Posts Tagged ‘Friuli’

Remembering Italy — first with Montasio cheese

With the advent of short days and cold nights, menu planning in my house switches from summer vegetables to the heartier foods of winter. So when the Legends from Europe promotional team (legendsfromeurope.com)came through Boston last week and bequeathed me a small cache of Montasio, Grana Padano, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses and a few precious ounces each of San Daniele and Parma prosciuttos, I started recreating some of the great dishes I remember eating in northern Italy. I’m sharing them on the site as a series of four courses. All five products are registered under the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) program – a guarantee of regional authenticity. Accept no substitutes! So-called “parmesans” from Wisconsin or Argentina may be tasty cheeses, but they are not Parmigiano Reggiano by a long shot.

Of the products in the consortium, Montasio cheese is the least well known in the U.S. It is a distinctive aged cow’s milk cheese made in the foothills of the Alps in northeast Italy. It hails from the northern section of the Veneto and from the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. I was really pleased to get my hands on some to recreate one of my Friulian favorites, frico con patate.

The simplest way to make frico is to fry grated Montasio until it begins to crisp and serve it as a lacy wafer with a glass of white wine as a snack or an appetizer. But in Friuli, people like to add potato and onion to make a hearty eggless “omelet” like the one detailed below. I served it last week with slices of the last remaining garden tomato that’s been ripening on a counter since I rescued it from frost just before Halloween.

FRICO CON PATATE

Serves 2 as an appetizer

Ingredients

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 bunch scallions, white and pale green portions, thinly sliced
1 medium waxy potato (red bliss or yellow Finn), peeled and coarsely grated
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated Montasio cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

Add olive oil to a non-stick omelet pan and place over medium heat.

Combine half the scallions with grated potato and add to omelet pan. Sprinkle salt over mixture. Cook, turning frequently with spatula, until potato is cooked through.

Combine remaining scallions with cheese. Sprinkle over potato and cook without stirring over low heat until Montasio melts and forms a lightly browned crust on bottom – about 10 minutes. Loosen edges with spatula and turn over to brown other side about 3 minutes.

Blot excess oil and divide in half to serve.

04

12 2012

More asparagus recipes from Friuli

Perhaps I have such an affinity for Friuli because I lived for more than a decade in the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts, where Hadley asparagus, grown on the rich riverbank soils of the Connecticut River, is some of the finest “grass” in the U.S. I’m in Cambridge now, but I still gorge on Hadley asparagus during the short May season.

For the last couple of years I have worked to adapt recipes from an authoritative Friuli book on the subject called simply Asparagi 103 ricette by gourmand Antonio Boemo. It just might be the final word in great asparagus cookery, featuring recipes from some of Friuli’s finest chefs. (Thanks, Bepi Pucciarelli, for finding the out-of-print book and helping with the translations.) Here are a couple of my favorite Friuli-style treatments of Hadley asparagus.

SEA SCALLOP AND ASPARAGUS TAGLIATELLE
This can also be made with small in-shore scallops, but the plate looks less dramatic. This dish was adapted from Vanni Aizza of Ristorante La Columbara in the amazingly ancient village of Aquilea (via Zilli 34, +39 0432-910-513). It serves 6 as a pasta course.

Ingredients

6 large sea scallops (about 1/2 lb)
1 lb fresh asparagus
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley
1 cup light cream
salt
1 lb fresh tagliatelle or linguine
pepper

Directions

1. Bring large pot of salted water to boil.

2. Clean the scallops and asparagus, removing tough ends from asparagus and peeling spears if they are large. Cut asparagus into 1-inch lengths.

3. Add olive oil to a deep skillet set over medium heat. Add garlic and brown lightly. Add scallops and sear on one side (30 seconds). Turn over and sear on other side (30 seconds). Add wine to pan. Remove scallops and set aside.

4. Add chopped asparagus and parsley to pan and saute, turning often, for about 7 minutes or until cooked al dente. Add cream to pan and stir well to mix. Bring to full boil for 1 minute. Add scallops and boil two more minutes. Taste and add salt, if necessary.

5. While scallops are cooking, add pasta to pot of boiling salted water and cook 90 seconds to 2 minutes. Drain.

6. Toss pasta with asparagus-scallop sauce, dust with a few grinds of black pepper, and serve.

——-

RUSSIAN SALAD WITH ASPARAGUS AND MUSHROOMS

This is a Friuli version of a classical banquet dish that celebrates the spring mushrooms and asparagus of the Friulian woods and fields. We have some pretty terrific spring mushrooms in New England, too, but this version employs a mix of grocery store fungi. It’s adapted from the recipe by Ivan Uanetto of Trattoria Da Nando in Mortegliano (Viale Divisione Julia 14, +39 0432-760-187). It serves 6.

Ingredients

1 lb. asparagus, peeled and tough ends removed
1 large waxy potato (Yukon, Red Bliss, etc)
2 tablespoons butter
small onion, minced
1/4 cup flour
12 oz whole milk
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 lb. white button mushrooms
1/4 lb. oyster, chanterelle or shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 large Roma-style tomatoes, peeled
5 hard boiled eggs
chopped parsley

Directions

1. Steam the asparagus until barely cooked (4-5 minutes depending on size). Cool immediately.

2. Cut potato into 1/2 inch cubes and steam until just barely cooked through (7-8 minutes). Cool and set aside.

3. Melt butter over medium heat in 10-inch frying pan. Add minced onion and saute slowly until onion is thoroughly cooked through but not browned. Place flour in mixing bowl and whisk in milk slowly, blending thoroughly. Slowly add milk mixture to onion in frying pan, stirring constantly. Cook until thick (5-7 minutes). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and let mixture cool.

4. Remove tips from asparagus and set aside. Cut remaining asparagus into 1/2 inch lengths and combine with cooked potatoes. Cut mushrooms, tomatoes, and boiled eggs into similar sized pieces and gently combine with asparagus and potatoes. Mix in dressing and toss gently.

5. Place in serving bowl and lay reserved asparagus points on top. Sprinkle thoroughly with chopped parsley and serve.

19

05 2010

If it’s asparagus it must be Friuli

Guidebooks to Italy have a maddening tendency to completely ignore one of my favorite areas for gastronomic tourism: the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the northeast corner of the country. Sharing a northern border with Austria and an eastern border with Slovenia, Friuli has both a dialect and a cuisine with strong Germanic influences. The local version of Italian is full of the hard Rs and the chewy “sch” sounds of central Europe, and the menus are laden with pork and a bevy of mitteleuropan dumplings masquerading as gnocchi. Many of the dishes draw their depth of flavor from cream, butter, or smoked fish.

Piazza Libertà, Udine

But most food in Friuli is based on whatever is freshest from the fields. Right now that happens to be asparagus. Friuli is famed for growing Italy’s finest asparagus, and during the last half of April through May, every restaurant from the elegant dining rooms in Udine and Trieste to the most casual countryside osterias goes mad for spargs, as asparagus is called in the local dialect.

Many preparations require no recipe. Wherever I go in Friuli this time of year, I find small bundles of lightly steamed asparagus wrapped in the local San Daniele prosciutto and browned in butter. Or just as likely, large plates of steamed white and green asparagus topped with shaved Montasio, the local aged cow’s milk cheese. (The Friulanos grow a lot of white asparagus, too, hilling it up with dirt in the traditional manner rather than growing under black plastic.)

I use the city of Udine as a base for traveling in Friuli, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite restaurant for contemporary cuisine, Trattoria Agli Amici (via Liguria 250, +39 0432-565-411). But when it comes to asparagus cookery, no one matches Trattoria Al Grop in the neighboring village of Tavagnacco (via Matteotti 1, +39 0432-660-240), now run by Simona and Silvia del Fabbro, the fifth generation of the family to operate their temple of asparagus in the shadow of the belltower of Sant’Antonio Abate. In season, they offer a nine-course asparagus menu.

Here’s an adaptation of their dreamy, creamy asparagus soup as made by their mother Angela. She cooks her own cannellini (white kidney beans) from scratch, but canned beans work just as well.

Asparagus and orzo soup

Serves 6 as soup course

Ingredients

2 lb. fresh asparagus
1 16-ounce can of cannellini (white kidney) beans
1 quart beef stock, divided
1/3 cup orzo (rice-sized pasta)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons light cream
salt and pepper, to taste
olive oil for drizzling

Directions

1. Wash asparagus and snap off about 1 inch from tough ends and discard. Peel asparagus stalks from base to about 1 inch below the flower tips. Break stalks in half.

2 . Break top halves of stalks into short lengths, each about the size of the asparagus tip. Set aside.

3. Chop bottom halves of stalks into short lengths. Add to 4-quart saucepan with the beans and 1 cup of broth. Bring to boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and puree in food processor or pass though coarse blade of a food mill.

4. Return puree to saucepan and stir in remaining broth. Add asparagus tops, orzo, butter and cream. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 15 minutes.

5. Serve with a fine thread of olive oil on top.

09

05 2010