Thursday, September 07, 2006

Ready for a Croatian sensation?

Greetings! I know the entries have been lagging lately–it’s just been a whirlwind of weddings and weekend excursions this summer. Finally though, I have a moment of downtime before leaving for another wedding tomorrow. So without further ado, I’ll recap our adventures in Croatian culinaria.

We set out to make three Croatian dishes: stuffed peppers, gnocchi and cevapcici, a popular regional sausage. And indeed, we accomplished all three. In mass amounts, no less. Fortunately, a spontaneous dinner party broke out so we weren’t forced to eat everything ourselves. There were only 3 of us cooking, but the recipes yielded enough for 10. These recipes come courtesy of Fanita Divizich, our sister-in-law’s mother. She keeps them filed in her head so measurements are approximate, based on what we saw her do.

One aside before we begin. Everything in Croatia is served with a side sauce of roasted red pepper puree. You can buy some roasted peppers in a jar and puree them with some cumin and salt and pepper to taste. This makes a great dipping sauce for cevapcici, bread and fried potatoes.

Enjoy all of these dishes with red wine or an ice cold pivo (Croatian for beer)!


8 potatoes (medium-large), boiled and mashed
1 ½ c flour
2 tbsp butter, room temperature
1 egg
Cheese grater

After you’ve boiled and mashed your spuds, add salt to taste. You’ll have to add multiple sprinklings, but taste as you go so you don’t go overboard. Let the potatoes cool to a lukewarm temperature before proceeding. Once the potatoes are mildly warm, add the flour, butter and the egg and mix or knead into a dough. Flour your hands and grab a small fistful of the dough and roll it into a long snakelike shape that’s maybe 3/4” thick. Be sure to flour your cutting/rolling surface and your hands so the dough doesn’t get sticky as it warms up. Cut the roll into 1” pieces and once you’ve cut the whole thing, roll the pieces into balls.

Now for the sneaky, secret part. Using your thumb, press a gnocchi ball lightly against the finest shredding blade of a cheese grater, making little indentations in the dough. Then, in one steady motion, roll the dough ball down the blade with your thumb, pressing lightly as you go. This action will ensure that the little indentations go all the way around the piece of gnocchi. It make take a few practice rounds, but if you ruin a piece, just roll it up and try again. This recipe makes quite a bit of gnocchi so once you fill up a plate with your completed pieces, sprinkle them with flour and lay a piece of wax paper over the top so you can create layers of them without any sticking together.

When you’re ready to eat, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and gently spoon the gnocchi in, cooking until they rise to the top. Try one before removing and make sure it is cooked through and not too doughy-tasting. Sometimes they need a touch longer from when they’ve risen. Serve with a light tomato sauce. Fanita makes hers by sautéing fresh tomatoes from her garden with garlic, red pepper and onion and then pressing it all through a very fine food mill. The result is light and sweet and perfectly compliments the dense, hearty gnocchi. They're also great with pesto or a meat sauce. Pretty much anything that's yum on pasta will be good here, too.

Stuffed peppers

5 green peppers
1 lb ground beef
½ lb. pork
¾ yellow onion
3 garlic cloves, finely diced
1 egg
lots of black pepper
1 c. rice
1 dash cold water

3 cloves garlic
¾ c. onion
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 can tomato paste
2 cans (using tomato paste can) of water
1 ½ c. chicken stock

So these are super easy to make. They are great comfort food for fall and they keep well for yummy leftovers. This recipe is very basic and traditional, but I think you could really enhance it by trying other ingredients. I’m dying to try a more middle-eastern variety with ground beef, rice, raisins, nuts and chicken broth infused with spices rather than tomato broth. I’ll put that on the list. In any case, these are satisfying and hearty as they are.

To make the sauce, sauté the garlic and onion until translucent in a large saucepan, at least 4” deep. I recommend starting with the onion and adding the garlic at the end as it won’t take as long to cook. Add tomato sauce and paste and stir. Add water and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and then prepare your peppers.

Make the peppers by cutting off the tops and scooping out the seeds and core. Mix all the above ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Spoon meat mixture into the peppers and arrange them in the pan with simmering tomato sauce. Now cover the pan and leave it simmering, returning to the pan to spoon the sauce over the peppers every 15 minutes or so. They will cook until the meat and rice are cooked through and the peppers are totally soft, but still in tact. Probably 1 ½- 2 hours.

Cevapcici (Croatian sausages)

1 ½ lbs. Beef
½ lb. pork
1 onion, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Few shakes of paprika
Salt and pepper
1 egg

*note, you can also substitute some lamb or veal. The blend of meats is what gives these sausages their unique flavor.

Mix all your ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Now use your hands to squeeze the meat through your fingers, ensuring that it’s broken down and easy to meld into sausage links. This takes awhile and requires some strength. You’re not going to be forming the links as you do hamburger patties–you’re really trying to make the meat almost a smooth paste rather than just ground meat. Just give it a thorough working through before proceeding to link-making. When you’re ready, form the links into 4” x1” sausages and lightly roll them in flour before assembling on a cooking sheet. Bake for 20-30 min at 350 and then test one to make sure it’s cooked through. Serve these with the aforementioned red pepper puree and enjoy!


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