Dalmatia: Recipes From Croatia’s Mediterranean Coast

A Taste of Summer Travels

Excerpted with permission from Dalmatia by Ino Kuvačić, published by Hardie Grant Books May 2017, RRP $40.00 hardcover.


W

e truly love our vegetables in Croatia, and the diet in the coastal areas of the Mediterranean is rich with all kinds of fruit and vegetables. Even if meat or fish are the main dishes on the table, vegetables are always in the majority.

Every Dalmatian town has its own vegetable market, which is an integral part of everyday life. Generations of families visit the market to buy their daily food and to talk to their favorite local farmer – not just about which vegetables are in season and are the best quality, but also about the important subjects – politics, health, the weather, fashion and how many tourists there are in town this year.

‘Spiza’ is the Dalmatian word for food shopping. This activity has evolved through the centuries into almost a ritual; a celebration of everyday life. I love visiting Stari Pazar, the ‘old market’, in my hometown, Split. As well as a huge array of vegetables, there is a great pastry shop serving coffee with cream and the best vanilla slices.

The most popular vegetable in Dalmatia must be silverbeet (Swiss chard). Eaten mostly for dinner, silverbeet is often cooked with good-quality olive oil, garlic and potatoes and served with some protein – usually small fried fish or hard-boiled eggs. It makes a great light dinner with some good Dalmatian red wine.

Since being brought to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century, the potato has become a staple food in Croatian cooking. Almost all meals, except breakfast, will contain potatoes in some form or other.

Tomatoes, zucchini (courgettes) and eggplants (aubergines) are the most popular vegetables during the summer months, when they are in season, and are cooked in many different ways or prepared in salads.


Dalmatia
Goat’s cheese crêpes with roast capsicum salsa

Palačinke s kozjim sirom

In Croatia, palačinke, or crêpes, are one of the most loved dishes. They can be filled with savory or sweet fillings and eaten as a starter, main or dessert. This dish is very easy to make, but you need to use good-quality goat’s cheese. It makes a delicious appetiser to serve before a main meal.

SERVES 4

CRÊPES

  • 3 eggs
  • 500 ml (17 fl oz / 2 cups) milk
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons
  • vegetable oil, plus 100 ml (3 ½ fl oz) extra, for frying
  • 250 g (9 oz / 1 2/3 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 250 ml (8 1/2 fl oz / 1 cup) sparkling mineral water

FILLING

  • 600 g (1 lb 5 oz) soft goat’s cheese, such as chèvre
  • 2 eggs
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • ROAST CAPSICUM SALSA
  • 2 red capsicums (bell peppers), roasted, peeled and very finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped thyme
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Varenik (see below)
  • 4 tablespoons extravirgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. To make the crêpes, whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Add the milk, salt and 2 tablespoons of oil and mix well. Add the flour and mix vigorously until the batter is nice and smooth. Gently mix in the mineral water. Rest in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
  2. For the filling, gently mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.
  3. For the salsa, combine all the ingredients in another bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Cook the crêpes in a hot, non-stick 25 cm (10 in) frying pan. For each crêpe, pour in a little of the olive oil to grease the pan. Then pour in enough batter to cover the base of the pan, so the crêpes are around 2 mm (1/8 in) thick.
  5. Place two crêpes on a sheet of plastic wrap (the crêpes should overlap each other by half). Spread the goat’s cheese filling in a 1 cm (1/2 in) thick layer over the crêpes then roll the crêpes up, making sure they are tightly sealed in the plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
  6. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F) and grease a baking dish.
  7. Remove the plastic wrap from the crêpes but keep them rolled up, then cut them into 3 cm (1 1/4 in) slices. Place the crêpe slices in the prepared dish and bake in the oven for 5–10 minutes until golden brown. Serve in the baking dish or on a plate, and top with the roast capsicum salsa.

VARENIK

In the old days before refined white sugar, varenik, or grape molasses, was used as a sweetener in Croatia. It is simple to prepare as it only has one ingredient. The flavor is truly unique with hints of caramel, fresh fruit, flowers and coffee. When I make a batch it lasts me a long time, and I add it to salads, sauces, stews and sometimes soups.

5 kg (11 lb) red grapes

For the varenik, pick the grapes from the stems. Put the grapes through a fruit juicer then strain the juice through a fine-mesh sieve. Put the juice in a large saucepan over high heat and cook until it reduces to one tenth of its original volume, or until the juice becomes a syrup and starts to foam. You should have about 500 ml (17 fl oz / 2 cups) of varenik. Allow to cool.


Dalmatia
Eggplant, potato and tomato bake

Melancane, krumpir i pomidori zapečeni

This dish is usually prepared during the day in summer then served cold at dinner. If you make it in winter, serve it hot. This bake can be served alongside barbecued fish or meat. Use a clay baking dish if possible as this will give the bake a better texture and flavor.

SERVES 4–6

Ingredients

  • 4 large eggplants (aubergines)
  • 4 large floury potatoes, such as coliban or king edward
  • 4 large ripe tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 large brown onion, chopped
  • 100 ml (3 1/2 fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 250 ml (8 ½ fl oz / 1 cup) vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, to garnish (optional)
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. Prick the eggplants with a fork and soak them in water for a couple of hours to reduce some of the bitterness. Peel the eggplants and cut them into 5 mm (1/4 in) thick slices.
  2. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 5 mm (1/4 in) thick slices. Slice the tomatoes the same way.
  3. In a saucepan over high heat, sauté the garlic and onion in 80 ml (2 1/2 fl oz / 1/3 cup) of the olive oil until translucent and just starting to color. Season with salt.
  4. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
  5. Grease a baking dish with olive oil and start placing the vegetables in layers. Layer the vegetables (ensuring you start and finish with a layer of tomatoes), adding sautéed onion, garlic and seasoning to each layer. (You should end up with two to four layers of each vegetable.) Cover the vegetables with the stock and bake for about 1 hour. After an hour, check with a small knife to see if the vegetables are soft.
  6. Sprinkle with the parsley, if using, and drizzle with more olive oil before serving.

Dalmatia
Tomato and green bean salad

Salata od rajčica i mahuna

Tomatoes always taste best from your own garden. When I was growing up in Croatia, in summer a large section of our vegie patch was reserved for tomatoes. They colored our summer table in dazzling salads, stews, bakes and pasta sauces. Even today, now I’m living in Australia, you will still find tomato plants in the sunniest part of my backyard.

SERVES 4

Ingredients

  • 600 g (1 lb 5 oz) tomatoes, chopped into small pieces
  • 400 g (14 oz) green beans, cut into quarters
  • 150 g (5 1/2 oz) spelt
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup mint leaves
  • 50 ml (1 3/4 fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 20 ml (3/4 fl oz) red wine
  • vinegar
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. Season the tomato well with salt and place it in a colander set over a shallow plate or bowl. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill overnight – the tomato will lose some water and the flavor will intensify.
  2. Cook the beans in boiling seasoned water for 5 minutes, then drain and immediately refresh in ice-cold water. Drain again.
  3. In a separate pan, cook the spelt in seasoned water for about 18 minutes. Drain and cool.
  4. Put the beans, tomato, onion, spelt and mint in a serving bowl and mix to combine. Dress with the olive oil and vinegar, season well with salt and pepper and serve.

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