Posts Tagged ‘potatoes’

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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patate in teciaFor my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Patate in Tecia (Skillet Potatoes). One of the few dishes considered native to Trieste, these potatoes are often served as an accompaniment to Goulasch (Hungarian-Style Beef Stew) or Stinco di Vitello (Braised Veal Shank). Trieste’s popular method of cooking vegetables “in tecia” refers to the cast-iron skillet traditionally used. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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Trieste statue On my first morning in Trieste, I woke up with a full-blown cold. The symptoms had crept up on me during my lengthy train ride from Budapest, and it was clear that I needed to spend this first day taking it easy.

Upon my late arrival the previous evening, I hadn’t had time to fully take in my new accommodations at Residence Liberty. In the morning light, I could see that the apartment was quite spacious—bigger, even, than my old studio apartment in San Francisco—with a separate narrow kitchen, a large bathroom off the foyer, and high ceilings in the main room. The living area was furnished with a couple of upholstered chairs, a small round table, an armoire, and a desk. The double bed occupied one corner and could be curtained off by floor-to-ceiling draperies, giving it the feel of a separate room. Blue-and-yellow floral curtains framed the windows that, from the eighth floor, overlooked a sea of terracotta-tiled rooftops. Though the windows rattled noisily in the strong bora winds, it was still mesmerizing to lie in bed that morning and watch the rain patter rhythmically against the glass.

I had been thrilled at the prospect of having my own kitchen for a change, but disappointment set in when I saw that there was no oven—just a stovetop burner atop the mini-fridge—and that the microwave was scarcely large enough to hold a saucer tilted sideways. Nevertheless, it was imperative that I stock the kitchen with essentials to last for my three-week stay.

When I could no longer postpone the inevitable, I pried myself out of bed, took a hot shower, and headed outside to the blustery streets. As luck would have it, I found a tiny supermercato on the next block, and there I bought staples like milk, juice, butter, eggs, bread, cheese, yogurt, and muesli, plus a few cans of fruit and fish. Since my kitchen was completely bare, I even had to buy salt, pepper, and olive oil, as well as supplies such as dish soap, sponges, and napkins.

The supermarket did not carry any fresh produce, so I dropped off my bags of groceries at the apartment and then headed to the Mercato Coperto on Via Carducci. This indoor market was filled with produce stands, and I picked up an assortment of bananas, apples, tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant, potatoes, string beans, onions, and garlic.

On my way back from the market, the handwritten menu outside a restaurant called Bagutta Triestino caught my eye. Their daily special was minestra di bobici—not only would this soup be perfect on such a rainy October day, but I could cross off another dish from my “to-try” list. This was my fourth trip to the region specifically for the purpose of researching its cuisine for Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy, and I had already tried most of the dishes that would eventually make it into my book. There were still a few, however, that remained elusive, mostly due to the seasonal nature of certain ingredients. Bobici was one of those that I had so far been unable to find.

Originally a specialty of the Istrian peninsula—and meaning “corn” in the Triestine dialect—bobici is a vegetable soup containing three key ingredients: corn, beans, and potatoes. Bagutta Triestino’s version was also loaded with carrots, onion, and fava beans. The steaming bowl was just what I needed for my stuffy head!

Later, after a much-needed nap, I set to work preparing my first meal in my new apartment. Because of my lengthy stay in Trieste, my game plan was to eat lunch out every day and then stay in and cook for dinner—a strategic means of saving both money and calories. The kitchen, however, was only marginally equipped for cooking. Since the only cutting board and skillet were too filthy and full of gashes to use, I resorted to slicing everything on a plate (with an extremely dull knife) and using the one medium-sized pot for cooking absolutely everything. This made the whole process more time-consuming than it should have been, having to cook each element in succession rather than simultaneously.

First, I boiled some potatoes, coarsely mashing them, skin on, with some butter, salt, and pepper. Then, in the same pot, I boiled the string beans and gave them a final sauté with some garlic and olive oil. Finally, I scrambled an egg—yes, in that same pot—which I served with the vegetables, an undressed salad of greens and tomato slices, a slice of bread, and some cheese.

Since the kitchen had no storage containers, and I hadn’t bought anything like plastic wrap or aluminum foil, I covered the bowls of leftover potatoes and string beans with plates before stashing them in the tiny fridge. Washing dishes was tricky, too, as there was no drying rack or dishtowel. I snagged the extra hand towel from my bathroom, but there was no place in the kitchen to hang it, except over the back of a chair. By the time my meal and chores were finished, I was beat and ready to collapse into bed and shut my eyes until morning.

Minestra di BobiciHere is my recipe for minestra di bobici. The sweet corn and salty pancetta provide lots of flavor, making this one of my all-time favorite soups.

4 ounces dried borlotti (cranberry) beans
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 ounces pancetta, chopped
6 cups water
1-1/2 pounds white potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 ears corn, or about 2 cups whole kernels
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. In advance, place the beans in a small bowl and cover with water. Let soak for at least 12 hours, or overnight; drain.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and pancetta; cook and stir until the onion softens and the pancetta is brown and crisp, about 15 minutes. Add the beans and 6 cups water; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low; simmer, covered, for 2 hours.

3. Add the potatoes to the pot; return to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium; cook until the potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes.

4. Shave the corn kernels off the cobs using a sharp knife; rub the blunt edge of the knife over the cobs to extract their milky liquid. Add the corn kernels and the liquid to the pot, along with the black pepper; cook 10 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season to taste with salt.

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Forni Avoltri's Chiesetta di Sant'AntonioOn my first full day in Forni Avoltri, I would be visiting the Val Pesarina, the last of Carnia’s seven valleys on my itinerary. After an ample breakfast at Hotel Scarpone—yogurt topped with some cereal flakes, a slice of chocolate Bundt cake, a banana, and a glass of grapefruit juice—I set out to buy my bus ticket.

Since I had some time before my bus would arrive, I took a walk across the river. There I found a delightful little church, the Chiesetta di Sant’Antonio, its pink stucco walls standing out in contrast against the pale blue sky. On my walk back, a woman who was tending her garden called out the traditional Friulian greeting, “Mandi,” and I stopped to chat. Americans don’t typically venture as far north as Forni Avoltri, she told me. I must have been a real novelty, for she then called to her cousin, “Vieni a vedere l’americana!Come see the American! After I told them about my interest in Friulian cuisine, the women mentioned that there was to be a presentation on the cooking of Carnia at the Municipio that very evening.

At the bus stop moments later, I saw a flyer announcing the event, a book-signing for Cucina della Carnia by Melie Artico, a book I had coincidentally just purchased the previous week. While waiting, I asked an elderly lady which building was the town hall, and she pointed to it in the piazza behind the bus stop, also commenting that they never see any American visitors there. I told her about the book I was writing, and she said she hoped it would bring more tourists to their small town. Continuing our conversation on the bus, she asked the name of my book, so I presented her with my business card, which gave both my name and the book’s title, Flavors of Friuli. An old man sitting behind her piped up and asked for one too—as if I were someone of particular importance!

My bus arrived in Comeglians, where I had almost two hours to wait for my connecting bus to Prato Carnico. There was nothing to do or see in Comeglians, but I found a tiny church, Chiesa di San Nicolò, where I could sit and escape the harsh sun.

Prato CarnicoI arrived in Prato Carnico after a brief 15-minutes ride. The sight that caught my eye first was a home straight out of a fairy tale, with its tall, brick walls, green-tiled roof, immaculate white trim, dark green shutters, and colorful flower garden. (The green-tiled roof was a style characteristic of the nearby Val Degano, and this was the most charming example I had ever seen.)

Fortunately, the town’s one restaurant, Ristorante Ai Sette Nani, was open. Inside were several paintings of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, a tribute to the restaurant’s name—one that seemed oddly appropriate after having just passed that storybook cottage with the green roof. There were only three menu items available—understandable, perhaps, given that it was a slow day and I was the only customer. I ordered the gnocchi di zucca but was dismayed when I glanced over at the bar area and saw the cook putting my plate into the microwave. Rustically misshapen—from the technique of dropping spoonfuls of dough directly into the cooking water—these pumpkin gnocchi had the potential to be delicious had they been fresh. As it stood, they were tough, doughy, and obviously reheated—a far cry from the delicate ones I had had several years earlier at Ristorante Al Fogolâr in Brazzacco.

One of the dishes on my “to-try” list that I hadn’t yet found on any menu was pendalons. I had read that this side dish of string beans and potatoes was native to the Val Pesarina, so I asked the waiter if they ever served it. They did, although he said that string beans were not currently in season. When I had finished my meal, I declined to order dessert; nevertheless, the waiter brought me a plate of crostoli—strips of fried dough dusted with powdered sugar, a traditional Carnevale treat.

As I was paying my bill at the counter, the cook (and apparently the owner/waiter’s mother) came out of the kitchen to explain to me how she prepares pendalons. Basically a potato purée mixed with string beans, hers are topped with a sauté of pancetta, onion, garlic, parsley, and chives. I took careful notes, so that I could recreate her dish at home.

Prato CarnicoAfter lunch, I took a walk to explore the tiny town. Along the highway, I passed the campanile pendente (leaning tower); its church was destroyed in an earthquake in 1700, and only the tower had been renovated. Then, finding a road leading down to the river, I crossed the bridge and wandered uphill through a residential area amid shady woods and winding roads.

Back on the highway later, I realized how far I had strayed from Prato Carnico. Instead of heading back, however, I took a gamble that I’d reach the next village, Pesariis, in time to catch my return bus. Speed walking most of the way, I made it with just five minutes to spare! Pesariis is known for its Museo dell’Orologeria, or “museum of watches.” I wished I had had time to visit, but the buses in this valley were so infrequent that I had no choice but to return to Forni Avoltri—via Comeglians again, where I had a full hour to wait for my connecting bus.

I left for dinner early, hoping that I would finish in time to attend that book-signing event. I had made a reservation at Ristorante Al Sole, located a short distance across the river. When I arrived, owner Tiziana Romanin immediately introduced me to Giacomo del Fabbro, president of the town’s Centro Culturale, who was hosting the event. He sat at my table for a few minutes before I ordered, as amused as everyone else seemed to be that an American was visiting their out-of-the-way village, and especially pleased that I was writing a book about Friulian cuisine.

Instead of handing me a menu, Tiziana suggested some of their specialties. I started with the cjarsòns, her aunt Lia’s recipe. Prepared with a potato-based dough, the pasta was filled with a mixture of fresh ricotta, raisins, crushed amaretti cookies, parsley, and cinnamon, and served with melted butter, cinnamon, and ricotta affumicata. To drink, she recommended a glass of Verduzzo, its honey and citrus notes pairing perfectly with the sweetness of the cjarsòns.

Next, I had the frico, which came with a slice of polenta, some saucy sautéed wild mushrooms, and a couple bites of veal stew. Though Tiziana had originally specified that the frico was going to be prepared con patate, what I was served actually contained no potatoes. Instead, it was a less common type called frico friabile: crunchy deep-fried cheese with the unique appearance of a porous sea sponge. I had tried this kind of frico once before, at a food festival in Arta Terme, and found it to be extremely greasy. Careful not to express any criticism, I discussed with Tiziana the various types of frico, and she eagerly brought me a thin wedge of frico made with potato and onion. This was the frico I had fell in love with several years earlier—crispy on the outside, soft and cheesy on the inside. To accompany this portion of my meal, Tiziana brought a glass of housemade red wine.

When I finished eating, I was in a hurry to pay my bill so that I could make it to the book-signing by 8:30pm. I tracked down Tiziana on my way to the front counter, and to my complete astonishment, she refused to let me pay for a thing!

Cucina della CarniaI arrived at the Municipio just in time. The room was already crowded with dozens of people seated in rows of folding chairs, but Signor del Fabbro spotted me and led me to an empty, reserved seat in front. During his opening speech, he introduced me as “a special guest from America.” The author was there, of course, along with a panel of scholars, but rather than focusing on the region’s cuisine, the discussion centered around the efforts of translating her cookbook into the Furlan language (each recipe is printed in both Italian and Furlan). I understood some of what was said, but not enough to fully hold my attention—my stomach was full, the room was uncomfortably toasty, and I was exhausted from my long walk earlier. When everyone stood up an hour later, I assumed the event was over (although, to my great embarrassment, I learned the next day that it had only been the intermission). I approached Melie Artico to autograph my copy of her book, and then, after not being able to find Signor del Fabbro to say goodbye, I just left.

During the lecture, I had noticed raindrops beginning to pelt the room’s large window. By the time I left, the skies had unleashed a full-blown thunderstorm. Not having had the foresight to carry my umbrella, I pulled my light jacket up over my head and sprinted the few blocks back to Hotel Scarpone.

pendalonsHere is the recipe for pendalons from Ristorante Ai Sette Nani:

12 ounces string beans, cut into 1-inch-long pieces
1-1/2 pounds white potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Place a steamer rack inside a large pot; fill with 1 inch of water. Place the string beans on the rack. Bring to a boil over high heat; cover and steam until just tender, about 10–15 minutes.

2. Place the potato slices in a large pot, along with 1 cup water; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until the potatoes are tender, about 20–25 minutes, stirring occasionally as the water begins to evaporate. Remove from heat; coarsely mash the potatoes. Stir in the string beans and black pepper. Season to taste with salt.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 ounces pancetta, chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta, onion, and garlic; cook and stir until the onion softens and the pancetta is brown and crisp, about 7–8 minutes. Add the parsley and chives; cook and stir until wilted, about 1–2 minutes. Serve the topping over the potatoes.

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