Last week was a gnocchi with goulash kind of week. It was also the week that I graduated from illy Café University so let’s just go ahead and say, it was a pretty big week. The gnocchi and the degree are part of study trip number three, a week in the Friuli-Venezia Guilia region of Italy.
As one of the five autonomous regions in Italy, Friuli-Venezia Guilia is under administrative autonomy according to the Italian Constitution (Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol and Aosta Valley are the other four). As a result of their constitutional distinction, these regions are governed by their own economies. In fact, Friuli-Venezia Guilia has one of the strongest in Italy, based primarily on specialized farming and exports like Prosciutto di San Daniele–basically Proscuitto di Parma cured in Northern Italy. Friulian is the primarily language of the area although it has slowly been phased out and replaced with Italian.
The region is also famous for its coffee, which means if you’re a student at UNISG, you spend the day at the illy headquarters earning your coffee degree. While it may sound like caffeine-laced fun and games, it was an action packed day. By the end my friends and I were in desperate need of a beer and sustenance to help settle the six-ten espressos we’d consumed throughout our day of coffee school (we had to, it was like homework).
What we found for dinner was nothing less than an Italian/German/Austrian extravaganza of a meal. Looking back, I’m not totally sure how I’ve survived this far without a hefty helping of goulash with my gnocchi. The sausages, sauerkraut and mustard also tasted like long lost friends I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed. It was one of those meals where you’re unsure where you are (I’m eating spicy mustard and goulash two hours from Parma?), but frankly you just don’t really care.
Throughout the rest of the week we hit a bunch of regional hot spots including a Prosciutto di San Daniele producer, an alpine cheese maker a two hours hike up into the Alps and a 100-year-old flour mill. But the real show stopper was the morning we spent harvesting mussels from a farm off the coast of Trieste.
Simultaneously delicious, disgusting to look at and also one of the most sustainable forms of seafood farming, there is a lot to say about mussels. That morning we watched as the mussel farmers harvested suspended ropes that the mussels attach to through sticky semen secretions. They grow, suspended on the ropes attached to opposite ends of buoys for about one year. Then the fishermen hoist up the ropes, pull off the mussels and pack them into tubes of plastic netting ready to be sold to local restaurants or markets. For lunch we were treated to mussels, fried, calamari, shrimp, and whole sardines. Holy seafood.
By the end of the week I really felt like a giant gnocchi battered and fried. Since arriving home I’ve craved nothing more than raw vegetables, fruit and riding Pickles (my bike). I had a bunch of spinach on hand so I came up with this spiffy number, which I hope you enjoy.
White Bean dip with Spinach Pesto
For the pesto:
3 cups fresh spinach
2 cloves garlic
¼ cup almonds
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
Finely mince the spinach, garlic and almonds. Scrape into a small bowl and stir in the cheese. Slowly drizzle in the oil while stirring and test for salt and pepper.
For the dip:
1 28 ounce can white beans, rinsed and drained
¼ cup lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Dump the beans into a small bowl and mash against the sides of the bowl until smooth. Pour in the lemon juice, stir and test for salt and pepper.
Drizzle the pesto over the dip and serve with seasonal vegetables.
*All of the photos from the trip are courtesy of Lindsay Anderson http://linds-eats.blogspot.com/