Posts Tagged ‘Gorizia’

Piazza della Libertà, Udine

The original winged lion was an ancient bronze sculpture brought to Venice in the 12th century. Sitting atop one of two columns in Piazza San Marco, the lion eventually came to represent Saint Mark, the city’s patron saint, and has been the symbol of Venice ever since.

As the Middle Ages drew to an end, two competing powers were emerging, the Venetian Republic and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This brought forth yet another period of unrest in Friuli, when cities were forced to align with one of the two sides. In 1382, when Venetian forces threatened to occupy the entire coastline, Trieste turned to Hapsburg Austria for protection. Nevertheless, Venice went on a vast conquering spree, taking control of Udine, Pordenone, and Gorizia, as well as considerable territory beyond.

To demonstrate allegiance to their new rulers, cities often erected statues of the winged lion of Saint Mark. The following are four notable locations in Friuli where the lion makes an appearance.

Piazza della Libertà, Udine

It is no coincidence that Udine’s Piazza della Libertà bears a striking resemblance to Piazza San Marco in Venice. Along with most of Friuli and parts of Venezia Giulia, Udine was conquered by the Venetians in 1420 and remained under their rule for over 300 years. In the center of the square, the winged lion perches atop one of two columns, similar to those that defend the seaward rim of Piazza San Marco.

On one side, the Loggia del Lionello appears at first glance to be a small-scale version of Venice’s Palazzo Ducale, with its pink and white stripes and trilobed, arched windows. Lining the elevated portion of the piazza is the Porticato di San Giovanni, a long stretch of arcades in the center of which nestles Udine’s most recognizable monument, the Torre dell’Orologio (clock tower). Inspired by the zodiac signs on Venice’s famous clock, a golden sun radiates from a brilliant blue clock face. Two bronze moors strike the hour above the clock, while the winged lion makes another appearance below.

Yet a third winged lion stands guard over the Arco Bollani. Designed by the architect Palladio, this arch leads to a neat cobblestone path that winds up the hill to Udine’s castello, now a massive museum complex.

Palazzo Comunale, Venzone

The charming medieval-walled town of Venzone, situated at the base of the Carnian Alps, was one of many to be occupied by the Venetians in 1420. The Palazzo Comunale (town hall) had just finished construction a decade earlier, and its corner tower was soon adorned with the winged lion of Saint Mark. It should be noted as well that the tower bears a 24-hour clock similar to the one in Venice’s Piazza San Marco and with a central sun like the Torre dell’Orologio in Udine. The building also features several Venetian-Gothic trilobed, arched windows. Like most buildings in Venzone, the town hall was badly damaged in the earthquakes of 1976, but it was eventually reconstructed in its original style.

Palazzo dei Rettori, Muggia

The only town on the Istrian peninsula to remain within the Italian border, Muggia sports a distinct Venetian style that is punctuated by a quirky character all of its own. The central focus of town is Piazza Marconi and its two architectural landmarks: the Duomo dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, with its striking Venetian-Gothic trilobed façade, and the Palazzo dei Rettori, currently home to Muggia’s town hall. On the orange and yellow palazzo, a stone relief of the winged lion of Saint Mark reveals a clue to Muggia’s long tradition of humor and satire. Look closely at the lion’s face—the sense of disgust is apparent as he sticks out his tongue at the town’s former rulers.

Castello di Gorizia

For four centuries, beginning in the Middle Ages, Gorizia was home to a powerful dynasty. From their hilltop castle, the Counts of Gorizia ruled a territory that extended from Tyrol to Croatia. In the early 16th century, the city was one of many occupied by the Republic of Venice. Although Gorizia was acquired by Austria’s Hapsburg monarchy after only a couple of years, a winged lion stands guard at the entrance to the fortified castle as a reminder of Venice’s brief rule.

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This was the day I had been looking forward to ever since my arrival in Trieste. My baker friends at Pasticceria Penso had invited me to watch them prepare one of Trieste’s specialties, putizza. Similar to the gubana found elsewhere in Friuli, putizza is a spiral cake filled with dried fruit, nuts, and chocolate.

When I arrived bright and early at the bakery, however, brothers Antonello and Lorenzo informed me that the big event had been postponed. Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed. As consolation, Antonello offered me a few treats: a curabiè (half-moon shortbread cookie dusted with powdered sugar; of Greek origin), a torta granatina (triangle of chocolate mousse), and a tiny marzipan peach.

I hung around the bakery for a bit, nibbling on the cookie, regrouping and trying to formulate another plan for the day. Finally, I decided to head to Gorizia. When I last visited this city on the Slovenian border, I was discouraged to find that many restaurants were closed, though I did eventually happen upon a tiny working man’s trattoria, where I enjoyed a hearty lunch of pasticcio and goulasch. Perhaps today I would discover a new place to eat.

When I got to the train station, I found the line at the ticket counter to be exceedingly long—apparently all of the automatic ticket machines were broken. By the time I finally arrived in Gorizia, it was nearly noon. I headed straight to the restaurant Ai Tre Soldi Goriziani. To my tremendous relief, it was open.

To start, I ordered the cestino di frico, a “bowl” of crispy, fried cheese filled with polenta and porcini mushrooms. Then, for my main course, I had the goulasch alla Goriziana. There were plenty of other local dishes on the menu and I had already eaten my fair share of goulasch on this trip, but I was too intrigued by the description “alla Goriziana” to turn it down. I was curious to learn whether the goulasch in Gorizia differed from that found in Trieste and the rest of Friuli. Upon tasting it, I determined that this Hungarian-style beef stew was fairly similar to one I had recently eaten in Trieste, in that it was prepared with tomatoes, an addition that, while not entirely traditional, is common throughout Friuli. To further assert the dish’s Friulian spirit, slices of grilled polenta were served alongside the paprika-laced stew.

Although I was quite full, I couldn’t resist ordering the palacinke alla marmellata for dessert. Palacinke may enfold any number of sweet fillings, from fruit preserves to ricotta cheese to pastry cream. I was pleased to find that these crêpes were filled with apricot jam—my favorite!

Here is my recipe for frico croccante, fried Montasio cheese in the shape of a basket. You may fill them with anything you like: polenta, mushrooms, fresh herbs and greens, prosciutto…the possibilities are endless! If Montasio stagionato is not available, you may substitute any aged cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano.

4 cups grated Montasio stagionato, divided

Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle 1 cup Montasio cheese into the skillet, making a 6-inch circle. Cook until the edges begin to turn golden brown, about 5 minutes. (Watch carefully as the cooking time will vary depending on the precise temperature of the skillet.) Gently remove the frico from the pan and drape over an upside-down glass or bowl. (Allowing the frico to cool in the skillet for a couple seconds off the heat will help the spatula release the cheese from the pan.) The frico will harden in less than a minute, at which point it can be removed from its mold. Repeat with the remaining cheese.

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Gorizia's Chiesa di Sant'IgnazioI awoke around 3:00 in the morning to the harsh sound of wind rattling the window panes. Even with ear plugs the noise was so jarring I couldn’t go back to sleep. This was the bora wind I had read so much about, the cold northeast wind that is particularly strong along the eastern shores of the Adriatic Sea, from Trieste to the Albanian border.

Despite my grogginess, I decided to get up early and head out to the train station. The weather in Trieste had taken a dramatic turn toward winter. The mostly clear sky was streaked with feathery brushstrokes tinted sunrise pink. The gusty bora had not let up, and I shivered as the winds tore through my light fall jacket.

I took the train to Gorizia, with no plans but to check out restaurant menus and bakeries and eventually find somewhere to eat lunch. It was a Monday, when many restaurants were closed, but I had a list culled from my library of travel books (particularly my favorite, Osterie e Frasche del Friuli-Venezia Giulia by Ermanno Torossi) of places that should be open. Two of them were a mile or so away from the city center in opposite directions, so I ended up spending about 2-1/2 hours trudging along the city’s many tree-lined streets, the sidewalks blanketed with fallen leaves and chestnuts.

To my dismay, every single restaurant on my list turned out to be closed. Feeling defeated, I headed back toward the train station to return to Trieste, but on the way, I stumbled upon a small trattoria that was packed with diners. Trattoria Al Piròn had the distinct vibe of the blue-collar working man. Aside from the waitresses, I was the only woman in the whole place. There was no menu, just a few prix fixe selections. For my primo piatto, I had the pasticcio: a lasagna layered with artichokes and bechamel sauce. My secondo piatto was goulasch: two large hunks of beef in a spicy paprika gravy. For a side dish, they served a plate of peas sautéed with bits of smoked pork.

piselli in teciaIn the provinces of Trieste and Gorizia, vegetables are often cooked “in tecia,” a term that refers to the cast-iron skillet traditionally used. Here is my version of piselli in tecia:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 ounces pancetta, chopped
1 pound shelled fresh or frozen peas
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and pancetta; cook and stir until the onion softens and the pancetta is brown and crisp, about 10 minutes. Add the peas. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until the peas are tender, about 8–10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the parsley and black pepper. Season to taste with salt.

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Castello di GoriziaThe first time I visited Gorizia, it was a bitterly cold February morning, the sky overcast and gloomy with the threat of impending snow. Now that it was May, conditions were perfect to get my essential—and oft sought-after—“blue sky” shots of the city. I took the train from Udine, and even though it was only mid-morning when I arrived, the sun had already begun to beat down with fierce intensity.

After stopping for a photo of the onion-domed Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio, I headed directly to the hilltop Castello di Gorizia, whose entrance was guarded by a rather morose-looking winged lion of Saint Mark. As I made my way through the medieval castle’s three floors, I encountered few tourists but hordes of schoolchildren. Among the rooms were a kitchen, dining room, chapel, and numerous exhibits of weaponry. The castle’s ramparts afforded a splendid view of the surrounding countryside, even across the border into neighboring Slovenia.

Chiesa di Sant'IgnazioFor lunch, I chose Ristorante Rosenbar based on the description in my guidebook, Ristoranti, Osterie e Frasche del Friuli–Venezia Giulia by Ermanno Torossi, which listed a number of Mitteleuropean dishes at the restaurant. It was therefore a surprise to find that the menu consisted primarily of seafood.

I started with the baccalà mantecato, simply because I find this creamy salt cod purée irresistible. Unfortunately, the portion was rather miniscule, served on a couple cut-out circles of dry white bread. Next, I had the sardoni apanadi (breaded sardines). Locally called sardoni barcolani, these are actually European anchovies—not true sardines—and are plentiful in the waters off Trieste. Butterflied, breaded, and fried, these tiny fish were accompanied by two pieces of asparagus.

For dessert, I wanted to try the koch di semolino con mele (semolina cake with apples) that was listed on the menu, but the waitress informed me that it wasn’t available. So on my way back to the train station, I found a fantastic bakery and bought a slice of kugelhopf. Often called cuguluf in Friuli, this cake is baked in a Bundt pan and may contain raisins, nuts, or a swirl of chocolate. Of course, I chose the chocolate-marbled version.

For dinner that evening, I returned to Udine’s Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo. For the very first time—since my previous trips to Friuli had all been in winter—I was seated in the restaurant’s outdoor courtyard. With a bucolic grapevine-covered trellis overhead, the area provided a tranquil escape from the noise of the city streets. I started with the gnocchi verdi: green, herb-flecked dumplings that were quite rich and doughy. This was followed by salted herring served with onions and polenta. For dessert, I ordered the gubana, a dried fruit- and nut-filled spiral cake that the restaurant served bagnata—soaked in grappa.

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Gorizia's Chiesa di Sant'IgnazioAfter good night sleep, I woke to sound of rain pattering against the shutters. At breakfast, the server, Luciana, said there had even been a light dusting of snow at daybreak. Fortunately, by the time I left Hotel Principe and crossed the street to the train station, the pounding rain had turned to a mere drizzle. This would be my first visit to Gorizia, located on the Slovenian border and one of Friuli’s provincial capitals.

On the train ride, I was struck by an unusual sight: a giant chair, several stories high, sitting by the side of the road. It turns out that we were passing by the Italian Chair District, often called the Triangolo della Sedia (Chair Triangle), as it is made up of three towns, Manzano, San Giovanni al Natisone, and Corno di Rosazzo. Reportedly, 80% of Italian-made chairs are produced here—including, as it turns out, the ones sitting in our San Francisco dining room.

From Gorizia’s train station, it was about a half-hour walk to the center of town. Digital signs recorded the temperature at 5°C. I stopped briefly to visit the rather plain, white-washed Duomo but was more interested in seeing the stunning Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio. Recognizable from afar by its set of blue onion domes, the church opens up to a Baroque explosion in gold, amber, and rosewood hues.

Gorizia's CastelloAfter pausing to admire a row of purple and white cabbages gracing Piazza della Vittoria, I hiked to the hilltop Borgo Castello, the medieval district dominated by a fortified castle dating back to the 11th century. Given the gloomy weather, I decided to forgo the castle tour on this visit. (My next trip, planned for May, would see clear skies and a more expansive view from the castle’s ramparts.) As well, Gorizia’s oldest church, Chiesa di Santo Spirito, was closed.

For lunch, I headed to Trattoria Gostilna Alla Luna, where I was hoping to taste some of the region’s Slavic-inspired dishes. Given Gorizia’s proximity to Slovenia, the city has adopted many Slavic words and customs: a gostilna is the Slovenian counterpart to the Italian trattoria or osteria. To start, I ordered gnocchi di pane, which is Friuli’s version of the German semmelknödel. These oval bread dumplings were served con sugo all’arrosto, in a light, brothy gravy. Next I was pleased to try cevapcici—tiny, grilled sausages that were inspired by the Middle Eastern spiced meat patties brought to southeastern Europe by the Ottoman Turks. Especially popular in the Slavic countries, they are even considered a national dish in Bosnia, Serbia, and Bulgaria. These cevapcici were served with grilled polenta and a rather bitter red bell pepper sauce called ajvar.

It had become my custom, as part of my research, to ask restaurants and bakeries about their recipes. Until this day, I had always been welcomed warmly, and most Friulians seemed thrilled that an outsider had taken an interest in their local cuisine. (In fact, just the previous day, a bakery in Cividale had given me the gift of a cookbook.) Today, however, was the first—and only—time that my inquiries were ever met with disregard. When I asked the waitress if she might tell me how the cevapcici were made, she responded with a smirk, “No,” and disappeared to a corner where I spied her whispering to the other staff.

The day was so frosty—both the weather and the waitress’s reaction—I decided to take the train straight back to Udine. On my way to the station, my friend Steno called to invite me to dinner, along with his wife, Liviana.

That evening, the pair picked me up at my hotel and drove to Hostaria Alla Tavernetta, where I had recently dined alone on Valentine’s Day (and there had been a mix-up with my order). This meal would turn out to be so much more enjoyable! Steno strongly recommended the orzotto ai funghi (barley cooked in the style of risotto, with mushrooms) followed by guanciale di maiale (pig cheeks) served with potatoes, both puréed and roasted. To finish, we shared a tray of pineapple slices for dessert—this seemed to be an exotic treat for the couple.

Flavors of FriuliIt was during this meal that I started formulating the structure of my book, and Liviana was my inspiration. She spoke in great length about the region’s cuisine and described what were, in her opinion, four culinary regions: Venezia Giulia (Gorizia and Trieste, plus the entire coast), Carnia (plus the Giulian Alps), Friuli (Udine and the Collio), and Pordenone. Later on, I decided to simplify it a step further and settled upon three geographical areas: northern mountains, central hills and plains, and southern coastline. Over the next year and a half, I would continue to explore the nooks and crannies of glorious Friuli-Venezia Giulia, falling in love at every step of the way.

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