I’ve longed to travel through the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. But the closest I’ve come is wandering through the seductive Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy by Elisabeth Antoine Crawford.
For that day when I do travel to the region, I hope Crawford will have created an app. Otherwise, I’ll be forced to lug her three-pound, 368-page tome with me. It’s an exhaustively researched guide to the mountains, meadows, vineyards, and coasts, all with their own distinctive foods, wines, architecture, museums, attractions, and festivals.
Most Italian regions don’t border anything other than other Italian regions or the sea but not Friuli Venezia-Giulia. It juts north and east of the peninsula. It’s bordered by the Veneto to the west, Austria to the north, The Republic of Slovenia to the east, and the Adriatic Sea to the south. Romans, Venetians, Austro-Hungarians, and Slavs have all ruled this territory over the centuries. Parts of the region weren’t incorporated into the Republic of Italy until after World War I and the cosmopolitan city of Trieste not until 1954.
Middle European influences abound in dishes such as sauerkraut, buckwheat pasta, liptauer, goulasch, and torta Dobos. Yet, the region also produces foods that are recognized around the world as quintessentially Italian: prosciutto di San Daniele, Montasio cheese, and Illy caffè.
Crawford, a former dancer and Pilates instructor, admits that many were puzzled when she chose Friuli as a research subject. “Friends who appreciate my passion for Italy have found it strange that I have been drawn to one of the country’s most un-Italian regions,” Crawford writes in her introduction.
“My answer is that possibly this is what intrigues me the most—the fact that it is so distinctive. For the same reason, I am drawn to fusion cuisine at home in San Francisco. Dishes that run the gamut from mildly unusual to outlandishly bizarre are simply more interesting to me.”
Perhaps no dish typifies this exoticism better than the stuffed pasta called cjalsòns. “In every lush valley of the Carnia mountains, each cook prepares his or her own unique recipe, merging herbs and spices and creating a distinct shape and form for the dough,” Crawford writes.
“While there are generally two varieties—sweet and savory—the flavors often tend to overlap. The sweet cjalsòns may be filled with apples, pears, crushed biscotti, dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, and spices, but often contain savory herbs such as parsley, basil, and marjoram. Likewise, the savory cjalsòns have undertones of sweetness, combining such unlikely ingredients as potatoes, raisins, onions, cocoa, spinach, jam, and cheese. Both sweet and savory cjalsòns are served in melted butter and are typically topped with ricotta affumicata [smoked ricotta cheese] and a sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon.”
Nutmeg, cloves, saffron, cumin, caraway seeds, poppy seeds, and other seasonings are the legacy of the cramârs, Carnian peddlers who traveled throughout central Europe and brought home their wares to be integrated into the local style of cooking.
It was difficult to imagine how cjalsòns would taste so I made the recipe for Cjalsòns di Treppo Carnico that follows. Each bite of these airy pillows was a harmony of complex sweet and savory notes.
Next up, I prepared Cevapcici, fresh mixed meat sausages seasoned with garlic, paprika, black pepper, and cayenne. The accompanying Ajvar sauce will become a staple condiment in my repertoire. Prepared simply from roasted red bell pepper and eggplant that are pureed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, sugar, and cayenne pepper, it is a a magical condiment.
As I said, my exploration of Friuli is just beginning. With Crawford as my guide, I know fascinating destinations and intriguing flavors lie ahead.
- [b]Pasta Dough:[/b]
- 1 cup semolina flour
- 1/4 cup boiling water, plus extra as needed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 12 ounces white potatoes, peeled and quartered
- 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
- 1/2 cup grated ricotta affumicata or ricotta salata
- Ground cinnamon
- Raisins (optional)
- Cinnamon sticks (optional)
- [b]To prepare the pasta dough:[/b] In a medium bowl, combine the flour, boiling water, and olive oil. Transfer the dough to a clean surface; knead until the flour is fully incorporated and the mixture becomes smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (If the dough is too dry or crumbly, lightly moisten your fingers with water during kneading until you reach the desired texture.) Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.
- [b]To prepare the filling:[/b] Place the raisins in a small bowl and cover with water. Let soak for 30 minutes; drain. Place the potatoes in a medium pot filled with water; bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes and place in a medium bowl; mash well. Cool to room temperature.
- Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion; cook and stir until golden brown and caramelized, about 30–40 minutes. Purée the onion in a food processor; stir into the mashed potatoes.
- Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the parsley; cook and stir until wilted and beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Stir into the potato mixture, along with the drained raisins, sugar, lemon peel, and salt. Refrigerate for 1 hour, or until ready to use.
- [b]To stuff and cook:[/b] Working in batches, feed the dough through the rollers of a pasta machine until very thin (setting #7 on most machines). Cut out 3-inch circles from the dough. Place 1 heaping tablespoon filling on half the circles. Moisten the edges with water; cover each with another circle of dough, sealing the edges tightly.
- Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Working in batches, place the cjalsòns in the water; cook until they rise to the surface, about 1–2 minutes. Drain.
- [b]To prepare the toppings:[/b] Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat; remove from heat. Add the cjalsòns and toss to coat with butter. Divide the cjalsòns among serving plates; drizzle with any excess butter from the skillet. Top with grated ricotta affumicata; sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Garnish with extra raisins and cinnamon sticks, if desired.
- 8 ounces ground beef
- 8 ounces ground pork
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion, plus extra for serving
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Dash cayenne pepper
- 1 large red bell pepper
- 1 small eggplant
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Dash cayenne pepper
- [b]To prepare the Cevapcici:[/b]
- In a medium bowl, combine the ground beef, ground pork, 2 tablespoons onion, garlic, paprika, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Roll the mixture into sausages about 3 inches long and 3/4 inch in diameter.
- Preheat grill (or heat a large skillet over medium-high heat). Place the sausages on the grill; cook until done, about 5–6 minutes, turning to brown each side. Serve with ajvar and chopped onion.
- [b]To prepare the Ajvar:[/b] Preheat oven to 400°F. Place the bell pepper and eggplant on a baking sheet; bake until the eggplant is tender and the bell pepper skin begins to brown, about 30–40 minutes. When the bell pepper is cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin, stem, and seeds. Slice open the eggplant and scoop out the flesh. Place the bell pepper and eggplant in a food processor, along with the olive oil, vinegar, sugar, and cayenne pepper; purée until smooth. Season to taste with salt.