Wednesday, January 14, 2015

At the Crossroads of Great Cuisine

Croatia at the crossroads of Western and Eastern culture. It is at the center of Central Europe, South Eastern Europe, and the Mediterranean. With this diverse sphere of influence, you can imagine that it's a pretty cool place. You can explore the Dalmatian coast or see over a thousand islands that dot the Adriatic sea. You can see the 6th century Euphrasian Basilica or see a whole host of amazing animals in the mountains. You can even see Egyptian mummies, castles, forts, and tons of spas. While you're there, don't forget to try some amazing Croatian delicacies like strukli and povitica.

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Croatian cuisine reflects a lot of the qualities of its neighboring countries. It's a slightly odd shaped country that bends around, and is actually located in South East and Central Europe. This has allowed it to come in contact with many different areas with unique culinary backgrounds. The four historical regions of Croatia, Dalmatia, Croatia Proper, Slavonia, and Istria, are a showcase of the diversity of the Croatian culture and cuisine. Dalmatian cooking reflects its Mediterranean roots with pastas and seafood. Slavonia is known for its spicy sausages and pickled vegetables from Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. Istria and Kvarner show a blend between continental and Mediterranean cuisine. Special dogs are trained to search for truffles and more seafood. Continental Croatian cuisine features hearty soups and tons of meat. My dinner from tonight came from this region.

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Mlinci are a type of Central European cracker- pasta. To make them, you first have to roll out a simple dough and bake it to create the cracker. Then you toss broken up pieces of the crackers into boiling water to create a softened pasta. The result is not your typical bowl of spaghetti, but is still delicious, especially drenched in turkey drippings. Mlinci are a common side to roasted poultry. In Slovenia, a goose is cooked up to go along with the mlinci for Saint Martin’s day. In Croatia, turkey is the standard meat, and it is part of the folk cuisine of Croatia.
 
Mlinci
2 cups flour
¾ tsp salt
½ to 2/3 cup warm water
turkey drippings

Mix the salt and flour together. Then slowly add in enough water to make a soft dough. Roll out the dough as thin as you can and cut it into 1” wide strips. Bake at 350 degrees until the strips are crisp and dried out, about 25 minutes. Cool completely. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Break the strips into smaller pieces, and soak them in the water for about 8 minutes until they are softened. Toss the pasta in the pan drippings to serve.

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You can't have mlinci without purica, the Croatian word for turkey. Thankfully, I just happened to have a rather large turkey sitting in my freezer. (My holiday bonus at work is a huge frozen turkey. I just got around to actually cooking it.) I suggest serving this for a crowd, but you can be selfish like me and keep it all to yourself. Don't be surprised if you end up with a fridge full of turkey afterwards. What would be really cool is throwing a Croatian themed Thanksgiving next year. Add in some Central European veggies like cabbage and potatoes, and you have yourself a feast!

Purica
1- 10 to 15 pound turkey, thawed
salt
oil

Rub salt all over the outside and inside cavities of your turkey Refrigerate for 4 hours. Take the bird out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature for an hour. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees, and put the turkey in a roasting pan. Oil the turkey well. Make a little tent out of tin foil to prevent too much browning. Bake the turkey for 45 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325 and bake another 2 to 3 hours, or until the thigh meat registers to 165 degrees. Take the turkey out of the oven a couple of times while it is baking to baste in the juices that collect in the bottom of the pan. Let the turkey sit for 20 minutes before carving.


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Croatia was a yummy encounter. I am glad because I will be encountering it for many nights to come as my fridge is now packed with leftover turkey. I thought that tossing the pasta in the turkey drippings was a marvelously delicious idea that we North Americans should employ. Do not be surprised if pasta is the side dish of choice for my next family Thanksgiving.

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