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For my Recipe of the Month, I have chosen Strucolo de Pomi (Apple Strudel), in honor of the Festa della Mela, held in mid-September in the Carnian town of Tolmezzo. While apple strudel is popular throughout Friuli, this version using puff pastry is based on the recipe given to me by Trieste’s Pasticceria Penso. Visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com for the recipe.

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Santuario di MonrupinoIt was a picture-perfect day, with crystal clear skies and only the slightest autumn chill in the air. Hoping to explore the Carso a little more, I left Trieste midmorning and caught bus #42 to Monrupino. My plan was to visit the Santuario di Monrupino and then have lunch at Ristorante Furlan. I arrived around 10:00am and wandered up the tree-lined road toward the white campanile towering above the surrounding stone walls.

Built on a hill above the ruins of a prehistoric fort, this medieval church is the site of the Carsic wedding ceremony, the Nozze Carsiche, which takes place in August every two years. This rite is based on the traditional marriage ceremony of the late 19th century and today attracts thousands of observers. The festivities last four days, beginning with the bachelor and bachelorette parties, followed by the transport of the dowry to the groom’s house. The party culminates on Sunday with the wedding ceremony at the sanctuary, where around five hundred people participate, all dressed in traditional costume. This is followed by a bridal precession to the town of Repen (Rupingrande), where the bride is given away to the groom’s family at the Casa Carsica. After the ceremony, guests are served a traditional veal stew called zvacet at the reception dinner.

Monrupino parish houseEntering the courtyard, I passed the parish house, one of the oldest structures in the Carso. Adjacent to this gray stone building was the small but imposing Santuario. Inside the church, I was greeted by an older woman whose Italian I struggled to understand. When she switched to English, I learned that she was originally from Alabama and had lived in Monrupino for forty years. It appeared that she was a caretaker of sorts at the church, but before I could ask how she came to live there, she disappeared abruptly with a curt explanation about how she needed to go do her ironing. She also mentioned, on her way out the door, that my restaurant would probably not be open today.

I still had a long time to kill before lunch, so I found a smooth rock to sit on, in the grounds behind the fortified walls of the church. I read for about 40 minutes, then meandered back down the hill to the town. I found Ristorante Furlan quite easily, but as the woman had predicted, it was in fact closed for lunch.

The bus schedule showed a return bus to Trieste in 15 minutes, but to my considerable annoyance, it never came. Neither did the next one an hour later. It was only upon closer inspection of the sign—for the fourth or fifth time—that I realized that the bus to Trieste didn’t actually stop in Monrupino but in the next town over, Repen. The timetable also indicated that the bus did make a stop in Monrupino going in the opposite direction toward Opicina, so I waited another 20 minutes for that bus.

By this time, I was feeling somewhat lightheaded and nauseous, from sitting for so long in the direct sunlight as well as from hunger. I greatly regretted not having packed any snacks. Luckily, the bus to Opicina came as expected, with a perfectly timed connection for Trieste. I arrived back in Piazza Oberdan just before 2:00pm, with the urgent need to find something to eat as soon as possible.

There were several restaurants on Via G. Carducci leading away from the bus stop. The first one I passed, at the corner on Via C. Battisti, had no free tables. The next offered buffet-style food at its bar, but the stand-up counter was also too crowded. Another didn’t have any local dishes on their menu, and despite my gnawing hunger, I was determined to find some traditional Friulian/Triestine food. After all, researching the region’s cuisine was my sole reason for this trip! I walked up and down the street, finally ending up back at the first restaurant, Buffet Marascutti, which had all but cleared out by then.

Founded in 1914, Marascutti is one of the oldest buffets in Trieste. Across from my table, several enlarged black-and-white photographs spanned the gray stone walls, giving the place a decidedly old-world feel. I ordered the rotolo di spinaci: slices of boiled pasta “strudel” filled with spinach. I understood the waitress to say that it was served with a little brodo di carne (meat broth), which is the traditional presentation for the dish. Consequently, I was puzzled to find a pork chop on my plate in addition to the strudel. I was positively famished by this time, so the extra food was a welcome surprise!

As I left the restaurant, I could see dark clouds approaching from the north—evidently the storm I had seen forecast on TV the night before. I took a little detour on my way back to my apartment: first, a limone (lemon) and yogurt gelato at Gelateria Zampolli, and then a brief stroll through the department store Coin.

I spent the rest of the afternoon working on the computer, transcribing my notes from the past few days. For dinner, I had some leftover potatoes and string beans, which I heated in the ridiculously tiny microwave, on a saucer that would only fit when wedged in at a sharp angle. I also had a can of tuna and thought I’d throw together a tuna melt sandwich. The problem was that the apartment didn’t come with a usable skillet. Well, actually there was one, but I hadn’t used it because it was full of gashes and its non-stick coating was peeling off. The only other cooking vessel available was a medium-sized pot, the one I had been using to boil and sauté vegetables. It was just large enough to hold a slice of bread, so I layered on some cheese and then half the can of tuna, topped by another slice of bread. It was only then that it dawned on me: how was I going to flip the sandwich when the wide spatula couldn’t maneuver down inside the deep pot? So as it happened, my tuna melt swiftly turned into a tuna explosion!

strucolo de spinazeRotolo di spinaci may also be referred to as a rollata or strucolo (Triestine dialect for strudel). It can be prepared with either traditional pasta dough or potato-based gnocchi dough. My version here uses pasta dough. If Montasio stagionato is not available, you may substitute Parmigiano-Reggiano or any other aged cheese.

Filling:
1 pound fresh spinach leaves
1 cup fresh ricotta
3/4 cup grated Montasio stagionato
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• • •
Pasta Dough:
3/4 cup semolina flour
1 egg
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
• • •
1/2 cup beef broth, heated

For the Filling:
Place the spinach (plus 1–2 tablespoons water if using packaged, prewashed spinach) in a large pot over medium-low heat. Cook, covered, until wilted, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain the spinach thoroughly, squeezing out all excess liquid. Coarsely chop the spinach and place in a large bowl; cool to room temperature. Stir in the ricotta, Montasio cheese, salt, black pepper, and nutmeg. Refrigerate for 1 hour, or until ready to use.

For the Dough:
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, egg, olive oil, and salt. Transfer the dough to a clean surface; knead until the flour is fully incorporated and the mixture becomes smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (If the dough is too dry or crumbly, lightly moisten your fingers with water during kneading until you reach the desired texture.) Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.

To Prepare:
Roll the dough to form a 12- by 18-inch rectangle. Spread the spinach mixture over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border on all sides. Starting with one short side, roll up jelly roll style, sealing the ends tightly. (Moisten the dough with a little water to help seal, if necessary.) Wrap the strudel inside an 18-inch-square piece of cheesecloth, tying the ends securely with string.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Place the strudel in the water; cook for 1 hour, adding more water as necessary to keep the strudel submerged. (If the strudel is not entirely covered by water, you may turn it over after 30 minutes to ensure even cooking.) Remove the strudel from the cheesecloth. Cut into 1-inch slices; serve with the warm beef broth.

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apple strudelAfter only two short days, it was time to leave Vienna. I arrived at the hydrofoil dock just before 8:00am, ready to cruise along the Danube River to Budapest. The only seating on the boat was indoors, and I felt lucky to grab a single seat by the window. The remaining seats filled up quickly. Most passengers appeared to be Austrian, though there were quite a few speaking English—from the U.S., Britain, Canada, and Australia—as well as a trio from Japan.

Shortly after we departed Vienna, the boat spent a full hour passing through the first of two locks. While waiting, I ate the first part of my snack, which I had purchased the day before: a slice of topfenstrudel, the dough moist and rolled paper-thin with a sweet cheese and raisin filling.

After a stop in Bratislava, Slovakia, the hydrofoil continued on to Budapest. Just prior to arriving, we hit our second lock. Once again, it seemed to take forever to pass through. As the sun streamed through the window to my right, hitting me squarely in the eyes, I came to regret my choice of seat. Some passengers had escaped the claustrophobic heat of the cabin to light cigarettes on the narrow walkway outside, and their smoke kept wafting unpleasantly through the open door (which another woman insisted on opening each time I got up to shut it).

I found solace during this second delay by partaking in my remaining snack: a slice of apfelstrudel, packed with apples and cinnamon, sweet but with just the right amount of tartness.

We arrived in Budapest an hour and a half late. Gray clouds had gathered, obscuring the sun, though it was still a beautiful sight passing under all of the city’s magnificent bridges, the Gothic-style Parliament building on the left and the Buda Castle on the hilltop to the right.

I had chosen my hotel, Hotel Art, mainly for its proximity to the boat dock, Metro stops, and famous pedestrian street Váci Utca. After checking in, I changed some money into Hungarian forints and then walked along Váci Utca to St. Stephen’s Basilica. Although the church was closed to visitors due to a wedding in progress, I was able to peek inside and listen to the strains of “Ave Maria” coming from the altar.

For dinner, I headed to one of the restaurants that seemed to make all of the “Best Of” lists in my guidebooks: Csarnok Vendéglő. I entered with some degree of trepidation, having read that Budapest restaurants were notorious for ripping off customers—even locals—but to my relief, the staff were very friendly and accommodating. As a woman dining alone in a foreign country, I did not feel the least bit uncomfortable there.

My meal was exceptional. I started with the hortobágyi palacsinta, a meat-filled crêpe served in a cream sauce laced with lots of paprika. This was followed by töltött káposzta: cabbage rolls stuffed with rice and ground meat, topped with sour cream, and served on a bed of sauerkraut. Even though I didn’t possess a palate discriminating enough to tell precisely what types of meat were used, I nevertheless determined that the dishes were seasoned to perfection.

After dinner, I returned to my hotel via the waterfront, about a 40-minute walk. The whole river was aglow with sparkling lights—luxury hotels on the eastern bank, the hilltop castle rising to the west, bridges spanning the two sides, and riverboats leisurely cruising beneath—the water alive in a magical, reflective, glittering dance. In an odd juxtaposition of Disneyland fantasy and ancient history, Budapest seemed a fairytale come to life.

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apple strudelFor my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Strucolo de Pomi (Apple Strudel), in honor of the Festa della Mela, held in mid-September in the Carnian town of Tolmezzo. While apple strudel is popular throughout Friuli, this version using puff pastry is based on the recipe given to me by Trieste’s Pasticceria Penso. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

Read Full Post »

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