Ruchè di Castagnole di Monferrato, by Massimo Marengo, Piedmont, Italy

Yesterday evening, I opened the bottle of 2010 Ruchè di Castagnole di Monferrato I brought from my trip to Piedmont. It was a product from Massimo Marengo’s estate, which traces its tradition back to the year 1535. Considering that this variety is allegedly best after a couple of years in a cellar, my 2010 one was great. Well, I also cannot wait anyway as there is no cellar in my house, at least none suitable for wine aging.

In Piedmont, I had a bottle of Luca Ferraris’ Ruchè ‘Bric d-Bianc’. I prepared for my Italian friends a dinner consisted of some traditional Polish and Brazilian dishes. They brought me this wine and it actually was a love at first sip. After that, I was looking for the same wine in the whole Cuneo but I found only the Marengo’s one. For sure, I couldn’t call the surprise unpleasant. Ferraris’ red was ‘sweeter’, fruitier, resembling in its aroma blackberries and meadows (a hay-ish note?). Marengo’s Ruchè has this blackberry, or maybe also raspberry, note too, but there is also something herbal in it: Exactly as some herb or green teas, it leaves on you tongue a slightly tingling aftertaste. Yes, it is ‘sweetish’ too, but it is rather the sweetness of some vegetables not fruits. And it is mellow, ‘round’. The ruby color has both orange and violet gleam, like garnet or pomegranate.

Still, too many details in a taste description don’t make much sense. I don’t believe that gustatory and olfactory perception of every single person will be the same. So, better try it yourself and have your fun discovering tastes and smells.

To say more about the variety itself, it is considered an autochthon cépage of Piedmont, but its roots are sometimes seen in Burgundy. Ruchè di Castagnole di Monferrato enjoys the DOCG status since 2010 (DOC since 1987). To my astonishment, I didn’t find any information about this wine in ‘The World Atlas of Wine’ by two British wine gurus: Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson. Maybe they didn’t find it worth of mentioning or maybe they just don’t know this wine. Be that as it may, I enjoyed this red a lot and wanted to bring it to your attention. It is another of those local Italian varieties, which may be not so elegant – as we can be used to it – but beautiful by its originality and simple and joyful aromas. Other fascinating ‘simple’ wines are for me Cagnina di Romagna or the real Fragolino. They might be too much bound to the local culture and people to be served in fancy restaurants, but for me they mean long evenings with friends as well as smells and tastes from my childhood. I know, I know, it sounds a little bit sappy, but isn’t it what people love: To find somewhere else, what they already know and associate with positive feelings?

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Healthy fast food in the very center of Trieste

Usually, it’s not easy to eat something fast, good and not expensive in city centers. At least, as long as we exclude places like McDonald’s. Of course, we exclude places of this sort. We are serious about food, aren’t we?

If you find yourself in the strict center of Trieste, for example on the square enjoying one of the most spectacular views in Europe (do you know any other market square facing an open sea?) – Piazza Unità d’Italia, there is a small bar you should consider if hungry.

Right behind the city hall, in one of the narrow lanes of the former Jewish ghetto, Via del Ponte, there is the ‘Piadineria La Caveja’. Piadineria is a bar or kiosk where piadina is served, that is a thin flatbread made of white flour and lard, originating in the Italian region of Romagna, to the south of Bologna.

Via del Ponte is even not displayed by Google Maps, but you shouldn’t have problems to find. If you stand in front of the city hall you will have Piazza della Borsa to the left, just a few meters from the Piazza Unità. On the same side as the city hall, there is a pass under the buildings, which is how Via del Ponte starts. Optionally, you may just leave the city hall on your right taking the Via Malcanton, which cross Via dei Rettori. Turn left into this street, as the piadineria is situated at the corner of dei Rettori and del Ponte. It is exactly the corner, where some Triestine bouquinistes sell their used books. 

‘La Caveja’ is tiny; there are only few sitting places outside. But their piadina is fresh and tasty. Thin slices of prosciutto, soft mozzarella, spicy salami, pleasantly bitter rucola or maybe sweet nutty and warm Nutella… They have around 30 different fillings, usually recommended in combinations. My favorite one is Gorgonzola and prosciutto crudo (raw prosciutto as there I also the cooked one: prosciutto cotto).

Actually, it is not the only ‘La Caveja’ in Italy since they franchise the concept, but I know only this one and it is worth of visiting. Probably the best compliment I could tell to the guys from this bar is that their piadina tastes like the one in Romagna, the genuine piadina romagnola.

Refošk by Rojac, Slovenia

Refošk or Teran, known in Italy as Refosco, is a very ancient variety, grown probably already in the Roman times. Nowadays, some scientists claim Refošk and Teran to be two different clones of the same variety, but you will still find them equalized in many publications.

Wines made of this variety are produced in the North-Eastern Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. They are characteristic especially for the Karst plateau and Istria. In these regions, constituted by limestone hills and mountains, covered by aromatic rosemary, juniper, lavender and other typical macchia species, the concentration of aromas in the air is higher than anywhere else in Italy. At least, I was told so in some good restaurant in Piedmont, where the cheese and honey from Karst were served to me.

The particular wine, which I want to present, is the Refošk produced by the Rojac family from the Slovenian part of the Istrian peninsula. It is a quality wine of controlled geographic origin (Slovenian: kakovostno vino z zaščitenim geografskim poreklom), which would be the Slovenian equivalent to the Italian DOC or the French AOC. It is the second last category in the country’s appellation system, just before the highest vrhunsko vino z zaščitenim geografskim poreklom, the premium quality wine.

The soil of the region, where the Rojac grow their vines, provides this wine with a deep and mineral structure. In case of bad Refošk from Istria, you will taste some almost sparkling wine, not unlike a cheap Lambrusco. But this red is rather slightly ‘metallic’ like the terra rossa (red clay soil, contraining iron) Teran. It is a pleasant and very surprising taste, followed in this particular wine by black and red pepper notes, and some other mysteries which I wasn’t able to name but passionately enjoyed.

The wine is not filtrated, so that it is not deprived of its natural character, as Sergio Esposito would put it. Used to undistinguishable wines, where the bunch of aromas is always the same: berries, cherries, plums, dark chocolate and similar, one can get excited by this original expression of Istria’s climate, soil and culture.

Still, I don’t think it is an overcomplicated red which one cannot enjoy without years of educating his palate. Its beauty and elegance is very classical, and that means: simple.

In the book of Sergio Esposito ‘Passion on the vine’, I’ve found an opinion expressed by his friend, Gianfranco Soldera: “[…] if you don’t miss a wine after you’ve drunk it, don’t ever drink it again” (2008, p. 202). Isn’t it a good rule for judging wines? Well, for sure I miss the Rojac’s Refošk.

 

More about the wine and the producer on: www.rojac.eu.

Prekmurska Gibanica – ‘all-inside-cake’

This is probably one of the best-known Slovenian specialties, loved by the majority of the lucky ones who have had an opportunity to try it. If only you like the rich central European cuisines, you may share my fascination with the complex combination of layers in this surprising cake. The name of gibanica is to be derivated from güba, that mean ‘fold’ or – in this very case – a ‘layer’.

There are two kinds of dough used for preparation: shortcrust pastry (krhko testo) and phyllo or strudel dough (vlečeno testo). The shortcrust presents the very base of the whole culinary construction, after that the strudel dough and fillings take turns to give the final effect.

No rule can restrict the joyful creativity of a cook in alternating the recipe. Nevertheless, there is the ‘law of tradition’, now protected by the EU legislation as, since 2010, prekmurska gibanica enjoys the TSG status (traditional specialty guaranteed). Be that as it may, the fillings are four. They are made of poppy seeds, curd or cottage cheese resembling ricotta (skuta), walnuts and apples.

This combination of fillings makes me think about of flódni, a traditional Jewish cake from Hungary. In flódni, only the curd cheese is lacking. But you will certainly find poppy seeds, apples and walnuts. Maybe it is not an accident as Prekmurje, the region from the gibanica comes from, was part of the Hungarian part of the Habsburg empire until the very end of the First World War. There still is a Hungarian minority present in the region.

I’m not attaching any recipe, but one of the most traditional ones can be certainly found on the website of the Association for Promotion and Protection of Prekmurje’s Specialties (www.disi-po-prekmurju.si).

Sage wine

Sage wine, in German: Salbeiwein, is considered to be a traditional remedy for indigestion, stomach trouble, flatulence, excessive sweating, inflammation in mouth and throat, as well as bad breath (halitosis). But – to be honest – it is so tasty that you can enjoy a sip with your friends, even without all the health problems named above.

All you need to prepare it are ten fresh sage leaves (big ones), 1 l of semidry white wine and 4 cl of cognac/brandy. If possible use also some sage blooms, but just a few.

Cut the leaves in thin stripes and put, together with the blooms, into the white wine. Keep it for a night in a closed bottle or another container. The next day, you need to filtrate the wine and add the cognac, since the oxidation process must be stopped. Otherwise your wine will turn into vinegar soon.

Whether used as medicine or just to enjoy, it’s better to serve it cold and drink slowly in small sips.

Onion marmalade

Marmellata di cipolle (onion marmalade) is a very simple in preparation but incredibly fascinating by its taste company for good cheese, especially hard cheese types like pecorino, parmigiano (Parmesan), gruyère or the original British cheddar.

Although the very idea of cooking marmalade out of onions may sound for many people discouraging, you will be surprised by the result. First time I tried it on a piece of pecorino, I got excited by this completely unusual and unidentifiable spread. I suspected everything in that but onion.

The marmalade should be actually cooked from the red onion from Tropea (a community in Calabria). This is a very popular kind of onion in Italy, bigger and sweeter than the red onion known in many other European countries, but I’m afraid that it’s virtually impossible to find it outside of the Bel Paese. So, let’s stick to the red onion we can get in a usual supermarket, wherever in the world.

I’m presenting you a recipe I got from Nicoletta, my friend from Bologna. We need 1 kg of red onion, a little bit of red wine (2-4 tablespoons) and sugar, at least 150 g. Basically, you can substitute red wine with white one, but the red wine helps to emphasize the color of the onions, making it deeper.

Well, so chop the onion, and let it simmer with the 2-4 tablespoons of wine in a covered pot. You don’t need to add any water or oil as onion will lose its juice, which is enough to stew it without any risk of burning. Once the onion has become soft and has lost its red color, you can add sugar. Start with 150 g. Usually it’s more than enough, but if you are not satisfied with the sweetness of the stew, add more sugar. Nicoletta said that, in some cases, even another 150 g of sugar might be needed. This, however, has never happened to me. Now, leave the onions to caramelize and the juice to evaporate. It will take at least an hour. Stir it from time to time, especially in the very end when the stew is getting thicker. The consistence of the marmalade should be dense and pretty dry, even more than powidl.

Marmellata di cipolle can be preserved as all other marmalades.