November 23, 2018
If you’re looking for a fun activity for the upcoming weeks of cold and darkness, how about this one: turn your kitchen into a research lab and figure out the best way of bringing Jerusalem artichoke and/or cherry plum to a plate.
The EU sponsored project is called Alien Plant Species / from harmful to useful with citizen-led activities, in Slovenia it is being carried out in cooperation with the Institute of Chemistry, Ljubljana city government and Faculty of Natural Sciences and Engineering and it includes a competition for the most innovative dish made with Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus, also sunroot, sunchoke, or earth apple) and/or cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera, also myrabalan plum). Contestants are free to choose other ingredients as they like.
The winning authors will receive a plaque and their recipes will be presented at a festival on the use of invasive alien plant species in October 2019, where with any luck they’ll be standing alongside Ana Roš or some other Slovenian celebrity chef.
November 9, 2018
St Martin's Day (martinovo) is not only a drinking festival, but an eating one as well.
Like similar harvest festivals, such as Thanksgiving, the main dish consists of a roasted bird, preferably goose or duck, which we eventually got simply because it was half the size of any of the available geese.
The second important ingredient is chestnuts, which could be a dish on their own, or stuffed in the bird, or pureed and made into a cake.
Usually there are two other side dishes prepared with the bird, namely steamed red cabbage and mlinci, although the latter are not traditionally prepared at the littoral and mostly consist of wheat flour (covered in duck fat), so we decided to replace them with roasted pumpkin and some potatoes. Green salad is recommended as well.
The bird was quite fatty, which almost asks for some sour apples in the stuffing, as well as some light sour-ish wine such as cviček.
Our duck will be stuffed with chestnuts and apples, which will help counter all that fat that will be released from underneath its skin, which we cut into a little, but not through it, to help its way to the surface and to allow the salt and herbs (and orange zest, which we did not have) to hide in the crevices.
Wash your duck (or goose), wipe it dry and check if everything that shouldn’t been there has been properly removed.
Then we’ll need boil some chestnuts. Here’s a trick which will allow them to be peeled easier when cooked: the outer shell we peel first, then boil them for about 30 minutes, then remove the remaining skin while still warm. Try to keep the skin undamaged and chestnuts fully covered.
Cut two or three apples and remove the seeds, then stuff the bird with them along with the chestnuts and close the opening with two toothpicks.
All of this can be done inside a dry pot, and no oil needs to be added as your duck will release an enormous amount of its own fat, that you can put in a jar and use for other dishes for weeks that will follow (it has a very high smoke point, and is extremely versatile).
Place the duck in a preheated oven and roast for about 20 minutes, then turn around and reduce the heat to about 170 degrees Celsius. Turn it around every 20 minutes or so, and pour some of the fatty juices over the surface for about another one and a half hours. Turn up the heat at the end in case the skin isn’t crispy, although you’ll see in the photo that we didn’t do this.
Meanwhile, cut the vegetables on a tray, sprinkle them with some salt and pour over some olive oil then place in the oven about 30-40 minutes before the duck is done.
Red cabbage. Chop the onion and garlic and stir fry on the olive oil until onion softens a little. Chop the red cabbage and add it together with some cranberries. Add some water and steam till cabbage softens. Add some wine while still cooking and vinegar at the end. Sprinkle with caraway seeds and serve.
November 4, 2018
Chestnuts are still widely available in stores these days, and some lucky folk can even go and pick them in the forests across the country. So we thought this might be a good time for a chestnut cake, especially since St. Martin Day (Martinovanje) is approaching, and the cake is a very welcoming addition to a table full of the traditional harvest feast dishes.
Chestnuts are quite a delicate ingredient. Peeling and pureeing them must take place while they are still warm, and can even then make quite a lot of mess. To avoid such problems sometimes people boil chestnuts in rounds of ten, so that they don’t cool down too fast and cause problems when peeling. We did, however, just boil them all together and avoided peeling by simply cutting them in half and squeezing the meat out as we don’t need them to stay in one piece for a puree to be made. They did, however, cool down too much for a puree to be made smoothly, which is why we decided to use chopped almonds to cover the inconsistencies of smoothness in the cream, and it turned out to be quite a good trick.
There is plenty of variety in making a chestnut cake, but the basic ingredients that shouldn’t be left out are chestnuts, rum, fresh cream and dark chocolate.
The first thing to make is a chestnut puree: cook the chestnuts for about an hour or a bit longer if they are as big as ours. Take them out of the boiling water, cut each in half and squeeze the meat out while still warm. Make sure to remove any skin that comes out along with the meat. How deep into the nut this skin grows depends on the chestnut tree, so those lucky enough to live near a forest with chestnut trees should pay attention to the nuts picked under specific trees – some are better than the others in this respect.
The best way of making a puree is to send (warm) chestnuts through a food mill –I hear some use garlic press instead – or at least a food processor. Blenders usually work for more liquid substances, but unfortunately that’s all that was available to us. So we used it: we added some sugar and fresh cream to the chestnut and blended the mixture a bit, then opened and mixed it with a spoon, blended it a bit more, and so on until we thought the puree was more or less without lumps. Not an ideal circumstances, but as announced at the beginning of this text, we covered this inconsistency with chopped almonds added to the cake dough.
For the dough, preheat the oven to 175 degrees and spread butter and flour on the baking tray. We had two small baking trays instead of a one big one, which comes in handy when experimenting like we tend to do – a major mistake can only cost you half the cake not a whole one. Besides, it appears to be easier to cover a small cake in chocolate paper than a big one, a procedure you can observe at the end of this recipe.
For the cake dough, separate egg whites from egg yolks and beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, add half the sugar and beat until stiff. In another bowl beat egg yolks until they become foamy and bright yellowish, then slowly mix in the remaining sugar, butter, chestnut puree and flour – stir it in before using a mixer so that it doesn’t get blown all over the kitchen. Into this mixture then slowly stir in 1/3 of the egg white foam, and after this is evenly spread add the remaining 2/3. The last thing to add, carefully, are the chopped almonds.
Place the foamy substance into the baking trays and bake at 175°C for 30 minutes, then turn down to 160° and bake some 20 minutes more. Then turn off the oven and leave the cake inside for another half an hour or so, so that it doesn’t collapse completely. Take out of the oven and cut in half.
The cream. Put 250 ml of fresh cream on the stove and melt 80g of dark chocolate in it.
Cool this down and place it in the fridge until completely cold.
Then beat it into a cream and hand stir in the chestnut puree. At this point it became evident that our puree was full of little lumps that looked as if the cream had turned into a curd, but we didn’t panic and simply added a bit of rum to both the cream and the cook.
Beat the fresh cream and add 1/3 to the mixture, followed by the remaining 2/3.
If you are worried that the cream will not keep the cake together, you can dissolve two sheets of gelatine in some warm water and add it to the mixture, although with smaller cakes it worked just as well without it.
You can now moisten the cake layers with sweet, rummy water and then put the cream in between and on the top of the cake layers. Then you can simply sprinkle the cake with some chocolate powder or, much better, decorate it with a covering sheet of chocolate which will also contribute a great deal to your cake’s flavour, as well as impressing people who don’t know how it’s done.
The paper look of the chocolate on the cake is actually achieved with paper: 100-120g of cooking chocolate is melted in a pan which is placed in warm water that should not be heated over 50°C.
From the baking paper we cut out a circle that should approximately cover the top and sides of the cake.
Spread the chocolate across the paper and let it rest for a minute if the chocolate is too runny.
Then grab the sides with two fingers, turn it around and place it on the cake. Smooth it on the surface and press a little at the sides, then place in the fridge till it hardens.
When the chocolate is hard, carefully remove the paper.
Then clean the plate by scrubbing big bits with a knife and wipe the rest with a warm wet cloth and a dry one after.
Warm up the knife before cutting to avoid the chocolate crust from cracking.
Špela Vodovc, the woman behind Culinary Slovenia, has made it her life and work to share kitchen secrets of the country with people curious to learn more about the food and drink enjoyed in this small but varied nation, with its diverse climates, neighbors and history all leaving their mark on the table. For the last few years Špela has been organizing food tours of the country, as well as cooking classes, but now she’s got a project that will bring the edible cultural heritage of Slovenia to an even larger audience, wherever they are in the world - a book of Slovenian recipes.
100 easy to follow Slovenian recipes are introduced with inspiring pictures and clear instructions
It’s a work that present the culinary tradition of the nation, based on the family recipes that Špela learned from her parents and grandparents. The book, called Cook Eat Slovenia, presents tried and true recipes and tips that will quickly enable you to turn out a tasty jota, štruklji, potica or any other of 100 dishes that are enjoyed in homes and restaurants across the country, including traditional Easter food and other seasonal feasts.
Špela Vodovc and one of the most requested Slovenian recipes - potica
Well aware that the recipes that people are most likely to use in cook books are those that come with a photo, the team behind the book, including designer Gregor Žakelj have worked to ensure that Cook Eat Slovenia will get maximum use, as every dish is illustrated with beautiful photos by Mateja Jordović Potočnik, whose work can be seen in the images accompanying this story, with the dishes styled by Špela and her mother, Branka.
The coast isn't neglected
St Martin's feast
More than just a collection of recipes, Cook Eat Slovenia aims to take you on a tour of the country and all 24 of its culinary regions. The book will be available to order on Kickstarter from November 14th to 13th December 2018, for an early bird price – not the €24.99 that will be charged in stores -- and you can sign up to get more details here, with the finished book scheduled to be released in July 2019 Those interested in a more hands on approach can learn about Culinary Slovenia’s tours here and workshops here, while you can read our interview with Špela Vodovc here.
And if you’d like to see our own growing collection of Slovenian recipes, then check out this page.