Posts Tagged ‘goulasch’

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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GoulaschFor my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Goulasch (Hungarian-Style Beef Stew), a proper comfort dish during these cold months of winter. While researching Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy, one of my most puzzling conundrums was how to present the recipe for goulasch. My Friulian cookbooks showed recipes prepared with some form of tomato, either tomato sauce or paste. But in traveling around the region and ordering goulasch in restaurants whenever possible, I kept encountering the same traditional Hungarian version prepared with paprika but no tomatoes. Finally, one day in October 2005, at lunch in a tiny Triestine buffet called Re di Coppe, I sat down to a plate of goulasch that actually contained tomatoes. My dilemma was finally solved! It seems that, even among locals, there is still an endless debate as to which version is most authentically Friulian, with tomato or without. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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Castello di MiramareIt was another gorgeous, sunshiny day in Trieste, although the wind had picked up and there was a decidedly autumn chill in the air. I decided to take advantage of the blue sky and return to Castello di Miramare to retake some photos. I had already been to the castle several times, but sadly, all but one visit had been plagued by inclement weather, including the time Mike and I had taken the ferry. Despite the grayish background of an overcast sky, the view of the castle from the sea had been stunning, and I was now hoping that a crystal clear day would provide an even more dramatic approach.

Castello di MiramareFrom the Molo dei Bersaglieri, the boat took about an hour to reach the harbor of Grignano, from which it was a short walk uphill to the castle’s entrance. This time I would forgo paying to enter the castle—I had been through the sumptuous interiors twice in the past few years—and was planning to visit the Parco Tropicale instead. Located within the castle grounds, this tropical garden is filled with numerous species of plants indigenous to South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia and provides a home for a variety of wildlife, including butterflies, parrots, hummingbirds, flamingos, bats, and reptiles. Unfortunately, the garden was now only offering guided visits and I had just missed the start of the midmorning tour.

I considered waiting for the next tour, but sitting by the castle overlooking the water proved to be too nippy to tolerate for long—plus, my stomach was beginning to remind me that it was almost lunchtime. So, I caught the next bus from Grignano back into Trieste.

There, I stopped for lunch at a buffet called Re di Coppe. Being the only customer when I arrived, I seated myself at a long wooden table. It was here that my long-standing goulasch dilemma was finally resolved. Early in my research, I had read in a Triestine cookbook that the recipe for this Hungarian beef stew called for tomatoes. Since then, while dining at restaurants throughout the region, I had only been able to find the more traditional version of goulasch—lacking any sort of tomato, tomato sauce, or tomato paste. Although the meat at Re di Coppe was a bit fatty, the goulasch was most definitely prepared with tomatoes, a fact that I quickly confirmed with the cook, Bruno. Accompanying the stew was a healthy serving of patate in tecia, a local side dish of potatoes and onion, coarsely mashed and cooked in a tecia (cast iron skillet).

GoulaschI have since learned that my confusion over the preparation of this dish should not have been all that surprising. There seems to be an endless debate among locals as to which version is most authentically Friulian. Here is my recipe for Triestine goulasch—with tomatoes! It is typically served with polenta, patate in tecia, or gnocchi di pane (bread dumplings).

1/2 cup olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 pounds beef rump roast or stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
1 bay leaf
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce, or 1-3/4 cups
2 cups water

Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions; cook and stir until soft and translucent, about 25–30 minutes. Sprinkle the beef with salt; add to the skillet with the onions. Increase heat to medium; cook and stir until the beef begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the flour, paprika, rosemary, marjoram, and bay leaf; cook and stir 5 minutes longer. Add the tomato sauce and water; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low; cook, partially covered, until the beef is tender and the sauce has thickened, about 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove the bay leaf; season to taste with salt.

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Cividale's Chiesa di San FrancescoMy second meeting with cooking instructor Gianna Modotti was scheduled for mid-afternoon, so I had the entire morning free. As I pondered my options over a late breakfast, I considered going to Tavagnacco, a town not too far from Udine and known for its white asparagus crops; however, after consulting the schedule, I found I had just missed the bus and would have to wait an hour for the next one. So I decided instead to make another quick visit to Cividale—the town was familiar, it had plenty of medieval character, and the train was leaving in 15 minutes. That gave me just enough time to grab my bag and head across the street to the train station.

Every so often over the years, I would occasionally have an “off” day, when plans don’t run smoothly and decision making is virtually impossible. Well, this would turn out to be one of those days. I arrived in Cividale, and after wandering past the town’s main landmarks—the Duomo, the Tempietto Longobardo, and Piazza Paolo Diacono—I discovered a path leading down to the bank of the Natisone River. At the emerald green water’s edge, there was a small, pebbly beach, and I sat here until lunchtime, listening to the rushing of the currents and feeling myself being pulled into a state of inertia.

Cividale's Piazza DiaconoI was hoping to have lunch at Osteria Alla Terrazza, because not only do they serve a number of traditional Friulian dishes, but the atmosphere is friendly and casual—an important consideration when dining alone. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that they were closed on Wednesdays. What followed was a routine that I repeated all too often in my travels: pacing a town’s streets, searching for the “perfect” restaurant. In this case, it was critical that I taste at least one Friulian dish; otherwise, from a research standpoint, it would be a wasted meal. With just over a week left on my trip and still a long list of recipes I needed to sample, my restaurant selection was more important than ever.

To my disappointment, quite a few restaurants in Cividale were closed that day. Of the ones that were open, I couldn’t find a single menu that featured traditional Friulian cuisine. In frustration, I headed back to Udine. Once there, I circled the city center for nearly an hour, unable to settle on anything—every restaurant I passed was either closed or filled with smoke. At long last, I happened upon Osteria Alla Ghiacciaia and was seated at a shady outdoor table overlooking one of Udine’s ancient canals. Able to finally relax, I ordered the herb-filled ravioli, which was topped with melted butter and ricotta affumicata. Next, I enjoyed a plate of white asparagus, abundant this time of year, served with an egg salad dressed lightly with oil and vinegar.

Gianna Bellina ModottiFollowing my late lunch, I had no time to spare before meeting Signora Modotti. On the way, I grabbed a gelato (cioccolato and stracciatella—two of my favorite flavors) to savor on the long walk to her house. She greeted me with the same irresistible smile and, just like the previous afternoon, welcomed me into her home with the warmth and hospitality that I encountered so often in Friuli.

I was prepared with a list of questions that had come up in my efforts to translate recipes from Italian into English—mundane details such as how many grams of baking powder were in a bustina di lievito, and if it was in fact baking powder and not baking soda. I also came prepared with the list of recipes that I intended to include in my book and was relieved to know that it met with her approval.

Cjalsons di PontebbaI began by asking about her childhood growing up in Pontebba, and she responded by giving me her hometown’s recipe for cjalsòns. Each town in northern Friuli has their own version of this filled pasta, and most contain a combination of savory and sweet ingredients. These, however, were unquestionably sweet, with a filling of dried fruit, ricotta, and cinnamon. (Mike and I were planning on attending Pontebba’s Sagra dei Cjalsòns the following week, and I was looking forward to trying those cjalsòns for myself.)

patate in teciaAs we discussed each recipe, many points were clarified. For example, I had apparently mistranslated the instructions for the Triestine dish patate in tecia and ended up having disastrous results trying to flip it like a pancake. Signora Modotti explained that the dish was meant to be stirred rather than flipped—a fact I realized for myself later that week, when Mike and I would be spending several days in Trieste.

GoulaschWhile I appreciated learning her opinions about certain recipes—for instance, she never used pancetta in frico con patate and only used fresh plums in gnocchi di susine—at times it only served to confuse rather than clarify. A good example was the continuing debate over whether Friulian goulasch contained any tomato. I could have sworn I tasted tomato in my very first plate of goulasch and had read several local cookbook recipes that listed either tomato sauce or paste. But ever since then, I had been asking each and every restaurant, only to hear the same answer: never tomato, only paprika. Signora Modotti gave the same response, and so my quest for the truth continued. (By the end of my research process, I did finally receive a satisfactory answer from a small buffet in Trieste. More on this later…)

baccala in rossoAnother burning dilemma was the preparation of baccalà alla Triestina. Some versions were baked while others were cooked on the stovetop. Some recipes called for potatoes, others tomatoes, and still others included olives, anchovies, and/or raisins. To confuse me even further, the term baccalà alla Triestina was also sometimes used for what Venetians call baccalà mantecato. Signora Modotti gave me her recipe, which contained potatoes, anchovies, parsley, parmesan, and tomato paste. (Like the goulasch quandary, it would be some time before I settled upon a recipe that best exemplified the dish. In fact, I decided not to even title it baccalà alla Triestina. Following the lead of Cesare Fonda’s Cucina Triestina, I compromised by using both tomatoes and potatoes and naming it baccalà in rosso, while calling my salt cod purée baccalà in bianco.)

Our meeting lasted four straight hours, and I left with a massive headache. As usual, my concentration was extremely intense as I struggled to follow Signora Modotti’s Italian. Although she spoke the language quite properly—unlike other regions that have distinct dialects, Friulians historically spoke Furlan and learned Italian only while attending school—my fluency was still somewhat lacking, and it took great effort on my part to understand thoroughly all she said.

Being Wednesday, my old stand-by, Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo, was closed, so I ate a quick dinner in the subterranean Osteria Alle Volte: grilled scallops followed by duck breast with asparagus in a balsamic sauce. Perhaps it was the anticipation of Mike’s arrival, but I suddenly realized that for once I was feeling lonely. Most of my trips to Italy had been solo ones, and I genuinely loved the freedom of traveling alone. This time, however, I was truly looking forward to having some company—especially at the dinner table.

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