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Posts Tagged ‘Udine’

1. Ski the slopes of Monte Santo di Lussari

Among the towering, snow-capped peaks of Italy’s Giulian Alps, Monte Santo di Lussari stands out like a precious gem. Near the 5,870-foot summit, a pristine 14th-century sanctuary looks out over the forested valleys below. Legend says that in 1360 a shepherd knelt to pray atop this mountain and discovered hidden in the brush a wooden statue of the Madonna and Child. The patriarch of Aquileia soon ordered a small chapel built on that very spot. For centuries, vast numbers of pilgrims from neighboring countries have journeyed to this religious site. Today, the telecabina, or “ski lift,” carries passengers from the village of Camporosso at its base to Borgo Lussari at the summit.

2. Enjoy a plate of hot, steaming goulasch at Albergo Ristorante Rododendro

During ski season, the few taverns and restaurants on Monte Santo di Lussari are always teeming with guests. Even if you’re not a skier, take the telecabina to the top, where you can tuck into a warm meal at one of the village’s rustic taverns or simply admire the snowy panoramic views across the Valcanale and Tarvisio basin. If you can get a table in the rustic dining room of Albergo Ristorante Rododendro, you’ll have a wide selection of traditional Friulian dishes, including orzo e fagioli (bean and barley soup), gnocchi di pane (bread dumplings), frico con polenta (cheese and potato pancake with polenta), cervo in salmì (venison stew), and goulasch (Hungarian-style beef stew). Dessert offerings include strudel di mele (apple strudel), torta ai frutti di bosco (wild berry cake), and sachertorte (chocolate cake with apricot jam and ganache).

3. Attend the Krampus festivities in Tarvisio

In Central European folklore, the Krampus is a half-goat, half-demon character that is something of an anti-Santa Claus, in that he punishes children who have misbehaved rather than giving them presents. Many regions, including the Alpine towns of northern Italy, hold festivities dedicated to both Krampus and St. Nicholas.

Tarvisio is the site of one of these events. Every year on December 5, people dress up as Krampus—a costume consisting of goat or sheep fur and a wooden devil mask with horns—and roam the streets carrying torches, ringing cowbells, and searching for “bad” children. They are accompanied by St. Nicholas, who rides in a cart pulled by several Krampus. The parade concludes with St. Nicholas subduing the Krampus (representing the triumph of good over evil) and handing out small gifts and candies to the children.

4. Browse the stalls at Udine’s Mercatino di Natale

Every December, Udine’s Piazza della Libertà gets decked out for the holidays, as the Torre dell’Orologio (clock tower), Tempietto di San Giovanni, and arches of the Porticato are all strung with glistening lights. Underneath the pink- and white-striped Loggia del Lionello, a brass band plays Christmas carols, the festive notes luring shoppers to the city’s annual Christmas market.

In the center of the raised piazza towers a giant Christmas tree surrounded by several dozen market stands. These red, white-roofed stalls sit in rows along a grid of green carpet and display a variety of trinkets and edible treats. Here, you may browse homemade jams and honey, as well as handcrafted items such as candles, tree ornaments, and soaps. Local bakeries showcase regional desserts alongside stalls featuring foods imported from other regions. As the sun sets, shoppers can nibble on roasted chestnuts or samples of crostini with prosciutto di San Daniele, accompanied by a warm cup of vin brulé (mulled wine).

5. While in Udine, enjoy a traditional Friulian meal at Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo

It was at Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo that I fell in love with the cuisine of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. One of the Udine’s oldest, the restaurant is housed in a 17th-century building that once served as a stable and rest stop for deliverymen. Amid the atmosphere of an old-world tavern—wood-beamed ceilings, hardwood floors, red-checked tablecloths, and walls cluttered with colorful paintings, newspaper clippings, period photographs of Udine, and memorabilia of all sorts—chef Mario serves up hearty portions of local dishes such as cjalsòns (herb-filled pasta topped with cinnamon and smoked ricotta), gnocchi di susine (potato dumplings stuffed with plums), baccalà (salt cod stew), sarde in saor (marinated sardines), cevapcici (Slavic grilled sausages), salame all’aceto (salami cooked in vinegar), and brovada (pickled turnips). In true Friulian style, most second courses are served with polenta. For dessert, order the gubana—a spiral cake filled with dried fruit, nuts, and spices.

6. Warm up with an Illy espresso or hot chocolate in one of Trieste’s Viennese-style coffee houses

While they truly love wine and beer, Triestini are even more notorious as coffee drinkers. Claimed by many to be the world’s best coffee, Illycaffè got its start in Trieste in the early 1900s. Of the 6 million cups of Illy espresso or cappuccino that are enjoyed daily around the globe, a good number are imbibed at home in Trieste’s old-time cafés. The legendary ones—Caffè San Marco, Caffè Tommaseo, Caffè degli Specchi, and Caffè Tergesteo—date from the 19th to the early 20th century. Authors James Joyce, Sigmund Freud, Italo Svevo, and Umberto Saba were known to be regulars.

7. Indulge in a putizza from one of Trieste’s historic bakeries

Photo courtesy of Pasticceria Penso

One of several desserts considered native to Trieste, putizza is a rich spiral cake filled with dried fruit, chocolate, nuts, and spices. Like Friulian gubana, a similar spiral pastry, it was originally baked only for the Christmas and Easter holidays but is now available year round. For a taste of the city’s best putizza, I recommend visiting one of the century-old bakeries such as Pasticceria Penso or Pasticceria Bomboniera. Both prepare an excellent putizza, though there is one slight difference I noticed in sampling the two. Penso melts the chocolate for their filling, while Bomboniera leaves the chocolate in large chunks. Taste them both to decide your favorite!

8. Take advantage of the off-season with a crowd-free stroll in the seaside town of Grado

Located on an island and adjacent peninsula in the marshy lagoon off Friuli, Grado was once a fishing village but is now a popular destination for beachgoers. Though lacking the pristine, white sand of nearby Lignano Sabbiadoro, crowds still flock to Grado’s beaches and spas during the summer season. In winter, however, the town takes on an entirely different character, with the winding alleys of the medieval centro storico largely devoid of tourists. An expansive seaside promenade that curves around the town center makes for a relaxing afternoon stroll, as do the boat-lined canals that run through the harbor.

9. While in Grado, sample the town’s signature dish, boreto alla Gradese

When dining in Grado, don’t miss the town’s best known dish, boreto all Gradese. Also called boreto alla graesana in local dialect (and not to be confused with the soup called brodeto), boreto alla Gradese is a selection of small fish steaks cooked with garlic and vinegar and served with white polenta. Many restaurants in Grado offer the dish on their menu, but one of the more elegant is Tavernetta All’Androna, run by the brothers Attias and Allan Tarlao.

10. Attend the quirky Carnevale Muggesano

Photo courtesy of Associazione delle Compagnie del Carnevale Muggesano

In contrast to the elegant, baroque images evoked by the nearby Carnevale di Venezia, Muggia celebrates the absurd and bizarre with townspeople dressed in quirky garb such as cartoon characters, farm animals, and platters of food. Among the whimsical costumes, however, you will rarely see a masked face. Contrary to the practice of other Carnevale celebrations where anonymity is sacred, the people of Muggia have elected to keep their identities exposed.

Carnevale Muggesano began after World War II, when a group of friends dressed up as gauchos and marched through the streets playing music. As they repeated this annual affair, dressed next as gypsies and later as Apache Indians, the procession grew with more and more people joining in the merriment. Soon a few rival groups had formed, each costumed in its own fantastical theme. By 1954, the parade had blossomed into an official event.

The week of festivities opens with the “Dance of the Vegetables,” when representatives of each group perform for the public. This is followed by the “megafrittata,” a culinary ritual that begins with townspeople traipsing door to door begging for eggs. The eggs are then used to make what is possibly the world’s largest frittata, cooked in a giant 13-foot-wide frying pan. On Ash Wednesday, to mark the final day of the celebration, the groups perform a tragicomedy ritual: following a solemn funeral procession, townspeople throw a lifelike “corpse” of the Carnevale king into the sea.

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This piece was originally published on BloggingAuthors.com.

For more than a decade of traveling throughout Italy, I had been captivated by the country’s many charms—its ancient art and architecture, breathtaking scenery, and irresistible cuisine. It may sound a bit cliché, given the overabundance of American Italophiles, but no place else in the world held the same allure in my eyes. It wasn’t, however, until my first trip to Friuli–Venezia Giulia—a tiny region in northeastern Italy—that my Italian affair truly began.

I had traveled to Udine, one of the region’s major cities, for a business meeting at the Ledragomma GymnastikBall factory. (I was, at the time, working as a Pilates instructor and writing a book of ball exercises, Balance on the Ball: Exercises Inspired by the Teachings of Joseph Pilates.) When the company’s owner, Steno Dondè, learned of my interest in cooking, he generously invited me to dinner. I was eager to try some of Friuli’s traditional cuisine, so he suggested Udine’s oldest restaurant, Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo. Converted from an old horse stable, the restaurant has been serving food for more than one hundred years. It was here that I was seduced—not by Steno, but by our meal.

First we ordered the cjalsòns, a type of filled pasta from the mountainous area in northern Friuli called Carnia. While there are countless recipes for cjalsòns, most are either sweet or a combination of sweet and savory. The version at Al Vecchio Stallo was on the savory side, filled with herbs and providing only a hint of sweetness from the cinnamon and butter. The pasta was topped with ricotta affumicata, a smoked cheese that is one of Friuli’s specialties.

This was followed by frico con patate, a potato and cheese pancake typically prepared with the local Montasio cheese. Served with a side of polenta, the wedge of frico was crispy on the outside and oozing with melted cheese and mashed potato goodness on the inside. That evening, I fell in love with both dishes—and the course of my life was forever altered.

After returning home to San Francisco, I couldn’t get that meal out of my mind. Fast-forward several years, and I was traveling in Friuli once again—this time having decided to write a cookbook, Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy. My research consisted of eating my way through the region, savoring as many of Friuli’s traditional dishes as possible, including gnocchi di susine (plum-filled gnocchi), orzotto (barley cooked “risotto-style”), jota (bean and sauerkraut soup), goulasch (Hungarian-style beef stew), brovada (pickled turnips), and gubana (dried fruit- and nut-filled spiral cake). I never expected that one meal could change my life, but that dinner at Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo opened a door for me to thoroughly explore and experience a culture, one that I have found to be utterly and seductively delicious.

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This review was originally published in the September 2010 issue of Dream of Italy.

During my very first visit to Friuli, my friend Steno treated me to dinner at Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo. At that time, I had no familiarity with Friulian cuisine, but Steno wanted me to experience authentic regional cooking at its best. Ever since that first meal of cjarsòns (cinnamon-laced ravioli) and frico con patate (cheese and potato pancake), this unassuming, hole-in-the-wall restaurant has held a truly special place in my heart.

One of the oldest in Udine, this osteria is housed in a 17th-century building that once served as a stable and rest stop where horses and their drivers could stop for a meal and a respite. In the early 1900s, the stall was closed and converted into a section of the dining room. Today, Al Vecchio Stallo is run by the three Mancini brothers—Enzo, Maurizio, and Mario. Their objective is to preserve the traditional cuisine of Friuli, while giving it the elegance and style that modern tastes have come to expect. Their osteria exudes the warmth and hospitality so characteristic of Friulians, making guests feel just like family.

The dining room retains the atmosphere of an old-world tavern—wood-beamed ceilings, hardwood floors, red-checked tablecloths, and walls cluttered with colorful paintings, newspaper clippings, period photographs of Udine, and memorabilia of all sorts. In warm weather, diners can sit outside in the courtyard under a canopy of grapevines.

During my frequent solo travels, I usually found myself dining alone, and this is one restaurant where I always felt at home. The atmosphere is comfortable, the clientele an assortment of crusty, old men drinking at the bar, families with rambunctious toddlers, young couples sporting the latest fashion trends, and inevitably a particular signora at the same corner table every night.

The food is simple—what some might describe as peasant fare—but still tasty and completely satisfying. The prices are inexpensive, a huge bargain for such generous portions. Their stinco di maiale (braised pork shank) is gigantic, as are the sardines in sarde in saor. Chef Mario Mancini rotates his menu daily, some dishes being served only on certain days, such as savory, herb-filled cjarsòns on Sundays or creamy, salty baccalà (salt cod stew) on Fridays. For dessert, order the gubana (dried fruit and nut spiral cake), which comes soaked in grappa.

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I was feeling so loopy after the complimentary sgroppino at Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo the previous night that I had no trouble falling asleep. As I had predicted, the heat finally kicked on in the evening, and the room became quite warm. But despite the excessive heat and the rather firm bed, the sheets were softer and the blanket lighter than what I had grown accustomed to in my Trieste apartment, so I slept very soundly during my final night in Friuli.

In the morning, I awoke bright and early, ready to finally be on my way. Once showered and dressed, I headed downstairs to the breakfast room, where the buffet was spread with a substantial array of choices: fresh rolls, croissants, and pastries; several types of cereal; the obligatory packaged toast; fresh fruit; orange and grapefruit juices; and my favorite yogurt, the runny European-style Carnia brand, of which my preferred flavors were frutti di bosco (mixed berry) and albicocca (apricot). This morning I went with an apricot yogurt, a roll with some apricot jam, and a glass of orange juice.

As I sat eating my breakfast, I noticed two young men at a nearby table. They were clearly American, something I seldom saw in Friuli, and I was curious to find out their story. Typically, in the rare instance that I came across someone speaking English, I would find a way to strike up a conversation. But today there was no time to linger. I had a train to catch and still needed to finish packing, so I scarfed down my food and hurried back upstairs to my room.

I didn’t generally buy many souvenirs when I traveled, but this year I had taken to purchasing every Friulian and Triestine cookbook I could find, so I needed to make room for these, along with a few other items such as an Illy espresso cup, a hunk of ricotta affumicata, a box containing a pitina (salami dredged in cornmeal), and two spiny spider crab shells that I had persuaded waiters in Trieste and Muggia to wrap up for me to take home for a photo shoot. In my efforts to stuff everything in my bags, I ended up discarding three pairs of socks and two pairs of underwear that were all developing holes, although this didn’t noticeably lighten my load.

I did finally manage to cram everything in without needing the plastic grocery bag that I had carried my extra food items in yesterday when leaving Trieste. But my backpack was stuffed to the brim, my collapsible nylon tote bag overflowed, and my rolling duffel was unbelievably heavy, weighed down by my stack of cookbooks. As a test before I departed, I attempted a practice overhead press, to see if I’d be able to lift the suitcase onto the luggage rack of the train. I failed miserably! Maybe I would luck out, as I had on certain past trips, and a chivalrous Italian would step in to help me.

I checked out of Hotel Principe around 8:00am and crossed the street to Udine’s train station, where I boarded the train for Vienna. When I found my assigned seat, there were already three American girls in my train compartment. Considering how infrequently I had encountered Americans in this part of Italy, it was a bit strange to see two groups in one day. I soon learned that these girls were in college, on a fall break from an exchange program in London. They had just been sightseeing in Venezia and were now en route to Salzburg.

With no one offering to help me, I somehow managed to stow my duffel bag by lifting it to chest height, stepping onto the seat, and using pure momentum to hoist it onto the rack. I spent the early part of the journey chatting with the American girls. When they got off the train in Villach, Austria, I switched to a window seat, where I could watch the brilliant autumn colors of the passing countryside. I had expected the train to be packed, but it wasn’t, and I had the compartment to myself for the remainder of the trip. For lunch, I polished off the rest of the snacks I had brought from Trieste—some bread and cheese, a yogurt, and a banana—saving just the smallest bit of bread and cheese for my final breakfast.

The train arrived at Wien Südbahnhof by 2:00pm, right on schedule. Since I had never been to any of Vienna’s train stations before and was not very familiar with the city, I studied my map closely before arrival. As I often did when arriving in a foreign city, I pretended that I was on my then-favorite TV show, The Amazing Race, and navigating to my destination! From the station, it was a 15-minute walk to the nearest subway, and then after a few stops, a short walk to Hotel Austria, where I would stay one night before my flight home.

While checking in, I requested a taxi to the airport the next morning, scheduling it for 5:00am since I had a super early flight. I was given the same room as before, small with a private bath down the hall. The shower and toilet were inconveniently located in separate rooms, though it was nice to have them all to myself. Covering the twin bed was a fluffy, yellow down comforter, and there was also a separate daybed/sofa and a mini fridge. When I had stayed there three nights at the beginning of my trip, I had had some difficulty with my key, but thankfully the hotel had since fixed the lock and the key now worked fine.

As soon as I had settled into my room, I headed back out in the hope of procuring an afternoon snack. Since my two days in Vienna five weeks earlier, I had been looking forward to returning to Buffet Trzesniewski, a tiny sandwich shop just off the Graben, where I had enjoyed an assortment of yummy finger sandwiches, prepared with egg salad and toppings such as shrimp, bacon, and smoked herring. But when I arrived again at the address, I was dismayed to find the shop closed for the day.

So I spent the next hour and a half wandering up and down the Graben, around Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral), and to the Hofburg Palace. Along the way, I stopped at Café Demel and picked up a slice of sachertorte to go. At the beginning of my trip, I had made the rounds of several of Vienna’s historic cafes, including Demel, where a slice of dobostorte had been part one of my lunch that day. Part two of that indulgent lunch had been a slice of sachertorte at the famous Hotel Sacher. Having read about the feud between the two cafés over which sachertorte may be called the “original,” I wanted to experience both for myself.

With an early morning flight looming, I didn’t feel up for a late dinner. Plus, the greasy musetto in Udine the night before hadn’t settled well, and I just couldn’t stomach the thought of more sausage—or wienerschnitzel or goulash or meat of any kind. Nor did I relish the idea of sitting in another smoke-filled dining room. So I copped out and grabbed a slice of spinach pizza at Pizza Bizi on the way back to my hotel. It was only 4:30pm, but I wanted to try to get to bed early.

Back at Hotel Austria, I stopped at the guests’ computer desk in the lobby to check my email and was excited to find a message from my best friend. Once I had returned to my room for the evening, I set both my watch alarm and the hotel’s alarm clock for 3:30am, testing the latter to make sure that it functioned properly.

A short while later, I tucked into my slice of sachertorte for dessert. Like the one at Hotel Sacher, this cake was dense and a bit dry, perhaps even more so given that Demel’s consisted of only one layer compared to Sacher’s two and therefore contained half the amount of jam. My goal was going to be to create a moister cake following the recipe given to me by Pasticceria Penso in Trieste. In addition to adding ground hazelnuts to the chocolate batter, their trick was to douse each cake layer in Maraschino liqueur before glazing with the apricot jam and chocolate ganache.

With nothing left to do, I went to bed around 9:00pm and fell asleep within the hour. However, the room was extremely stuffy. I woke up around midnight feeling restless and sweating under the heavy down comforter. I stayed awake for a couple of hours trying to suppress my nervous energy. After finally falling back asleep, I managed to doze on and off until my two alarms sounded.

In the quiet of the early morning, I took a quick shower, dressed, ate that last bit of stale bread and cheese for breakfast, and set to repacking for the final time. I had stored my ricotta affumicata and pitina in the mini fridge overnight and needed to bury them in the bottom of my luggage. I knew that the cheese had been sufficiently aged, though without a label, I didn’t trust that it would pass through customs without being questioned. And I knew for certain that the salami was banned. But given that these items were crucial for my book, I decided to take the risk of smuggling them into the country. I managed to force everything to fit, placing my carefully wrapped spiny spider crab shells at the very top of my nylon tote bag so they wouldn’t get crushed.

Once I was all set to depart, I went downstairs to the lobby to wait for my taxi. I was a little early, but so was the cab, both of us arriving exactly at 4:50am. The ride to the airport felt a bit harrowing, taking a mere 15 minutes compared to the half-hour trip from the airport when I had first arrived.

When I got to the airport just after 5:00am, the ticket counter was still closed. Eventually things began moving, and I allowed myself to settle in for the journey home. I caught my 7:25am flight to London Heathrow, where I almost didn’t make my connection due to a crazy-long line at security. Fortunately, my connecting flight had been delayed by a half hour, so I just made it. Eleven or so hours later, I arrived in San Francisco, my final trip to Friuli at an end. Now it was time for the real work of publishing Flavors of Friuli to begin!

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Since I had gone to bed so early the night before, it had taken me hours to fall asleep. When I finally drifted off, I experienced a bizarre dream: my fiancé playing with marionette puppets that had floppy pieces of sushi at the end of the strings! I awoke at 4:30am, full of nervous anticipation over my impending departure. With my brain anxiously running through mental checklists to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything, I lay there in the dark for two hours, waiting for my alarm to go off.

Once I had showered and dressed, I crossed the street to Pasticceria Penso one final time to find the Stoppar family busy preparing the day’s sweets. Italo and his son Antonello were putting the final touches on a batch of sachertortes. Italo’s other son, Lorenzo, was rolling out puff pastry for apple strudel, and Uncle Giovanni was busy frying another batch of krapfen (doughnuts).

They persuaded me to wait for them to come to a stopping point so we could take some photos together. So I hung out there for an hour, at which point Antonello began scrabbling around the kitchen, pulling out a random selection of oversized tools: a large chef’s knife, an even bigger rolling pin, a giant wooden paddle, an enormous whisk, and a copper pot. He doled out the props, handing me the pot and whisk, and we paraded out of the kitchen into the shop, where we posed for a series of silly pictures (which I sadly never did receive copies of).

As always, Antonello’s mother, Rosanna, offered me a gift to take home—this time a putizza (spiral cake filled with raisins, nuts, and chocolate). I tried to politely decline, explaining how overstuffed my bags already were, but she was very persistent. I didn’t want to seem rude, so I accepted. Saying goodbye wasn’t easy, since the family had practically taken me in and made me feel at home in a very short period of time. But I had a train to catch, so I hugged them each one last time and made my exit.

Back at my apartment, I collected my uneaten food items—the last of my bread and cheese, an apple and banana, a small yogurt, and the remaining pastries from Penso (one piece of sachertorte and one domino)—which would serve as my lunch on the train today as well as snacks on my long train ride to Vienna tomorrow. I was so loaded down, even with my extra collapsible tote bag, that I had to put all this excess food in a plastic grocery bag. There was absolutely no room for the putizza, nor the two bags of fave dei morti given to me by Rosanna the day before, so I left these in my room as gifts for the housekeeping staff.

I checked out of Residence Liberty and made my final trek to Trieste’s train station, where I successfully avoided the long line at the counter by buying my ticket at the automatic ticket machine. I had planned on doing some reading during the hour-long ride, but my book was buried in the bottom of my backpack and would have required some serious unpacking to dig out, so I spent most of the journey nibbling on bread, cheese, and apple and staring out the window at the rapidly passing countryside.

I arrived in Udine shortly after noon. Before leaving the station, I purchased my ticket for the train to Vienna, which would be leaving early the next morning. I made sure to get a seat reservation, as I had heard on the news that Trenitalia recommended reserving in advance due to the busy All Saints’ Day holiday weekend.

I checked into Hotel Principe, which had become my usual lodging in Udine, given its super friendly staff and convenient location almost directly across the street from the train station. The weather was rather nippy, and there was nothing much to do in the city, as all the stores and sights were closed for the afternoon and many were closed all day—either for the holiday, or perhaps just because it was Monday. So I opted to stay in and rest. My relentless pace over the past month had caught up to me, and I was feeling overwhelmingly exhausted.

However, the pre-travel jitters left me unable to truly relax. I was ready to skip ahead to tomorrow morning so I could be on my way. I unpacked what I needed, spreading my things out on the second bed. (Yet one more thing I liked about Hotel Principe was that I always had a double room with two beds!) Then I tried to do some writing but embarrassingly ended up playing Solitaire on my laptop instead. I watched a little TV and flipped through some of the cookbooks I had bought in Trieste. I was so bored at one point I resorted to scrolling through ringtones on my cell phone just to kill time.

My room was freezing, equally cold as past wintertime visits. I knew the heat would kick on later, but those midday hours, when guests were most often out and about, were typically the coldest. During many of my winter stays there, I more often than not found myself crawling into bed and taking a nap before dinner. Today I hadn’t worn myself out hiking through hill towns or exploring villages, but I still allowed myself to lie down awhile.

I left for dinner a little early, so that I could wander around a bit while it was still light out. On my way out, I stopped to chat with Michela at the reception desk, as well as Lucinda, who was in charge of the breakfast room. They are both such nice people and always seemed so pleased to see me. They knew about the cookbook I was writing, since I had often made Hotel Principe my home base during my research trips, and were interested in my progress. Chatting with them lifted my mood considerably, and I felt invigorated stepping out into the chilly late afternoon air.

I headed straight to the city center and, on impulse, ducked inside the Duomo, where a small service was in progress. Half the church’s interior was blocked off by scaffolding, renovations clearly in progress. I quietly skirted the nave until I reached a shadowy tunnel of curtains that allowed visitors to view the Tiepolo masterpieces being restored.

From there, I took a short detour through Piazza della Libertà, just to gaze at the Venetian-style square one last time—to impress upon my memory all the details, as I didn’t expect to be back for a long time. (In fact, I never did return to Udine, since subsequent health problems have made travel impossible for me.) The pink and white stripes of the Loggia del Lionello were illuminated by spotlights and stood out vividly against the now darkening sky. Tons of people were out strolling the streets, a disproportionate number wearing witch’s hats—I had nearly forgotten that it was Halloween!

After meandering up and down Via Mercatovecchio, admiring the window displays and browsing briefly in the bookshop Libreria Ubik, I veered westward, heading in the direction of the cobblestone Via Viola and my destination, Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo. I arrived not long after the restaurant opened to find the elderly nonna of the family having dinner at her usual corner table.

For my final Friulian meal, I was tempted to order my all-time favorite, frico con patate, but instead went with another traditional dish, musetto e brovada. Musetto is a fatty, cartilaginous sausage made from pig snout, skin, and various other bits of pork all mixed together with white wine and spices. Its traditional accompaniment is brovada, turnips fermented for a month in grape marc. I had tried both several times before but not for over a year, since brovada is a seasonal dish and wasn’t available during my most recent spring and summer trips. I wanted to instill the taste memory so that I could effectively recreate a short-cut brovada at home, as well as find a suitable substitute for musetto (I ended up using cotechino, which is more readily available in the U.S.). While neither musetto nor brovada would have qualified as my favorite dish, I didn’t remember either being this unpleasant. Cut into chunky, round slices, the musetto was greasy, sticky, and downright mucilaginous. The brovada was just as sour and vinegary as ever, its flavor definitely an acquired taste—though my own version of 48-hour marinated turnips ended up being pretty spot-on.

As an accompaniment, I ordered a side of grilled eggplant, zucchini, and red bell pepper. I also treated myself to a quartino (quarter liter) of the house red wine. When I had finished my meal, the waiter brought me a small wine glass of what I later learned was called sgroppino, as a complimentary treat for Halloween. The drink was like a liquidy lemon sorbetto with a light sprinkling of cocoa on top, but I also detected a flavor that I couldn’t quite place. It wasn’t until I had returned to my hotel room and sat down to enjoy my sachertorte and domino for dessert that it occurred to me that the mysterious flavor was alcohol—likely prosecco and grappa—for I was suddenly feeling rather drunk!

Photos of sachertorte and krapfen courtesy of Pasticceria Penso.

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ricotta affumicataThe dark clouds that had crept over Trieste the previous afternoon unleashed a torrential storm during the night. It was still pouring when I left early in the morning, getting soaked on the 20-minute walk to the train station. Fortunately, I had plenty of time to dry off on the train, which arrived an hour and a half later in Udine.

I had a number of errands to do there, namely to purchase some local products to use in photo shoots for my cookbook Flavors of Friuli. My first stop was Formaggeria La Baita, to buy some ricotta affumicata, a smoked ricotta cheese that serves as the traditional Friulian garnish for dishes such as gnocchi and cjarsòns.

pitinaNext, I stopped by Macelleria Michelutti for a pitina, a type of salami traditionally made from mutton, goat, or game such as venison, and native to the mountainous areas of Val Tramontina and Val Cellina in the northern part of Pordenone province. Since pigs were once scarce here, it was not practical to encase the ground meat in pig intestines, the typical method for preparing salami. Instead, the meat was formed into balls and dredged in cornmeal, then left to smoke over a fire for several days.

Osteria Al Vecchio StalloAfter that, I bought some white polenta at Tami Galliano Alimentari and then browsed the cookbook section of my favorite bookstore, adding yet another Friulian cookbook to my growing collection. I also paid a visit to Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo to pick up a copy of their new book, Vecje Ostarie Al Vecchio Stallo, that co-owner Maurizio Mancini had promised to give me the next time I was in town.

All morning I had been stopping in every bakery I passed, as well as going out of my way to visit several more. One of the recipes I was considering including in my cookbook was torta di zucca (pumpkin cake), a dessert found in several of my Friulian cookbooks but apparently not so easily found in restaurants or bakeries, at least not during any of my trips so far. To my disappointment, I had no better luck that day in Udine but still held out hope that I would find plenty of pumpkin desserts at the Festa della Zucca later that week in Venzone.

When I had finished all my errands, I went for lunch at Hostaria Alla Tavernetta. I had been there twice before, for dinner—once by myself on Valentine’s Day, when I was mistakenly served musetto e brovada instead of the goulasch that I had ordered, and a second time with my friends Steno and Liviana—but on a handful of other occasions, the restaurant appeared to be perpetually closed.

Today, I was pleased to find Alla Tavernetta open. I started with the frichetto appetizer, what I assumed would be a “little” frico (cheese and potato pancake) but was as large as any main course portion I had ever seen. There are many methods of preparing frico; this one contained mostly cheese and only a small amount of undercooked grated potato. I also ordered the cjarsòns: large, square ravioli filled with apple, ricotta, and raisins. I enjoyed the sweetness of the fruit, but overall they were a little bland. To complete my meal, the owners served complimentary plates of almond biscotti and dark chocolate chunks.

After lunch, I took the train back to Trieste, where I spent the rest of the day holed up in my apartment, warm and cozy and dry!

frico con patateHere is my version of frico con patate. I like the texture that the mashed potatoes give it: velvety soft and oozing with cheese on the inside and golden crisp on the outside. If Montasio cheese is not available, you may substitute Parmigiano-Reggiano for the Montasio stagionato and fresh Asiago for the Montasio fresco. Serve with polenta.

1 pound white potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 cups shredded Montasio fresco
1 cup grated Montasio stagionato
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil

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 the potatoes and place in a medium bowl; mash well. Cool to room temperature. Stir in both Montasio cheeses, salt, and black pepper. Divide the mixture into four equal parts. Form each into a round mass and then flatten into a 4-inch disk.

Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. One at a time, cook each frico until crisp and golden brown, about 3–4 minutes on each side. Drain any excess oil from the skillet, leaving about 1 teaspoon for cooking the next frico. (To expedite the process, use two skillets or a large griddle.)

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Udine's Torre dell'OrologioFive weeks of intense travel had nearly come to a close. It was my second to last morning, and while at breakfast, I learned that the temperature in Udine had reached 41°C (106°F) the day before. Having weathered nearly a week of record heat, I was feeling utterly exhausted. Each day, I had taken a bus or train to a different town and walked until my legs gave out. For four evenings in a row, I had eschewed dinner out, choosing instead to have a light picnic in the cool of my hotel room. Today, I succumbed entirely, deciding to do absolutely nothing at all.

I did briefly leave my room midmorning, so that housekeeping could come in. I strolled for about an hour, wandering around Udine’s centro. I was hoping to find an air-conditioned bookstore to browse in, but being Sunday, nearly all the shops were closed. Already, the temperature sign at Via Zanon read 30°C (86°F), and there seemed to be nowhere for me to go to find some shade. I found a bar at Piazza della Libertà and bought a panino made with bresaola, mozzarella, and fresh focaccia. That would end up serving as both my lunch and dinner.

I spent the entire afternoon in my room, writing sections of my book Flavors of Friuli. It was a productive day, though by dinnertime I was beginning to feel claustrophobic and disoriented. My room was on the ground floor of Hotel Principe, with windows facing out into the parking lot. For privacy, I kept the dark metal shutters closed at all times. Since I couldn’t see outside—and also because I hadn’t done anything physically tiring for a change—it didn’t seem conceivable that it was already evening. After eating the second half of my panino, I went out for another walk to reorient myself. Though not quite dusk, the sun was lower in the sky, casting a warm peach glow over the rooftops. It appeared that the whole city had come out for a pre-dinner passeggiata, reveling in the ever-so-slightly cooler evening air. After getting a gelato (cioccolato and stracciatella again), I melded with the crowd, savoring my last night in Udine.

The following morning, I took the train back to Milano, with the usual hectic 10-minute connection in Mestre. While I always traveled light—carrying only a rolling duffel and a small backpack—somehow I had acquired what felt like an extra 20 pounds of stuff. My bag was filled with cookbooks that I had purchased along the way (including one huge coffee table book), and I now had a third bag filled with miscellany that would no longer fit in the suitcase. Maneuvering all this up and down stairs in the stations, lugging it onto trains, and heaving the largest bag onto the overhead storage rack was no small feat. I was relieved to finally arrive in Milano.

Duomo di MilanoI was staying again at Hotel Speronari, just off Piazza del Duomo. My room was on the third floor, with no elevator. These are the last stairs I will have to climb, I consoled myself. After checking in, I paid a visit to the Duomo, then walked to Via Solferino and the gastronomia Più del Pane Callegaro. There, I picked up a picnic dinner of assorted mini quiche, with toppings of eggplant, tomato, zucchini, and potato. On the same street, I found a bakery and bought some treats to take with me: an American-style lemon bar, a mini apricot crostata, and two unusual-looking apple cookies. These would be my breakfast and snack at the airport the next morning.

I tried to go to bed early, but found myself tossing around all night. For once, the room had an electric fan, which I positioned next to the bed, but even with the window wide open, the fan could only recirculate the hot, suffocating air. I slept in 15- to 30-minute increments, afraid of missing my alarm, finally getting up at 4:30am to take a quick shower in the bathroom down the hall. Once I had dressed and repacked, I was on autopilot, a routine I had repeated so many times in previous years: awaken the receptionist on night duty, check out, walk 10 minutes in the eerie darkness to Piazza San Babila, and catch the shuttle bus to Linate Airport. Soon I would be back home in San Francisco.

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