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Zagorje – The Place in Which They Mix Food With Fun

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The moment I got off my train in Krapina, just half an hour ride from the center of Zagreb, my host Štef (Shtef) told me we should immediately head on to his klet.

We are making kotlovina today – he said – everything is ready and waiting for us there.

Fun with Friends
Fun with Friends

Zagorje is the north-western region of continental Croatia. It’s the hilly region known for the great cuisine based on local rural traditions and winemaking. Hills of Zagorje are mostly covered with vineyards.

It could be noted that everyone in Zagorje owns a vineyard somewhere in the hills, and every vineyard is accompanied with a house standing on the top of the hill.

These houses – known as klets – were not built for living, but only for vineyard maintenance and winemaking. This is also where folks of Zagorje usually hang out, having a few laughs while enjoying food festivities and their wine.

And this is exactly where we were going – to my host’s own, private klet, a perfect spot to witness the preparations and taste some of the diversified local specialties from Zagorje.

Upon our arrival, his large family welcomed me as we know each other forever. I wasn’t a stranger there, although we have just met. They showed me their beloved klet and the surrounding vineyards in detail. And then we sat by the fire to make kotlovina.

Sitting by the Fire

Kotlovina – the rotisserie hat used to prepare pork chops and sausages – is the authentic invention of north-western Croatia.

The meat prepared in kotlovina is being half-baked on an open fire, half-cooked in juice, with tomatoes and vegetables. The preparation takes several hours, spent in charming conversations and degustations of homemade wine, lickers, and appetizers.

I was politely introduced to local gastronomy traditions which, as it turned out, are in great part conducted by social and demographic differences. Throughout the history, Zagorje was the land of the noble aristocracy and the rich landlords on one side, and poor hardworking peasants on the other.

The gastronomy of Zagorje as we know it today is a combination of a plain food of modest peasantry, and delicacies that were regularly served in the castles and feuds.

The Gastronomy of Zagorje

The everyday dishes served in impoverished peasants’ homes were simple and modest. It included food like cornmeal, cheese, and cream, cracklings, fried eggs with flour, beans with sauerkraut or beet, pumpkin soup and bloodwursts (the blood sausages). At the same time, the rich would indulge in wood-fired oven pork with spring onions, bean salad with pumpkin seed oil, roasted carp, roasted turkey, and a variety of pastries.

As a result of all these differences, the culinary of modern Zagorje is characterized by a great variety.

Roasted turkey with mlinci
Roasted turkey with mlinci

Ranging from cottage cheese, cream, buckwheat porridge, corn, pumpkin seed or mushroom soups, to various meat dishes like beef with prunes stewed with wine, roasted pork shank with juniper served with sauerkraut, stuffed roasted capon with sauce, Zagorje turkey stuffed with chestnuts, giblets, and sausages with mlinci (traditional pasta) and roasted goose with walnut stuffed apples – all this food is now a part of local everyday cuisine.

The First Time I Tried Kotlovina

As we talked and talked, sitting by the fire, the hours flew away fast, and kotlovina meal was finally ready.

The meat chops, dressed in juice and served with potatoes, were so soft that it just melted inside our mouth.

It tasted like nothing I’ve ever tried before. It was a combination of grilled steak and meat cooked with onions, pepper, and tomato. The homemade corn-bread was served besides, and a cabbage salad with pumpkin seed oil.

Kotlovina

Combined with a local white wine produced by Shtef himself, it all seemed like a perfect harmony of tastes and aromas.

Our klet afternoon prolonged to late hours as we were singing and laughing and making jokes, one jug of wine after another.

After the midnight was long gone, and the sun was about to announce the coming of day, I figured that I have probably had the best possible introduction to Zagorje – surrounded with friendly faces, celebrating the joy of life through stories, food, and wine.

You can read about Zagorje, and you can search for video footage all over, but the only way to truly experience the uniqueness of Zagorje and its customs is to come for a visit yourself. These people will welcome you like a good, old friend. As you plan your Zagorje visit, we leave you with some of its most memorable recipes: Štrukli, the roasted turkey with mlinci, and the bloodwursts with sauekraut.

Štrukli – typical Zagorje pastry

Zagorski strukli
Zagorski strukli

This traditional specialty can be prepared in two ways: cooked in boiling water or baked in an oven. In both ways, they use the basic dough filled with fresh cow cheese.

• Ingredients for filo pastry:
750 g of soft flour
1 tablespoon salt
500 ml of water
40 ml of oil

Ingredients for filling:
1 kg of fresh cottage cheese
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs

• Ingredients for gratin:
500 ml of light cream

• Preparation:
Mix a dough made from flour, salt, an egg, lukewarm water, a little vinegar, and oil, leave it to rest and then roll it out and fill it with a combination of cow’s milk cheese, salt, eggs, and sour cream, with the addition of sugar for sweet štrukli.

Roasted turkey with mlinci

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Roasted turkey with mlinci
Roasted turkey with mlinci

• Ingredients:
350 g of soft flour
1 teaspoon salt (7 g)
About 200 ml of lukewarm water

• Preparation:
Sieve the flour and salt in a wide bowl. Knead the mid-hard dough, gradually adding water. Divide the dough into 4 balls. Laminate each ball with a roller into a thin round shape. Bake for 3-4 minutes on each side. Crush in smaller parts and cook in a large quantity of salted water. When cooked, pour it with gravy from roasting meat.

Bloodwurst with Sauekraut

Bloodwurst, or Blood Sausages, or Black Sausages, or Krvavice as Croatian call it, are stuffed with cooked and chopped offal, blood and barley. The mixture is seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, and pimento. They are usually fried and served with stewed Sauerkraut.

Bloodwurst with Sauekraut
Bloodwurst with Sauekraut

• Ingredients:
2 pairs of sausages
100 g of lard
750 g of Sauerkraut
3-4 laurel leaves
Grains of pepper
1 teaspoon salt

Preparation:
Fry the sausages in 40 g lard on a moderate temperature for about 25 minutes, flip occasionally and add some water. On the remaining lard stew the rinsed Sauerkraut with laurel leaves and pepper. When finished cover the stewed Sauerkraut with the fried sausages.

 

Your CTC Team, S.J.

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