In Italy’s north eastern corner lies the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. This small region sits on the Adriatic coast with the Alps bordering it and Austria to the north and Slovenia to the east. Friuli Venezia Giulia cuisine is known as a composite of peasant fare and sophisticated Venetian food with influences from the Slavic and Austrian cultures. Despite these vastly different styles of cooking, this region manages to merge them successfully. The region is also the birthplace of grappa and the source of an astounding variety of wines, despite its diminutive size. The town of San Daniele has produced an excellent prosciutto for centuries that rivals Parma’s.
Pasta is eaten in many different forms in the Friuli Venezia Giulia cuisine. Lasagna noodles are layered with poppy seeds. Gnocchi are made with potato, winter squash or plums. The filled pasta called bauletti contains ham and cheese. Like many other northern regions of Italy, polenta is a staple food. Stewed meats, game and cheese dishes are often served with it.
Bread is another staple food in the Friuli Venezia Giulia cuisine. In addition to wheat, rye and barley flour are used to make bread. Pumpkin bread is also commonly enjoyed. Gubana is a bread traditionally served for Easter. This rich bread resembles brioche and is filled with layers of cocoa and grappa flavored dried fruit and nuts. Bread is used to make canederli which are dumplings that are served in broth or as a side dish for meat. Potatoes and ricotta are used to fill a savory strudel called strukli.
Friuli Venezia Giulia recipes for soup are widely varied, including many kinds of vegetables, beans, seafood and meat. Boreto alla graisana, or turbot chowder seasoned with garlic, olive oil and vinegar, is served at the port of Grado. Fasûj e uardi is a herb flavored barley soup, thick with beans, pork, onion and celery. Ham and beans are cooked with potatoes and corn to make bòbici. Jota is a soup made from sauerkraut, beans, sausages and potatoes cooked with sage and garlic. Even turtles are made into soup in Friuli Venezia Giulia.
The southern section of Friuli Venezia Giulia lies along the coast where seafood dishes play an important role in the diet. Granzevola alla triestina is a dish of baked spider crab with bread seasoned with lemon, garlic and parsley. Shrimp, squid and mussels are simmered with rice in fish broth to make risotto di Marano. The most popular fish in Friuli Venezia Giulia is turbot, while sardines, eels and cod are preserved in salt and served in many different ways.
The fogolar is an open-hearth oven with a cone-shaped chimney used for cooking. Most often, mushrooms, sausages, lamb, kid, poultry and beef are grilled on a fogolar. Stewed meats are commonly prepared in Friuli Venezia Giulia cooking. Venison and rabbit are cooked in a wine sauce called salmi. Gulasch, a beef and pepper stew flavored with hot peppers, onions, paprika and tomato, is served with polenta. Other meat dishes include rambasici or stuffed cabbage and patties of mixed beef and pork known as cevàpcici. Muset e bruada is a sausage made from pork rind, first boiled and then fried in salt pork, onions and garlic. Bruada (pickled turnips) are served as a condiment with this dish. Sauerkraut and horseradish are served with sausage dishes.
Gubana is a rich yeast-raised cake rolled up jelly roll style before placing in a round pan to bake. Its cinnamon flavored filling contains dried and candied fruit, nuts and chocolate. Presnitz, another dried, candied fruit and nut filled pastry, is coiled like a snake before baking. Apple strudel is prepared with pine nuts and raisins. Chestnuts are used in Castagnoli cookies. Chifeleti, or biscuits made with potato enriched dough, and pumpkin fritters called fritulis are fried treats.
The region has an outstanding reputation for its white wines which account for just over 60% of its output. A mixture of local and international grape varieties are grown with great success here. The region’s winemakers are forward-thinking, even pioneering the “Friuli method”, a modern technique for getting juice off the skins quickly.
Friuli holds two DOCGs for its unique dessert wines. Ramandolo, a little known sweet white, whose Verduzzo grapes are grown on the hills to the north of Udine, was the first to be awarded its status. Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit, a delicate amber wine made from the aromatic Picolit grape, became DOCG in 2006. There are ten DOCs wines in Friuli and two of these are considered to be exceptional – Collio Goriziano, which is usually known simply as Collio, and Friuli Colli Orientali. Quality is also excellent in the Friuli Isonzo DOC area, where some dry whites are made from Gewurztraminer, Pinot Grigio and Riesling, as well as some semi-dry and sparkling wines. Tocai Friuliano has been an important variety historically. The grape is now commonly known as Friuliano following a European court ruling to avoid confusion with the Hungarian wine Tokaji. The region has had great success with its single varietal white wines, such as Malvasia Istriana, Ribolla Gialla and Verduzzo, whereas Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Bianco from the region tend to be refined.
Some excellent reds are Cabernet and Pinot Nero, as well as vendemmia tardiva (late harvest) blends. Red wines from Friuli have tended to be single varietal wines made from Italian grapes like Refosco, as well as Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Nero. Historically, they were light and not designed for cellaring. But this is a region where experimentation and forward thinking in the winery is as much part of the routine as following traditional techniques are in other parts of Italy. Consequently, there are some fine blends on the market, often aged in oak barrels. The resultant wines have great depth and complexity and a firm structure that ensures they are capable of ageing.
For the dumplings:
- 300 g (10 oz) stale bread, diced
- 225 ml (1 cup) milk
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 60 g (½ cup) all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
- 3 tablespoons (minced) flat leaf parsley
- 200 g (7 oz) Italian Fontina cheese, diced
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 12 cups of vegetable or chicken broth (for boiling)
For the broth:
- 1 cup per serving of extra vegetable or chicken broth
- Grated Parmigiano cheese
- Chives, thinly sliced
Put the stale bread into a large mixing bowl. Add the milk, the eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix well and let it rest for at least two hours, covered with a tea towel, in a cool place or in the refrigerator. Stir occasionally. After the two hours, add the flour, then the parsley and the cheese. Mix gently and set aside.
Heat the oil and butter and cook the onion for ten minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Let the onion cool off, then incorporate it into the flour mixture. Let the mixture rest for another half an hour covered with a tea towel. It should look uniformly moist and slightly sticky.
Using your hands, form the canederli by pressing together enough of the mixture to make balls the size of a small orange. You should be able produce 14-16 balls out of the entire mix.
After making each ball, roll it in flour to seal the outside and prevent the canederli from sticking to each other. When all the canederli are ready, re-roll them into flour and compress them a second time.
Boil the vegetable or chicken broth in a large pot. Place the canederli gently in the pot, wait until the boil is resumed. Boil the canederli for 12-15 minutes (they will be floating the whole time), then drain them gently.
To prepare the canederli in broth:
Heat 1 cup per serving of vegetable or chicken broth (as the one used for boiling will be cloudy because of the flour). Place two to three canederli into each soup bowl, then pour the broth over them. Garnish with grated Parmigiano cheese and chives.
Grilled Tuna with Crushed Fennel Seed
Makes 4 to 6 servings
- 4 fresh tuna steaks, 1 inch thick (about 2 pounds total)
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, crushed in a mortar
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- Lemons for garnish
Marinate the tuna for 1 hour with the fennel seeds, finely chopped fresh parsley, 2 tablespoons olive oil and the lemon juice before grilling.
Prepare a hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill for 15 minutes on high.
Season tuna with salt and pepper. Place the tuna steaks on the grill and cook, sprinkled with a bit more fennel seeds if desired, until deep black grid marks appear, 6 to 7 minutes on each side. Drizzle with remaining olive oil and serve with lemon slices.
Half-moon Potatoes – Kipfel De Patate
- 2 lb potatoes
- 1/2 lb all-purpose flour
- 1 ¾ oz butter
- 1 egg yolk
- Olive oil
- Salt to taste
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook until tender. Once cooked, peel the potatoes and mash them. Add salt and let cool. Once cool, add the butter and egg yolk.
Then add the flour and mix well until you have a smooth mixture. Roll spoonfuls of the mixture into pieces as thick as your little finger and 3 to 4 inches long. Then, shape them into half moons.
Saute the moons in hot oil for a couple of minutes until they puff up a little and are golden in color – a sign of a crispy exterior. Serve the half-moon potatoes hot, sprinkled with salt.
Cappuccio in Insalata – Cabbage Salad
- A medium cabbage, cored and finely shredded
- A 1/2 inch thick slice of San Daniele prosciutto
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- Red wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter over medium heat in a small skillet and add the diced prosciutto. Saute just until the prosciutto begins to brown. Remove from heat.
Combine the cabbage and the crisped prosciutto in a bowl, mix well and season to taste with salt, pepper and a dash of vinegar.
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 oz butter
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons grappa
- 4 tablespoons raisins
- 1 cup Marsala
- 5 oz walnuts, chopped
- 4 tablespoons almonds, chopped
- 4 tablespoons pine nuts
- 2 oz candied lemon and orange peel
- 1 tablespoon plain breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 egg, separated plus 1 egg yolk
- 1 lemon
- 1 orange
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Butter for greasing pan
- 1 tablespoon flour
To make the pastry
In a food processor place the flour and 1 1/2 oz. of butter, a whole egg and the grappa. Remove and form into a ball, then flatten it into a rectangle, wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest while you make the filling.
To make the filling
Let the raisins soften in the Marsala for about 30 minutes and squeeze out the excess liqueur. Put the walnuts, almonds, raisins, pine nuts and candied peel into a bowl.
Saute the bread crumbs in the 2 tablespoons butter and mix it into the nuts with the grated rinds of the orange and lemon. Mix well. Add one egg yolk.
Beat egg white until stiff and fold it into the nut mixture.
To make the pastry
Roll out the pastry into a thin rectangle. Spread the filling on top of it. Roll (jelly roll style) and fold in the filling from the long side of the rectangle. Place the dough rolled up into a spiral and set in a buttered and floured round baking pan or casserole dish. Brush with the remaining egg yolk and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake the gubana in the oven at 375°F for about 50 minutes.