Archive for the ‘Friuli-Venezia Giulia’ Category

h1

You made risotto with WHAAAT?

October 12, 2015

Another filler in between proper posts, this time for a damn tasty orzotto* developed for my now regular (almost) healthy recipe contribution to the NRMA’s ‘Living Well Navigator’. Give it a go, it’s not bad.

https://www.mynrma.com.au/living-well-navigator/health-wellbeing/barley-risotto-with-pancetta-and-fresh-herbs.htm

 

Orzotto made from pearl barley

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Meanwhile, houseguest cat is happy to wait by the cooktop if it means wolfing down some risotto with extra pancetta. At your service, sir.

 

Ginger cat

 

 

 

 

 

.

.

.

.

* Orzotto is a portmanteau of risotto and orzo, the Italian word for barley. The dish is popular in the Friuli Venezia-Giulia region of north-eastern Italy.

Advertisements
h1

When Only Polenta Will Do

April 30, 2015

The ‘wooden plank/roof tile in place of the dinner plate’ fad has been around for a while, so I thought it safe to venture out into the wide world of inner Sydney pub bistros to test if chefs had done away with it. Not yet it seems.

I’ve eaten croissants, BLTs, toasties, salads and other foods plonked on non-plates. I’ve chased an undercooked egg oozing from a hamburger bun around a bit of treated pine. But after being served a steak with pepper sauce on a wooden board, I’m done. Do you realise how stressful it is to bolt down your meat before the pepper sauce finds its way to the edge of the board and drips onto the table? And the timber shards the serrated knife edge leaves behind aren’t much fun.

polenta illustration

There are times when plates are impractical. As an Italian-Australian growing up on home-cooked polenta I can attest to the tradition of pouring cooked polenta from the pot onto a wooden board, where it doesn’t spread too much. My father would cut it into slices with a taut wire (Jamie Oliver uses dental floss but I won’t go there) and serve it on plates with accompaniments from our Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. We’d have either a brodetto di pesce (cuttlefish or baccalà stew), sausage ragu or even braised borlotti beans.

There are Italian regional variations of the dish and sometimes polenta is served flat on a monstrous wooden board and then topped with rich tomato sauce and meat pieces for everyone around the table to dig into. Diners slowly work their way into the centre of the dish, a forkful at a time. It’s rustic eating and sounds like fun in the privacy of your own home.

I’m seriously thinking of asking for my next café steak/hamburger/anything with a runny sauce to be served on a dinner plate. As a paying customer, I think that’s fair.

While I wait for this trend to pass, I’ll enjoy following @WeWantPlates a tweeter who crusades against “serving food on bits of wood and roof tiles, jam-jar drinks and chips in mugs.” Thirty-six thousand followers feel their pain.

Image: from ‘Friuli e Trieste in Bocca’ by Manuela Busetti.

h1

Mother Tongue turns to Thoughts of Food

February 24, 2013

The language we learn to speak as children is part of our identity and shapes our first thoughts and how we relate to the world around us.

In my case, it was Italian – or more precisely a north-eastern regional dialect from Friuli-Venezia Giulia. I spoke only a few words of English before starting school in Sydney’s inner-west and remember my mother farewelling me on my first day and crying – in Italian.  Our home was TV-free until then, so – as an only child – I had limited opportunities to learn English.

One of my strongest Italian language memories was successfully landing the job of Kitchen Hand for my mother. Child labour laws didn’t apply to four-year-olds who made semolina dumplings and cut home-made pasta into long fettuccine strips. So I learnt to cook using Italian – not English – instructions.

and now for the taste test

and now for the taste test

Later, when I learnt more of the general Italian, I naturally picked up on various food idioms, some so florid they could be the basis of a four-course meal:

Pre-dinner drink

Non si puo avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca  – You can’t have the wine cask full and your wife drunk
(You can’t have your cake and eat it too)

Appetiser

È buono come un pezzo di pane – He’s as good as a piece of bread
(He’s a good person)

Entree

Beccare con le mani in pasta – To catch with hands in the pasta
(To catch red-handed)

Main Course  (choice of two)

Chi dorme non piglia pesci – He who sleeps does not catch fish
(The early bird gets the worm),  OR

Ridi che la mamma ha fatto gli gnocchi – Ironic expression which means keep on laughing (even if you think there’s nothing funny to laugh at)

Last Thursday was INTERNATIONAL MOTHER LANGUAGE DAY, a UNESCO initiative observed annually on 21st February promoting linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. Linguistic analysts predict up to 50 per cent of the world’s 7,000 languages may be in danger of disappearing by the end of this century. Australian Indigenous languages top the threatened list with only 20 of the original 250 still widely spoken. Once lost, they will be gone forever.

I sometimes wonder whether the regional dialect I speak with my mother and her friends will survive. When I cook Italian dishes I occasionally hear my mother’s voice in my head, speaking in dialect, saying something like “these potatoes are so watery they might ruin the gnocchi”.

These exchanges about food resonate so strongly with me and if I hadn’t learnt Italian, I’d be so disappointed that I’d be … hitting the sauce. In English.

See also Aidan Wilson’s International Mother Language piece in Crikey (Fully sic)

h1

Artichoke Love: You Gotta Have Heart

July 30, 2012

“Remind me to tell you about the time I looked into the heart of an artichoke.”

That line is delivered by Bette Davis at her sarcastic best in the 1950 Joseph L. Mankiewicz film All About Eve. It’s aimed at her director boyfriend after he tells the conniving actress Eve about the time he “looked into the wrong end of a movie camera finder”.

Davis’s insecure Margo never does tell the story, and I remember as a teenager waiting until the end of the film for some wonderful revelation about  artichoke hearts so I could look at them differently the next time my mother cooked them.

It’s almost the end of the artichoke season, so I’m cramming. My favourite way of cooking them is stuffed and braised, sometimes with peas, but there’s many other ways to enjoy them: fried, shaved in salads, steamed and marinated. I recall having a delicious artichoke omelette (frittata di carciofi) in Florence in 1983 but my attempt at recreating it back in Sydney turned out a chewy, spiky, overcooked mess. Too many leaves, not enough heart apparently.Cooking with artichoke halves

If you don’t pray at the alter of the globe artichoke, if the thought of eating a thistle makes you bristle, here’s 10 things to know:

. ancient Greeks and Romans considered artichokes a delicacy and an aphrodisiac

. they act as a diuretic, improve liver function and reduce cholesterol levels

. fresh artichokes should squeak when squeezed

. Marilyn Monroe was the first official ‘California Artichoke Queen’ in 1948*

. Cynar, the Italian after-dinner ‘digestivo’ contains the bitter extract of artichoke leaves

Think I’ll skip the other five and segue to a cocktail I’ll be drinking as a substitute until their appearance next winter.Cynar liqueur bottle

I love a ‘Spritz’, the classic northern Italian drink made with many types of bitters – Cynar (Padua); Campari (Trieste and Venice) and Aperol (Treviso) – in equal parts with Prosecco and sparkling water, as well as orange slices or olives.

Cynar has Sicilian origins and has been sold since the early 1950s, often promoted in Italian ads as a cure for the stress of modern life.

More artichoke information is included in the excellent ‘Artichoke Blog’. It’s been on hiatus since last year, but has everything you need to know about traditional Italian regional recipes, history and fun facts.

Here’s a nice recipe for Roman-style artichokes from SBS’s Italian Food Safari with Maeve O’Meara and Guy Grossi.

*Apparently, the title was bestowed upon Norma Jean when she was spotted promoting diamonds in a store in Castroville, CA and invited to tour its famous artichoke fields. A sash was thrown over her shoulders, and bingo, she was the first Artichoke Queen.

Cynar image: Shabbychef

♦ I welcome your thoughts or retorts. The Comments button is only a click away…

h1

The Secret Radicchio Society

June 4, 2012

I’m sitting at my mother’s dining table finishing my salad, thinking about life without these special green leaves.

Growing up in 1960s’ Sydney eating Italian food that my immigrant parents served, I’d hardly tasted the popular iceberg lettuce non-Italians ate. My father wasn’t a natural gardener, but one thing he did well was growing and harvesting bitter greens from the chicory family.

His specialty was a type of small-leafed, pale green radicchio grown in and around our hometown – Trieste – in northeastern Italy. These greens weren’t available at greengrocers, so most of our family friends from that Italian region grew it here in Australia: those who didn’t always had friends willing to donate some.

There’s not much you can do with this type of radicchio but eat it with vinaigrette. My father, however, chose to up the ante and sometimes added finely chopped, raw garlic. Being a non-Anglo preteen, I was anti-garlic and refused to buy into its alleged worm killing properties, so I discarded each tiny piece. If my father really suspected we had worms, he could have made life easier by trying a folk medicine remedy: a couple of garlic cloves in each shoe, to be absorbed through the skin. Slower, but kinder!

Realising I needed a creative way of eating the greens, dad added quartered hard-boiled eggs to the salad. I loved the way they dissolved into the vinaigrette, coating the leaves with a powdery yellow shine. Once all leaves were eaten, there was always a tussle for rights to sop up the liquid at the bottom of the bowl with crusty bread.

We stopped eating it for many years as different types of salad greens were available and Italian families no longer had the passion to grow it. Occasionally, in the 1970s, it would appear at barbeques and we’d swoop on it like seagulls, or we’d find it at family-run restaurants specialising in Venetian and northeastern Italian cuisine.

Growing radicchio from Trieste

The radicchio patch in all its glory

About eight years ago I had a craving for it and suggested to my mother I might try growing it in her backyard. I tracked down an online seed supplier who markets it in Australia as “Cicoria zuccherina di Trieste”. The term ‘zuccherina’ refers to its sweetness, but more accurately it has a pleasant bitter taste, especially if it’s eaten while still young and tender.

The radicchio patch – dedicated to my late father – has fed us continuously as it re-grows after each harvest. I sow it every two years after the leaves become a bit hard and hairy, and have my hands full protecting it from heavy rain and keeping two family cats from stretching out on it to bask in the sun. It needs watering every day – twice in dry summer weather – and my mother has become chief waterer.

Cicoria Zuccherina di Trieste con uova

The fruits of my labour

Greengrocers now sell many varieties of chicory, endive and radicchio such as the red Treviso and Verona, but don’t stock the type we eat, probably as it’s too delicate to withstand the handling and transport. In Trieste they are spoilt for choice, with up to four varieties sold daily at outdoor markets around the city.

It’s such a special part of the meals I have when I visit my mother twice per week; the table looks bare in the two months that the radicchio is in the early growing phase and too small to harvest. 

I think I need to become a fully-fledged market gardener and stagger my crops to enjoy it year-round.

 

h1

and here’s one I prepared earlier … on ‘coffee central’ Trieste

May 27, 2012

This story was first published in ‘Italianicious’ magazine (Jan/Feb 2012).  Click on image to enlarge or read the full story below.

History of coffee in Trieste, Italianicious magazine

‘Italianicious’ Jan/Feb 2012

 

Whenever I think about doing my civic duty of donating blood, I stop and realise I’d be rejected as surely I must have coffee, not blood, coursing through my veins. As a young child in 1960s Sydney, my regular afternoon treat was not the glass of full-cream milk my friends drank after school, but a caffè latte. And it’s all been uphill from there.

One of my earliest childhood memories is of my mother making coffee after a special family lunch. The friendly chatter was interrupted by an explosion, followed by a waterspout coating the walls of the eat-in kitchen and our guests with a fetching shade of brown. A clogged valve on the stovetop “Moka” pot was responsible and luckily no-one was hurt, but the force was so strong that damage to the stove’s metal warming shelf was alarming. I have never used a pressure coffeemaker since, preferring a stovetop Napoletana – a “flip and drip” coffee pot – which in the right hands and with a good grind, produces a strong but smooth espresso.

I was born, surrounded by coffee aroma, in Trieste, on Italy’s Adriatic coast about 120 kms north-east of Venice. The city has a rich and unique history including a coffee importing and roasting tradition dating back more than 250 years. Today it is the Mediterranean’s main coffee port, supplying over 40% of Italy’s coffee and prides itself in being the “undisputed coffee-roasting capital of the world”. It produces many fine coffee brands including the internationally renowned ILLY Caffe, and takes its coffee so seriously that Illy family member Riccardo was the city’s mayor in the 1990s.

Trieste is dotted with Viennese-style coffee-houses from the mid 19th century (an influence from its time as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). Five of the historically significant cafes remain, including the Tommaseo with showoff walls of rich stuccos and bas-reliefs; the Caffè degli Specchi (Café of Mirrors) facing the grand Piazza dell’Unità and the Caffè San Marco, boasting not only original frescoes, but a loyal clientele consisting of Trieste’s respected literary and artistic community.

These cafes have all undergone renovations over the years, but retain their character. In her book ‘Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere’ celebrated British travel writer Jan Morris thinks the San Marco is the most suggestive of the old cafes and when she enters its doors feels she’s “among just the same customers as would have been there a century ago: the students   …professors…authors…flaky philosophers and a scattering of ladies enjoying their daily coffee-talk”. Missing however is James Joyce who frequented the San Marco while he lived in the city from 1904-20.

Spoilt for choice, is it any wonder Trieste locals consume twice as much coffee as the Italian average? This kind of statistic is not to be taken lightly, so whenever I visit I help the numbers by drinking copious macchiati on my personal café crawls.

My maternal grandparents lived in a centrally-located apartment on top of a cafe in Trieste: I now live in a centrally-located apartment on top of a café in Sydney. My mother is the only odd one out: she just has a coffee tree in her garden.

 

%d bloggers like this: