Friuli Venezia Julia

The Cooking

The cuisine of this region is characterised by the fusion of the gastronomic traditions of the peasants with those of the aristocrats which, as we have already seen, are decidedly disconnected from the great culinary history of Italy. In fact, in this land, it is not so much the long rule of Venice with its splendours, its riches and its opening on the entire world that bears weight. More important is the heritage of Hapsburg rule. It was more limited in time but infinitely more intense and decisive for every aspect of the life of this land, which was part of an empire stretching from Bohemia to the Balkans, with many ethnicities and a large number of differing languages and cultures.
One of the imported characteristics which marks a large part of the cuisine of Friuli is the indiscriminate use of sugar, cheese, butter, fruit, jams and mustards in all dishes, from first courses to desserts.
A typical example of this mix are the “cialzons di Artu”. They are made with a sheet of pasta made from flour, water and salt, and filled with a mixture of boiled potatoes, chopped apples and pears, crumbled biscuits, parsley, mint, lemon balm, basil, marjoram, raisins, smoked ricotta cheese, bittersweet chocolate, plum jam, sugar and cinnamon. After they have been cooked in water, these ‘cialzons’ are served with an abundance of butter melted with ground cinnamon, sugar and an abundance of grated smoked ricotta cheese. Described in this manner, this food may seem difficult to accept, but if well prepared it has its own charm, even if it is better eaten in the right place, in a certain atmosphere and a certain climate. The origins of this mix which sees the combination of aromatic herbs, jam and smoked ricotta cheese is certainly of a tradition in part oriental and in part Austrian, Austrian being the most noticeable in the cuisine of Friuli. Another strange first course, in keeping with the other sweet and sour dished in the cuisine of this region, is “pistum”. They are dumplings made of breadcrumbs, sugar, eggs, aromatic herbs and raisins. They are boiled in salted water and served immersed in a broth made of pork meat.
But the fundamental food of this land is polenta made with corn meal, abundantly produced in the region, and which is still respectfully milled with old grindstones. Polenta in Friuli is served with every type of food. It is rather thick and very well cooked. It is the best to be had since the flour has its own particular consistency. It is particularly good served with mushrooms (the hilly areas of the region and the mountains of Carnia are noteworthy for their mushrooms, while in the hills of Collio Goriziano there is the surprise of wonderful white truffles) and with cheese, especially the ‘montasio’ type. Montasio cheese is the founding father of a numerous family of cheeses named for the towns in which they are produced and which are included in the collective name “latteria” (dairy). These are cow’s milk cheeses (sheep are rare), fatty and flavoursome which, sliced and placed in a pan under warm polenta topped with mushrooms, melt slightly and make a very tasty dish.
In talking about cheeses, “frico friulano” must not be forgotten. Today it is considered to be the real starter in any meal in Friuli, this dish of potatoes, ‘montasio’ cheese and butter has poor, peasant origins. Before bringing the herds to pasture, the women would leave a pan with leftover cheese rinds on the hot ashes of the hearth. When they returned, they found the cheese rinds melted, transformed into a sort of golden fritter.
Regarding cheeses, remember that in the Carnic Alps there are still some small cheese factories in villages where the milk of the few cows of two or three farmers is worked together. This is a labour of nostalgia that, given the laws of the European Community in force, will be short lived.
The goulash widespread in the region has Hungarian origins, like “brovada” with “muset”, that is “cotechino” (pork sausage) cooked with sour turnips or turnips marinated in grape pomice for three months. When used, the turnips are cut into slices and cooked in a pan with lard.
The desserts found everywhere are the two cakes from the grand Viennese tradition: Sacher and Dobos. A simpler dessert which could cause serious discussion among the people of Friuli and the people of Venezia Giulia is the “gubana”, a focaccia cake typical of Friuli which is compared to the “putizza” which is prepared in a similar way and is made only in the area of Trieste. Trieste boasts its own recipes owing to the presence of the sea. These recipes include the famous “baccala’ alla triestina” (Salted Codfish Trieste Style) made with potatoes, anchovies and parsley and cooked in the oven, and “brodeto” (fish stew) which is reminiscent of other seaside areas of Italy. The geographic reality of Trieste allowed the development of a cuisine open to other experiences, decidedly European in nature, characterised, in respect to other areas in the region with very strong local traditions, by the contribution of the sea.