Friuli Venezia Julia
Trieste is the most populous and important city in Venezia Giulia, capital of the territory of the same name. It is one of the main ports of Italy, located at the bottom of a gulf that bears its name. It is a seaside town which, however, is spread out in part on the plains and in part on the low sandy hills that stretch out at the steep edge of the Triestino-Gorizano Carso.
It is a land with a complex history behind it. In the fourteenth century it was already under Venetian rule, then under the rule of Friuli and finally, in 1382, under the rule of the Habsburgs. It then fell under the rule of the Spanish, the Slavs, the French, until finally in 1813 it returned to the Austrians. This was the most splendid period, which saw the immigration of many Italians, Greeks and Germans to Trieste. After the end of the First World War, the city was able to raise the tricolour flag. But for the Italian and Slavic populations, peace was reached only after the Second World War, to be more precise on 5th October 1954 when the Entente Memorandum was concluded. The memorandum divided the territory of Trieste into two areas: Area A was given to the Italians and Area B was given to the then,Yugoslavia.
These events greatly influenced the practices, customs, culture and traditions of the city and, along with the geographic situation, particularly influenced the cuisine of Trieste, which distinguishes itself greatly from the cuisine of other areas in the region. In fact, the cuisine of Trieste may seem like a cocktail of different cultures and traditions. In reality, in this town, which was the seaside emporium of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a commercial centre open to the most varied influences, more than a superimposition of cuisine (Venetian, Austrian, Greek, Hungarian, Jewish and Slavic), a natural combination has developed, respectful of each individuality. Dishes such as “riso alla greca” (Greek style rice) and Hungarian “gulasch” (goulash – known here as ‘gulyas’) appear side by side on a Trieste menu, and “sanguinaccio alla boema” (Bohemian style black pudding) appears next to “costoletta viennese” (Viennese style chops). The cuisine also included a rich array of typical dishes from Veneto that have become typical of Trieste due to the use of certain aromatic herbs (marjoram, cumin, oregano and garlic).
Fish is the basis of many excellent dishes from Trieste and the lagoon around Grado. These dished are rich with spices, making the fish refined, which is also true of the rice, frequently prepared as delicate seafood risotto. Some of these typical and traditional fish dishes include “branzino guarnito in sfoglia dorata” (sea bass dressed in golden pastry). It is a dish which requires the following ingredients: a sea bass weighing approximately 5 kilos (11 lbs.), 100 grams (3 ½ oz) of small shrimp, 1 kilo (2 ¼ lbs.) of clams, 1 kilo (2 ¼ lbs.) of mussels, 200 grams (7 oz) of scallops, 150 grams (6 oz) of butter, and ½ kilo (1 ¼ lbs.) of puff pastry. The preparation is difficult and is divided into phases as follows. The sea bass fillets are washed and browned in butter. The clams, mussels and scallops are placed in a pan and the shells are removed. The shrimp should be cleaned and cooked for a few minutes along with the clams, mussels and scallops. All of this is placed in a blender and puréed. The mixture is then placed between the sea bass fillets. The sea bass is then rolled in the puff pastry and placed in the oven for approximately fifteen minutes. It should be served very hot.
Another interesting dish is “canocie in busara” (stewed mantis shrimp). “Busara” in this case means a sauce, made with breadcrumbs, pepper, salt, white wine and peeled tomatoes, in which the prawns and mantis shrimp are cooked. A “busara” was a terra cotta or iron pot which sailors used to cook their meals on board ship. The term, eminently a sailor’s term, became part of the culinary vocabulary of Trieste through the route that the fish took, beginning in Dalmatia and Istria, to reach the port of Trieste. The ingredients are: mantis shrimp cut lengthways down the sides, garlic, parsley, breadcrumbs, white wine, salt and pepper. The shrimp are placed in layers or side by side, then sprinkled with a composition made up of the garlic, parsley and breadcrumbs. Wet them with a cup of white wine and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Place them in a pan, cover them and cook for ten minutes. The sauce from the cooking liquid is very flavoursome.
Anchovies are prepared in various ways (raw and marinated in lemon they are truly excellent). One typical speciality of Trieste with Austro-Hungarian origins is “liptauer.” This is a cream cheese prepared in a delicatessen, to be spread on bread, possibly rye bread. It is prepared by mixing ricotta cheese and butter with anchovies and chopped onions, capers, mustard, paprika, parsley, kummel (German liquor) and chives.
The flavour of the Hapsburg past can also be found in a dish called “gnocco gigante” (giant dumpling) which is a direct derivative of the Knödeln or canederli, still typical on the tables of Trieste and Upper Adige, but is much bigger. It is made from a mixture of stale bread cut into pieces then fried in butter, bound with egg, salt, flour and prosciutto. It is enclosed in a napkin or dishcloth and steamed, hung over a pot of boiling water. It is served covered in browned butter and abundantly sprinkled with grated cheese.
One of the distinguishing elements of the gastronomy of Trieste is dessert. The Viennese tradition of the Sacher Torte (famous all over the world) and of the Dobos is still alive in the pastry shops and cafes. In these pastry shops and cafes, the civilised habit of a pause and an exchange of ideas articulates the serene and relaxed life of Trieste. These cafes have an ancient literary tradition which saw authors such as (for example) Italo Svevo and James Joyce, who was a devoted patron of the Pirona pastry shop, specialised in typical sweets form Trieste, from the “presnitz” (sweet pastry rolls with raisins, nuts and candied fruit) of Hungarian origin, to the “putizza” (Easter cake filled with nuts, chocolate, coffee beans, grappa and vanilla wafers). The “putizza” is a cake made from leavened dough similar to the “gubana” of Fruili, except for some variations made through the personal interpretation of the pastry chef following the recipe. The shape is similar to that of the cake from Friuli: the roll of filled dough is laid out in spirals in a cake pan and baked in the oven. The substantial difference between the “presnitz” and the “putizza” is due to some variations in the filling: the filling is enriched with rum and wine from Cyprus and some spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. The dough, unlike that of the “putizza” has no leavening. The cake is considered typical of Trieste, but the origins are definitely Slavic.
Even rice finds a glorious use in sweets. It is often cooked in sugared milk. Flavoured with various spices it becomes a cake as simple as it is exquisite.
As in all northern countries, sweets constitute the end of the meal, even the simplest one. For this reason, along with delicate cakes generally of Austrian origins, many are (like “strudel” and “krapfen”) made with very simple ingredients. But these simple desserts are neither less flavoursome nor less able to bring a certain cheer to the table.