IOTA (Recipe, a very thick soup from Trieste) Post 1

Iota 1@300

Time to write about Trieste again. Now and again I feel nostalgic for this city where I spent my childhood before coming to Australia.

Today is my son’s birthday and lately he has been cooking iota (he does not live in Melbourne), but he tells me that it is not as good as mine.

Iota is a very old traditional dish from Trieste. It is very strongly flavoured, thick soup and the main ingredients are borlotti beans, sauerkraut and smoked meats. It is not a light dish by any means, but very simple to make and most suited to cold weather. It is usually made at least 1 day before you plan to eat it – the flavours mature and improve with age.


This is not a dish that many would associate with Italy but if you look at the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia it is easier to understand why this recipe is very characteristic of the area around Trieste.

I was last in Trieste in December 2007 and visited an osteria in the old part of Trieste (la citta` vecchia – the port / waterfront, see photo) to specifically eat cucina triestina. When I told the signora that I was reliving the food of my childhood she could not do enough for me – I had iota, sepe in umido (braised cuttle fish) matavilz (lamb’s lettuce salad) and strucolo de pomi( apple strudel). White wine of course (characteristic of the area) and we finished off the meal with a good grappa. Nothing like Sicilian food, but enjoyable for different reasons – nostalgia has a lot to do with it.


I have seen iota written by a variety of spellings: iotta, jota, yota are all pronounced the same way. Some also refer to it as fasoi (beans) and capuzi garbi (sauerkraut).

In some nearby places close to Trieste turnips are sometimes used instead of saurkraut.

There are variations in the making of iota: some add smoked sausages (as I always do) some parsley, and some a little barley – the texture of barley is good.

I always buy my sausages from a Polish or German butcher. When I lived in Adelaide I used to go to the Polish stall at The Adelaide Market and now, at the Polish stall in the Queen Victoria Market. I also buy good quality saurkraut there.

Most Triestini add flour to thicken this one course meal, but I generally do not do this.



borlotti beans, 250g soaked overnight
potatoes, 250g, peeled and cubed
sauerkraut, 250g
olive oil, ½ cup
bay leaves,3
ham hock or smoked ribs, shanks, 300-400g
pork, smoked sausages made from coarsely ground meat
garlic, 2 chopped
pepper and salt to taste
plain flour, 2 tablespoons


Place beans, salt pork, potatoes and bay leaves in large pot of cold water. Cover ingredients fully.
Simmer slowly (about 1 ½ hours). Add sausages about half way through the cooking.
Remove about half of the beans and potatoes and mash them. Add salt and pepper to taste and return them to the pan.

Add the saurkraut and cook for about 30 minutes longer (some Triestini cook them separately, but I see no point in doing this).

To thicken the soup, add the flour and garlic to the hot olive oil – use a separate small pan, stir vigorously and try not to have lumps. This is like making a French roux but using oil instead of butter. Some of the older Triestini use lard.

Happy birthday……. and I am sorry that I am not there to cook it for you.


13 thoughts on “IOTA (Recipe, a very thick soup from Trieste) Post 1”

  1. Hi, Marisa,

    It is Barrie. I am wondering about the salt pork mentioned in the process of making Iota. Do you mean some pork back? Here in US of A we get fresh pork back (fat) uncured from the butcher. I easily render it in the slow cooker for fresh lard which makes wonderful ginger cookies but that is another story. I am wondering how much and if I have the right product. It wasn’t mentioned in the list of ingredients unless I missed it.

  2. Hi Barrie,
    your ginger cookies sound interesting – we forget that they (the elders!!)did use lard rather than butter once and it is still used to make good pastry.

    No it is not fresh pork. It is smoked pork – like smoked ham.

    Trieste is close to Germany, Hungary, Croatia and their smallgoods are similar.
    German, Polish, cured, smoked products are especially good:
    Baurnschinken,laschinken,schinken speck,wood smoked kabana, wedding sausage, kassler, smoked brockworst….kransky. I am listing them in case you recognise some of the names. I forget that I now have some readers who do not live in Australia.

    Because of the German settlers in South Australia, I was very spoilt when I lived there. Also because I lived there for a long time I knew where to buy these. In Melbourne I go to the Polish store. I buy my sauerkraut there too – I imagine that any place that sells this will also have these types of smallgoods.
    Good luck.

    1. I found smoked pork loin, smoked pork bones and speck in my local Woolies supermarket so used these with pork fillets in this recipe and it was absolutely delicious. I took the mottled casings off the borlotti beans after soaking (laborious and time consuming) because the beans looked white in your photo. Is this really necessary? Or does it just look nicer and is easier to eat?
      Thanks for the recipe Marisa, we really enjoyed it.

      1. I am pleased that you enjoyed it and that you were able to easily find those ingredients in your local supermarket. No, I do not take off any casings off the beans, the beans lose the marbled brown/pink colour of the skins once the beans are cooked. Have you ever seen fresh borlotti? Their colour is beautiful but it is lost with cooking. To see a photo of fresh borlotti have a look at my post ‘Pasta e Fagioli (thick Bean Soup with Pasta)’.
        Thank you for letting me know. Marisa

  3. Thanks, Marisa,

    Our very large Italian population in Philaldelphia gave birth 100 years or so ago to our “Italian market” and we still have a butcher who makes his own sausage so I will give him the names of the smoked products and see what he has. If you ever want to talk about the different types of white beans I would appreciate hearing about that…does it matter which type one uses? Just curious. Again, thanks for the clarification about the smoked pork sausage.

  4. This is exactly like my grandmothers recipe,she was from Trieste,then migrated to Australia.I started making this soup off the top of head,and have been trying to find the correct recipe and where it originated…Problem solved,I use smoked pork ribs which i purchase from a polish shop,otherwise I managed 2 remember the exact ingredients from when I was 5-12yrs old…Also the polish make this soup aswell…Thanx

  5. I also make this soup off the recipe given to my wife, on my request, by my mother. My wife was Australian but could cook anything you showed her. I have a written recipe as I asked my wife for it before the Lord took her away. This is one of my favourite dishes. I have picked up some tips from above also. I visited Slovenia in 2010 and had some soup there made by a local, small restaurant. My recipe as good as my wife’s because I follow it. Anyone can have copy of it if they want it.

  6. My mamma would make something similar to this but she didn’t call this by the names above — but what can I say we left there in ’51. I have to smile when I read fasoi and capuzi garbi. There are so many words I knew growing up that I later learned weren’t regular Italian. It is summer here but this winter I look forward to making the Iota. Thank you for a trip back to my childhood. I love reading what you have to say because it brings up snippets of things I’d forgotten.

  7. I am Triestina and have eaten iota all the time at winter time. But I now am a Texan for sixty years…eat iota maybe once every fuve r so years….thank you for your recipe…I had forgotten the barley.

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