Friday, September 10, 2010


You simply cannot talk about food in Friuli without talking about frico . . . beautiful, decadent, frico. We even saw t-shirts in Udine that said “Make frico not war.” And yes, one taste of any of the many versions of this dish of pan fried montasio cheese, and you would have to agree that the world would be a much more peaceful place if everyone could sit down with this delicacy and get lost in its simple perfection.

At its simplicist, frico is finely shredded montasio or piave chese pan fried into a crispy, lacey tuille. Other versions mix the montasio with potatoes and sometimes onions to make a cheesey pancake, crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside. We grew up calling that gorgeous version “Nonna’s potatoes” and my brother Paul has perfected it and often serves it in his home, no doubt with a toast to our Nonna, Adrianna.

Today, I made the simple montasio crisp version to go along with a late summer salad fresh out of the garden.

I did my first batch in a dry, non-stick pan on the stovetop. They are finicky and I found I could only do one at a time so I tried a batch in the oven and they worked well.

Arrange the shredded montasio, about 1 tablespoon at a time, in circles on a parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving space for spreading between each circle. Bake for about 4 minutes in  pre-heated, 400-degree oven, watching constantly for that golden colour. 

Late Summer Salad

A few fresh things from the garden, a knob of fresh cheese, a drizzle of olive oil . . . this is my favourite way to eat. An assortment of delicate, flavourful bites that are all fresh and simple and mostly home-grown.

Tonight, I tossed some fresh arugula, tomatoes, some thin slices of zucchini, celery leaves, fresh parsley and basil – all straight out of the garden – onto a plate. I tore up some fresh mozzarella and dressed everything generously with extra virgin olive oil, a little red wine vinegar and lemon juice, some sea salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Add some frico and prosciutto and it makes a perfect meal.

We sat on the back deck, drinking glasses of cold white wine and savouring these little plates of late-summer lusciousness.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Rebellious Polenta in Pancetta Cups

Lately, I have been a bit of a rebel in my father’s eyes. I have done the unthinkable– made polenta with (gasp) cream and cheese and pancetta. A lifelong good girl and a decidedly non-rebellious teenager, I am finding my kitchen bad girl streak quite exhilarating . . . and delicious.

This week, I made these pancetta cups filled with soft, creamy polenta. A drizzle of white truffle oil put them over the top.

Crispy Pancetta Cups
Fry paper-thin slices of pancetta in a dry pan
While still hot, press each slice on an overturned shot glass, let it cool and then transfer to a paper-towel lined plate

Creamy, Cheesy Polenta
½ cup corn meal
½  cup milk
½ cup cream
1 cup chicken stock
½ cup finely grated montasio, asiago or parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish
Garnish: Finely grated herbs, cheese, white truffle oil

Bring cornmeal and liquids to a slow boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and continue to stir over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes. When polenta is soft and creamy, remove from heat and stir in cheese.
Spoon polenta into pancetta cups, garnish with more grated cheese, herbs and a drizzle of white truffle oil or extra virgin olive oil.

Spread any leftover polenta is a shallow pan before it cools. This can be kept for several days in the fridge. Slice into wedges and grill in the oven under the broiler.

Pure Polenta

Roasted polenta and spinach fritatta
A hot June day in my uncle’s house in Friuli. We had spent the morning at the marcato – the Saturday outdoor street market – in San Giorgio Di Nogaro, and, in a move that made it clear I was by no means a local, I had been out hanging laundry in the blazing mid-day heat while the kids napped. Kelly and I decided to take the family for a drive and as we piled into the Fiat (which blessedly decided to work that day) our little 5-year-old boy Jack suddenly had a major milestone toward manhood – his first moment of sarcasm. “Oh good,” he said dryly, “maybe we’ll see a corn field.”
And so it is in Friuli, beautiful mountains, gorgeous seaside to be sure, and a central region with fields of corn stretching out before you, punctuated with a towering campagnile (bell tower)or church steeple piercing the clear sky.
It is no wonder that this region, perhaps more than any other in Italy, embraces polenta as a mainstay of their cuisine.
My father is a polenta purest and makes it simply with ground cornmeal, water and salt. We eat it fresh and creamy with a nice stew, then cool the rest in a baking pan, cut it into rectangles and grill it the next day. A favourite summer lunch is simply grilled polenta, cheese and a salad of radicchio or arugula.
The recipe for this polenta is simple. A cup of fine corn meal, 4 cups of water, about ½ a tablespoon of salt and a well-watched, constantly stirred pot on medium heat for about 30 minutes.