One of the most enjoyable elements of exploring the Dalmatian coast is sampling the rich and diverse cuisine of Croatia. Croatian cooking is a mixture of Mediterranean, Balkans, Ottoman and Central European elements, sometimes neatly separated and often irretrievably combined into dishes that manage to share and combine these different influences, such as the one we present in this post.
Although Dalmatia is justly famous for its wonderful seafood, the first local dish we present here is a meaty one: pašticada (to be precise: dalmatinska pašticada), a hearty slow-cooked beef stew, distinguished by its very tender meat, by its rich and copious vegetable-based sauce, but most importantly by its complex fusion of different flavours, invariably including sweet fruit and insufficiently described as sweet-and-sour.
I am a little apprehensive on adding this recipe to our blog, because pašticada is a dish that can conjure emotions: to many Croatians, the scent of pašticada is the aroma of their childhood home on a festive day...
Dishes named the same or similarly are known in the eastern parts of Italy and Venice, as well as in the Ionian islands of Greece (namely and exclusively, in Corfu/Kerkyra), indicating an Adriatic background. It would be tempting to ascribe the origins of pašticada to the Venetian influence that was a uniting factor in the Adriatic Sea for many centuries - but it is worth noting that one of the earliest (15th century!) recorded recipes is from Ragusa (modern Dubrovnik), Venice's main historic rival in the region.
In any case, the Venetian and Greek variants are quite different from the Croatian one. The use of sweet fruit may indicate a Roman/Byzantine background to the dish, while the copious and long-term use of vinegar in its modern version is similar to the sauerbraten (sour roast) of southern Germany and Austria. The usual accompaniment, potato gnocchi, is very much part of the Italian tradition. Eventually, the precise origin of the dish, if there is such a thing, is not quite relevant: today, it is a Dalmatian standard.
Even within Dalmatia, there are strongly differentiated variations on the theme: the dish is always beefy, saucy and characterised by a complex flavour combination including vinegar, carrots and prunes, but preparation and ingredients vary considerably: for example, the Dubrovnik version uses dried figs and sometimes even apples. Different herbs and spices also occur. We have tasted many different pašticadas and we are told that specific recipes are treasured not just by specific areas, but by individual villages and even families.
As for all dishes we suggest on these pages, we recommend that you use the best available ingredients and also that you take your time. Pašticada is a dish to be both cooked and consumed slowly.
Dalmatinska Pašticada – recipe
Serves 6 or more
1.5-2kg (3.5-4.5lb) of stewing beef (silverside or a similar cut is recommended)
100g (3.5oz) pršut (Croatian prosciutto, you can also use Italian) or bacon, cut in smallish squares or strips
5 cloves garlic, cut in medium-thin sections across the length of the clove
3 juniper berries
750ml (3 cups - yes, really) balsamic vinegar
250ml (1 cup) red wine (ideally, use an aromatic dry Dalmatian wine, such as Plavac Mali)
100ml (half a cup) extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons flour
250ml ml (1 cup) beef broth
5 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 large celery root, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 parsley root, peeled and coarsely chopped (if you cannot find parsley root, use more celery and add a large potato, peeled and coarsely chopped)
150 ml (2 thirds of a cup) prošek (a white Croatian desert wine, use an alternative if necessary)
150 ml (2 thirds of a cup) red wine (see above)
1 tablespoon sugar
salt, black pepper
rosemary, thyme, oregano, nutmeg
8 prunes, finely chopped (optional: replace half the prunes with dried figs, finely chopped)
1 bunch fresh parsley
1 pack potato gnocchi (homemade is better, of course)
1. Begin on the day before you intend to serve the pašticada. Dry the beef and use a sharp knife to cut small openings all over. Carefully insert the pršut or bacon, garlic and cloves.
2. In a ceramic or aluminium bowl, mix the juniper berries, a bay leaf and a pinch of salt and one of pepper into the vinegar to make the marinade. Place the meat inside, top up with red wine until fully covered (if there's any left, more will be needed tomorrow). Leave in the fridge or a cold place for a minimum of 12 hours, but preferably for 24.
3. The next day, take the meat out of the marinade (keep the latter aside) and dab it dry with kitchen paper. Remove the pršut/bacon, garlic and cloves from the meat and keep them aside.
4. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan (medium high temperature). Dust the meat with flour and place it in the hot oil, turning regularly until brown on all sides. This should take about 10 minutes. Once browned, remove the meat from the pan, retaining the oil.
5. Now, continuing with the same oil over a medium high heat, fry the onions and carrots, as well as the garlic and bacon that were used with the marinade, until the psršzut/bacon starts to brown (the meaty parts) and to dissolve (the fatty parts - 5 minutes or more). Stir constantly.
6. At this point, deglaze with the beef broth and bring to the boil. Return the beef to the mix and keep it boiling for no more than 10 minutes.
7. Meanwhile, mix the tomato paste, prošek (or other desert wine), red wine and sugar in a bowl. When the broth and beef have boiled long enough, add the mixture to the saucepan, then add the celery root and parsley root and 2 bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper, reduce to a low heat and cover.
8. Let it all simmer for 80 minutes, stirring lightly occasionally. If there is any sign of the meat boiling dry (this should not happen), add a bit of the leftover marinade.
9. Half-way through the cooking process, add the chopped prunes (and optionally figs). Stir well.
10. Continue simmering for another 60 minutes, or until the meat is very tender. Again, add marinade if the meat is simmering dry.
11. Once the meat is tender enough, remove it from the saucepan, let it cool a little and cut it into thick slices (about 2cm, a little less than an inch, in thickness).
12. At the same time, increase the temperature for the liquids and vegetables to maximum and let it boil away for at least 5 minutes. Then, remove the bay leaves and juniper berries (if possible) and - carefully! - place the whole amount in a blender and blend it at into an even and thick mixture (this may have to be done in several stages, depending on the size of your blender). If you are planning to have your pašticada with gnocchi, start boiling those according to the instructions on the packet.
13. Return the blended sauce to the saucepan, season to taste, add the meat and reheat.
14. Your pašticada is now ready to serve. Sprinkle it with fresh parsley, then place a slice or two of meat per plate next to some gnocchi (or other accompaniment) and pour the sauce generously over both. We recommend serving this with a fresh green salad (and inviting some guests).
I hope you enjoy this traditional Dalmatian recipe. If so, you should consider joining us on one of our gulet cruises in Croatia!
For a step-by step-view of the process, see our gallery below.