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Posts Tagged ‘Spilimbergo’

Spilimbergo's Palazzo ErcoleThe early morning air was already hot and muggy, without even the slightest breeze to temper the oppressive heat. With only a couple more days left in Udine before the end of my five-week-long trip, I decided to revisit the town of Spilimbergo.

My hope was to find a restaurant that served balote: cheese-filled polenta balls, native to the mountains north of Pordenone. According to local tradition, when a young man wanted to propose marriage, he would present an offering of balote to the potential bride’s family; if the balote were immediately placed on the fogolâr (fireplace) to roast, it was understood that he had the family’s approval.

Spilimbergo's Palazzo di SopraI took the train to Pordenone and then caught a bus to Spilimbergo. Mike and I had driven through the town in May of the previous year, but since we were on our way to Carnia, with several stops to make en route, we didn’t have long to explore. This trip, I had plenty of time to visit the main sights. First, I set out to locate some of Spilimbergo’s famous painted palazzi. One of the most well-known was the Palazzo Ercole (a.k.a. Casa Dipinta), whose frescoes illustrated scenes from the mythical life of Hercules. Then, after a bit of an uphill hike, I found the brilliantly painted Palazzo di Sopra, home to Spilimbergo’s town hall. Set amid a neatly manicured lawn and framed by two tall palm trees, its white façade was decorated with intricate yellow designs and a Venetian winged lion of Saint Mark.

Spilimbergo's DuomoI was especially looking forward to seeing the frescoes on the exterior of the 15th-century Palazzo Dipinto, but when I reached the courtyard of the Castello di Spilimbergo where they were located, I was dismayed to find all the frescoes shrouded in scaffolding. My disappointment, however, was short-lived—my spirits soon lifted as I came upon the sunny Duomo di Santa Maria Maggiore, whose yellow Romanesque Gothic façade featured a pattern of circular cutout windows.

At lunchtime, I headed to Osteria Da Afro, as it was on my list of places specializing in Friulian cooking. Although it was past noon when I arrived, the restaurant was not yet open. I was told to wait in the lobby, where I spotted, through a crack in a partially open door, the staff gathered around a table eating their meal. Finally, I was shown to a table in the empty dining room. Despite my expectations, there were few Friulian dishes on the menu. The waiter explained that la cucina friulana was more of a winter cuisine and that they tended to serve lighter dishes in the hot summer months. Feeling inclined to agree with him on that point, I was quite content ordering the melanzane alla parmigiana and an insalata mista.

Since there were no other customers, the waiter was able to spend a good deal of time at my table answering some of my lingering questions. We talked about the restaurant’s preparation of baccalà (salt cod) and trout—and most importantly, balote, which they frequently serve in wintertime. He described their size (larger than a golf ball, smaller than a tennis ball), the type of cheese they are filled with (traditionally the local salted cheese called asìno, but cubes of fresh Montasio may be used instead), and how they are served (no sauce but frequently with sautéed mushrooms on the side).

After lunch, I took the next bus back to Pordenone, where I caught the train back to Udine. For the third day in a row, I decided not to go out for dinner but to eat in my room instead. At the COOP supermarket, I bought some bananas, kiwis, and yogurt (happily, my room at Hotel Principe had a mini fridge). Then, at the nearby rosticceria, I picked up some sautéed zucchini and a slice of frittata. It was a light picnic, which my body was really craving after a full month of rich, heavy meals.

baloteHere is my interpretation of balote, as described to me at Osteria Da Afro. Since asìno cheese is not easily available outside Pordenone province, I have substituted a mixture of cream cheese (for the creaminess) and ricotta salata (for the saltiness). The texture is not as soft and creamy as asìno, but it holds its shape nicely when being wrapped inside the polenta. Consider serving the balote with some sautéed mushrooms.

Filling:
4 ounces cream cheese
4 ounces ricotta salata, grated (about 1-1/4 cups)

In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese and ricotta salata. Divide the mixture into twelve equal parts, rolling each into a small ball. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Polenta:
4 cups water
1 cup coarsely ground cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt

Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a medium pot over high heat. Stir in the cornmeal and salt. When the water returns to a boil, reduce heat to low; cook and stir until soft, about 25 minutes. Pour immediately into a 9- by 13-inch baking dish; spread evenly. Let cool for 15 minutes, or until just cool enough to handle.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Slice the polenta into twelve equal portions. Scoop out a portion of polenta and roll into a rough ball. Flatten slightly, place one cheese ball in the center, and smooth the polenta over to enclose the cheese. (The polenta will be very sticky, so work gently.) Place the finished polenta balls in a greased baking dish. Bake until heated through, about 25 minutes.

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Villa ManinThis was the day Mike and I began our road trip through Friuli. We got an early start and managed to make it out of Udine, albeit getting a little lost trying to find the highway. Our final destination was Sauris, where we had reservations for the night, although I had planned for us to make several stops en route: Villa Manin, Spilimbergo, and San Daniele del Friuli.

Driving southwest, we took a slight detour through Codroipo and the nearby town of Passariano, where we had hoped to visit Friuli’s largest palazzo. Villa Manin was originally the summer residence of Ludovico Manin, the last doge of Venice, and during the 1797 signing of the Treaty of Campoformido, which ceded much of northern Italy to Austria, this palace was briefly home to Napoleon Bonaparte. Today, Villa Manin is currently used for rotating exhibitions of contemporary art.

Villa ManinWhen we arrived, I was immediately struck by the enormity of the palace’s courtyard and its semicircular colonnade, which was modeled after Rome’s Piazza San Pietro. The doors were wide open, so we wandered in, looking around for the biglietteria. Within moments, though, we were accosted by the staff and asked to leave. Apparently, the museum was closed for the installation of a new exhibit. This was disappointing, but I determined to return the following year.

Spilimbergo's Palazzo ErcoleNext, we headed north to the town of Spilimbergo, which lay on the other side of the Tagliamento River. We stayed only long enough to stroll through the cobblestone streets of the town center and find the Palazzo Ercole (also known as the Casa Dipinta), whose 16th-century frescoes illustrate the mythical life of Hercules. Once again, I resolved to return on my next visit, when I would have more time to explore.

As it was nearing lunchtime, we crossed back over the Tagliamento River and drove north to San Daniele del Friuli. After Mike succeeded in parallel parking our tiny Fiat in an especially tight spot on one of the town’s steep hills, we took a quick, self-guided tour of the Duomo di San Michele Arcangelo and the Chiesa di Sant’Antonio Abate. The latter, one of my personal favorites, is often called the “Sistine Chapel of Friuli” for its vividly colored fresco cycle by Renaissance artist Martino da Udine (a.k.a. Pellegrino da San Daniele).

Chiesa di San Daniele in CastelloHaving read about the prevalence of trout in Friuli’s rivers, I was curious to sample the smoked trout made by Friultrota, a San Daniele company. We found a package of trota affumicata in a local gourmet food store and took it up the hill to the castello for a pre-lunch snack. In the shady grove outside Chiesa di San Daniele in Castello, we sat on a park bench overlooking the expansive countryside, its rolling hills mottled with shades of sepia, olive, and chestnut. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the trout had both the appearance and flavor of smoked salmon. (Later, I concluded that it was trota salmonata, which has the same rosy flesh as salmon.)

For lunch, we ate at Antica Osteria Al Ponte. Since it seemed negligent to order any other antipasto while in San Daniele, we started with a huge platter of prosciutto di San Daniele. Next, I had spaghetti with cherry tomatoes and mozzarella, while Mike had tagliatelle al prosciutto in cream sauce. For dessert, we shared the tortino di pere—a warm cornmeal cake baked with chunks of pear and drizzled with caramel sauce, the plate sprinkled with powdered sugar and cocoa in a template that read “Al Ponte.”

From San Daniele, we headed further north into Carnia. The drive to Sauris—which took another hour and a half—turned out to be one of the most hair-raising of my life. While Mike found the ride somewhat of a thrill, I was terrified by the constant blind hairpin turns, which were far too narrow for the breadth of two cars. It appeared to me that no one else seemed to mind, as all the other cars kept racing around the bend toward us at breakneck speed. I did, however, enjoy the long, dark tunnel carved into the mountainside (which we jokingly referred to as the “bat cave”).

Hotel Pa'KhraizarOnce we arrived, I could finally breathe a little easier. Our hotel was located in the hamlet of Lateis—on an entirely separate hill from Sauris proper. With a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains, Hotel Pa’Khraizar was without a doubt the quaintest hotel I had ever stayed in. The small room was made entirely of pine—walls, floor, ceiling, door, and furniture—with fluffy pillows gracing the tall bed, which sagged dreadfully in the middle. Though minimally decorated, the tiled bathroom was surprisingly spacious given the diminutive size of the room. Through a pair of small picture windows, we could see out over the verdant hills, strewn with yellow and purple wildflowers, although the view was gradually becoming obscured by a bank of wispy fog rolling in through the valley below.

Sauris di SopraAfter settling in, we drove down the hill and took a walk along the turquoise Lago di Sauris before driving up to the towns of Sauris di Sotto and Sauris di Sopra. In the upper town, we parked the car and ventured out into a grassy field, the skyline dominated by a not-so-distant ridge of snow-capped peaks. There, in the middle of the meadow, I had a moment straight out of “The Sound of Music,” arms wide open and twirling with joy like Julie Andrews.

By the time we returned to Hotel Pa’Khraizar, it had started to rain. We took a cozy late afternoon nap and then went downstairs for dinner. We began our meal with a platter of prosciutto di Sauris, which had a subtle smokiness in comparison to the prosciutto we had tasted earlier in San Daniele. Next, I ordered the cjalsòns, which were filled with herbs and raisins, while Mike had more tagliatelle, this time prepared with sausage and leeks. To finish, I had the goulasch con polenta (still no tomatoes—I was beginning to wonder if they were ever used in the dish after all), and Mike had cold, sliced roast beef served with mushrooms and arugula. Our meal was, of course, accompanied by a generous quantity of house red wine!

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SpilimbergoCheck out my new travel “Highlights” on Afar.com: the painted palazzi of Spilimbergo and Friuli’s best cjarsòns.

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