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Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

1. Ski the slopes of Monte Santo di Lussari

Among the towering, snow-capped peaks of Italy’s Giulian Alps, Monte Santo di Lussari stands out like a precious gem. Near the 5,870-foot summit, a pristine 14th-century sanctuary looks out over the forested valleys below. Legend says that in 1360 a shepherd knelt to pray atop this mountain and discovered hidden in the brush a wooden statue of the Madonna and Child. The patriarch of Aquileia soon ordered a small chapel built on that very spot. For centuries, vast numbers of pilgrims from neighboring countries have journeyed to this religious site. Today, the telecabina, or “ski lift,” carries passengers from the village of Camporosso at its base to Borgo Lussari at the summit.

2. Enjoy a plate of hot, steaming goulasch at Albergo Ristorante Rododendro

During ski season, the few taverns and restaurants on Monte Santo di Lussari are always teeming with guests. Even if you’re not a skier, take the telecabina to the top, where you can tuck into a warm meal at one of the village’s rustic taverns or simply admire the snowy panoramic views across the Valcanale and Tarvisio basin. If you can get a table in the rustic dining room of Albergo Ristorante Rododendro, you’ll have a wide selection of traditional Friulian dishes, including orzo e fagioli (bean and barley soup), gnocchi di pane (bread dumplings), frico con polenta (cheese and potato pancake with polenta), cervo in salmì (venison stew), and goulasch (Hungarian-style beef stew). Dessert offerings include strudel di mele (apple strudel), torta ai frutti di bosco (wild berry cake), and sachertorte (chocolate cake with apricot jam and ganache).

3. Attend the Krampus festivities in Tarvisio

In Central European folklore, the Krampus is a half-goat, half-demon character that is something of an anti-Santa Claus, in that he punishes children who have misbehaved rather than giving them presents. Many regions, including the Alpine towns of northern Italy, hold festivities dedicated to both Krampus and St. Nicholas.

Tarvisio is the site of one of these events. Every year on December 5, people dress up as Krampus—a costume consisting of goat or sheep fur and a wooden devil mask with horns—and roam the streets carrying torches, ringing cowbells, and searching for “bad” children. They are accompanied by St. Nicholas, who rides in a cart pulled by several Krampus. The parade concludes with St. Nicholas subduing the Krampus (representing the triumph of good over evil) and handing out small gifts and candies to the children.

4. Browse the stalls at Udine’s Mercatino di Natale

Every December, Udine’s Piazza della Libertà gets decked out for the holidays, as the Torre dell’Orologio (clock tower), Tempietto di San Giovanni, and arches of the Porticato are all strung with glistening lights. Underneath the pink- and white-striped Loggia del Lionello, a brass band plays Christmas carols, the festive notes luring shoppers to the city’s annual Christmas market.

In the center of the raised piazza towers a giant Christmas tree surrounded by several dozen market stands. These red, white-roofed stalls sit in rows along a grid of green carpet and display a variety of trinkets and edible treats. Here, you may browse homemade jams and honey, as well as handcrafted items such as candles, tree ornaments, and soaps. Local bakeries showcase regional desserts alongside stalls featuring foods imported from other regions. As the sun sets, shoppers can nibble on roasted chestnuts or samples of crostini with prosciutto di San Daniele, accompanied by a warm cup of vin brulé (mulled wine).

5. While in Udine, enjoy a traditional Friulian meal at Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo

It was at Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo that I fell in love with the cuisine of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. One of the Udine’s oldest, the restaurant is housed in a 17th-century building that once served as a stable and rest stop for deliverymen. Amid the atmosphere of an old-world tavern—wood-beamed ceilings, hardwood floors, red-checked tablecloths, and walls cluttered with colorful paintings, newspaper clippings, period photographs of Udine, and memorabilia of all sorts—chef Mario serves up hearty portions of local dishes such as cjalsòns (herb-filled pasta topped with cinnamon and smoked ricotta), gnocchi di susine (potato dumplings stuffed with plums), baccalà (salt cod stew), sarde in saor (marinated sardines), cevapcici (Slavic grilled sausages), salame all’aceto (salami cooked in vinegar), and brovada (pickled turnips). In true Friulian style, most second courses are served with polenta. For dessert, order the gubana—a spiral cake filled with dried fruit, nuts, and spices.

6. Warm up with an Illy espresso or hot chocolate in one of Trieste’s Viennese-style coffee houses

While they truly love wine and beer, Triestini are even more notorious as coffee drinkers. Claimed by many to be the world’s best coffee, Illycaffè got its start in Trieste in the early 1900s. Of the 6 million cups of Illy espresso or cappuccino that are enjoyed daily around the globe, a good number are imbibed at home in Trieste’s old-time cafés. The legendary ones—Caffè San Marco, Caffè Tommaseo, Caffè degli Specchi, and Caffè Tergesteo—date from the 19th to the early 20th century. Authors James Joyce, Sigmund Freud, Italo Svevo, and Umberto Saba were known to be regulars.

7. Indulge in a putizza from one of Trieste’s historic bakeries

Photo courtesy of Pasticceria Penso

One of several desserts considered native to Trieste, putizza is a rich spiral cake filled with dried fruit, chocolate, nuts, and spices. Like Friulian gubana, a similar spiral pastry, it was originally baked only for the Christmas and Easter holidays but is now available year round. For a taste of the city’s best putizza, I recommend visiting one of the century-old bakeries such as Pasticceria Penso or Pasticceria Bomboniera. Both prepare an excellent putizza, though there is one slight difference I noticed in sampling the two. Penso melts the chocolate for their filling, while Bomboniera leaves the chocolate in large chunks. Taste them both to decide your favorite!

8. Take advantage of the off-season with a crowd-free stroll in the seaside town of Grado

Located on an island and adjacent peninsula in the marshy lagoon off Friuli, Grado was once a fishing village but is now a popular destination for beachgoers. Though lacking the pristine, white sand of nearby Lignano Sabbiadoro, crowds still flock to Grado’s beaches and spas during the summer season. In winter, however, the town takes on an entirely different character, with the winding alleys of the medieval centro storico largely devoid of tourists. An expansive seaside promenade that curves around the town center makes for a relaxing afternoon stroll, as do the boat-lined canals that run through the harbor.

9. While in Grado, sample the town’s signature dish, boreto alla Gradese

When dining in Grado, don’t miss the town’s best known dish, boreto all Gradese. Also called boreto alla graesana in local dialect (and not to be confused with the soup called brodeto), boreto alla Gradese is a selection of small fish steaks cooked with garlic and vinegar and served with white polenta. Many restaurants in Grado offer the dish on their menu, but one of the more elegant is Tavernetta All’Androna, run by the brothers Attias and Allan Tarlao.

10. Attend the quirky Carnevale Muggesano

Photo courtesy of Associazione delle Compagnie del Carnevale Muggesano

In contrast to the elegant, baroque images evoked by the nearby Carnevale di Venezia, Muggia celebrates the absurd and bizarre with townspeople dressed in quirky garb such as cartoon characters, farm animals, and platters of food. Among the whimsical costumes, however, you will rarely see a masked face. Contrary to the practice of other Carnevale celebrations where anonymity is sacred, the people of Muggia have elected to keep their identities exposed.

Carnevale Muggesano began after World War II, when a group of friends dressed up as gauchos and marched through the streets playing music. As they repeated this annual affair, dressed next as gypsies and later as Apache Indians, the procession grew with more and more people joining in the merriment. Soon a few rival groups had formed, each costumed in its own fantastical theme. By 1954, the parade had blossomed into an official event.

The week of festivities opens with the “Dance of the Vegetables,” when representatives of each group perform for the public. This is followed by the “megafrittata,” a culinary ritual that begins with townspeople traipsing door to door begging for eggs. The eggs are then used to make what is possibly the world’s largest frittata, cooked in a giant 13-foot-wide frying pan. On Ash Wednesday, to mark the final day of the celebration, the groups perform a tragicomedy ritual: following a solemn funeral procession, townspeople throw a lifelike “corpse” of the Carnevale king into the sea.

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For my Recipe of the Month, I have chosen Cuguluf (Chocolate-Marbled Cake). Called “kugelhupf” in German, this classic Viennese cake is commonly eaten for breakfast or as a special treat with coffee or hot chocolate. While other recipes may include raisins, almonds, pine nuts, or candied fruit, this chocolate-marbled version is typical of bakeries in Gorizia. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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This article was originally published in 2013 on TravelLady.com.

Tucked away between mountains and sea in Italy’s northeast corner is the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Known for its unique fusion of cuisines that blends Austro-Hungarian, Slavic, Venetian, and Roman influences, Friuli offers a variety of irresistible flavors. From goulasch to gubana, there is something to entice everyone’s palate, and wine connoisseurs will be particularly delighted with the wines in this off-the-beaten-path destination.

The Collio and Colli Orientali del Friuli constitute the heart of Friuli’s wine country. These two wine zones, which are sometimes referred to collectively as the Collio Goriziano, are reminiscent of Tuscany’s rolling hills or California’s lush Napa Valley. The word colli, meaning “hills,” epitomizes this landscape where the grapes have more sun exposure than in the low-lying plains. Though the centrally located Grave del Friuli zone is the region’s largest wine producer—chiefly of Merlot—the wines from the Collio and Colli Orientali are regarded to be Friuli’s best. In fact, most experts agree that the white wines from this region are the most superb in all of Italy.

The Collio lies in Gorizia province, along the Slovenian border and separated from the Colli Orientali by the Judrio River. This zone is most famous for its white wines, Tocai Friulano in particular. Although this grape is not believed to be native to Friuli, it has been produced there for centuries. In 2005, the European Union delivered an unpopular verdict regarding the name Tocai: of the three European wines having a historical claim on the name—Tocai Friulano, Tokai-Pinot Gris from France, and Hungarian Tokaj—only the Hungarian wine would be allowed to continue using its name. Despite much local protest, Tocai Friulano is now officially called merely Friulano.

Also popular are Collio’s white wine blends, which usually contain at least two of the following: Tocai, Malvasia Istriana, and Ribolla Gialla, as well as occasionally Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco, or Pinot Grigio. Perhaps the Collio’s most famous blend is the Vino della Pace, which is produced from 540 grape varieties selected from every continent. This “wine of peace” is bottled and sent to political and religious leaders around the world.

The town of Cormòns is home to one of the region’s most noted wine bars, the Enoteca di Cormòns. Also the seat of the Collio’s wine-producing consortium, this bar makes a great place to taste regional wines along with the locally smoked prosciutto D’Osvaldo. Every September, Cormòns hosts the Festa Provinciale dell’Uva, a wine festival featuring music, theater, and cultural events, along with the obligatory wine tasting.

The Colli Orientali lies to the north of the Collio in Udine province and also borders on Slovenia. Many native grapes are grown here, including the reds Refosco, Schioppettino, and Pignolo, and whites Ribolla Gialla, Verduzzo, and Picolit. While the versatile and abundant Verduzzo grapes can be vinified as either a dry or sweet wine, Picolit is one of the rarest and most precious dessert wines ever made.

Produced exclusively in the Valli del Natisone near the town of Cividale, Picolit is believed to have been cultivated since Roman times. A fragile and high maintenance variety, the grapevine is extremely low yielding due to a condition called “floral abortion,” where many buds die before maturing into grapes. With a golden color, honeyed fragrance, and subtle hints of almond, dried fruit, and spice, Picolit is what Italian experts call a “meditation wine,” meaning that it is best savored on its own without any food.

During the 18th century, winemaker Count Fabio Asquini of Fagagna developed an unrivaled appreciation for Picolit. With the idea that a diminutive package would increase the wine’s appeal, he commissioned special half-size bottles from the glassblowers in Murano. These he then exported to Venice where Picolit soon became the drink of choice for Doge Manin and his court. Asquini proved himself to be a marketing genius, able to manipulate the laws of supply and demand to his advantage. He had held back part of his inventory, thus creating the illusion of limited supply. Then, when reports of this magnificent wine reached Vienna, he was able to ship some to the emperor. Before long, Asquini was sending Picolit to the king of France, the tsar of Russia, and even the pope, but following Asquini’s death, Picolit nearly disappeared from production.

An epidemic of the phylloxera fungus ravished vineyards throughout 19th-century Europe. Then, after winemakers had successfully replanted, the two world wars caused even further devastation. Several grapes were facing extinction when they were rescued during the 1970s. A scholar named Walter Filiputti found two surviving vines of Pignolo in an abbey in Rosazzo and was able to nurse them back to health, while winemaker Paolo Rapuzzi did the same for the failing Schioppettino grape.

During these periods of revival, Friulians replanted not only native grapes—as did most of Europe—but foreign varieties as well. With a long history of intermingling cultures and openness to foreigners, it was only natural that Friuli be one of the first regions in the world to do so. During the late 19th century, Friuli became the first region in Italy to produce Merlot and was among the first to have Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Traminer. Today, these non-natives are produced as 100 percent varietal wines, as well as mixed in Friuli’s popular blends.

Although the Collio and Colli Orientali wines are more widely recognized, the Carso wine zone must not be overlooked. High above the coastline in the province of Trieste, this narrow ribbon of limestone and dolomite produces such notable reds as Terrano and Refosco di San Dorligo, as well as the white wines Malvasia Istriana and Vitovska. The tiny Carso town of Prosecco has given its name to the native grape Glera di Prosecco, which is thought to be the source of the famed sparkling wine produced today throughout the Veneto.

For a taste of Carso wine, drive along what tourism officials have dubbed the “Terrano Wine Road,” from Opicina to Sistiana. Throughout the countryside, farmhouses open their doors to the public for wine tasting and the sale of other artisanal products. Called osmizze (or osmize) these temporary roadside taverns are indicated by a frasca—a leafy cluster of branches hung above the door. Tables are set up inside the courtyard—traditional Carsic homes had stone walls built around a central courtyard as protection from the fierce bora winds—and villagers gather to sample the local vintage and feast on homemade cheese and salumi. The custom began in 1784 with an imperial decree that allowed peasants to sell their excess wine and produce in an unlicensed restaurant for eight days each year; the word osmizza is thus derived from the Slovene word osem, meaning “eight.”

Whether you travel to Friuli solely as an oenophile or happen to stumble upon the region as an unexpected surprise, you will surely be enchanted by the beauty of its landscape, charmed by the warmth of its people—and seduced by the magic of its food and wine.

IF YOU GO:
Enoteca di Cormòns
Piazza XXIV Maggio, 21
34071 Cormòns (GO)
Italy
+39 (0481) 630371
http://www.enoteca-cormons.it/

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For the past couple weeks, I’ve been working on redesigning BalanceontheBall.com, the website for my first book, Balance on the Ball: Exercises Inspired by the Teachings of Joseph Pilates. I’m relaunching the site on a new platform and am excited that it now features an e-commerce page where you can purchase both of my books, Flavors of Friuli and Balance on the Ball. To celebrate the relaunch, I’m offering this 40% off coupon, valid through the end of November.

To order, click this link https://balanceontheball.com/order/ and use the code LAUNCH40BL at checkout. Thanks for shopping!

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For my Recipe of the Month, I have chosen Cevapcici con Ajvar (Grilled Sausages with Bell Pepper Sauce). These tiny sausages were inspired by the Middle Eastern spiced meat patties brought to the region by the Ottoman Turks. Eaten throughout Slovenia and Croatia, as well as in the provinces of Trieste and Gorizia, they are typically served with chopped onion and a red bell pepper sauce called ajvar. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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My rendition of gubana delle Valli del Natisone, as featured in Flavors of Friuli

While doing research for Flavors of Friuli, one of my most nagging questions was this: is there any difference between gubana and the similar-looking spiral pastries from Trieste, putizza and presnitz, or are they simply regional names for the same dessert? On one of my trips I spoke to a woman working at Pasticceria Ducale in Cividale del Friuli, and she gave me what was the clearest explanation I’d yet found.

Derived from the Slovene word guba, meaning “wrinkle” or “fold,” the name gubana is suggestive of the swirls and spirals in the pastry. While literary sources date similar recipes to the Middle Ages and perhaps even the Romans, the first document to mention gubana by name was written in 1576. There are two types of gubana: gubana delle Valli del Natisone and gubana Cividalese.

Putizza, photo courtesy of Pasticceria Penso

Gubana delle Valli del Natisone is a large spiral cake made with a yeast-based dough and filled with dried fruit, nuts, and spices. It appears very similar to putizza, the spiral cake from Trieste, which gets its name from the Slovenian pastry called potica. As it was explained to me at Pasticceria Ducale, putizza contains chocolate, while gubana delle Valli del Natisone typically does not; otherwise they are quite similar. Later, as I sampled multiple versions of both cakes, I discovered several other differences, notably that this type of gubana is baked as a free-form loaf, while putizza is baked in a round cake pan (or in some bakeries, a paper mold). As I began to test-bake recipes, I came to understand the reason for this. The dough for putizza is much softer and doesn’t hold its shape when filled, necessitating a pan to contain the spiral. In addition, putizza tends to have a higher filling-to-dough ratio, making it a richer, more decadent treat.

Gubana Cividalese, Pasticceria Ducale

Gubana Cividalese contains the same filling as the Valli del Natisone version but is prepared with puff pastry and rolled into a snake-like spiral. When gubana was first conceived, puff pastry required equipment and knowledge only available to the upper classes, making gubana Cividalese the aristocrat’s pastry of choice in the prominent city of Cividale, while gubana delle Valli del Natisone was the version typically prepared by peasants living in the valleys around the Natisone River.

Presnitz, photo courtesy of Pasticceria Penso

Like gubana Cividalese, presnitz, named after the Slovenian Easter cake called presnec, is made with puff pastry and contains a filling of dried fruit, nuts, and spices. In our conversation, the woman at Pasticceria Ducale asserted that gubana Cividalese and presnitz were entirely identical. Since then I have learned that, while this may be true for modern versions of the pastries, historically there is one significant difference. Because Trieste’s wealth during the Hapsburg era brought an increased availability of exotic imports such as spices, nuts, and liqueurs to the city, presnitz was considered a more refined pastry and typically comprised a much longer ingredient list than its counterpart from Cividale. Presnitz was first presented to the empress Elisabeth during a mid-19th century visit to Trieste.

Recipes for gubana delle Valli del Natisone, gubana Cividalese, putizza, and presnitz may be found in my book Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy.

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cavucinFor my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Cavucìn (Butternut Squash Purée), in honor of this month’s Festa della Zucca. Held annually in the tiny, medieval-walled town of Venzone, this festival celebrates pumpkins of all varieties with a weekend of food, art, music, and dancing. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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