Part 1: Entrees from the coastal region
I am glad to introduce all the curious foodies out there to Croatian dishes that have been around for quite awhile, so splendidly diverse, and scattered throughout the five regions of Croatia.
The land of Croatia was influenced by different cultures such as Austrian, Hungarian, Italian, Turkish, and French during Napoleon's rule, which makes for quite an interesting culinary heritage.
The unique geographical location and features explain the appetite to conquer its land, as it lies on the crossing of Eastern and Central Europe, with the outlet to the Mediterranean.
Soldiers from different armies resided here, including German and British, leaving their trace across the present country.
If you haven't been to Croatia yet, make yourself familiar with some of the dishes you will be encountering, and if you already visited, here's a reminder of the yummiest foods. Email us for recipes, we'll be happy to share!
Pasticada with gnocchi
Every Dalmatian will proudly serve this festive meal as a staple of their cuisine. It is not just any beef or veal pot roast, but rather an explosion of aromas that carefully portrays the uniqueness of local ingredients. The meat will be spiked with garlic the night before, marinated and roasted in veggies and herbs such as rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, nutmeg, cloves...and the sophisticated aroma that will linger at the back of your palate will be a result of dried prunes or figs, fortified wine Prosek, and other secret ingredients that our babas or nonas (grandmas) will not always share so willingly! Also, this recipe can vary from village to village, but it always revokes the sentiment of home cooking and delicious Mediterranean flavors. Served with homemade gnocchi for a perfect balance of textures.
If you take interest in Croatian cuisine, you have surely heard of, or tried peka - the slow cooking process performed "under the bell" of ashes. It is done outside in heavy iron-cast skillets and looks like a mountain of ashes under which the meat of lamb, goat, or veal is slowly cooked with potatoes and herbs to a point so tender, that the meat will fall out of its bones, melt in your mouth, and will make you cry for more.
This is also a great way to try octopus, and sometimes a white, flaky fish. Our local guides already know the very best places to indulge on the islands...are you convinced yet?
First, I want to point out that there is shrimp, and there is scampi. Even if I grew to appreciate its Atlantic cousin shrimp after I moved from Europe to the east coast of the U.S., skampi are a specific type of crustacean found in the waters of the Mediterranean and North sea of Europe. They are considered a delicacy and once you try them you will know why. It is just hard to describe their slightly sweet flavor balanced by hints of seawater. The white and red tender texture of meat (perfectly flaky and never dry!) will melt in your mouth, especially when prepared in a simple Dalmatian red sauce Buzara with flavors of tomatoes, white wine, herbs, and, well, summer!
Moving to the Northern Adriatic (how "North" that really is...), to Istria, which is home to the well-known homemade rich macaroni called fuzi, served with different meat sauces, but praised for a well-known delicious pairing with locally harvested white-truffles sauce. You can find this dish across Croatia, and let's say that it will be the more rustical, flavor-rich version of your typical pasta with truffles. There is something in the Croatian soil that infuses foods in the most fascinating way.
Brudet with polenta
Coming from a Croatian island, I developed my palate to appreciate the most simple of tastes but conditioned with high-quality and fresh ingredients. Brudet is most certainly one of these homey dishes, prepared with freshly caught fish, usually of sweet-tasting meat like ones from the red snapper family. This meal can withstand the most simple of occasions as well as high-expectation formal dinners, and will always leave you content, for you have tried a different take on fish preparation, and enjoyed it even if you're not a fish lover. Try it with calamary or shirmp as well! Served with creamy polenta.
Yes, you have probably had this before, but give it another try and at least share it as an appetizer. It is not easy to explain how the tame Adriatic sea can influence the taste of anything that comes from it. You just ought to try it. The squid will remain rather small in size, bursting in flavor and tenderness. Combined with the round, aroma-absorbing Arborio rice, you will clear your plate with a content look on your face... (and with a good deal of squid ink on your gums!)
We never get tired of fresh fish, and some days just call for a fish-stew soaked in olive oil, white wine, garlic, and parsley. Cooked on low heat with potatoes, it is light, it is delicious and we'd go for one no matter the season of the year!
The scarce living conditions from the past often result in most delicious meals. The same happened with soparnik, which is a very thin dough pulled in a large round shape and traditionally filled with chopped swiss chard. Swiss chard is the no.1 vegetable in the coastal region, every child's nightmare, but we all end up loving it by the time we grow up. The Soparnik savory pie has been declared to be an intangible cultural heritage of Croatia. The brushed olive oil and garlic on top give it the sophistication and versatiliy to become your favorite breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Fritaja with asparagus
The Mediterranean cousin to frittata, originating from the northern Adriatic, where all Italians, Slovenians and Croatians thoroughly enjoy it. The favorite recipe is the one with the wild, thin, asparagus which are in season during spring, when we all head to the woods and hunt for this skinny greens hiding between the bushes. They say you either have an eye for them, or you don't. I could never spot one, but I certainly enjoy them in different recipes, with fritaja being on top of my list. Oh and yes, we do have a short list of vegetarian, delicious meals!
Originating on the island of Brac, it is an ode to lamb, whose meat develops a unique taste thanks to the aromatic herbs and salinity of the grass. This happens especially during the first few months when the lamb feeds its mother's milk. This won't be on every restuarant's menu, as it requires thorough preparation over an open fire. The recipe involves crispy entrails, but at times you'll do better not knowing all the ingredients. Just keep an open mind and good apetite.
Back to Istria, you can spot the similarity with the name minestrone right away. If you do love a good vegetable stew, you should try Croatia's different take on this popular dish. Packed with flavor, it can consist of anything that comes at hand and it's in season, different veggies and beans, herbs, and some pasta for extra heartiness.