Little did I know when I picked up Elisabeth Antoine Crawford’s Flavors of Friuli that I’d be taking a mini-vacation in the middle of my summer break. Crawford’s beautifully photographed book is more than just a guide to cooking in the tradition of northeastern Italy. It’s a history and travel guide for the region. Divided into sections in line with the three main areas of this so-called “un-Italian” portion of Italy, the book offers a wide variety of recipes including hearty meats, delicate fishes, simple gnocchis and indulgent desserts. Each is inspired by the Austrian, Slavic, or Italian influences that make the region unique.
The author’s passion for this special place comes through even in the recipes themselves. Crawford takes instructions from chefs and books she discovered in her travels, sometimes needing to guess measurements and proportions along the way. Her diligence and time in preparing for the book have paid off as her directions are manageable for most home-cooks. The minimal ingredients allow the delicious flavors to stand on their own.
I tried a few of the recipes myself, beginning with the Insalata di Pere a Montasio (Pear and Montasio Salad). I was surprised to discover that the ingredients did not call for vinegar, but upon my first bite, I sensed that the outstanding flavors of this salad are in the arugula, pear, walnuts and cheese, not in the dressing. I also enjoyed the Liptauer (Austrian Style Cheese Spread), a tangy dip that took very little time to prepare and would make a delicious appetizer for company. A simple mix of gorgonzola and ricotta lightly flavored with mustard, capers, chives and parsley, the spread did not last long on our table.
Another reason that home-cooks will find Flavors of Friuli so enjoyable is Crawford’s frequent recommendations for additions and substitutions to her recipes. She acknowledges that some ingredients, especially the cheeses unique to the region, may be difficult to find in the United States. Therefore, she offers alternatives that are more readily available. In the Cavucin (Butternut Squash Purée), I was able to use pumpkins from my garden in place of butternut squash and ricotta salata in place of ricotta affumatica. The simple instructions will make most cooks feel comfortable improvising and experimenting.
At the end of the book, Crawford offers suggestions of restaurants, festivals, producers, museums and other sights for the prospective traveler. However, I look forward to even more evenings this summer at home at my own Friuli table.