Relishing delicious food and flavours is whole different experience during winter. In addition to food being a frequent topic of conversation, we look forward to preparing meals, we go to restaurants with our family and friends to enjoy every last bite. Add a great bottle of wine to the equation and winter will have a true fragrant idyllic note to it.
Turnips are a member of the crucifer family. They’re white and are considered to be a traditional ingredient in quite a few cuisines around the world. In traditional Croatian cuisine turnips were mostly preserved by pickling like cabbage or it was used to prepare all kinds of soups and stews with smoked pork meat.
But fresh turnip is also great because of its nutritious and culinary benefits. You can grate it and serve it in a wide array of cold salads with root vegetables. It’s a fantastic substitute for potatoes, which means you can use it to prepare turnip halves, fries or vegetable casseroles to which you can also add an apple to diversify the flavours. Turnips have a mild flavour that makes it a great side dish to duck or fish.
Although it’s somewhat neglected when it comes to family menus because it has been replaced by other ingredients such as sauerkraut, restaurants that have set their minds on presenting traditional dishes of local cuisine and made the effort to preserve traditional recipes and flavour are very much familiar with healthy winter ingredients such as the turnip.
Family stancija Kovačići is located in the small town of Rukavac on the slopes of Učka and is just a few kilometres away from Opatija. Owner and head chef Vinko Frlan’s simple preparation style and authentic local cuisine have earned him several recognitions such as the French guide Gault Millau. Turnip with polenta is an old winter specialty you can try out on the way to Istria or Kvarner. Head chef Vinko Frlan told us how they prepare this dish.
Frist we cook grated pickled turnips for a while, fifteen to twenty minutes to be more precise. After that we sauté some onions in a pot on lard. The onions are done pretty fast, it take just about twenty minutes. When they’re done, we add some chopped garlic, a teaspoon of minced peppers and use the grease to prepare roux with a tablespoon of flour. Then I pour in some beef stock to get a medium thick soup. I add some freshly drained turnip to the soup and let it simmer for about an hour until the turnip turn completely tender. If needed, I add some beef stock during the cooking. As herbs go, I add laurel or sage. Aside from the turnips, I cook the pork hock in another pot. The hock is served together with the turnips and potato polenta. In order to prepare potato polenta first we have to boil the potatoes in water. When they’re done, the potatoes are mashed without draining the water. You add polenta to the mixture and it’s stirred for at least half an hour. When compared to classic polenta, the texture is somewhat more lighter. Sometimes we grate some traditional Grobnik cheese and add it to the polenta. Grobnik cheese is a cow’s cheese riddled with holes and it’s rather salty because it ages up to six months in brine - Vinko describes.
Turnip delicacies are also prepared in central Croatia. At family inn Dalmacija in Samobor you can always try out seasonal and local dished kept by the Knezović family from fading into oblivion. Turnip dishes are an indispensible part of their winter menu. You can try bean stew with pickled turnips, which is also called ričet. Head chef Darija Hučić and her team prepare traditional recipes. Owner Ivan Knezović walked us through these recipes.
We start the preparation the day before when we cook pickled turnips with stock. Aside from root vegetables, we cook bacon, pork hide, fresh beef bones and smoked pork to prepare the stock. The stew is finished off the day it’s served by adding the roux. We prepare ričet in a similar way. You need to cook the pearl barley the day before. I usually put it in the oven at 5 am when I come to the restaurant and the cooks then finish it. The turnip is an excellent ingredient because it’s healthy and its crunchier texture makes it more special than sauerkraut - Ivan points out.
The village estate Zlatni klas Otrovanec located near Pitomača is a place where they used fresh local vegetables to create a menu containing numerous dishes catering to vegetarians. A modern rendition of local vegetables at a traditional Slavonian estate is the best way to describe the atmosphere at the restaurant run by the Tkalčec family. Head chef and owner Bernard Tkalčec shared with us all of their turnip culinary goodies.
We use turnips to prepare a clear soup and vegetable steaks. We use diced turnip, sliced carrots, lovage, parsley, salt and pepper to prepare the clear soup broth. It takes about two hours to cook everything. We serve vegetable steaks as the main dish. They’re prepared using a vegetable mixture consisting of grated fresh carrots and turnips, which are then slowly boiled. Once the vegetables are done, we drain them and mix them with oat, salt, pepper and lovage. We form the mixture to the wanted size and then we fry it in oil, preferably olive oil. Vegetable steaks are served with a topping made from cooking cream, turmeric, honey and Himalayan salt - he says.