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Posts Tagged ‘Friuli’

It was dark and cold when I woke at 7:00am, the final morning of Daylight Savings Time made even more somber by the layer of gray clouds that had rolled in a couple of days earlier. The radiator had not yet kicked on, and the frosty air made me want to do nothing but snuggle under my blankets and go back to sleep. With only two more days left in Trieste and no more day trips planned, there was no real urgency to get up. It had been raining on and off that week, so I was quite content to spend my mornings hanging out at Pasticceria Penso and my afternoons in my apartment writing. I burrowed under the covers for another hour, shivering to stay warm, until I finally managed to drag myself out of bed to face the day.

When I arrived at Pasticceria Penso a short while later, Antonello was mixing the dough for marzapane triestino. With its base of ground almonds and sugar, this confection is similar to the marzipan fruit and vegetable shapes that are ubiquitous across much of Europe. However, Triestine marzipan is softer in texture, comes in an array of flavors, and is sold in thick rectangular slices. Antonello explained that he would be making marzapane in orange, cherry, walnut, and chocolate-hazelnut flavors, as well as their most visually intriguing variety, a brown and white checkerboard sandwiched between two stripes of pink.

When lunchtime drew near, I told Antonello about my difficulty locating the restaurant he had recommended the other day, Trattoria Da Mario, and he suggested that perhaps I hadn’t walked far enough along the waterfront. After rummaging around for a piece of scrap paper, he drew me a map so that I could give it another shot today.

Following Antonello’s directions, I did finally find Da Mario, but the menu posted outside didn’t list any of the local dishes I still wished to try. So instead, I headed back toward one of my tried-and-true spots that was known for its regional Triestine cuisine, Osteria La Tecia.

As I retraced my steps along the waterfront, I passed a gastronomia and stepped inside to look around. The melanzane alla parmigiana immediately caught my eye. It’s always been one of my favorite Italian dishes, so I picked up two slices for later. They would make a nice accompaniment to my final two dinners. Seeing as my apartment was on the way, I stopped off briefly to stash the eggplant in my fridge.

When I arrived at La Tecia, the dining room was nearly full, though I was able to find an open table along the back wall. Since the restaurant’s lunch clientele appeared to consist largely of workers from nearby businesses, many dining alone, I always felt very comfortable here.

While my goal had been to order one of the typical Triestine dishes, an unusual item on the menu was too tempting to resist: tagliata di cavallo. I had never eaten horse meat before, though I knew it was considered a delicacy in the neighboring Veneto region. At La Tecia, thin slices of the meat were served over a salad of arugula and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. As is customary in Italy, the meat was cooked extremely rare, which I didn’t mind at all, though it was rather tough.

As a side dish, I ordered the verdure in tecia, a plate of sautéed vegetables that gives the restaurant its name. (“Tecia” refers to the cast-iron skillet traditionally used.) I had ordered the same dish on my springtime visit the previous year, when the colorful mix of veggies included peas, red bell peppers, zucchini, cabbage, and potatoes. In contrast, this autumn assortment was more monochromatic, with nearly everything on the plate being the same drab, off-white color: potatoes, sauerkraut, and fennel, along with some pale green, rather overcooked broccoli. Realizing that I hadn’t been drinking much wine with my meals—mainly because on this trip I was typically eating out for lunch rather than dinner—I ordered myself a glass of the local red wine Pignolo.

Upon finishing my meal, I paid my bill at the register, a practice I always appreciated in that it saved me the hassle of waiting endlessly for an overworked server to bring my check. From there, I headed straight home, where I turned on my laptop, settled into one of the comfy armchairs, and worked for five hours straight.

After cranking out a piece about the architecture of Carnia in record time, I completed my article on Pilates in Budapest, one that I had started several weeks earlier after my brief stay in Hungary (and which was never to be published, due to a new managing editor at the magazine). Then I spent a little time organizing my notes, checking off which of my recipes were finished and which ones still needed testing. It was daunting to realize that out of eighty-nine dishes—eighty of which would eventually make the final cut into Flavors of Friuli—only twenty-five were complete to my satisfaction. I had a lot of work ahead of me!

For the next couple hours, I switched into artistic mode, playing around with Adobe PageMaker (at that time, I had not yet upgraded to InDesign) and creating ten personalized color swatches for my book design that to me represented the essence of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. My inspiration drew from various still-frames in my memory. For example, a wintry view of barren trees, gray sky, and houses in shades of terracotta, beige, and apricot as I rode the bus for the first time to San Daniele. Or the fields of summer wildflowers in the hills around Sauris and Forni di Sopra. From the deep, sparkling blues of the Adriatic Sea to to the dark wooden homes in Carnia, from the wines of the Collio to foods such as polenta, mushrooms, and wild berries, this collection of images encapsulated my precious time in Friuli.

Playing with these colors motivated me to begin my very first mock-up of the book cover. I spent some time searching Adobe for a font that resonated with me. Eventually, I ended up with Papyrus, a font that I absolutely loved but which was later criticized for being cliche, overused, and unprofessional. Perhaps they were right, but I’m still satisfied with my choice.

Inspired by the first glimpse of what my book would someday look like, I was suddenly struck with a solution for a dilemma that had been plaguing me for some time. My first book, Balance on the Ball: Exercises Inspired by the Teachings of Joseph Pilates, had been published before I got married, under my maiden name, Crawford. I assumed—wrongly, as it turned out—that using the same last name for my new book would give me better cross-referencing on sites like Amazon. But I never cared much for the name Crawford and was excited about changing my name to Antoine after my upcoming wedding. So it occurred to me to put my maiden name last: Elisabeth Antoine Crawford. It was an unconventional pseudonym, one which has confused more than a few people over the years—and which, unfortunately, never did serve my original purpose. As far as Amazon is concerned, Elisabeth Crawford and Elisabeth Antoine Crawford are different authors!

Having had an extremely satisfying and productive afternoon, I finally shut off my laptop to make dinner. Using some of the latteria cheese I had bought the day before, I prepared a grilled cheese sandwich. Since it wasn’t nearly as messy as a tuna melt, flipping it inside that deep saucepan was less problematic. To go with my sandwich, I heated up one slice of the melanzane alla parmigiana in the microwave. The eggplant was layered with savory tomato sauce and topped with plenty of cheese—not quite as extraordinary as my all-time favorite from Rosticceria Fontana in Milano but a real treat nonetheless.

I spent my evening nibbling at what remained of that putizza from Pasticceria Bomboniera and flipping through channels on the TV, making an effort to hone my Italian listening to news and weather reports but being more entertained by the plethora of zany game shows. Before going to bed, I set my watch back one hour, relishing the thought of getting an extra hour of sleep.

Here is my recipe for patate in tecia, potatoes cooked in a cast-iron skillet:

2 pounds white potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 ounces pancetta, chopped
1/2 cup beef broth
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Place the potatoes in a large pot filled with water; bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until tender, about 20–25 minutes; drain.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and pancetta; cook and stir until the onion is soft and golden, about 25–30 minutes. Stir in the potatoes, beef broth, and black pepper, coarsely mashing the potatoes with a spoon. Cook until the liquid has evaporated and the potatoes begin to brown, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt.

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For my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Sardoni in Savor (Marinated Sardines), in honor of this month’s Carnevale di Venezia. Called “sarde in saor” in Venetian dialect, this ancient dish is evidence of the Venetian influence throughout Friuli. While sardines are used in much of Friuli and the Veneto, European anchovies—known locally as “sardoni barcolani”—are more common in the area around Trieste and the nearby town of Barcola. Visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com for the recipe.

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Since it had been several days since I had done any grocery shopping, I spent the early part of my morning picking up milk, bread, and another can of tuna at the mini supermercato down the street, a hunk of latteria cheese at the salumeria on Via di Cavana, and an eggplant and a tomato at a nearby produce market. I just needed enough food to get me through my final three days in Trieste.

After dropping off my groceries, I headed back out to Pasticceria Penso, finding my friends busy as always in the kitchen. Antonello was putting the finishing touches on a dozen sachertortes, a batch of presnitz was in the oven, and Lorenzo was preparing some puff pastry. Their father, Italo Stoppar, was assembling three flavors of sponge cake—cherry, mocha, and rum—which were layered with a flavored cream filling, glazed, and sliced into small rectangular portions.

As my trip was nearing its end and I still had many unanswered questions about the local cuisine, I pulled out my notes, perched myself on the stool in the corner near the puff pastry roller, and proceeded to pepper the family with questions. We discussed dishes with Austro-Hungarian origin such as goulasch and others with Slavic origin such as cevapcici. We chatted about dishes popular in the Carso such as bobici and strucolo di spinaze and debated the differences between the markedly similar desserts presnitz, putizza, and gubana.

Around mid-morning, one of Antonello’s uncles showed up—not Uncle Giovanni, with whom I was already well acquainted, but another uncle whose name I regret to have forgotten. As we were introduced, Antonello explained that his uncle used to be a waiter on the cruise ship Lloyd Triestino, to which the uncle was proud to clarify, “a waiter in first class.” He seemed to know a lot about cooking, so I directed some of my queries toward him, getting many helpful answers as well as some not so helpful, as he had a tendency to wander off on unrelated tangents.

Other visitors kept popping in all morning, including a deliveryman whose father was from Honolulu. Antonello introduced each visitor to me as if I were a VIP guest. None departed without being treated to a complimentary pastry.

When it was time for lunch, I headed out to Ristorante Al Bagatto, just around the corner from the bakery. Mike and I had splurged on a nice dinner there during our trip in June of the previous year, and Antonello and Lorenzo had just mentioned that the place had recently been written up in a list of Trieste’s best restaurants. Despite the pricey menu, I felt compelled to return.

That afternoon I was the only woman in the restaurant, surrounded by six tables of businessmen with expensive suits and no doubt generous expense accounts. I started with the zuppa di pesce, also locally called brodeto alla Triestina, a dish I had ordered the last time I dined at Al Bagatto. There was one significant change, however: the langoustine, shrimp, mussel, and clam were each served in the shell, while the first time all the shellfish had been removed from their shells. This did not detract from the dish in the slightest, notwithstanding the usual difficulty of extracting the langoustine meat. The bowl also featured flaky chunks of white fish and rings of tender calamari, while a few croutons floated on the surface of the tomatoey broth.

At my dinner with Mike, I had been rather envious of his plate of fritto misto, a crispy mix of teeny-tiny fried sea critters. I was therefore looking forward to ordering a plate all for myself. But this time, many of the morsels weren’t so teeny-tiny at all. There were a few small shrimp and tiny whole fish, along with two breaded sardines, two medium-sized shrimp in the shell, some rings of calamari, and a whole langoustine. As with the zuppa di pesce, the shells made both dishes a bit tedious to eat, but everything tasted fresh and amazing. I especially liked the itty-bitty shrimp whose crunchy shells were reminiscent of soft-shell crab.

Back in my apartment, I spent another afternoon working on my book Flavors of Friuli. Unlike the previous day, I had a great deal of trouble getting started. I reread my partially written rough drafts, flipped through some notes, and stared at an annoyingly blank screen. When 4:00pm rolled around, I still hadn’t written a word. I felt frustrated and tired, but I stuck with it and ended up finishing a first draft about the Carso.

By 7:00pm I could no longer ignore the sound of my stomach growling, so I shut off my computer. For dinner I prepared another tuna melt, again having to use my deep-sided saucepan. It was still awkward to maneuver the spatula inside the tall pot, but this time I managed to flip it without making a total mess. To go with the sandwich, I sautéed some eggplant and sliced up a tomato. The putizza from Pasticceria Bomboniera was still sitting on my kitchen table, so for dessert I continued nibbling my way through the sticky, chocolatey, cinnamon-laced spiral cake.

Here is my recipe for brodeto alla Triestina:

1 pound fish fillets (such as sea bass or cod), skinned and cut into 2-inch pieces
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce, or 1-3/4 cups
1/2 cup dry white wine
1-1/2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
12 mussels, scrubbed and debearded
12 clams, scrubbed
4 whole jumbo shrimp
4 ounces squid, bodies sliced into 1/2-inch rings, tentacles left whole
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

Sprinkle the fish fillets with salt; dredge in flour. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Place the fish in the skillet; cook until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork, about 2–4 minutes on each side.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic; cook and stir until soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, white wine, 1-1/2 cups water, and black pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the mussels, clams, shrimp, and squid; cook until the shrimp turn pink and the mussel and clam shells open, about 4–5 minutes. (Discard any shells that do not open.) Add the cooked fish fillets, along with the parsley. Season to taste with salt. Serve with crostini.

For the Crostini:
1 small baguette (about 4 ounces), sliced 1/4-inch-thick
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced in half

Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush both sides of the baguette slices with olive oil; place on a baking sheet. Bake until crisp and golden brown, about 10–12 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Rub the bread with garlic to taste.

Presnitz photo courtesy of Pasticceria Penso.

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For my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Blècs (Buckwheat Pasta), a dish commonly found throughout the mountains of Carnia. While these triangular sheets of pasta may be served with any type of sauce, here they are tossed simply with browned butter, toasted cornmeal, and smoked ricotta. Visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com for the recipe.

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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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