Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Recipes from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy

So after last week, I needed to restore my faith in cheese. I'm pretty sure I can still smell that appenzeller. Blech.

Anyway, what better place to look for a wonderful, non-stinky new cheese than Italy? I've still got a few regions leftover from earlier in the alphabet, so it's time to backtrack. This week we're going to Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia borders Slovenia and Austria and is located on the back cuff of the boot, overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Historically, the region was an important one, and I don't mean to the people of Italy. The Germanic and Slavic people in particular liked Friuli-Venezia Giulia, because as a region it is the most accessible from outside of Italy. Which means of course that those Germanic and Slavic invaders used it as a place to launch invasions. Imagine how annoying that must have been if you lived in Friuli-Venezia Giulia--"Oh good lord, here comes that damned Germanic army again."

It may surprise you to learn (as it did me) that Italian isn't the primary language spoken in this part of Italy. Much of Friuli-Venezia Giulia (especially the people who live in rural areas) speaks Friulan, which has roots in Aquileian Latin and pre-Roman languages like Gualish and Venetic. There are 300,000 native speakers of Friulan, most of whom also speak Italian.

Udine, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy. Photo by Andrea.
As might be expected, the cuisine in Friuli-Venezia Giula is heavily influenced by those Germanic and Slavic neighbors--you will find dishes like sauerkraut and strudel there, and lots of those heavier dishes containing potatoes, beans and cabbage that are so popular in the eastern European nations. As for me personally, I just wanted to find some nice cheese. It wasn't hard, because Friuli-Venezia Giulia has one cheese in particular that seems to crop up in a lot of different dishes: Montasio, which is a cow's milk cheese that originated in the region. Most famously, it's used in a dish called Frico, which is essentially a chip made out of cheese. You had me at "chip made out of cheese."

Anyway, here's the menu I selected this week:

Gnocchi in a Montasio cheese sauce with poppy seeds 
(from Snaidero-usa.com)
  • 1 lb of gnocchi
  • 1/2 lb semi-aged Montasio cheese
  • 2 tbsp of grated aged Montasio or Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1/3 cup light cream or whole milk
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp poppy seeds, pounded or crushed
Cevapcici con Ajvar
(from Simple Italy)

For the cevapici:
  • 8 oz ground beef
  • 8 oz ground pork
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped onion, plus extra for serving
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Dash cayenne pepper
For the ajvar:
  • 1 large red bell pepper
  • 1 small eggplant
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Dash cayenne pepper
and of course:

Frico (Cheese Chips)
(from Lidia's Italy)
  • 1/2 tsp unsalted butter
  • 3/4 lb Montasio cheese, shredded
And finally:

Cavolo Verza Arrosto con Pancetta Croccante
(from Rustico Cooking)
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the baking dish
  • 1 Savoy cabbage, quartered, cored, and cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp hot Hungarian paprika
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 lb bacon, defatted and cubed
I started with the cabbage. First, preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Oil a 9x12 roasting pan. First arrange the cabbage on the bottom of the pan, then drizzle with the chicken broth and olive oil. 

Top with the spices and toss it all together with the garlic. Sprinkle the chunks of bacon on top.

Transfer to the oven and let roast for 45 minutes. Check on it a couple of times and give it a stir. When it's golden and starting to turn crispy, it's ready.

Now for the cevapcici. You may recall I did a dish a lot like this one with a similar name back in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in fact it may be too similar to this one though it was served differently and without the addition of the ajvar. Anyway the rest of my menu is varied enough that I didn't feel too bad about the repeat. Here's how to make:

First do the ajvar. Cut the bell pepper into strips and place it skin side up in a 400 degree oven (I lightly sprayed mine with some olive oil to help the roasting process). Put the eggplant in there too (I cut mine up but I don't think you need to). Roast until the skins begin to brown, which should take a half hour to 40 minutes. Move the bell pepper into a tupperware and seal for 10 minutes or so (this makes it a lot easier to get the skin off). Remove the stem, seeds and skin. Scoop out the soft flesh of the eggplant and then transfer both to a food processor. Add the remaining ajvar ingredients and puree until smooth. Add salt to taste.

Now mix together all the ingredients for the cevapcici. Roll the mixture into little cylinder-shaped sausages--they should be about 3 inches long and 3/4 of an inch around.

Heat a large skillet over a medium flame and cook on all sides until brown (this should take roughly five or six minutes).

Now for the gnocchi, which really couldn't be simpler:

Grate the cheeses. Meanwhile, heat the cream slowly until it reaches a simmer. Add the cheeses and stir until they melt. 

While you're making the sauce, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi. When they start to rise to the top of the pot remove them with a slotted spoon; they're done.  

Toss the gnocchi with the sauce until well-incorporated, then add the poppy seeds. Stir to combine and serve.

And finally, those cheese chips:

Melt the butter in a small skillet over a moderate to low flame, then sprinkle two tablespoons of cheese into the pan. Spread evenly and cook until golden on one side, then flip and cook for a few minutes longer. Let drain on paper towels. Keep going until you run out of cheese.

OK so first I want to say that I'm pretty sure I overcooked the cheese chips, because they were just a little bit too golden and maybe a bit chewy. But I liked them. Fried cheese, what's not to like? Warning: don't do this with appenzeller. I mean, I don't know if you can do it with appenzeller but I can just imagine what your kitchen would smell like.

Loved those little sausages and I thought the ajvar was really tasty, even though I don't generally like eggplant. It really added some interest to those otherwise basic sausages. The gnocchi was delicious too, because it was really just gnocchi in cheese sauce. It wasn't really unusual, but you know, it was gnocchi in cheese sauce. And I was actually quite fond of the cabbage, mainly because it's a vegetable that I like in most incarnations and one we don't eat a lot of, so it made for a nice change.

My husband enjoyed this meal too, though he's always wishing for things that are really interesting and unusual. Of course even the smaller areas of places like Italy have been done and done here in America, so I'm not sure what he expected. Good food is good food, it doesn't always have to be exotic.

You can guess what my kids thought of the food. Well, they ate the sausages because they're sausages, but everything else ... more for me. And yes, I did successfully restore my faith in cheese.

Next week we're still in Italy, but this time: Liguria
Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy
Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy


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