For our second stop in Croatia this week, we are heading south to Dalmatia for the ultimate dish from the region: pašticada.
Traditional Dalmatian pašticada (or Dalmatinska pašticada) is slow-cooked beef prepared in a rich red sweet and sour sauce, usually served with gnocchi (njoki) or homemade pasta. In its traditional form, this dish can take up to two or three days to make, as the meat is first marinated in a vinegar preparation, then braised slowly with vegetables for 4 to 6 hours. After cooking, the vegetables are blended to make a rather thick sauce.
In Dalmatia, this peasant dish is prepared for important feasts, including weddings and baptisms and it is also a traditional recipe for Mardi Gras.
The dish is quite popular throughout the southern coast of Croatia but there isn’t one way to make an authentic pašticada. Every family from Split to Dubrovnik will have its own version of this beef stew.
101 Dalmatians. 101 pašticada recipes.
One recipe from Dubrovnik was found and actually dates from the fifteenth century. The origins of pašticada are not entirely known but one can assume that it is related to variants from Greece, eastern Italy and even southern France.
Indeed, pastitsada (or παστιτσαδα) is a pasta and veal dish in tomato sauce from Corfu. Venetian Pastissada de caval is an ancient horsemeat stew from the Middle Ages which is now also made with beef (pastissada de manzo). Dalmatian pašticada is also a distant cousin of daube provençale, a traditional beef stew from the south of France. As far as I am concerned, this dish made me think of goulash, a traditional Hungarian dish dating from the ninth century and that we had the pleasure to taste as we visited neighboring Vienna in June.
Traditional pašticada is prepared with tomatoes and is served with potato gnocchi (pasticada s njokima) but these two ingredients were probably not part of the original recipe as they are New World ingredients that were introduced in Europe only in the past 3 to 4 centuries.
One of the other key ingredients of the recipe is wine. The original recipe (or at least one of the most famous) calls for a dessert wine named Prošek (which has nothing to do with Italian Prosecco, which is a dry sparkling white wine). As I read more about Prošek, I discovered a type of wine I had never heard of: straw wine or raisin wine.
Straw wine is made from grapes that have been dried to concentrate their juice. The grapes are dried on straw mats under the sun, hence their name. I contacted several wine makers in Croatia but only one of them responded to me. Tom was kind enough to tell me that it was not possible for them to ship a bottle to the US but he shared his wife’s pašticada recipe. He also assured me that I could use any sweet dessert wine, like an Italian passito (a straw wine) or sweet Port wine, which is what I did.
Another interesting ingredient of this recipe is parsley root. This was the first time I cooked this root vegetable and probably not the last. Parsley root, as well as celery root, give an interesting flavor to pašticada, in addition to the consistency they bring to the blended sauce.
The end result was really tasty. The prunes and the dessert wine give a delicious sweet touch to the stew, which reminded me of the chocolate and orange I had added to my boeuf bourguignon, another traditional beef stew.
I highly recommend this hearty dish that is definitely worth the time and effort.
- 3 to 4 lb beef round (or other cut)
- 5 cloves garlic , sliced
- 4 oz. bacon , cut into ½-inch pieces
- 4 cups wine vinegar (or more)
- ½ cup olive oil
- 1 cup vegetable broth (or beef broth)
- 3 onions , quartered
- 2 carrots , peeled and cut
- 1 celery root , peeled and quartered
- 1 parsley root , peeled and quartered
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 4 whole cloves
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ cup prosek (or other sweet dessert wine)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ½ cup red dry wine
- 4 prunes
- 1 lb gnocchi
- Parmesan cheese (optional)
- ½ bunch parsley , chopped
- Pierce the meat with a sharp pointed knife and insert pieces of garlic, bacon and cloves in it.
- Place the beef in a large dish. Cover with vinegar and leave it overnight in the refrigerator.
- The next day, remove the meat from the vinegar.
- Remove the bacon and garlic and save them.
- Put meat in Dutch oven or deep pot. Dust meat with flour, then add olive oil.
- Cook on medium high heat. Remove the meat when it takes on the color from all sides after about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Fry the onion, garlic and bacon in the same oil for a few minutes.
- Return the meat to the pot, add broth and cook for about 6 to 8 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste diluted in sweet wine, then add the carrots, celery root, parsley root. Incorporate red wine and sugar, and cook covered on low heat for 3 hours or until the meat is tender.
- Halfway through cooking, add the bay leaf and prunes.
- When the meat is tender, remove it to a plate and cut into thick slices.
- Purée the vegetables and sauce left in the pot with a hand blender.
- Serve with potato gnocchi.
- Garnish with parsley or grated parmesan cheese (optional).