A Taste of Friuli-Venezia Giulia
With only one day to spend in the beautiful Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in Northeastern Italy, I was sad to think it would not be possible to experience the wide range of good eating and great wines available there. Fortunately our hosts had planned our trip well and arranged for us to have outstanding meals at two very different restaurants.
The first was Antica Maddalena Osteria e Cucina in Udine. Upstairs in the cozy dining room, the waitress offered to bring us a series of local dishes. A platter of pink and soft-as-butter Prosciutto San Daniele appeared on the table with the perfect accompaniments: fresh bread and a chilled bottle of Friulano, the crisp white wine of the region. The prosciutto was so sweet, moist and tender; it just about melted in the mouth.
Next came frico, a specialty of Friuli. Frico is a crisp wafer of grated and toasted aged Montasio cheese and it was served two ways: rolled into a crunchy tube and shaped into a crust for a cheesy mashed potato tartlet. Both were served on whole grain polenta. Montasio is a cow’s milk cheese that is certified PDO, meaning that it is made in a designated region under specific conditions certified by the European Uniion to bear the name. Montasio comes in 3 forms: fresh is aged over 60 days, medium is aged about 4 months and stagionato is aged more than 1 year. They are all delicious, but the stagionato, which you can find here, has a tangy flavor and melts beautifully, so it is ideal for both eating and cooking.
A farro and bean soup was next. The soup was rich and savory and garnished with a swirl of extra virgin olive oil and plenty of black pepper. By this time we had switched to a Cabernet Franc also by Gigante.
To complete the meal, there was a scoop of creamy marron glace gelato in a pool of persimmon puree, a combination that seemed to capture the essence of fall.
Lest you think Friuli is only about comforting and rustic food, our next meal at Agli Amici was altogether different. Chef Emanuele Scarello is the fifth generation of his family to operate the restaurant. Emanuele told us that he likes to push the boundaries and experiment with new techniques and flavor combinations that celebrate the terroir and ingredients of Friuli. Since potatoes are a specialty of the region -- he said that more than 20 varieties are grown in his town -- they appeared in several courses.
The first was a sampling of 3 little tastes, the highlight of which was a potato baked in clay. It so resembled a smooth river stone that I hesitated to bite into it. It was perfectly delicious paired with a red pepper mayonnaise. A squid “burger” served in a potato sauce with black olive ice cream followed. Next there was scampi with cotechino sausage and “aria di brovada”, a preserved turnip foam. My dinner companion was not happy about this course, complaining about the marriage of meat and seafood in one plate. I didn’t think they enhanced each other, but neither did one detract from the other. Montasio cheese was on the menu again, this time in the form of a creamy sauce that served as a base for tender sauteed potato dumplings topped with porcini mushrooms and truffles.
It was perfectly complemented by the wine that accompanied it, Terre Alta 2002 by Livio Felluga, one of my all time favorites. I could have eaten a pile of the moleche, fried tiny soft shell crabs on a bed of swiss chard, but there was only one, which disappeared in two bites. The main course was filet of wild venison steamed with polenta right on the serving plate.
Our taste of Friuli-Venezia Giulia was brief and limited, it is true, but the flavors of the sweet Prosciutto di San Daniele, tangy Montasio, fresh seafood and great wine will stay with me for a long time to come.