Archive for the ‘Trieste’ Category

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A Fine Kettle of Fish

January 30, 2014

If anyone ever calls me ‘sardonic’ – assuming they don’t mean I look like a fish – I’d almost take it as a compliment.

I love fish talk. You can almost smell the turns of phrase devoted to fish: A big fish in a small pond; crooked as a barrel of fish hooks; drink like a fish; fish in troubled waters; having bigger fish to fry; like shooting fish in a barrel; plenty more fish in the sea; like a fish out of water.

And my favourite – which is also shared in Italian – neither fish nor fowl. Does this mean it’s not a ‘surf n turf’?

A high school friend used to say that someone had “a smile like a deep sea mullet”. Cracked me up, but I’ve never heard that expression since.

A couple of evocative expressions belong to one of my favourite fish, the highly (in some quarters) unfashionable mackerel.

There’s a mackerel sky…

mackerel sky

And a mackerel tabby cat… 

mackerel cat

Vincent van Gogh thought enough of mackerel to paint them in his lovely Still Life with Mackerels, Lemons and Tomatoes

Van Gogh Mackerels  

The Portuguese do a damn fine job of canning them

tinned mackerel

And ‘Holy Mackerel, Batman’ says it all.

The word mackerel may be derived from the Old French maquerel (c.1300) meaning a pimp or procurer and as the fish species spawns enthusiastically near coastal areas, it’s plausible.

My family’s always been big mackerel eaters and bought it from Trieste’s glorious waterfront fish market, an imposing 1913 structure with a bell tower. Nicknamed Santa Maria del Guato, it was the Adriatic city’s shrine to fish of all denominations.

Here in Sydney we bought our fish from less salubrious fishmongers. We cooked our mackerel on my father’s jerry-built brick BBQ and although not a pretty piece of handywork it did the trick. The whole mackerel were cooked until slightly charred and then the laborious de-boning process began. That was my mother’s job and she patiently be-headed and opened the fish and picked them clean. Bone by bone. They was then seasoned, sprinkled with chopped garlic and parsley and spread with a layer of home-made mayonnaise.

Last week I found some super fresh smallish blue mackerel at the fish markets, chock full of Omega-E fats and sustainable in Australia. Simply grilled with a squeeze of lemon, they were a knockout. And I’m not fishing for compliments.

Grilled Mackerel

Neil Perry is a mackerel fan too and does a nice pan fried version with a spicy sauce. http://www.lifestylefood.com.au/recipes/300/pan-fried-mackerel

Related posts:

Working out for our Mussels – http://tinyurl.com/kf3go8m

Spanish Cuttlefish with Italian Attitude – http://tinyurl.com/mxkqbuv

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(Not) Going Pear-Shaped

May 30, 2013

In my last post I mentioned a roast chestnut I’ve had in a coat pocket for 24 years. Now I’ve unearthed another oddity.

An autumn spring clean has reacquainted me with a decorative candle received as a house-warming gift in 1986 – and never used. Maybe the Beurré Bosc pear shape was too nice to melt into a blob, or it held sentimental value. Either way, its time has come. More on that later.

Whenever I cook brown pears, my mother mentions the hot sugary pears she ate in Trieste prior to the 1950s. They weren’t sold at shops but from large metal containers strapped to the shoulders of walking, talking vendors. Pre-cooked and kept warm atop hot coals in a bain-marie arrangement inside these drums, the special small brown pears (peri petorai) were sometimes sold on skewers. Obviously a precursor to the ‘dessert on a stick’ phenomenon now popular.

Photo courtesy National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

George Baldessin’s beauties

Jump to 1983 when I tasted my first pear and dark chocolate gelato in the lovely Tuscan city, Lucca – a flavour combination so special I can still taste it.

Home from the European trip, I was dying to know what Veneto-born Australian artist George Baldessin’s Pear – Version No. 2 steel sculptures at the Australian National Gallery would taste like with a Poire Belle Helene treatment.

Italy loves its pears and is the second-largest producer of pears. In Australia, our pear industry is struggling, with SPC Ardmona bulldozing surplus trees as it tries to compete with cheap imports sold by supermarkets. I used to enjoy Lindt’s Dark Intense Pear flavour but I hear it’s discontinued. If anyone knows otherwise, please tell me so pronto.

pear candle

Cause to celebrate – 1st anniversary post

But back to the pear candle. The ancient Chinese believed the pear was a symbol of immortality as pear trees live a long time, so with no celebratory sparking wine in the house, I’m going to light the candle for this blog’s first anniversary. May it live a long time too.

Hope you continue to enjoy it.

Here’s a Mario Batali recipe combining pears and chocolate.

And something sweet and sticky from Delia Smith: Pears in Marsala

George Baldessin’s Pear – Version No. 2 (’73) image courtesy National Gallery of Aust.
 
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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…

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Tiramisù: a Nora Ephron pick-me-up

July 2, 2012

When Nora Ephron died in 2012, my first thoughts turned to dessert. 

A respected journalist, playwright, screenwriter, novelist, producer and director Ephron also loved good food and the Italian dessert tiramisù was a favourite. In her DVD commentary for 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle she says, “It hardly seems possible there was a time when all of America didn’t know what tiramisù was.”

There’s always much debate regarding tiramisù’s origins. Most roads lead to the Beccherie restaurant in Treviso, northeastern Italy. The restaurant’s pastry chef Roberto Linguanotto claims to have invented the dessert in 1970, naming it “Tiramesu”- or ‘pick-me-up’ – in the regional dialect. Sydney-based journalist David Dale has written that it may have been invented in Trieste in the 1950s with the recipe then taken to Treviso. I hate to admit I’ve scoured my mother’s old Triestine cuisine cookbooks and there’s no reference to it, just zuppa inglese (trifle). So much controversy.

Well, I think MY family invented it. In the early 1960s, we made our own Sydney inner-west version with Arnott’s Milk Coffee biscuits (the ones with the three rows of pinholes and the scalloped edges.) We called it “Torta Fredda” (Cold Cake). Not a sponge finger or Savoiardo in sight, just standard issue Oz biscuits that produced a more solid, tightly compacted cake than the tiramisù.

 

The building block of our 1960s-style tiramisù (left)

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the real deal (right)

 

I loved helping my mother soak the biscuits alternately in coffee and Marsala, while my father made large vats of chocolate buttercream* to spread between the biscuit layers. He’d then thickly coat the cake with cream after filling the cracks with more cream as if repointing a brick wall. I think this cake may have been influenced by the squillion layered, artery blocking Hungarian Dobos torte, as Trieste was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire for over 400 years.

I tasted nothing similar until the late 1970s when I ordered a tiramisù at one of Sydney’s best Italian restaurants – Darcy’s in Paddington, and a little later at The Mixing Pot in Glebe. From there, it featured on every Italian restaurant menu for about 30 years.

Back to Sleepless in Seattle, and I must quote from one of the film’s best scenes … Widower Tom Hanks is getting ready for his first date in 13 years when friend Rob Reiner explains things have changed and his date will probably pay for her own meal and if sex is likely, he’ll use a condom. But, most importantly, “There is now tiramisù.” Hanks has no idea what tiramisù is and Reiner replies, “You’ll find out.” Panicking, Hanks shouts, “You better tell me … some woman is gonna want me to do it to her and I’m not gonna know what it is.”

*Ephron once said “you can never have too much butter”, so I feel much better.

http://www.yum-recipes.com/Recipe/Italian/175434_Nora_Ephrons_Tiramisù.html

And on New Year’s Day 1965, we celebrated with “Cold Cake”.

The official Tiramisù site:

http://www.tiramesu.it/

The Beccherie restaurant:

http://www.anticoristorantebeccherie.it/

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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.

 

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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.

 

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She came, she tasted, she disapproved

May 21, 2012

In YOU’VE GOT MAIL, the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romcom, Hanks talks about a certain US coffee chain being good for those who can’t make decisions.

“The whole purpose of places like St*bucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.”

Fair enough. But how many people want that defining sense of self to say: Weak. Bitter. Tasteless?

I’ve kept quiet about bad coffee for too long. As a long-time macchiato drinker, I don’t mind that the macchiati I order in Sydney cafes come in a variety of sizes (well, I do, but…). What really disappoints is so many are undrinkable, giving me no choice but to leave a long trail of unfinished drinks all over town.

Tasting an inferior long black in a 5-star Canberra hotel in the late 1980s. I still adopt that scowl when required.

I remember watching the 1960s US sitcom GREEN ACRES. One of the main characters – the newly married Lisa (Eva Gabor) – prepares the daily breakfast coffee for husband Oliver (Eddie Albert). The thick, tar-like sludge that oozed from the pot looked shocking to me back then. Today I’d probably drink it in a heartbeat.

My coffee credentials are firmly steeped in an Italian heritage that takes its caffeine seriously. Trained as a small child by my father to grind the beans on a manual machine in my lap, I still bear the dents on my inner thighs where I clutched the grinder. Crunch crunch crunch, then into the stovetop Moka. My place of birth is responsible for this obsession and I freely admit to withdrawal symptoms between visits. (In the Jan 2012 issue of ‘Italianicious’ mag, I talk more about this in ‘Trieste and the Meaning of Coffee’ – see link or in next post).  http://www.flickr.com/photos/plumdumplings/6845911655/in/photostream

A good coffee is a revelation and I had fully intended that my first blog should include a recommendation or two for local cafes, however, chances are the barista who makes my coffee today will be gone next week. Sydney, you’re such a fickle town.

This is not meant to be a food blog, although if the stars align and I find a cafe where the coffee is consistently good – with a perfect crema, a full body and no hint of bitterness – I’ll certainly share. Suggestions welcome too.

(The writer is still suffering the after-effects of a nasty morning cafe coffee and apologises for the tone. Women in the 17th century were banned from coffeehouses for less than this!)

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