I never had an urge to go to Croatia until I started reading about the geography and biodiversity of this country. There is mainland Croatia, and then there are over a thousand islands and islets, 48 of which are inhabited. There are roughly 7,000 caves that I have no doubt my husband would want to go spelunking in. 44% of the country is forest lands, and a good portion of the rest of it is on the Mediterranean Sea. Put me in a sailboat and let me explore. This place sounds incredible. The pictures make this land look irresistible. I normally give you a map, but you can Google where Croatia is if you need to. Here is an image from the coastal town of Dubrovnik.
Everyone talks about Italy and Greece, but I’ve changed my dreams. Sign me up for a Croatian vacation.
Colin and I are making a traditional cheese strukli. The first thing I did was to make the dough so that it could sit and rest for a bit before being rolled out. This was fairly straight forward. Mix up flour, salt water, vinegar, and a bit of oil and knead until it is smooth and elastic. One thing that always amazes me about dough is how much it can change just with the pressure applied to it during the kneading process. I am often skeptical when I start out that a wet sticky ball of dough will turn into something smooth, pliable, and not at all sticky. Something about the gluten and the way that it responds to pressure can totally transform the mixture. I think this is a pretty good metaphor for our lives too. Sometimes it is hard to see how we can make a drastic change, but then when we apply some pressure and work hard, we can become something we never thought we could be. Pretty neat.
While the dough was resting, I mixed up the filling. Cottage cheese, sour cream, salt, and pepper…that’s it. As I mixed it I was thinking about how these ingredients would need to go through some magical change in the cooking process for me to find this an appetizing meal. I am not a fan of cottage cheese. It’s the texture, it’s the taste, it’s the whole idea of the nasty little curds…but I know that I like some other dishes that involve cottage cheese so I’m giving this one a go, too.
The dough stretched and rolled much how the recipes I referenced said that it would. Strukli requires a giant square of thin dough. We rolled the dough out onto an old table cloth so that we could use the cloth to stabilize the dough and help us roll it once the filling was in. You have to just keep rolling and stretching until it is translucent and maybe on the verge of tearing, but don’t let it tear. A tear is a bit like needing stitches, you can suture it up and it will come back together but it will leave a scar and never be quite the same as if you’d avoided the injury in the first place.
Spread your filling mixture along the long edge and start rolling the dough around the mixture into a long log with the help of the table cloth. We actually lifted the table cloth up little by little to help roll it into a log. It’s a technique I had never heard of before, but will definitely use again. It did get the tablecloth a bit stained from the butter, so be sure to use one you don’t care about.
Next the recipes said I should cut the giant cheese filled log with a plate. The idea is that the blunt edge of the plate will seal the edges We tried but instead of sealing like they said it would, sour creamy cottage cheese poured out of the little pockets. It could be that our plates have too sharp of edges. I tried to seal them with my fingers but it wasn’t entirely successful. Before you cut, use your hands to push the filling away from the area you’ll cut. If you can get a spot that is essentially ‘filling free’ then the plate cutting method did work, sealing the strukli into neat little pillows.
We had read that you could boil them like gnocchi, pan fry them, or bake them. We boiled one and it was gross. It was slippery and slimy and entirely unappetizing to me. Luckily we only boiled one, we spread the rest into a baking dish and covered the top with asiago cheese and panko bread crumbs. We let them bake for 30-45 minutes and the result was worlds better. It had a distinctive taste, but it was a bit like lasagna. The rolling creates layers of a noodle/gnocchi texture mixed with layer of cheese. It firmed up and allowed us to cut a hefty slice like lasagna.
I think I’ll call this meal cultural comfort food. When choosing a meal to make, we often choose something that we think sounds or looks amazing. Sometimes though, we choose recipes that sound weird and complex to stretch us and teach us new things. Strukli stretched us in learning about Croatia, creating a new dough and figuring out the best cooking method for this type of dish, but the finished product makes me believe this is traditional croatian comfort food. It’s warm and gooey and is perhaps what croatians bring to each other after the birth of a child or the loss of a loved one. If you are not a lover of cottage cheese, I can attest that it loses a lot of it’s ‘cottage cheesyness’ in the baking process.
If you are unsure about making a dough like this, just think of how you can grow if you allow yourself to try something new. You might just find that you are capable of a lot more than you thought possible.