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Italo StopparI had planned on leaving for Pasticceria Penso extra early the next morning, but a restless night of sleep made rousing myself at 6:30am hopelessly unappealing. So by the time I finally dragged myself out of bed and across the street to the bakery, the day’s work was already well underway. I found the Stoppar family busily preparing all sorts of decadent sweets: jam-filled crostate (tarts), mini tartlets filled with pastry cream and fresh fruit, cream-filled puff pastry horns, and candied orange peel dipped in dark chocolate. At one end of the vast stainless steel work table sat three specially ordered sheet cakes waiting to be picked up, each garnished with strawberry slices and fluffy flourishes of whipped cream.

Antonello StopparTwo days earlier, I had arrived to witness twenty-five chocolate cakes being pulled fresh from the oven. Now it was time to transform them into sachertortes. First, Italo Stoppar sliced each cake in half, assembling the layers with a glaze of Maraschino liqueur and apricot jam. Next, his son Antonello spread the cakes with a rich chocolate ganache. The sides were then garnished with chocolate sprinkles and the word “Sacher” expertly piped on top.

But of all the indulgent treats that found their way into the bakery’s display case that morning, one in particular seemed to be calling my name: the dobostorte. Unlike the round layer cakes I had sampled in the bakeries of Vienna and Budapest, these were rectangular, made to be sold as the bite-size pastries Italians call pastine. True to the traditional style, Penso’s version consisted of five thin layers of sponge cake, each spread with a light chocolate buttercream, to which the Stoppars added their own personal touch of ground hazelnuts. Crowning the torta was a sixth layer of cake covered in a lemon-scented caramel glaze.

I found it impossible to tear myself away until I was practically forced out at 1:00pm, when the family closed up shop for their afternoon break. Since it was already late, I went to lunch at the nearby Ristorante Al Bragozzo, an upscale seafood restaurant Mike and I had been to the previous year. I ordered the zuppa di pesce (fish soup), in order to compare it to yesterday’s lunch at La Marinella. This version had a wider range of seafood—one mussel, one clam, one shrimp, and one langoustine, as well as some fish and octopus—although the broth was barely tepid. In addition, I struggled to break open the langoustine without a nutcracker. (At my recent lunch at Muggia’s Ristorante Al Lido, the shells of my scampi all buzara had been pre-cut, though still a messy challenge to extract the meat even with the provided nutcracker!)

Trieste's Cattedrale di San GiustoAfter lunch, I took a walk up the hill to Castello di San Giusto. The castle interior was closed, but I spent some time exploring the grounds outside the gate, most notably the ruins of an ancient Roman basilica. Cattedrale di San Giusto was open, so I was able to view the splendid gold mosaics in its three domed apses. A unique structure, the cathedral was created in the 14th century, when two parallel churches were joined together. I descended the hill via a winding road through the Parco della Rimembranza, a park dedicated to the memory of fallen soldiers, and then passed briefly by the Teatro Romano (Roman amphitheater) before returning to my apartment at Residence Liberty.

Torta DobosHere is my recipe for Torta Dobos, inspired by the one at Pasticceria Penso:

For the Cake:
6 eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
1 cup cake or pastry flour, sifted
Pinch salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper. Trace two 8-inch circles onto each piece of paper.

2. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla extract, and lemon peel to the “ribbon stage,” about 5 minutes. (The batter will be pale in color and will leave a ribbon-like trail when drizzled over the surface of the batter.) Stir in the flour. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Soften the batter by stirring in a little egg white; fold in the remaining egg whites.

3. Spread about 3/4 cup batter onto each of the six parchment paper templates. Bake until the edges are golden brown, about 10–12 minutes. Transfer the cakes, along with the parchment paper, to wire racks; cool completely before removing the paper. Choose the best-looking cake to reserve for the top layer.

For the Caramel Glaze:
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon lemon juice

1. Combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a small saucepan; bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until golden amber in color, about 6–8 minutes. Pour the caramel immediately over the reserved cake layer. Spread using a buttered offset spatula, scraping away any caramel that has spilled over the edges.

2. Wait a couple minutes, until the caramel has begun to solidify but is still warm to the touch. Using the blunt edge of a buttered knife, score the cake into twelve wedges. When the caramel has cooled to room temperature, cut the cake into twelve wedges using a sharp, buttered knife.

For the Buttercream Frosting:
1 cup water
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1 tablespoon baking soda
1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup water to a boil over high heat. Add the hazelnuts and baking soda; cook for 5 minutes. Remove the hazelnuts and place in a colander under cold running water; rub off and discard the skins. Transfer the skinned hazelnuts to a baking dish; toast until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Cool completely.

2. Grind the toasted hazelnuts to a smooth paste in a food processor. In a large bowl, beat the hazelnut paste, butter, confectioners’ sugar, and cocoa powder until soft and fluffy.

3. Spread a thin layer of frosting over each of the remaining cakes, stacking to assemble the five layers. Spread additional frosting around the sides of the cake; use any extra to decorate as desired. Place the caramel-glazed wedges on top of the cake.

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pastries at Trieste's Pasticceria PensoAs usual, I began this day with a visit to Pasticceria Penso. When I arrived, the patriarch of the family, Italo Stoppar, was busy preparing a number of cream-filled treats. Most involved slices of sponge cake placed inside rounded molds, which were then filled with chocolate, vanilla, and/or cherry pastry cream. Once unmolded, the pastries were then glazed with chocolate ganache or else covered with whipped cream and chopped walnuts. Slices often revealed a maraschino cherry tucked in the center.

apple strudel at Trieste's Pasticceria PensoAcross the giant stainless steel table, Italo’s sons Antonello and Lorenzo were baking a batch of apple strudel. While Austrian strudels are traditionally rolled up jellyroll-style in a paper-thin dough, I found puff pastry to be just as common in Friuli. The brothers added raisins, pine nuts, candied orange peel, and rum to the mix of chopped apples, along with some crushed savoiardi (ladyfingers) to soak up the sweet juices. After wrapping a rectangle of puff pastry around the filling, they decoratively arranged a strip of dough lengthwise down the center.

We all chatted for several hours, as I jotted down notes about the family’s recipes. Antonello gave me a couple of magazines to borrow, each with an article featuring Penso. By the time I was ready to leave, just before noon, the strudels had cooled enough for me to take a slice home for dessert.

From the bakery, I walked to Piazza Oberdan to catch bus #6 to Ristorante La Marinella, located north of Trieste between the seaside towns of Barcola and Grignano. Not knowing exactly where along the Viale Miramare the restaurant was located, I got off much too early. However, with the mid-October sun beaming down a soothing warmth and the light, salty breeze caressing my face, it turned out to be a very pleasant half-hour walk.

La Marinella had been recommended to me by Joško Sirk, owner of the now Michelin-starred La Subida in Cormòns, who declared it to be his favorite place for seafood in the region. As I entered, I spotted a prominently displayed photograph of the Pope shaking hands with a man I gathered to be the owner. I was surprised to find the dining room empty, save for one Austrian couple with a young child—but then it was getting rather late for lunch by the time I had finally arrived. A waiter, smartly dressed in a red jacket and bow tie, led me to a window table, where I could gaze across the busy highway toward the sea.

To start, I ordered the frutti di mare gratinati appetizer: a plate of scallops and razor clams baked with a bread crumb topping. Next, I had the zuppa di pesce (fish soup). Unlike many versions I have since tried, this one contained only fish, no shellfish or calamari. Slices of crostini were served on the side to soak up the savory tomato broth.

Trieste's Faro della VittoriaAfter lunch, I strolled back along the waterfront into Barcola, where I caught the next bus back to Trieste. It was such a beautiful day that I took a little detour on my way home, passing by the Jewish Synagogue, one of the largest in Europe. When I finally reached Residence Liberty, it was already late afternoon. I spent some time reading through Antonello’s magazines, prepared some mashed potatoes to accompany my improvised dinner of bread, cheese, eggs, and salad, and cozied up to watch an episode of “Alias” on my computer—with my slice of apple strudel for dessert!

Here is my recipe for apple strudel, adapted from the one given to me by Pasticceria Penso:

apple strudel3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided and softened
1/4 cup cold water
• • •
3 medium apples (about 1-1/4 pounds), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup finely crushed biscotti, amaretti, or savoiardi cookies
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup diced candied orange peel
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon rum
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• • •
1 egg, beaten to blend

For the Puff Pastry Dough:
In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Cut 2 tablespoons butter into cubes; blend into the flour mixture. Add 1/4 cup cold water; mix until crumbly. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead briefly. Flatten the dough to a 1/2-inch-thick disk. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Unwrap the dough and place on a lightly floured surface; roll to a 7-inch square. Roll the corners of the square away from the center to form four flaps, leaving a 3-inch square in the center at the original thickness. Beat the remaining 6 tablespoons butter with a rolling pin to form a 3-inch square; place in the center of the dough. Fold the flaps over to enclose the butter; turn the dough folded-side down. Roll to a 6- by 9-inch rectangle; fold in thirds (like a letter). Rotate the dough 90°. Roll again to a 6- by 9-inch rectangle; fold in thirds again. (This completes two “turns.”) Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Repeat rolling and folding the dough for two more turns. Wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Repeat rolling and folding the dough for two final turns. (This completes a total of six turns.) Wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using.

For the Filling:
In a large bowl, combine the apples, crushed biscotti, raisins, candied orange peel, pine nuts, sugar, rum, melted butter, lemon peel, and cinnamon.

To Prepare:
Preheat oven to 400°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry dough to a 12- by 15-inch rectangle. Transfer the dough to a large sheet of parchment paper. Brush the surface of the dough with beaten egg. Spread the filling lengthwise along the center of the dough. Wrap the dough around the filling, tightly sealing all seams; carefully turn the strudel seam-side down. Transfer the strudel, along with the parchment paper, to a baking sheet. Brush the surface of the dough with beaten egg. Bake until golden brown, about 25–30 minutes.

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crostata at Trieste's Pasticceria PensoAs soon as I was awake and dressed the next morning, I headed straight to Pasticceria Penso. As usual, the kitchen was a flurry of activity. Twenty-five sachertortes had just been pulled from the oven to cool. The patriarch of the family, Italo Stoppar, was spreading sheets of sponge cake with chocolate pastry cream, then rolling them up jellyroll-style. His elder son, Lorenzo, was filling pastry horns with vanilla pastry cream, then dusting them with powdered sugar. Younger son Antonello was busy adorning crostate (tarts) with a colorful assortment of berries and kiwi.

I stayed for a couple of hours, chatting and observing, feeling in that moment as if I truly belonged there. Years earlier, when brainstorming things to do with my life after my dance career had suddenly been cut short, I had made a list of “fantasy jobs”—one of the top entries had been to work in a bakery. Even though I was not actually working at Penso, my experience of hanging out in the kitchen nearly every day sufficed to satisfy that craving.

Lorenzo Stoppar at Pasticceria PensoDuring our chat, Antonello casually mentioned how he wanted to open a bakery in San Francisco. This was not the first time an Italian had shared such an idea with me. When I was staying in Castiglioncello during the 1990s—first as a dance student, and later as a Pilates instructor, at the summer festival Pro Danza Italia—I had made the acquaintance of Rossano Bocelli, cousin of singer Andrea Bocello and owner of my favorite hangout, Gelateria Bocelli. I remember talking at length with him about his dream of opening a gelateria in San Francisco. At the time, I had actually taken him seriously, but of course those plans were never to materialize. So when Antonello expressed a similar desire, I knew better than to expect him to follow through. Still, I allowed myself a brief moment of fantasy, imagining myself quitting my job teaching Pilates in the dungeon of a gym in San Francisco’s Federal Building and spending my future days immersed in chocolate, pastry, and buttercream.

Around midmorning, I left to do a couple of errands. One of my goals on this trip was to procure a spiny spider crab shell in which to photograph the dish granzievola alla Triestina for my cookbook Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy. Called granzievola in the Triestine dialect (and granseola in Venetian dialect), this crab is native to Mediterranean and northeast Atlantic waters—a species I had no chance of finding back at home.

granzievolaThe night before, I had searched the phone book in the lobby of my apartment building, Residence Liberty, for seafood markets within walking distance. I set out from the bakery on a carefully planned circuit, hoping to buy a crab to cook in my tiny apartment kitchen, thus providing me with my sought-after shell. Although I had seen granzievole on prior trips to Venezia’s Mercato di Rialto, there were none to be found here in Trieste. I was told at several markets, where the workers were not too busy to ask, that it was still too early in the season and that I may start seeing granzievole toward the end of October.

Feeling defeated, I gave up and moved on to my next errand: visiting a couple of nearby bookshops I had discovered while scanning the yellow pages. I had better success there, with the purchase of two new cookbooks on Triestine and Istrian cooking to add to my growing collection.

Muggia's duomoAs it was time to start thinking about lunch, I walked up to Piazza della Libertà, a hub for buses outside the train station, and caught the #20 bus to the tiny fishing village of Muggia, south of Trieste on the very outskirts of the region. I arrived a half hour later and headed straight along Muggia’s waterfront to Ristorante Lido.

I had read about Lido in Friuli: Via dei Sapori, a gorgeous coffee table book that features a number of local restaurants, so I was expecting it to be fairly upscale in comparison to the casual osterie I had been frequenting. When I arrived, the spacious dining room was empty, save for a table off to the side where the hotel’s staff were enjoying their midday meal.

As a complimentary appetizer, I was served a little plate of fritto misto, mainly itty bitty fried calamari and breaded sardoni barcolani (European anchovies). Next, I ordered the granzievola appetizer. Unlike the “alla Triestina” preparation that is mixed with bread crumbs and served warm (and which eventually made it into Flavors of Friuli), this was a simple crab salad in a dressing of lemon juice and olive oil. But I was thrilled to see the crab served in its shell! Could this be my solution? As the waiter began to clear my plate away, I hurriedly explained about my cookbook project and asked if I could take the crab shell home with me. Despite my rather unusual request, he responded with surprising graciousness and took the shell to the kitchen to be washed. Minutes later he returned with a foil-wrapped package containing the shell—I couldn’t have been happier!

For my main course, I had scampi alla busara, an Istrian dish of langoustines served in tomato sauce. I had eaten scampi once before in Trieste and was prepared for the messy ordeal of breaking open the shells to extract the delicate meat. Fortunately, Lido provided all the proper tools: a nutcracker and tiny fork, a huge lobster bib, and most importantly, a finger bowl of water and some packages of moist towelettes.

Illy espresso cupAfter lunch, I took the bus back to Trieste and was walking home to my apartment when an Illy espresso cup caught my eye in the display window of a bar. I had been looking for a cup to take home with me so that I could style a photo for Flavors of Friuli, but all the cups I had seen so far had been sold in expensive packages of four or more. This one was being sold individually for a reasonable 4.50 Euros. I felt thrilled to have scored, in one day, not only a granzievola shell but also my coveted Illy cup!

A little further along the waterfront, I came upon the Chiesa di San Nicolò dei Greci, the city’s Greek Orthodox church. Though plain on the outside, its sumptuous interior popped with gold gilt, a checkered marble floor, paintings that covered walls and ceiling, and silver chandeliers holding dozens of sparkling tapered candles.

Back home that evening, I prepared a dinner plate of leftover zucchini and string beans, a tomato, some fresh mozzarella, and a slice of bread spread with baccalà mantecato (puréed salt cod) and settled in to watch an episode of “Survivor” on my laptop.

scampi alla busaraHere is my recipe for scampi alla busara. Since langoustines can be tricky to find in the United States—most are imported from Scotland—you may substitute any type of fish or shellfish that you like.

1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons dry bread crumbs
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce, or 1-3/4 cups
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 pounds whole langoustines

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic; cook and stir until the onion begins to soften, about 8–10 minutes. Add the bread crumbs; cook and stir until golden brown, about 2–3 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, white wine, parsley, and black pepper. Place the langoustines in the pot; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until the langoustines turn pink, about 3–5 minutes. Season to taste with salt.

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presnitzMy friends at Pasticceria Penso had invited me to watch them bake presnitz the next morning, so I headed over there around 8:30am. This was one of the days I had been looking forward to the most! When I arrived, Lorenzo Stoppar was preparing a giant batch of puff pastry. As he fed the dough through the massive dough rolling machine, he explained that each batch contained four kilos (8.8 pounds) of butter! This being my first and only experience behind the scenes in a bakery, I was continually fascinated by the huge scale of everything—especially the oven, which was the size of a walk-in closet.

As Lorenzo prepared the dough, his brother Antonello made the presnitz filling. While he worked, I jotted down ingredients (he later gave me their full recipe): walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pine nuts, raisins, candied orange peel, crushed biscotti, sugar, honey, cinnamon, lemon zest, rum, and Marsala. When the dough and filling were ready, I watched as Uncle Giovanni wrapped a large rectangle of dough around a log of filling and deftly rolled it into a long rope. After forming the rope into a spiral on the baking sheet, he let me brush it with egg wash. As the family stood around me, watching intently—no doubt holding their collective breath and praying that I wouldn’t ruin it—I got the impression that they were somewhat surprised that I actually did a good job!

Though I could have stayed another hour, I left just before noon, so that I would have time to find my destination restaurant for lunch. I took a bus up into the hills above Trieste to what some have professed to be the city’s best restaurant, Antica Trattoria Suban. In business since 1865, Suban specializes in the unique blend of Friulian and Slovenian cuisine that is typical in the Carso.

I started with the palacinke alla mandriera, a crêpe filled with pesto, drizzled with a little cream and broth, and baked with a topping of cheese. For my main course, I was hoping to try their stinco di vitello (braised veal shank), but it was not available at lunchtime. To my delight, the owner, Mario Suban, offered to make up a tasting plate with samples of four different dishes: gulasch (Hungarian beef stew) with polenta, pork loin with bell pepper sauce and a fried potato “chip,” sausage with patate in tecia (coarsely mashed potatoes), and baked ham.

After ordering, I spoke at length with Mario about my book project and San Francisco. He apparently was acquainted with the chef at the San Francisco restaurant Acquarello and asked me to say ciao to him if I were ever to visit. (As it happened, several years later, my husband’s boss gave us a gift certificate to Acquarello, and I made good on Mario’s request.)

When I first arrived, Suban was practically empty, but by the time I had finished my meal, the restaurant was packed with customers. After requesting the check, I waited for over half an hour, watching people who had arrived after me leave, before I was finally able to pay. I caught my bus back down to Trieste’s city center and spent the rest of the afternoon writing in my apartment.

Here is my version of presnitz, adapted from the recipe given to me by Pasticceria Penso.

presnitzFilling:
1 cup dried currants
1/4 cup rum
1/4 cup Marsala wine
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup hazelnuts, skinned and toasted*
1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds
3/4 cup finely crushed biscotti or amaretti cookies
1/3 cup diced candied orange peel
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
1 egg

1. Place the currants in a large bowl; add the rum and Marsala wine and let soak for 30 minutes.

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

3. On a sheet of waxed paper, form the filling into a 12-inch log. Wrap securely in the waxed paper and refrigerate for 1 hour, or until ready to use.

* To skin and toast hazelnuts: Preheat oven to 350°F. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup water to a boil over high heat. Add the hazelnuts and 1 tablespoon baking soda; cook for 5 minutes. Remove the hazelnuts and place in a colander under cold running water; rub off and discard the skins. Transfer the skinned hazelnuts to a baking dish; toast until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Cool completely.

Puff pastry dough:
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided and softened
1/4 cup cold water

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Cut 2 tablespoons butter into cubes; blend into the flour mixture. Add 1/4 cup cold water; mix until crumbly. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead briefly. Flatten the dough to a 1/2-inch-thick disk. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. Unwrap the dough and place on a lightly floured surface; roll to a 7-inch square. Roll the corners of the square away from the center to form four flaps, leaving a 3-inch square in the center at the original thickness. Beat the remaining 6 tablespoons butter with a rolling pin to form a 3-inch square; place in the center of the dough. Fold the flaps over to enclose the butter; turn the dough folded-side down. Roll to a 6- by 9-inch rectangle; fold in thirds (like a letter). Rotate the dough 90°. Roll again to a 6- by 9-inch rectangle; fold in thirds again. (This completes two “turns.”) Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3. Repeat rolling and folding the dough for two more turns. Wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Repeat rolling and folding the dough for two final turns. (This completes a total of six turns.) Wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using.

To prepare:
1 egg, beaten to blend

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry dough to a 10- by 13-inch rectangle. Unwrap the filling and place along the center of the dough. Wrap the dough around the filling, tightly sealing all seams. Gently roll and stretch the dough into a rope 2-1/2 feet long. Coil into a loose spiral and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

2. Brush the surface of the dough with beaten egg. Bake until golden brown, about 25–30 minutes.

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My five-week trip was not even halfway over, yet evenings in my Trieste apartment had already been getting rather lonely. My then fiancé (now husband) had promised to send me a DVD containing episodes of various programs that I was missing back home, so that I could have something to watch besides Italian television. Every day since my arrival in Trieste, I had inquired at Residence Liberty’s reception desk, only to be told that I had no mail. On this particular morning, as I was turning the corner from the grand staircase into the lobby, the signore at the desk called to me that I had a package waiting. Finally! I slipped the envelope into my backpack and left to do my morning errands, feeling a surge of emotion in that momentary connection with home.

San SpiridioneMy first errand took me to the post office to mail home two large packets of travel brochures that I had collected in Vienna and Budapest. Next, I swung by the Serbian Orthodox church San Spiridione. Located just off the Canal Grande, its massive blue domes are visible from afar as one of the city’s most easily recognizable landmarks. With my busy schedule, the church’s opening hours did not always coincide with my windows of free time, and this was the first opportunity I had found on this trip to pay it a visit.

Even though mass was being held, I was able to tiptoe inside and gaze for a few minutes at the sumptuous interior. The central dome was reminiscent of the Byzantine style, with its “blue sky and gold stars” design. Light from a row of windows encircling the dome, as well as from the multitude of tapers, illuminated the arched ceiling covered in gold mosaics and reflected off icons of gold and silver, causing the entire room to glisten.

Several days earlier, I had stumbled upon a tantalizing shop that was part gastronomia and part gourmet grocery. Upon seeing their parsuto in crosta, a traditional Triestine dish where a leg of prosciutto is wrapped in a layer of dough and baked to form a crust, I had wanted to take some pictures but had regrettably left my camera back at the apartment. Today I was prepared, but unfortunately, the leg on display had been carved all the way down to the bone. I considered waiting for the one currently baking in the oven to be ready but decided instead to try again another day.

I finished up my morning of errands with some grocery shopping, buying apples and tomatoes at the produce market, cheese at the salumeria, and bread at the tiny supermercato.

After dropping off my groceries, I headed right back out for lunch. This time, I sought out one of the restaurants recommended by my friends at Pasticceria Penso: Trattoria Da Dino, located all the way at the southern end of Trieste’s waterfront. There was no menu, so I had to decide quickly while the waiter rattled off the list of choices.

I started with an antipasto plate of mixed seafood. All cold items, it included sarde in saor (marinated sardines), some tiny shrimp, an octopus salad, and a single canoccia (mantis shrimp). It did not disappoint—the octopus was incredibly tender, and the shrimp had a surprising amount of flavor for something so simple. For my main course, I ordered the baccalà con polenta. Salt cod stew had become one of my favorite regional dishes, but this one turned out to be pretty tasteless. I didn’t mind so much that it contained only one chunk of potato, but the lackluster, beige sauce was in desperate need of some seasoning.

I had lazily gotten out of the habit of double-checking the bill in restaurants, but for some reason, it occurred to me today to do so. It was a good thing, since they had overcharged me 1 Euro. Not a huge mistake, but nevertheless a good opportunity for me to practice my assertiveness!

fave dei mortiI had a little time to rest after lunch, before heading over to Pasticceria Penso at our agreed upon time of 4:00pm. This was the day the bakery was making fave dei morti for the upcoming Festa di Ognissanti (All Saints’ Day). When I arrived, brothers Antonello and Lorenzo were both there, along with their father, Italo, and uncle, Giovanni.

Translated literally as “beans of the dead,” these tiny almond cookies may be found throughout Italy during the months of October and November. While it was intuitive that the brown cookies were chocolate, I was intrigued to learn that the pink ones were flavored with rose water and the white ones with Maraschino liqueur. After being rolled into skinny ropes, the dough was cut into rounds, which were then passed through a giant, specially constructed sieve to weed out any that were malformed.

I stayed for a couple of hours, watching from my usual spot over by the industrial sized dough roller. I could have hung around until closing time, but I started to get hungry and decided to return home for dinner. After all, I was going to be coming back first thing the next morning to watch them make presnitz, a puff pastry spiral filled with dried fruit, nuts, and spices.

Back in my apartment, I finally got around to cooking the vegetables I had bought the day before. I prepared two sautés: string beans with garlic, and zucchini with onion and garlic. I also finished off the leftover smashed potatoes, along with some baccalà mantecato (salt cod purée) and a tomato. The highlight of my meal, however, sprung from a spontaneous burst of inspiration while slicing the zucchini. The squash had fortuitously come with the blossoms still attached, so I cut those off and tucked a piece of fresh mozzarella inside each one. After sautéing the veggies, I then used the residual garlicky oil to fry the zucchini blossoms. This was my one moment of culinary virtuosity on the entire trip!

I ended my evening curled up in one of the blue floral armchairs, contentedly watching an episode of “Amazing Race” on my laptop.

Here is my recipe for fave dei morti, adapted from the one given to me by Pasticceria Penso:

fave dei morti1 pound (about 4 cups) blanched slivered almonds
2-1/2 cups sugar, divided, plus extra as needed
1 egg
1 tablespoon rum
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon Maraschino liqueur
1 teaspoon rose water
Pinch powdered red food color

1. Finely grind the almonds in a food processor. Transfer to a large bowl, along with 2-1/4 cups sugar and the egg; mix until the dough forms a solid mass.

2. Divide the dough equally among three medium bowls. Mix the rum and cocoa powder into the first batch of dough, the Maraschino liqueur into the second, and the rose water and a pinch of red food color into the third.

3. Preheat oven to 300°F. Spread the remaining 1/4 cup sugar on a plate. Roll half-teaspoonfuls of dough into small balls; roll in sugar to coat, adding extra sugar to the plate as needed. Place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake until the cookies are dry and crisp but not yet brown on the bottom, about 12 minutes.

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Following a hectic week, during which Pasticceria Penso had been busily preparing for the Barcolana crowds, I was looking forward to finally getting some face time with my bakery friends. First thing that morning, though, I needed to get my grocery shopping out of the way. By now I had a routine down, an easy circuit of produce market, gastronomia, and corner supermercato. In addition to my usual staples, I bought a small container each of baccalà mantecato and liptauer cheese, two dishes that would eventually make it into my book Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy.

mini crostate at Pasticceria PensoI arrived at Penso promptly at our agreed upon time of 10:00am and was relieved to find the atmosphere much less harried than the previous week. Antonello needed a few more minutes to put the finishing touches on a tray of mini fruit tarts and offered me a tiny rectangle of torta Dobos to enjoy while I waited. The thin layers of sponge were filled with a light hazelnut chocolate buttercream and topped with the requisite caramel glaze.

We chatted awhile about the bakery’s history, before then delving into the details of their most popular pastries, including torta Sacher, torta Dobos, putizza, presnitz, and apple strudel. I took copious notes as Antonello relayed ingredients, special techniques, and historical facts. Being already mid-October, it was nearing time for the bakery to prepare a giant batch of fave dei morti for the upcoming Festa di Ognissanti (All Saints’ Day), and I was invited to come back the next day to watch them make the tiny pink, brown, and white almond cookies.

Illy cupBefore leaving for lunch, I enlisted Antonello’s help in procuring a photo of an Illy espresso cup for the section in my book on Illycaffé. An empty cup was not my preference, but since I don’t drink coffee, taking a photo in a bar was not an ideal solution for me. I couldn’t see myself ordering an espresso, snapping the photo, and leaving the full cup on the counter untouched. As the bakery had some of Illy’s designer cups in their display case, it was easy enough to take a few pictures there, to have as a backup.

However, my point-and-shoot camera—which I had only been using for indoor shots since my SLR film camera didn’t have a flash—was just marginally working at this point. In addition to the annoying automatic shut-down problem that had begun upon my arrival in Vienna, the viewfinder had since gone black, so I couldn’t see what I was shooting! I blindly took a few photos of one cup but soon decided my best option would be to shop around for a cup I could take home for staging my own shot.

As I wandered around looking for some place to eat lunch, a red-and-white sign in the shape of a life preserver caught my eye. It read Salvagente Osteria con Cucina. I was also intrigued by the menu posted outside that listed, among other traditional dishes, stuffed calamari. But, as was my experience all too often, there were actually only a few choices available. The waitress offered pasta with either seafood or tomato sauce, stew (what sort I neglected to take note of) with polenta, sardoni apanadi, sauerkraut, and patate in tecia. I chose the breaded sardines with a side of potatoes.

sardoni barcolaniSince the restaurant was not busy, I took the time to clarify exactly what type of fish were used, since these were tiny, appearing more akin to anchovies than true sardines. In fact, sardoni—or as they are also called locally, sardoni barcolani—are not sardines at all. They are related to sardines but are known in English as European anchovies. These were butterflied, lightly breaded, and fried. The potatoes were mixed with bits of onion and pork and had a nice brown color from being cooked in the traditional cast iron skillet called a tecia.

Monte GrisaAfter lunch, my plan was to take the bus to Monte Grisa, an eclectic sanctuary built in the 1960s upon the karst cliffs just north of Trieste. I boarded the #42 bus in Piazza Oberdan, a central hub for many bus lines in the city. Since not every #42 stopped at Monte Grisa, I needed to check the overhead sign for its route. This one looked questionable, but the bus was too crowded with school kids for me to reach the driver to ask. So when another #42 pulled up alongside us, I squeezed out the back door and asked its driver which bus I should take for Monte Grisa. He pointed to the bus I had just come from, so I crammed myself back on.

Monte GrisaNot surprisingly, it didn’t go to Monte Grisa at all but ended up terminating in Prosecco. I got off there and caught the next #42 to Opicina. Of course, it was not the direct #42 but what I’ve dubbed the scenic #42, following a circuitous route through Rupingrande and Monrupino. At Opicina, while the bus was parked, I checked the schedule posted at the stop. Seeing that the same bus would be returning to Trieste via Monte Grisa, I immediately climbed back aboard. Ten minutes later, the bus departed, and I managed to finally arrive at Monte Grisa.

Monte GrisaDuring my two boat excursions to Castello di Miramare, I had noticed the trapezoidal structure of Monte Grisa perched on the cliff overlooking the sea, but up close the church was even more striking: a web of triangular concrete frames and glass panels, inside and out. As Monte Grisa was surrounded by evergreen forests, I spent my remaining time—I had only an hour before needing to catch my return bus—strolling along a shady footpath through the woods. Aside from the few older couples I passed, I was quite alone, no sound but the wind rustling in the trees and the low rumble of distant traffic.

Fortunately, the bus arrived on schedule, and my return to Trieste was entirely uneventful. On my walk back to Residence Liberty, I stopped at Pasticceria Bomboniera and picked up a slice of torta Rigojanci for my dessert later. Having tried the mousse-filled chocolate cake in Budapest, and having read of its popularity in Trieste, I had been searching bakeries throughout the city. Bomboniera was the only place I had thus far been able to find it.

After stopping also at a bookstore and purchasing yet another cookbook on Triestine cuisine, I made it back to my apartment around 6:30pm. Too exhausted to do any cooking, I threw together a plate of leftover potatoes, some fresh mozzarella, a tomato, some baccalà, and a slice of bread spread with liptauer cheese. The liptauer I had seen in Vienna was an orange-pink color from the addition of paprika, one of many savory ingredients. Both times I had tried liptauer in Trieste, however, the cheese was white. At the gastronomia where I had purchased this one, I had taken note of the ingredients listed on the display label: it was simply ricotta mixed with gorgonzola and sprinkled with spicy paprika. Not being particularly fond of blue cheese, I can’t say I really cared for this liptauer, so I was happy to finish my meal and dig into my Rigojanci. Between the two layers of chocolate sponge was a thick layer of dark chocolate mousse, the top of the cake glazed with a rich chocolate ganache. It was a perfect, decadent ending to a rather trying day!

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Castello di MiramareIt was another gorgeous, sunshiny day in Trieste, although the wind had picked up and there was a decidedly autumn chill in the air. I decided to take advantage of the blue sky and return to Castello di Miramare to retake some photos. I had already been to the castle several times, but sadly, all but one visit had been plagued by inclement weather, including the time Mike and I had taken the ferry. Despite the grayish background of an overcast sky, the view of the castle from the sea had been stunning, and I was now hoping that a crystal clear day would provide an even more dramatic approach.

Castello di MiramareFrom the Molo dei Bersaglieri, the boat took about an hour to reach the harbor of Grignano, from which it was a short walk uphill to the castle’s entrance. This time I would forgo paying to enter the castle—I had been through the sumptuous interiors twice in the past few years—and was planning to visit the Parco Tropicale instead. Located within the castle grounds, this tropical garden is filled with numerous species of plants indigenous to South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia and provides a home for a variety of wildlife, including butterflies, parrots, hummingbirds, flamingos, bats, and reptiles. Unfortunately, the garden was now only offering guided visits and I had just missed the start of the midmorning tour.

I considered waiting for the next tour, but sitting by the castle overlooking the water proved to be too nippy to tolerate for long—plus, my stomach was beginning to remind me that it was almost lunchtime. So, I caught the next bus from Grignano back into Trieste.

There, I stopped for lunch at a buffet called Re di Coppe. Being the only customer when I arrived, I seated myself at a long wooden table. It was here that my long-standing goulasch dilemma was finally resolved. Early in my research, I had read in a Triestine cookbook that the recipe for this Hungarian beef stew called for tomatoes. Since then, while dining at restaurants throughout the region, I had only been able to find the more traditional version of goulasch—lacking any sort of tomato, tomato sauce, or tomato paste. Although the meat at Re di Coppe was a bit fatty, the goulasch was most definitely prepared with tomatoes, a fact that I quickly confirmed with the cook, Bruno. Accompanying the stew was a healthy serving of patate in tecia, a local side dish of potatoes and onion, coarsely mashed and cooked in a tecia (cast iron skillet).

GoulaschI have since learned that my confusion over the preparation of this dish should not have been all that surprising. There seems to be an endless debate among locals as to which version is most authentically Friulian. Here is my recipe for Triestine goulasch—with tomatoes! It is typically served with polenta, patate in tecia, or gnocchi di pane (bread dumplings).

1/2 cup olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 pounds beef rump roast or stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
1 bay leaf
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce, or 1-3/4 cups
2 cups water

Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions; cook and stir until soft and translucent, about 25–30 minutes. Sprinkle the beef with salt; add to the skillet with the onions. Increase heat to medium; cook and stir until the beef begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the flour, paprika, rosemary, marjoram, and bay leaf; cook and stir 5 minutes longer. Add the tomato sauce and water; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low; cook, partially covered, until the beef is tender and the sauce has thickened, about 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove the bay leaf; season to taste with salt.

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