A Culinary Tour of Northeastern Italy, Part II


Faith Willinger

Click here to read the first post in Faith's series about her trip to Italy's Northeast.

We began part two of our trip to northeastern Italy on a cultural note, with a visit to the Venetian Naval History museum—great ship models, fantastic ex-votos featuring the perils of high seas. I looked for a bookstore with a new edition of my favorite Friuli-Venezia Giulia guide book. No luck.

We picked up Vito's van at the piazzale Roma parking lot and headed for the Carso area of Friuli Venezia Giulia. I'd promised winemaker Benjamin Zidarich (we met at a wine fair) a visit. Cesare Benelli's friend (see part I) had recommended a restaurant near the Carso coast, Osteria il Pettirosso (no website). The vibe was perfect—locals at the bar and a serious distillate collection including Capovilla's rare and spectacular wild fruit distillates.

Chef Emiliano Porcile suggested seafood appetizers which were served by his wife Maria Grazia—fresh anchovies two ways; canestrelli (tiny scallops in their shells) squiggled with green sauce; strange misshapen bearded mussels called pedoci (not a new favorite—rubbery, too low-tide); tuna cured like bresaola. Vito and I shared Mediterranean-style scorfano rockfish with tomato, potato, and capers. We drank Ribolla Gialla from Terpin and tasted gibanizza—strudel-like pastry with apples, walnuts, ricotta, and poppy seeds. Then I exchanged extra-virgins with Emiliano—I gave him Castello di Ama, he gave me local Coren Silvestro.

While driving to our next stop we noticed that signs were in Italian and Slovenian—big on "J", "K", and "Z", parsimonious with vowels. Our destination was Devetak, a trattoria-inn that would be our base for the next three days, in San Michele del Carso (in Italian), Vhl (in Slovenian). We dropped off our luggage in the inn's comfortable, reproduction-rustic rooms with modern bathrooms, heated towel racks, and intimidating high-tech showers.

Benjamin Zidarich welcomed us to his winery, introduced us to his wife, Nevenka, and friend Marco Zidarich (not related), a stonemason. The Carso vineyards are situated on a limestone bed, quarried for building, excavated to make cellars. Stone and a stonemason friend are of great importance.

We descended four flights into cellars dug from rock, natural temperature control, and saw a stone fermenting cask made by Marco. Back upstairs, I noticed a prosciutto stand, normal in this neck of the woods, but it held a rough, prosciutto-shaped rock. Zidarich has an osmize (Carso's take on a frasca, a winery or farm serving homemade wine with simple, cold food—salumi, cheese, open for a few weeks each year) but it was closed for the season, so Nevenka made a real dinner accompanied by Benjamin's superb wines.

We began with skewers of fried anchovies paired with Vitovska, followed by platters of prosciutto, baskets of bread, sea bass grilled in front of the fireplace with Prulke (a Malvasia-Vitovska-Sauvignon blend), local cheese with lush red Terrano, and bowls of walnuts. Vito asked Benjamin if he felt Slovenian or Italian, and he replied that six generations of his family had always lived in the same place; it was the borders that kept shifting.

No time for dessert because Benjamin had arranged a visit to visionary winemaker Edi Kante, who put the Carso's wines on the enological map. We arrived as a group of local fans was finishing dinner; they left toting cases of wine. Edi took us into his cellar, excavated from rock, and after some interesting barrel tasting, we went back upstairs where we were served another dinner. I was less than enthusiastic about eating, but couldn't resist tasting Edi's older vintages of Malvasia, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Vitovska, and Terrano. I was ecstatic, ready to join the fan club. After a champagne chaser we headed back to Devetak.

Osteria Pettirosso, Santa Croce 16, Aurisina, tel. 040-220-619, closed Monday lunch and all day Thursday

Next: More wine tasting, another osmize, coffee in Trieste, and dinner at Devetak with winemakers and a stonemason.

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Faith Willinger is a chef, author, and born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and has spent over 30 years searching for the best food from the Alps to Sicily. More

Faith Heller Willinger is a born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and was seduced by Italian regional cooking. Faith has spent more than 30 years searching for the best food and wine, as well as the world beyond the table from the Alps to Sicily. She has no regrets about mileage or calories. Faith was awarded the prestigious San Pellegrino award for outstanding work as an ambassador of Italian cooking. She lives full-time in Florence with her Tuscan husband, Massimo. Her son Max lives in Milan. She's the author of the bestselling (9th printing) guidebook Eating in Italy, the cookbook Red, White & Greens, and the narrative recipe book Adventures of an Italian Food Lover. Faith teaches in her kitchen in Florence on Wednesdays, supplied with freshly picked produce from her favorite farmers. Check out her web site at www.faithwillinger.com.

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