Trieste: Marzapane and Horse Meat
It was dark and cold when I woke at 7:00am, the final morning of Daylight Savings Time made even more somber by the layer of gray clouds that had rolled in a couple of days earlier. The radiator had not yet kicked on, and the frosty air made me want to do nothing but snuggle under my blankets and go back to sleep. With only two more days left in Trieste and no more day trips planned, there was no real urgency to get up. It had been raining on and off that week, so I was quite content to spend my mornings hanging out at Pasticceria Penso and my afternoons in my apartment writing. I burrowed under the covers for another hour, shivering to stay warm, until I finally managed to drag myself out of bed to face the day.
When I arrived at Pasticceria Penso a short while later, Antonello was mixing the dough for marzapane triestino. With its base of ground almonds and sugar, this confection is similar to the marzipan fruit and vegetable shapes that are ubiquitous across much of Europe. However, Triestine marzipan is softer in texture, comes in an array of flavors, and is sold in thick rectangular slices. Antonello explained that he would be making marzapane in orange, cherry, walnut, and chocolate-hazelnut flavors, as well as their most visually intriguing variety, a brown and white checkerboard sandwiched between two stripes of pink.
When lunchtime drew near, I told Antonello about my difficulty locating the restaurant he had recommended the other day, Trattoria Da Mario, and he suggested that perhaps I hadn’t walked far enough along the waterfront. After rummaging around for a piece of scrap paper, he drew me a map so that I could give it another shot today.
Following Antonello’s directions, I did finally find Da Mario, but the menu posted outside didn’t list any of the local dishes I still wished to try. So instead, I headed back toward one of my tried-and-true spots that was known for its regional Triestine cuisine, Osteria La Tecia.
As I retraced my steps along the waterfront, I passed a gastronomia and stepped inside to look around. The melanzane alla parmigiana immediately caught my eye. It’s always been one of my favorite Italian dishes, so I picked up two slices for later. They would make a nice accompaniment to my final two dinners. Seeing as my apartment was on the way, I stopped off briefly to stash the eggplant in my fridge.
When I arrived at La Tecia, the dining room was nearly full, though I was able to find an open table along the back wall. Since the restaurant’s lunch clientele appeared to consist largely of workers from nearby businesses, many dining alone, I always felt very comfortable here.
While my goal had been to order one of the typical Triestine dishes, an unusual item on the menu was too tempting to resist: tagliata di cavallo. I had never eaten horse meat before, though I knew it was considered a delicacy in the neighboring Veneto region. At La Tecia, thin slices of the meat were served over a salad of arugula and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. As is customary in Italy, the meat was cooked extremely rare, which I didn’t mind at all, though it was rather tough.
As a side dish, I ordered the verdure in tecia, a plate of sautéed vegetables that gives the restaurant its name. (“Tecia” refers to the cast-iron skillet traditionally used.) I had ordered the same dish on my springtime visit the previous year, when the colorful mix of veggies included peas, red bell peppers, zucchini, cabbage, and potatoes. In contrast, this autumn assortment was more monochromatic, with nearly everything on the plate being the same drab, off-white color: potatoes, sauerkraut, and fennel, along with some pale green, rather overcooked broccoli. Realizing that I hadn’t been drinking much wine with my meals—mainly because on this trip I was typically eating out for lunch rather than dinner—I ordered myself a glass of the local red wine Pignolo.
Upon finishing my meal, I paid my bill at the register, a practice I always appreciated in that it saved me the hassle of waiting endlessly for an overworked server to bring my check. From there, I headed straight home, where I turned on my laptop, settled into one of the comfy armchairs, and worked for five hours straight.
After cranking out a piece about the architecture of Carnia in record time, I completed my article on Pilates in Budapest, one that I had started several weeks earlier after my brief stay in Hungary (and which was never to be published, due to a new managing editor at the magazine). Then I spent a little time organizing my notes, checking off which of my recipes were finished and which ones still needed testing. It was daunting to realize that out of eighty-nine dishes—eighty of which would eventually make the final cut into Flavors of Friuli—only twenty-five were complete to my satisfaction. I had a lot of work ahead of me!
For the next couple hours, I switched into artistic mode, playing around with Adobe PageMaker (at that time, I had not yet upgraded to InDesign) and creating ten personalized color swatches for my book design that to me represented the essence of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. My inspiration drew from various still-frames in my memory. For example, a wintry view of barren trees, gray sky, and houses in shades of terracotta, beige, and apricot as I rode the bus for the first time to San Daniele. Or the fields of summer wildflowers in the hills around Sauris and Forni di Sopra. From the deep, sparkling blues of the Adriatic Sea to to the dark wooden homes in Carnia, from the wines of the Collio to foods such as polenta, mushrooms, and wild berries, this collection of images encapsulated my precious time in Friuli.
Playing with these colors motivated me to begin my very first mock-up of the book cover. I spent some time searching Adobe for a font that resonated with me. Eventually, I ended up with Papyrus, a font that I absolutely loved but which was later criticized for being cliche, overused, and unprofessional. Perhaps they were right, but I’m still satisfied with my choice.
Inspired by the first glimpse of what my book would someday look like, I was suddenly struck with a solution for a dilemma that had been plaguing me for some time. My first book, Balance on the Ball: Exercises Inspired by the Teachings of Joseph Pilates, had been published before I got married, under my maiden name, Crawford. I assumed—wrongly, as it turned out—that using the same last name for my new book would give me better cross-referencing on sites like Amazon. But I never cared much for the name Crawford and was excited about changing my name to Antoine after my upcoming wedding. So it occurred to me to put my maiden name last: Elisabeth Antoine Crawford. It was an unconventional pseudonym, one which has confused more than a few people over the years—and which, unfortunately, never did serve my original purpose. As far as Amazon is concerned, Elisabeth Crawford and Elisabeth Antoine Crawford are different authors!
Having had an extremely satisfying and productive afternoon, I finally shut off my laptop to make dinner. Using some of the latteria cheese I had bought the day before, I prepared a grilled cheese sandwich. Since it wasn’t nearly as messy as a tuna melt, flipping it inside that deep saucepan was less problematic. To go with my sandwich, I heated up one slice of the melanzane alla parmigiana in the microwave. The eggplant was layered with savory tomato sauce and topped with plenty of cheese—not quite as extraordinary as my all-time favorite from Rosticceria Fontana in Milano but a real treat nonetheless.
I spent my evening nibbling at what remained of that putizza from Pasticceria Bomboniera and flipping through channels on the TV, making an effort to hone my Italian listening to news and weather reports but being more entertained by the plethora of zany game shows. Before going to bed, I set my watch back one hour, relishing the thought of getting an extra hour of sleep.
Here is my recipe for patate in tecia, potatoes cooked in a cast-iron skillet:
Place the potatoes in a large pot filled with water; bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until tender, about 20–25 minutes; drain.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and pancetta; cook and stir until the onion is soft and golden, about 25–30 minutes. Stir in the potatoes, beef broth, and black pepper, coarsely mashing the potatoes with a spoon. Cook until the liquid has evaporated and the potatoes begin to brown, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt.