Iota (also Jota) is always a delight to eat and to talk about with friends, many of them surprised to discover that it is a regional and traditional Italian dish from Trieste, a town in the region of Fruili Venezia Giulia and north of Venice.
The fat content in Iota can be high, but there are ways to make Iota less fatty.
Borlotti beans, soaked overnight and then cooked.
Pork Hock, placed in cold water and simmered until soft and used to make broth. Add potatoes about 30 minutes before the end of cooking. Remove the lean meat and use this for the. Skim the fat off the pork hock broth.
Use the broth to cook the sauerkraut . When the sauerkraut is cooked add half the borlotti beans and potatoes and with a potato masher mash the contents.
Add more whole beans the rest of the potatoes (cubed) the pork hock meat and the Wedding Sausage (I like this because it is lean meat).
And there you have it – a lean Iota.
There are other posts for making Iota and these include quantities of ingredients:
As a child, I lived in Trieste with my parents, and Ragusa, Catania and Augusta were the towns in Sicily where my Sicilian relatives lived. Both Trieste (located at the head of the Gulf of Trieste in the region Friuli-Venezia Giulia) and Sicily are at the extreme ends of Italy, and as you would expect, the cuisines are very different.
I grew up with both cuisines and appreciate them both for very different reasons.
Capuzi garbi (or crauti/krauti) is sauerkraut in Triestino (the Triestine dialect) and it is a very popular ingredient in Triestine cuisine especially when mixed in Gulash (made with pork or beef), or with a lump of smoked pork, or luganighe (Triestine) – salsicce di maiale in Italian, and pork sausages for us mere mortals in the English speaking world.
When you look at a map of Italy, it is easy to see why this part of Italy has common roots with the cooking of Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Istria.
I have German and Polish friends and they too are fond of sauerkraut, and like my relatives and friends from Trieste, they tend to overcook it; my mother also did this when she cooked capuzi garbi.
But as we know, cuisine evolves and some of us have taken on new methods of cooking traditional foods.
In my kitchen, I cook sauerkraut for about a quarter of the time as the traditional method and at times, I also like to add a little fresh cabbage to lighten the taste and to add a different texture. A little flour browned in a little oil is added to the sauerkraut towards the end of cooking, but not me, and unlike my Triestine contemporaries I also add caraway seeds, bay leaves and a dash of white wine.
The ingredients are: pork sausages, sauerkraut, bay leaves and caraway seeds. Onion, extra virgin olive oil and pepper (the sauerkraut could be sufficiently salty). Fresh cabbage and a dash of white wine are optional.
Drain the sauerkraut and squeeze out the moisture. Soften some onion in a little oil (in Trieste lard is also common and added to the oil).
Adding a little white or savoy cabbage is optional.
And with the cabbage also add the sauerkraut and the rest. A dash of white wine will keep it moist while it cooks.
Cover and cook for about 15- 20 minutes on low heat until the sausages are nearly cooked and the flavours have had a chance to meld.
Remove the sauerkraut and slightly brown the sausages – only for appearance.
Sousing fish was a way of preserving it before refrigeration by saturating the fish with acid – vinegar in this case which, like salt, prevents the growth of microbes. Sugar is also added and to create an agro dolce dish (sweet and sour). The fish is first fried in olive oil and then marinaded in the vinegar base. Slowly sautéed onions are a common ingredient in soused fish and different flavourings are added to the pickling mix. My Sicilian grandmother would put mint, bay leaves and slivers of garlic in her vinegar marinade (pisci ammarinatu in Sicilian), but the pesse in saor made in Venice and in Trieste where I lived as a child, has raisins and pine nuts in it. Pesse is Triestiane for pesce – fish in Italian.
Soused fish is found all over Italy, for example pesce alla scapace is cooked in central and southern Italy and the Molise version is flavoured with saffron, minced garlic and sage. Pesce in carpione from Lombardy has celery and carrot for flavourings, the Ligurian scabeccio has garlic, whole pepper and rosemary, and the Sardinian marinade has chilli, garlic, and tomato sauce.
Soused fish is also common in other cultures – Nordic countries thrive on soused fish and different versions of escabeche are found in Spanish, Portuguese, French and in North African cuisines. I have a German friend who also cooks soused fish – he adds coriander seeds to his.
My maternal grandmother always had soused fish (in pottery terrines and covered with plates as lids) in her kitchen in Sicily.
When she visited us in Trieste she did the same and our kitchen then also smelt of fish and vinegar. She particularly liked to souse eel – eel was good in Trieste. We would walk to the Pescheria together, she would choose the eel she wanted from a big tank and the fishmonger would kill it and chop it into pieces.
I did not much like this part, but I liked going to the Pescheria on the waterfront in the bay of Trieste. The imposing building is now home to Eataly.
Triestine pesse is mostly made with sardines and is often eaten with white polenta (yellow polenta is usually an accompaniment to meat).
Traditionally, the fish is lightly dusted with flour and salt before it is fried in very hot, extra virgin, olive oil. Although the flour helps to hold the fish together, the oil used to fry the fish will need to be discarded (the sediment will taint the taste of the oil) and the flour coating will often come away from the fish in the marinade.
On my way to Adelaide from Melbourne I drove through Meningie (at the northern end of the Coorong on the shores of Lake Albert) and I bought freshly-caught Coorong mullet. On this occasion I used them instead of sardines to make pesse in saor.
2-3 fish per person /12-16 fresh sardines or small fish (sand whiting, mullet, garfish, flathead, leather jackets), cleaned and filleted with heads and backbone removed.
plain flour and salt for dusting
olive oil for frying
2-3 large white onions, sliced finely
1 cup of raisins
1 cup of pine nuts, toasted
sufficient white wine to soak the raisins
250 ml of white wine vinegar
freshly ground black pepper
Dust the fish fillets in a little flour and salt, shake off as much flour as possible and fry them in plenty of oil until golden and crisp. Place them on kitchen paper to remove excess oil and set aside.
Soak the raisins in the white wine for about 30minutes.
Sauté the onions gently in some olive oil until they are soft. Add the vinegar and pepper and cook the mixture for a few minutes. Set aside.
Select a terrine deep enough to hold the fish, ingredients and vinegar marinade – a narrow, deep terrine is best. Place a layer of fish, add some onions (dig them out of the vinegar mixture), raisins (drained) and pine nuts. Continue layering the ingredients, finishing with a layer of onions, raisins and pine nuts on top. Pour the vinegar over the layers. Cover it, place it in the fridge and allow to marinate at least 24 hours before serving. Serve at room temperature.
The simplest of ingredients can give so much pleasure.
I have always liked Italian fresh cheeses and while in Venice and Trieste I ate as much fresh mozzarella, burrata and stracciatella as I could. The tomatoes have been excellent also.
Fresh mozzarella whether made from cow or buffalo milk (di bufala) is fairly easy to find in other countries apart from Italy, burrata is more difficult to
find but it is very speedily finding fame and fortune in other countries and replacing the very popular Caprese salad that had dominated menus for places where tourists gather.
Stracciatella is a soft cream almost runny cheese, a combination of shredded fresh mozzarella curd and cream. Straccia (“rag” or “shred) from the verb stracciare“- to tear.
Burrata, like mozzarella can be made from cow or buffalo milk. The outer layer is made of fresh mozzarella – a pulled or stretched cheese – but the centre is filled with oozing, creamy and delicate tasting stracciatella. Cut it open, and wow… you get that double whammy!
Because I love the Italian language I want to tell you that burrata (buttered) is derived from burro – butter. Burrata hails from southern Italy, from the Puglia region where orecchiette come from. Rather than being filled with stracciatella it can also be filled with heavy cream – this of course is what becomes butter.
In the photos there are two types of burrate (plural of burrata), the rounded shape or sealed sphere, and the one tied together with vegetal string. Both burrate delicious and both enveloping a creamy filling.
Burrata is eaten as fresh as possible – ideally within 24 hours of being made and is usually sold in its water like whey.
So when you find heirloom tomatoes and very tasty ordinary or cherry tomatoes and burrata you get a triple+++ whammy…. mild acidity of tomatoes, basil super-duper good quality extra virgin olive oil and you have pretty much ecstasy.
I actually made this tomato and salad in Paris… from Italian ingredients (apart from tomatoes and basil and a little red onion from the countries around the Mediterranean.
or Radicchio Triestino, a small-soft-leaf radicchio.
My father grew Radicchio Triestino in his Adelaide garden but I have never seen it for sale in Australia.
These are some of the salad vegetables I am able to purchase at the Queen Victoria Market. Notice the pale coloured beetroot (I also cook the leaves like spinach). The beetroot I ate in Trieste was always pale in colour.
Next to the red radicchio is the head of speckled, pale radicchio (radicchio biondo= blonde/blond).
Fennel and the baby cabbage are also suitable salad vegetables, as is rocket – rucola in Triestine.
Helping my mother to make Insalata Russa was my job throughout my childhood and teenage years. It was a legacy from Trieste and a reliable appetizer served on special occasions. She kept making it well into the 80s and then it would re-appear intermittently throughout the years. She would present it before we would sit at a table for a meal, as a nibble… she would pass around a spoonful of Insalata Russa on a slice of bread from a French stick. Those of you who are of a certain age may remember Rosso Antico (a red aperitif) or a Cinzano (vermouth) or a martini. Sometimes it would be a straight gin with a twist of lemon. Today you may prefer a different aperitif like Aperol or a glass of Prosecco or a Campari – you get the idea!
It keeps well in the fridge and is an easy accompaniment for drinks – I am thinking of those unexpected guests who may pop in …. a drink, a small plate of Insalata Russa and some good bread. If my mother was still alive she would probably be making it on Christmas eve or Christmas day.
Insalata Russa is made with cooked vegetables: peas, green beans, carrots and potatoes cut ino small cubes and smothered with homemade egg mayonnaise. She always decorated the top with slices of hard-boiled eggs and slices of stuffed green olives. Sometimes she also placed on top small cooked prawns or canned tuna.
***** Modern Times…..Try it sprinkled with Yarra Valley caviar (fish roe) instead.
Ensaladilla rusa is the Spanish version of this salad and it is a very common tapas dish; It was certainly still popular as a Tapas in Madrid and Barcelona when I was there last year.
The Spaniards make it the same way, but the canned tuna is often mixed in the salad rather than being placed on top. Some versions have olives, roasted red peppers or asparagus spears arranged on top in an attractive design or just plain with boiled eggs around the edge of the bowl.
Making it with my mother, we never weighed our ingredients, but the following combination and ratios should please anyone’s palate.
This recipe (and the photos of the pages in the book) are from my second book – Small Fishy Bites.
2-3 medium sized potatoes, waxy are best
1 cup of shelled peas
3 hard-boiled eggs
3/4 -1 cup of green beans cut into 1cm pieces
1/2 cup of Italian giardinieria (mixed garden pickles in vinegar)
1 and 1/2 cups of homemade egg mayonnaise
Cook potatoes and carrots in their skins in separate pans; cool, peel and cut them into small cubes.Cook the peas and beans separately; drain and cool. Hard boil the eggs; peel them and cube 2 of them.Cut the giardiniera into small pieces (carrots, turnips, cauliflower, gherkins).Mix all of these ingredients together with a cup of home made egg mayonnaise.Level out the Russian salad either on a flat plate or in a bowl and leave in the fridge for at least an hour before decorating it by covering it with the remaining mayonnaise.Have a good old time placing on the top slices of hard-boiled eggs, drained tuna or small cooked prawns and caviar. Bits of giardiniera will also add colour.
My mum made maionese with a wooden spoon. I use a food processor or an electric wand to make mayonnaise:
Mix 1 egg with a little salt in the blender food processor, or in a clean jar (if using the wand).
Slowly add 1–1 ½ cups of extra virgin olive oil in a thin, steady stream through the feed tube while the blender or processor is running, Before adding additional oil, ensure that the oil, which has previously been added has been incorporated completely.
Add a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice when the mayonnaise is creamy. If you are not making the traditional Italian version, it is common to add vinegar instead of lemon juice and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard.
As an alternative, the Spaniards like to add a little saffron (pre-softened in a little warm water). Add this once the mayonnaise is made.
The red radicchio was made into a salad with canned tuna, cooked borlotti and red onion (Recipe from my book: Small Fishy Bites, Marisa Raniolo Wilkins, New Holland publisher).
The fennel was braised and topped with tapenade.
INSALATA DI TONNO, FAGIOLI E RADICCHIO (Tuna salad with borlotti beans and radicchio)
This very simple salad was popular as an antipasto or a light meal when I was growing up as child in Trieste. In the Triestian dialect this salad is called Insalata di tonno, fazoi, zivola e radiccio.
Trieste is in North Eastern Italy not far from Venice and if you are ever in Trieste you are likely to find this salad in any trattoria (for home style food) especially those trattorie that have a buffet.
No quantities needed for the recipe – the proportions are up to you. I like more beans than tuna and I cook my own (well covered with water, soaked overnight, change the water and cook slowly – no salt – bay leaves or a stick celery, whole carrot or whole onion do add flavour).
If you are using canned beans, a tin is 400g. A tin of tuna 425g.
If the tuna is not packed in oil, drain it before using.
INGREDIENTS AND PROCESS
tinned tuna (packed in oil, the tuna is not drained and is broken up with a fork)
borlotti beans (drained if canned)
red onion, finely cut rings
For the dressing combine extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, a little French mustard and some salt and pepper.
You can combine all of the ingredients together or layer it.
Place red radicchio leaves at the bottom of a bowl as a bed for the salad. Next, put on the beans, then the tuna and onion as the top layer.
Pour over the dressing.
Sometimes a little bit of imagination makes an old favourite look special. This is just baked fennel with black olives but the special touch is that I used tapenade (which I make regularly and usually have some on standby in the fridge – see photo above).
I have written about making tapenade. See: TAPENADE
1-2 fennel bulbs
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ cup tapenade
¾ cup white wine, stock or water or pernod, a mixture any
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 tbs butter
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper
Prepare the fennel:
Remove the fennel stalks that are not worth saving from the bulbs and discard – keep some of the fresher ones (this is mainly done for appearance but may be also be suitable for eating). Trim away any bruised or discoloured portion of the bulbs. Cut the bulbs length-wise (vertically) into eights (or more or less) depending on the size of the fennel. Save the fronds.
Add the sliced fennel to a pan with hot olive oil and butter and sauté for 5-10 minutes, turning occasionally.
Add seasoning and about 1 cup of liquid (see above). Add garlic and fronds.
Cook uncovered on gentle- moderate heat for about 10 minutes, the liquid will reduce but add more if necessary
Add a teaspoon of sugar to help caramelize the juices. Increase the heat to evaporate any liquid left in the pan – this will result with the fennel cooking in the left over oil and butter and turning a deep gold colour. .
Place the fennel on a dish and pour over it any juices. Add a couple of spoonfuls of tapenade to the pan and heat it – only just to take off the chill. Spoon the tapenade onto the fennel and serve. I guess the chives add to the composition, but these are not necessary.
This is a recipe for an apple strudel as made in Trieste. Unlike the very thin pastry common in the Austrian strudel and other European countries that once belonged to the Austrian- Hungarian empire, the pastry in a Triestine strudel is not as thin and therefore easier to roll.
Autumn is a good time for apple desserts and I was asked recently about suitable food to take on a picnic. This apple strudel is nice to eat hot or cold and the pastry does not go soggy.
With Easter coming up and apples been so abundant, a Strucolo de pomi could be the go.
I have written about Strucolo before and as a child it was my job to prepare the apples. Here is the link to the recipe:
My friend called them Vanille Kipferl, I recognised them instantly as Chifeletti (‘ch’ sound is pronounced as k in Italian and ‘letti’ at the end of words in Italian means small.). Same recipe, different name. But it is not surprising that we share the same recipe – my friend is from Vienna and I came from Trieste and both cities were part of the Austo- Hungarian empire.
The Vanille Kipferl (or Chifeletti) are frail, crescent-shaped, little biscuits dusted with icing sugar. They are popular at Christmas time in Austria and together with her much-loved cherry cake they were my friend’s contribution to our shared Christmas eve dinner. I ate the last of the kipferl recently; they last well and the flavour is said to improve when stored well.
I have found slight variations in the different Triestine and Austrian recipes sighted, (for example some add egg yolks to the mixture), but the ratio of ingredients seems to be the same. In Trieste, rather than adding vanilla to the dough they use icing sugar that has been flavoured with vanilla beans.
Chifeletti in Trieste are also called Lunette (small moons) or Curabiè, perhaps from Kourabiès, which are the Greek version of these biscuits. Interestingly enough there is an eastern Greek Community in Trieste and when visiting this very pleasant Italian city, it is worth seeing the Greek Orthodox church – Church of Saint Nicolò. There is also a Serbian – Orthodox church called San Spiridione, but this is another story and very telling of the historical culture and racial mix in Trieste’s population.
In my mother’s pantry, the jar used to store her icing sugar always had vanilla beans buried in it. Vanilla infused icing sugar for dusting is optional but if you want the real deal: Place vanilla beans in a jar of icing sugar, seal it and leave it for at least a week.
300g plain flour
100g finely ground almonds
vanilla (a little paste or essence)
1 pinch salt
icing sugar for dusting
Rub the butter into the flour, sugar, ground almonds and salt and form it into dough. Shape the dough into a ball, cover it with plastic film and leave it in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Divide and shape the dough into finger thick long rolls and cut each roll into 2 cm pieces. Curve each small piece of dough into small moon shapes.
Place the biscuits on a baking tray lined with baking paper and bake in a pre-heated oven at 150°C for 10-15 minutes (They should be pale golden in colour and must not brown).
Remove them carefully from the oven and from the baking tray and when they are still warm dust them with plenty of icing sugar (vanilla flavoured).
When they are cold store them carefully in layers, in a tin with plenty of icing sugar.
The photo of my friend’s Cherry cake is below. As you can see, the batter is like pastry and there are many cherries in the centre.
Other pastries also called Chifeletti popular in Trieste are made with potato dough. These are fried and then rolled in sugar; my mother and Triestine aunts used to make these with the same dough as gnocchi…..gnocchi for lunch, followed by Chifeletti made with some left over dough.