Crudo, Friulian style…

Perhaps because of the recent craze of Japanese cuisine in Italy, crudo has become increasingly popular there.

In Friuli, they’ve served crudo long before anyone in Italy made hamachi or swordfish “carpaccio.”

Traditionally, crudo is served in Friuli in its purest form: crudo, in other words, raw: no salt, no seasoning, no frills, no affectation (like the langoustines from the Gulf of Trieste above).

If anything, crudo is accompanied by a lemon wedge and a glass of [Tocai] Friulano or Ribolla.

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When it comes to the grape pomace, it’s all about the freshness…

When you visit the Nonino distillery during grape harvest, you can smell the aroma of grape pomace as it arrives from the family’s partner-wineries.

“It’s all about the freshness of the pomace,” said Elisabetta Nonino (in the photo above) when we visited last October. “That’s the key to freshness in the grappa and aromatics that are true to the grape variety.”

Historically, the Nonino family has been the author of two major innovations in the production of fine grappa.

The first was that the family convinced grape growers and winemakers to keep the grape varieties separate. This allowed the distillery to make the first monovarietal grappa. In doing so, they were able to deliver a distilled expression of the grape that was true to the aromatic and flavor profile of the variety.

The second was the fact that, instead of waiting for the growers and winemakers to deliver the pomace, the Nonino family members went themselves to pick up the pomace as soon as the grapes had been pressed for vinification. At the time, the notion of treating pomace with such care was unthinkable. Today, thanks to the Nonino family, it is common operating procedure for all of Italy’s top distillers.

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Frico

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.

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Amaro

Amaro means bitter in Italian, it is also the name of a category of after-dinner drinks, or digestivi. Usually registering from 16-35% alcohol, these liqueurs are flavored with any number of citrus, herbs, flowers, and roots.

The flavoring agents are left to macerate with a neutral alcohol base. Once maceration is completed, sugar is added to the solution and the product is left to age in casks or bottles.

Historically, amari were made in pharmacies and sold as medicinal tonics. The particular blend of herbs and roots were thought to have curative powers.

Today, amari are still used to aid in digestion, but they have their place behind the bar, rather than the medicine counter. There has been a recent trend among mixologists to use amari in a wide range of inventive cocktails, though Italians still prefer their after-dinner digestive neat.

There is flexibility within the category in the usage, and some of the lighter amari are taken as an aperitif. In the Nonino household, they serve their amaro to guests before dinner. They like it neat, with a slice of blood orange.

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Francesca & Chiara Nonino pose for fashion photographer Toni Thorimbert

From the department of “beauty does run in the family”…

Celebrated Italian fashion photographer Tony Thorimbert has captured Francesca and Chiara Nonino for the pages of Style magazine (Italy).

Click here for the entire photo shoot and article.

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Schioppettino, the grape that launched a revolution…

In the mid-1970s, Giannola Nonino (pictured left with mixologist Mike Ryan) helped to revive forgotten native Italian grape varieties when she launched the first-ever Nonino prize. The first winner of the award was the Rapuzzi family…

Anglophones love to say Schioppettino (here’s the entry for Schioppettino in the Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project). Perhaps it’s because of the variety’s purported onomatopoeic properties: some speculate that the name derives from the fact that the thick-skinned grape pops in the mouth when you bite into it; others believe that commonly encountered secondary fermentation and the resulting fizziness gave rise to its name (an early printed mention — 1823 — of the ampelonym is Scopp, according to Calò et alia).

As for the majority of Italian grape names, we’ll probably never know the etymon. But this lacuna doesn’t diminish our pleasure in saying Schioppettino (try it).

Above: In a tasting of roughly 15 Schioppettino producers from the township of Prepotto (the village where the grape is cultivated most famously), Pizzulin and Due Terre were standouts for me (the Due Terre entry was a blend of Schioppettino and Refosco). I also liked Petrussa and La Viarte. Here’s a link to a list of all the members of the Association of Prepotto Schioppettino Producers. The tasting was hosted by the Stanig winery in its restaurant/agriturismo and there is also an Enoteca dello Schioppettino worth visiting in Prepotto.

In many ways, Schioppettino and its revival in the late 1970s were precursors to the current renaissance of indigenous Italian grape varieties.

In 1976, the Rapuzzi family won the first-ever Nonino Prize — the Risit d’Âur or Golden Rootstock award — for its success in cultivating the forgotten grape. (Sadly, the wine they made from the 1975 vintage was never tasted because it was lost in the 1976 earthquake in Friuli, one of the many catastrophic events that shaped and defined the Friulian ethos in the twentieth century.)

In era when the great architects of the revival of “real wines,” Luigi Veronelli and Mario Soldati, were pioneering a new vinography that championed the indigenous over the international, Schioppettino was one of the earliest rallying cries. At the time, it was not authorized by the official “album” of government-sanctioned grape varieties and the Rapuzzi family risked a stiff fine and forced grubbing up. Lobbying by the Nonino family, combined with Veronelli’s patronage, helped to convince authorities to stand down. Today, the canonical rootstock for Schioppettino sold by the Rauscedo nursery is named “Rapuzzi”.

Above: In Prepotto, they pair Schioppettino with herb frittata, frico, and polenta. I think it could go with just about any type of comfort food. Photo by JC Reid.

Of all the tastings we attended in the Colli Orientali del Friuli last week, Schioppettino seemed to be the grape that excited the bloggers the most.

Was it because so little Schioppettino makes the Atlantic crossing?

Was it because the grape makes for juicy wines, with bright acidity and balanced alcohol?

Was it because of the grape’s signature spice, teetering somewhere between white pepper and cinnamon?

Maybe it’s because it’s just so fun to say Schioppettino

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Bladder campion (silene vulgaris) in season in Friuli

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).

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