cheese, salt, black pepper, and nutmeg. Refrigerate for 1 hour, or until ready to use.
For the Dough:
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, egg, olive oil, and salt. Transfer the dough to a clean surface; knead until the flour is fully incorporated and the mixture becomes smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (If the dough is too dry or crumbly, lightly moisten your fingers with water during kneading until you reach the desired texture.) Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.
Roll the dough to form a 12- by 18-inch rectangle. Spread the spinach mixture over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border on all sides. Starting with one short side, roll up jelly roll style, sealing the ends tightly. (Moisten the dough with a little water to help seal, if necessary.) Wrap the strudel inside an 18-inch-square piece of cheesecloth, tying the ends securely with string.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Place the strudel in the water; cook for 1 hour, adding more water as necessary to keep the strudel submerged. (If the strudel is not entirely covered by water, you may turn it over after 30 minutes to ensure even cooking.) Remove the strudel from the cheesecloth. Cut into 1-inch slices; serve with the warm beef broth.
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