Istria: Recipes and Stories from the Hidden Heart of Italy, Slovenia and Croatia, written by Paola Bacchia, features the beautiful cuisine of Istria (Istra) with recipes, traditions, and family memories. A few highlights include Vellutata di Finocchio Arrosto (Roasted Fennel Soup), Ravioli di Verdure (Ravioli with Greens), Strudel di Formaggi (Spiced Cheese Strudel), Useleti Scampai (Stuffed Little Meat Rolls), and Putizza (Yeasted Spiral Cake). I will also be sharing her recipe for Risotto alla Paprica (Red Risotto) following the review.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Smith Street Books in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Paola Bacchia was born and is currently based in Melbourne, Australia. Her parents moved to Melbourne from northeast Italy in 1950 (her mother was from the Veneto region and father from the Istrian peninsula). She developed Italy on my Mind in 2011 as a way to share her recipes and stories with others.
Paola runs a cooking school online (and soon in person) and hosts food and wine tours in Puglia and Trieste. She is also the author of Italian Street Food (review coming soon!) and Adriatico: Recipes and Stories from Italy’s Adriatic Coast.
Istria begins with Paola’s introduction of her family’s life in Istria and their home in Australia following World War II. I especially love the focus on the personal memories with stories and her travels alongside the recipes.
Paola states, “Food does not have borders. It speaks of the land and its people, of shared meals and cultures, of the past and the present, of family and community.” This love for her family and the community can be seen throughout every part of the book.
For those unfamiliar with the region, the historical notes and illustrated map of the peninsula and the borders of Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy are particularly helpful.
The chapters are divided according to course: Soups; Antipasti; Pasta, Gnocchi & Risotto; Savoury Pies, Strudels & Crepes; Land & Sea; Vegetables; Cakes & Desserts; Biscuits to Serve with Tea or Coffee; Sauces, Preserves & Infusions; and The Basics.
The beautiful photography is also provided by Paola. Every recipe is paired with a quarter to full-sized photo of the finished dish. There are also many gorgeous photos of the landscape and Paola’s family across the pages.
Titles are written in English with the Italian or local dialect’s original name underneath. Paola notes that she refers to the names of the towns in Istria (Istra in Croatian and Slovenian) and most of the recipes in Italian since that is how she grew up hearing them.
Measurements are listed in Metric and US Customary. Each recipe has a headnote with background information, memories, inspiration for the dish, helpful tips, and serving size.
Risotto alla Paprica (Red Risotto)
There are so so many recipes I am excited to try in the Pasta, Gnocchi & Risotto section. I started with the Risotto alla Paprica (Red Risotto) since I realized I haven’t actually made risotto in quite a few months.
Paola was inspired to create this risotto by a recipe from Francesco Gottardi. It is packed with such a wonderful combination of flavors!
Diced pancetta is cooked in a heavy-based saucepan with onion and olive until the fat has rendered, followed by the red bell pepper until the vegetables are softened. The risotto rice (vialone nano, carnaroli, or arborio) is toasted lightly before adding wine and finally ladlefuls of boiling water and diced tomatoes until the rice is tender with a creamy consistency.
Towards the end of the cooking process, butter and sweet paprika are mixed in along with a few handfuls of parmesan and salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pan and allow to rest for a few minutes to allow the flavors to settle before serving.
To make the Risotto alla Paprica vegetarian, simply omit the pancetta. While Paola (and I) prefer the sweeter paprika in this dish, it can be swapped for a more hot variety.
I also made Asparagi con il Prosciutto (Asparagus Prosciutto Wraps), Gnocchi de Gries (Semolina Gnocchi in Broth), Verza e Patate in Tecia (Pan-Cooked Cabbage with Potatoes, Speck & Sausage), and Torta di Mandorle e Caffè (Almond & Coffee Cake).
The Asparagi con il Prosciutto (Asparagus Prosciutto Wraps) have been Chad’s favorite so far. It is such a stunning appetizer that comes together so easily too. Thin asparagus spears are seasoned in a garlic lemon olive oil, wrapped in thinly sliced prosciutto and baked until crispy.
The Gnocchi de Gries (Semolina Gnocchi in Broth) was such a comforting, yet light dish perfect for the cooler weather. Semolina-based rustic dumplings are simmered in chicken broth until puffed and tender. They are served in small bowls with a little of the broth and a sprinkling of extra Parmesan.
The Verza e Palate in Tecia (Pan-Cooked Cabbage with Potatoes, Speck & Sausage) is another incredibly comforting meal. Chopped cabbage is sautéed with speck (or pancetta), onion, potatoes, sausage, garlic, and sauerkraut. It also worked beautifully as leftovers.
I made the Torta di Mandorle e Caffè (Almond & Coffee Cake) while friends were visiting and it was a huge hit! The light almond-based cake baked until set, then cut in half and layered with a sweet coffee buttercream.
Istria is a wonderful pick for those interested in the beautiful cuisine of the peninsula. Recipes range from quick and easy appetizers and dishes to more intricate pasta and baking. They are also perfect for any occasion, whether you are enjoying a quiet meal at home or a celebration with friends and family.
Most of the ingredients are readily available in the average American grocery store. A few items that may require further searching include prosciutto, hazelnuts, pancetta, superfine semolina, sultanas, taleggio, cuttlefish ink, spelt flour, veal, dried porcini mushrooms, and almond meal.
Risotto alla Paprica (Red Risotto) Recipe
Excerpt from Istria
Risotto alla Paprica (Red Risotto)
- 1 small brown onion diced
- 60 grams (2 ounces) pancetta cut into 5 millimeter (1/4 inch) dice
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 red capsicum bell pepper, cut into thin strips about 5 centimeter (2 inches) long
- Boiling water
- 350 grams (12 1/2 ounces) risotto rice (vialone nano, carnaroli, or arborio)
- 125 milliliters (1/2 cup) white wine
- 440 grams (15 1/2 ounces) tinned chopped tomatoes
- 40 grams (1 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- Sea salt
- A few handfuls of grated Parmesan
- Place the onion, pancetta and olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan over medium-low heat. The fat on the pancetta will render as it sautés with the onion.
- After 10 minutes, add the capsicum (bell pepper) and continue to cook for another 5 minutes or until the capsicum starts to soften.
- Meanwhile, have a kettle or pot of boiling water ready for the next stage.
- Add the rice to the saucepan and toast for a few minutes, until it takes on a slightly golden hue.
- Increase the heat and add the wine, stirring the rice with a wooden spoon so it does not stick or burn.
- Once the wine has evaporated, add a ladleful of the boiling water. Stir frequently (though not continuously), then add more boiling water as the previous lot is absorbed by the rice- as well as one-quarter of the tomatoes (including their liquid).
- Keep adding boiling water and the tomatoes in batches as required, stirring frequently. If you run out of tomatoes, just use boiling water.
- The rice will take 15-20 minutes in total to cook through; taste is the best indicator for determining when it is ready.
- A few minutes before the rice is cooked to your liking, add the butter and paprika and give it a really good stir for 30 seconds.
- Season with the black pepper, and salt to taste, and make sure the risotto is not too dry when you remove it from the heat, as the rice will continue to absorb the liquid.
- Stir most of the parmesan through the rice, then cover and allow to rest for a few minutes.
- Serve on warmed plates, with extra parmesan on the side.
Maria San Juan
Gotta keep this recipe for one of the special days coming. Thanks for sharing this recipe! Will surely try this!
I’ve always been a little intimidated to make risotto from scratch at home, but I’m happy that this recipe is actually really easy to make!
This is amazing and such a treat! Thank you!
What a great risotto! Thank you!
Have never heard of this risotto but love the idea of paprika and bell peppers. I bet this is packed with flavor! Cant wait to try it out!
I knew this would be delicious when it starts with pancetta! Great risotto recipe and a fun change from how I normally make it.
Dear Tara, thanks for writing the book review and trying and photographing so many of the dishes. It makes me happy to know you enjoyed them so much and that you also loved the book. Grazie!
Hi Paola! Everything we have tried so far has been fantastic! Such a beautiful book.