Posts Tagged ‘pitina’

Latteria Sociale di CividaleAfter a late arrival in Udine the previous night, I awoke to the sound of rain pounding on my shutters. How I desperately longed to roll over, close my eyes, and sleep the morning away! Instead, I forced myself to change and head downstairs to Hotel Principe’s basement-level breakfast room, where the server, Luciana, greeted me like an old friend, even though it had been over a year since my last visit. The hotel’s breakfast buffet included a substantial array of choices: fresh rolls, croissants, and pastries; several types of cereal; the seemingly obligatory packaged toast; fresh fruit; orange and grapefruit juices; and my favorite brand of yogurt, appropriately called “Carnia,” my flavors of choice being frutti di bosco and albicocca.

Since it was raining and I still suffered from jet lag, I decided on a simple excursion to Cividale to ease me into my five-week-long stay. A quick train ride away, the town was by now quite familiar to me, but this time I had a brand new objective: to visit the Latteria Sociale di Cividale, located a short distance across the Ponte del Diavolo in an area I had not yet explored.

The Latteria Sociale is a dairy cooperative, founded in 1924. Members provide a daily supply of milk, from which the latteria produces a number of different cheeses, including the famous Montasio. I had emailed them in advance of my visit but, to my disappointment, received no reply. Unfortunately, the shop was packed with customers when I arrived, and no one was available to speak to me about their cheese production.

Back on the other side of the bridge, however, I stumbled upon a true gem called La Bottega del Gusto. A gourmet’s paradise, this tiny shop was filled to the brim with cheese, salumi, wine, and other artisanal products—not just from Friuli but from all over Italy. The shop owner was thrilled to hear of my interest in his region’s cuisine and offered me some samples. First, I tasted a bite of formadi frant, a cheese made from mixing cheeses of various stages of maturation. It had a golden hue and a salty, pungent flavor. Next, I tried a paper-thin slice of petti d’oca (goose salami), sweet and rosy with a wide border of fat. Another cured meat that I had read much about was pitina; while there were no samples to taste that morning, the shop did carry pitina, and so I bought one to try later.

strucchiMy next stop was the nearby Panificio Cattarossi, where I purchased a gubana Cividalese and a package of cookies called strucchi. Of Friuli’s famous spiral confections, I had so far tried putizza and presnitz in Trieste, and gubana delle Valli del Natisone in Cividale. The differences between the spiral cakes putizza and gubana delle Valli del Natisone were easily determined—for starters, I found that putizza contained chocolate and was baked in a cake pan—but whether there was any significant difference between the puff pastry spirals presnitz and gubana Cividalese remained an unresolved question. I asked the clerk, and although she did emphasize dried fruit in the gubana, her answer was predictably vague.

Ristorante Al MonasteroFor lunch, I returned to the restaurant where I had eaten on my last visit to Cividale: Ristorante Al Monastero. I was lured by the presence of two dishes from my master list—asparagi gratinati and gnocchi di ricotta—on their menu posted outside, but, as so often happened in my travels, those items were not on the actual menu inside. So instead, I ordered the antipasti misti, which included crêpe spirals filled with ricotta and an assortment of salumi—of which the prosciutto d’agnello (cured lamb) was the most unusual. To keep things on the light side, in anticipation of more than a month’s worth of culinary indulgences, I next ordered a plain bowl of minestrone. This meal was healthier than many, and the soup hit the spot on such a rainy day. To complete my meal, and in lieu of dessert, I savored a glass of Picolit wine—sweet and golden with notes of honey, fruit, and caramel.

pitinaBack in my hotel room that afternoon, I opened up my box of pitina—inside was a round hunk of meat, about the size of a tennis ball. Since the early 19th century, pitina (also called peta and petuccia) has been prepared in the mountainous areas of Val Tramontina and Val Cellina in the northern part of Pordenone province. Like all cured meats, pitina was originally created as a way of preserving the meat, in this case mutton, goat, or game such as chamois or venison. The conventional method of sausage-making, which involved stuffing pig intestines with ground meat, was impractical due to the scarcity of swine in these hills. So instead, the meat was seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, herbs, and red wine, then rolled into balls and dredged in cornmeal. Once prepared, these meatballs were placed above a fogolâr (fireplace) to smoke for several days, typically using juniper wood to give the pitina its distinctive smoky flavor. They were then relocated to a cool, dry place to age for several months. Today, only a few artisans still prepare pitina from wild game. This particular brand was made with a combination of pork, beef, and lamb and tasted like smoky salami.

Ristorante Al VaporeLater that evening, I found myself at Ristorante Al Vapore for dinner. Since my last visit three years earlier, the restaurant had renovated and was under new management. The morning showers had gradually tapered off, and I was seated in their outdoor patio area under a red awning. The air was muggy and filled with mosquitoes. I started with one of Friuli’s traditional dishes, toç in braide: a mound of piping hot, creamy polenta topped by a sauce of thinned ricotta, drizzled with a bit of toasted cornmeal in browned butter, and garnished by a ring of sautéed porcini mushrooms. The polenta was so filling that I chose a light dish of trota affumicata (smoked trout) for my second course. This rosy fillet of trota salmonata (salmon trout) was delicately smoked and served on a bed of mixed greens, radicchio, carrots, and zucchini. As I ate, I perused the rest of the menu, intrigued by the lengthy list of salads, particularly the one dubbed the “Equilibrio”—meaning “balance,” this happens to be the name of my publishing imprint!

Back in my hotel room, I cut myself a slice of gubana for dessert. Shaped into a snake-like spiral, flaky puff pastry enveloped a dense filling of raisins, walnuts, and spices. As far as I could tell, it was practically identical to the presnitz I had tasted in Trieste (although a side-by-side taste test would perhaps have yielded a clearer comparison).

strucchiI also sampled a couple of the strucchi. Named for the Slovenian dumplings called štruklji, these small rectangular cookies were made with the same filling as the gubana, deep-fried, and dusted with sugar. Here is my version of the recipe. It makes about 10 to 11 dozen cookies.

6 cups all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, lemon peel, and salt. Blend in the butter, a little at a time, until crumbly. Add the eggs and vanilla extract; mix until the dough forms a solid mass. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

1 cup raisins
1/2 cup grappa or rum
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds
3/4 cup finely crushed biscotti or amaretti cookies
1/2 cup diced candied orange peel
1/4 cup pine nuts
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 egg

1. Place the raisins in a large bowl; add the grappa and let soak for 30 minutes.

2. Finely grind the walnuts and almonds in a food processor; add to the bowl of raisins. Stir in the crushed biscotti, candied orange peel, pine nuts, melted butter, sugar, cinnamon, and egg.

Vegetable oil

1. Working in batches, roll the dough on a sheet of waxed paper to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut the dough into 1 by 1-1/2 inch rectangles. Place 1/2 teaspoon filling in the center of one rectangle; cover with another rectangle, sealing the edges tightly. (Keep the unused dough refrigerated until ready to use.)

2. Pour 1-1/2 inches of vegetable oil into a large pot. Heat the oil to 365°F. Working in batches, carefully place the strucchi in the hot oil; fry until golden brown, about 1–2 minutes. Remove from oil; drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with sugar.

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Ristorante Alle Vecchie CarceriThe morning after the Arta Terme festival, I returned to Udine. My bus pulled in promptly at noon, and my plan was to enjoy a leisurely lunch somewhere in the city and spend the afternoon practicing la dolce far niente. But after dropping off my bags at Hotel Principe, located conveniently next door to the bus station, I made the impromptu decision to return to the station and grab a bus to San Daniele. The ride would take only 45 minutes, and I would arrive just in time to have lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, Ristorante Alle Vecchie Carceri.

On my previous visit, I had shown up—in typical American fashion—precisely as the restaurant was opening to find myself the only customer. This time, however, the restaurant was filled with happy diners, the air abuzz with conversation. Since it was rather late, not to mention busy, I was seated all by myself in the courtyard, which was disappointing at first but ultimately turned out to be quite pleasant and peaceful. Vines of ivy covered the gray stone walls of the former prison, while a border of pink flowers in terracotta pots awarded the impression of a Mediterranean garden.

To start, I was served the chef’s complimentary appetizer of a small mound of polenta topped by two wafers of frico croccante (Montasio cheese crisps), a pile of ricotta affumicata (smoked ricotta cheese), and a sprinkling of poppy seeds. This was followed by an antipasto plate of white asparagus tips, ricotta affumicata, anchovies, capers, and more wafers of frico croccante. Next, I had intended on trying something new but could not bring myself to pass up the irresistible cjalsòns: round, plump ravioli, shaped rather like flying saucers, with a filling made with mashed potatoes, caramelized onion, and raisins. The cjalsòns were served in a generous pool of melted butter and topped with cinnamon, sugar, and ricotta affumicata. Cinnamon sticks and piles of raisins garnished the plate. To finish, I ordered the torta di mele, an individual apple cake, served warm and topped with toasted pine nuts, whipped cream, and a drizzle of vanilla and caramel sauces. As an added touch, the plate was garnished with an artsy stencil of powdered sugar in the design of two forks.

San Daniele in CastelloAfter lunch, I took a walk to the Chiesa di San Daniele in Castello and was pleased to find the church open (unlike my last visit). Under a pane of glass in the floor, I was able to view some of the ruins of the medieval castle that once stood on this site. Next, I revisited the tiny Chiesa di Sant’Antonio Abate, a true gem of a church, often referred to as the “Sistine Chapel of Friuli” for the vividly colored fresco cycle by Pellegrino da San Daniele.

Back in Udine that evening, I returned to Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo for dinner. Of all the restaurants in the city, I found their menu to offer the greatest variety of traditional Friulian dishes, and it had become a personal challenge to work my way through their daily-changing menu.

To begin, I ordered gnocchi di Sauris, which were essentially gnocchi di pane (bread dumplings similar to German semmelknödel) with the addition of some chopped prosciutto di Sauris. In the style typical of Friulian gnocchi, they were served in melted butter and topped with ricotta affumicata; however, like much of the gnocchi served at Al Vecchio Stallo, I found them to be rather heavy and bland. Next, I had the pitina all’aceto balsamico, a variation on the traditional salame all’aceto, where slices of salami are sautéed (often with onions), simmered in vinegar, and served with polenta. This version used pitina, a cured meat from the mountains of Pordenone province that is often made with mutton, goat, or venison. The seasoned, ground meat is rolled into balls, dredged in cornmeal, and placed above a fogolâr (fireplace) to smoke. The pitina comes out gamey and smoky, and the vinegar in the dish helps to cut the fattiness.

Here is my version of salame all’aceto, which may be prepared with any type of salami you like:

Salame all'aceto2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
8 ounces salami (about 2 inches diameter), sliced into eight 1/2-inch rounds
1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion; cook and stir until it begins to soften, about 8–10 minutes. Add the salami slices; cook until brown, about 3–5 minutes on each side. Add the vinegar. Reduce heat to low; simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Serve with polenta.

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