Above: The Renaissance Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower) in the town of Finale Emilia, the epicenter of the 6.0 earthquake Sunday in Emilia-Romagna.
“Firefighters, surveyors, engineers and volunteers struggled through nearly continuous aftershocks on Monday,” wrote Elisabetta Provoledo in yesterday’s edition of The New York Times, “to catalog damage and deter looters one day after an earthquake killed 7 people and left more than 6,000 homeless in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy.”
“More than 120 aftershocks rocked the area in the hours following the magnitude-6.0 earthquake, which toppled factories, apartment buildings, and medieval and Renaissance monuments early Sunday.”
Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Finale Emilia and the region of Emilia-Romagna…
Of course, the news of the Emilia-Romagna quake brings to mind memories of the tragic 1976 earthquake in Friuli where 989 people were killed, 2,400 injured, and 157,000 were left homeless.
The audio in the video below comes from a young man who happened to be recording an LP record on cassette tape using a microphone when the earthquake occurred. Even after the needle jumped from the vinyl, the microphone continued to record the event.
Friuli is a region with an especially rich culinary tradition. One of the undisputed stars of the cucina friulana is frico. Historically, these hearty snacks were sent out into the field with farm workers and woodsmen. They kept well, and provided a substantial and nutritional meal.
Frico, in short, is pan-fried cheese. Montasio of medium age is thinly sliced and put in a pan with oil, butter, and/or lard then browned on both sides until crunchy. This style of frico is popular as an aperitivo or can be used to create an edible basket for any number of stuffings. Pliable when hot, it crisps up as it cools and can keep for days.
This is the basic frico, but there are as many variations as there are valleys in Friuli. The two most common are frico with potatoes and frico with onions. These types can be thicker with golden crusts around the outsides and a warm, gooey center. One can imagine the goodness in that!
The dish goes back at least to the fifteenth century, when it was recorded in the famous Maestro Martino cookbook. As with many dishes of the day, it combined the savory with the sweet by dressing it with cinnamon and sugar. While this preparation is no longer in use, the classic frico is still enjoyed in homes and restaurants all over the region.
Photo via Un architetto in cucina.
I’m posting today from Friuli where the spring has arrived early and the arrival of spring here means that bladder campion (silene vulgaris, above) is in season.
Known locally as sciopeti, the herb is used in a variety of dishes and so far, I’ve been served two risottos with this gently bitter green (see below).
Must have… frico, fried potatoes and Montasio cheese (the secret of great frico is a blend of fresh and aged Montasio).
Must have… salumi, artisanal charcuterie.
Must have… brovada, pickled turnips made with grape pomace.
One of my favorite traditions in Friuli is the slice of prosciutto offered to guests as they arrive. You find this in people’s homes and you can still find it in some of the region’s traditional frasche (Friuliani dialect for trattorie).
During our October trip, we were greeted in the home of Elisabetta Nonino with a Prosciutto d’Osvaldo (the great cult prosciutto of Friuli), mounted in a traditional wrought-iron caddy, and sliced with a long knife (and not using a classic Berkel slicer, which is also common in Friuli, particularly in the best restaurants).
In the old days, when a traveler arrived from afar, the inn keeper offered her/him a slice of prosciutto and a round of bread as soon as he entered.
Classic pinzimonio (cruditès).
Traditional Frilian (crispy) frico, made with Montasio cheese.
In January 2011, my wife Tracie P and I were guests in the home of the Nonino family. Our delicious and fascinating meal lasted 3 hours! Here’s my post on our visit.
Conversation over lunch in the home of the Nonino family (the first family of Italian distillation) ranged from encounters with Marcello Mastroianni, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Luigi Veronelli to the (literal) renaissance of native grape varieties in Friuli. I was THRILLED to be invited for lunch in their home, a fascinating family with a fascinating history. That’s daughter Cristina and father Benito above. They served an aperitif of Amaro Nonino on the rocks with a slice of blood orange.
Legendary food and wine writer R.W. Apple’s landmark New York Times article on Grappa changed the way Americans saw (and tasted) Italian distillates in 1997.
“Grappa, Fiery Friend of Peasants, Now Glows With a Quieter Flame”
By R.W. Apple, New York Times, December 31, 1997
You might say, with a bit of poetic license, that grappa runs in Benito Nonino’s veins. For several generations, stretching back into the 19th century, his family has been distilling in Friuli, the northeastern corner of Italy. A questing, hawk-nosed man, he and his handsome, extroverted wife, Giannola, longed, as he often says, “to turn grappa from a Cinderella into a queen.”