There is a lot to experience and enjoy in this part of Italy. It is still an undiscovered treasure. – Lidia Bastianich (Fodor’s – 2007)
There is nothing that impacts your life quite as much as travel to new destinations and far away places. It opens your mind and can change your perspective about people and different cultures and within these cultures how food and wine play a significant role.
As you may remember, we recently traveled to Europe for a Mediterranean cruise. We had the opportunity to visit several countries and experience the unique food and cultures of places as far away as Asia and some more familiar like Italy. One of the highlights of this incredible journey was the time we spent prior to the cruise in the northeast corner of Italy in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. At the invitation of Lidia Bastianich, we traveled to Friuli to experience a little bit of this beautiful region which has become known as Lidia’s Italy through her books and television series.
Situated on the border of Austria to the north and Slovenia to the east, this part of Italy has been called “the land of contrasts” due to the diversity in the landscapes, its complicated history and influence of different civilizations on the region. Surrounded by the Alps to the west and north and the Adriatic Sea to the south, there are indeed many contrasts in topography, language, culture and food in this region.
For our visit, we traveled approximately one and a half hours north of Venice to the historic town of Cividale del Friuli. We stayed on the outskirts of the city in a beautiful agriturismo, Il Roncal. This property is surrounded by its own vineyard which rises up the slope of Montebello. From this base, we set out on a whirlwind tour of Friuli with our guide, Wayne Young.
Wayne is the Sales Communication and Marketing Manager for Bastianich and La Mozza wineries in Friuli. The Bastianich Winery is a joint venture between Lidia and her son, Joe Bastianich. La Mozza is owned by Lidia, Joe and Mario Batali. Having worked with the Bastianich family for 17 years and as the Sommelier at restaurant Becco in New York City between 1995 and 1998, Wayne is very knowledgeable about all aspects of wines and in particular, the wines of this region. He guided us through several wine tastings and meals at local trattorias where we experienced the flavors this region has to offer. He also escorted us to several local artisans and winemakers and provided translation since many of the people we met spoke only Italian.
The two Bastianich vineyards are located in the eastern hills of Friuli. This region is known for its many microclimates. Their original vineyard in Buttrio is situated on the hills in the southernmost area. Standing in the vineyard with rows of grapevines planted on the hillside you can see the Adriatic Sea just 30 miles to the south. Here, the warm sunny days and long growing season ripen the grapes. The second vineyard in Cividale del Friuli is in the foothills of the Julian Alps and is impacted by the north winds, or Bora, as they are called. The climate is cooler and produces wines with a much different profile. Each vineyard is planted with varietals that grow best in their respective vineyards. A future article will go in to more detail about the vineyards and the wines.
Whenever we travel to Europe and to Italy in particular, I am always reminded of the very different lifestyle that exists in other places. The Italians take time to enjoy life. I feel like we (in the United States) are always racing to get ahead. We miss the simple things that life has to offer: good food; great wine; friendship; and idle time to enjoy these things.
Most Italians take two hours out of their day to enjoy lunch. The shops close and the streets are quiet. They take delight in the food, the wine and the company. When was the last time you took the time to do that other than perhaps on vacation? Of course, when you have views of the Alps, vineyards and old cities, it is far more conducive to settling in to a long meal and savoring the moment. Sitting in a restaurant on Broadway (in New York City) or at an outdoor cafe on Peachtree Street (in Atlanta) with cars racing by and horns honking does not have that same effect.
Life seemed less complicated the few days we were in Friuli. We traveled the back roads and watched as people stopped to pick ripe cherries from wild cherry trees. Caught behind a tractor while driving, we did not have the same anxiousness that we experience in the States when a car is traveling too slowly ahead. Surrounded by rolling green hills and vineyards that were glistening from the morning showers, we drank the wine, enjoyed the clean, crisp air and shared wonderful conversation with the people we met.
We enjoyed dishes made with asparagus that grows wild and simply grilled meats that are a specialty in Friuli. We savored the Prosciutto di San Daniele with its unctuous flavor and a hint of sweetness. It paired well with the local Montasio cheese and more intense red wines from the region. Fresh pasta, polenta, risotto and gnocchi were prepared in a more rustic style (like polenta with Montasio cheese). We lingered over each course, sipping wine, soaking in the ambiance and all the while making new friends.
Even breakfast was memorable each morning. Perfect buttery croissants filled with apricot jam, sweet and creamy yogurt served over house-made granola, platters of local cheeses and meats, including Prosciutto di San Daniele. Then there was the melon; that deep orange color that is so unique and so ripe, sweet and juicy with an aroma that filled the room. Food that lifted all the senses and tasted like it should. Smells that will stay with us the rest of our lives, stored deep in our memory to be awakened some unexpected day when we cut open a fresh apricot or slice an Italian melon that will take us back to this place and time.
Our visit to Friuli was much too brief, but we are so appreciative of the opportunity to experience this beautiful region. It captured our hearts. We plan to return next year to experience more of what this area has to offer and linger longer tasting the wines and enjoying the specialty foods of the region while making new friends. What could possibly be better.
I have some suggestions for places to stay, visit and dine if you are interested in planning a trip to Friuli. As Lidia Bastianich said, “There is a lot to experience and enjoy in this part of Italy. It is an undiscovered treasure.” We could not agree more. There will be several more articles on our trip to Friuli in the near future.
This “elegant country manor” was just that. Nestled in the vineyards at the slope of Montebello, we felt like a special guest in someone’s country home. The view from our patio looking at the 1,000 year old olive tree and vineyards was spectacular. As with many of the local agriturismos and private homes in this region, Il Roncal makes their own wines. Breakfast each morning was served either indoors or outside on the terrace and was European-style with fresh yogurt, fruit, cereals, pastries, meats and cheeses.
If you are not familiar with the term agriturismo, these properties are either a farmhouse, villa or inn that offers rooms for rent and they often have a restaurant on property. Many agriturismos raise their own animals and produce and have vineyards to make their own wines.
Be sure to stop by the new tasting room and try some of the Bastianich wines. A few of our favorites were Adriatico Malvasia, Vespa Bianco, Vespa Rosso and Plus. Be sure to tell Wayne that the Bunkycooks sent you.
A visit to the walled city of Cividale del Friuli, a UNESCO World Heritage site (as of June 2011) is not to be missed. As you walk across the Natisone River on the the famed Devil’s Bridge you first catch a glimpse of the impressive Duomo (or cathedral). This beautiful city offers historical sights like the National Archaeological Museum and Lombard Temple. It also has several cafés and is incredibly picturesque.
Located on the Italian/Solvenia border on the Adriatic Sea, Trieste has a lively cultural scene and great historical significance. Trieste was Lidia Bastianich’s home for a few years as a young girl when she and her family fled communism and lived in a refugee camp prior to emigrating to the United States. You can find her suggestions for visiting Friuli and Trieste in this Fodor’s article.
This agriturismo’s menu offers many traditional rustic Italian dishes as well as regional specialties, like gnocchi and polenta. They are also known for their grilled meats and sausages. We ordered Tagliatelle with Wild Mushrooms and Spaghettoni with Bolognese, a platter of grilled meats and some of their house wines. Our dinner at Al Morar was simply prepared and reasonably priced.
We enjoyed a lovely outdoor lunch at this restaurant in Manzano. With views of the vineyards on the Collio Friulano hills, it was a spectacular setting for a leisurely lunch with regional specialties, beautifully prepared dishes and wine pairings from the Bastianich vineyards.
Victor Scarbolo’s trattoria outside Udine serves local specialties and offers a very creative menu. Local asparagus plays a prominent role in many of the dishes as do various meats and seafood. They are also known for their salumi. Each year they raise pigs and make their own salami, sausages and cotechini. It is prepared using their own recipe and aged during the winter months. We had a delightful evening and dinner at LaFrasca, once again paired with Bastianich wines that Wayne selected that day.
Thank you so much to Lidia Bastianich for the invitation to visit Friuli and to Wayne Young for being our guide during our stay. It was a truly memorable experience and one we will not forget.
Lidia has provided a traditional recipe from Friuli for me to share with my readers, Herb and Wild Greens Frittata. It was easy to prepare and the flavors were perfect together. I prepared my frittata with fresh baby spinach, as suggested, when fresh nettles are not available. I enjoyed the the simplicity of the fresh herbs and spinach. While you may be tempted to add cheese to this dish, I recommend that you enjoy it in its traditional preparation. Take some time out of your busy day, pour a glass of wine, and enjoy this frittata with a friend.
Disclosure – Bastianich Winery provided our accommodations at Il Roncal. All our our other travel expenses to and from Friuli were paid by us. As always, the opinions expressed here are my own.
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Herb and Wild Greens Fritatta
Yield: 2 servings for lunch and 4 servings as an appetizer
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 8 minutes
Total Time: 18 minutes
This small frittata makes a wonderful appetizer cut in wedges and served at room temperature. Or serve one per person as a nice lunch dish. In Friuli frittata is best made in the spring and summer time when nettles, fennel fronds, young shoots of wild asparagus, or ramps could be gathered in the fields. But if you are more city-bound, you can infuse the eggs with fresh thyme leaves, parsley, and chives, which you can get year-round. - Lidia Bastianich
I used spinach in place of the nettle leaves since they were not available.
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup blanched, strained and chopped spinach or nettle leaves
1 teaspoon butter
3 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Note: For this recipe you will need a small frying pan, about 7 inches on the bottom, 9 inches across the top
1. Whisk the eggs, milk, salt and fresh herbs and greens until just blended together.
2. Heat the butter and oil in the small frying pan until it just starts to sizzle, then pour in the eggs, and turn the heat down very low. Cook gently for 3 to 4 minutes. The eggs will start to puff up and sizzle at the edges.
3. Lift a corner of the frittata with a spatula and check to see if the bottom has browned in splotches. When it has, flip the frittata over by giving the pan a firm, quick shake up and over toward you so that the egg mass dislodges and flips over in one piece. Or if that unnerves you, turn the frittata over with a spatula.
4. Cook the second side for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, again checking to see if the bottom has browned to your liking.
5. Serve right away or let cool to room temperature and cut the frittata in wedges.
Recipe courtesy of Lidia Bastianich