My approach, particularly since moving here to start a new life, has been to treat the people I meet like they are new friends and soon enough we’ll figure out if we are or not. Most often we are. I remember countless conversations over the years with my ‘deer’ friend Katherine that started with her saying “I made a new friend today (…at the gallery, at the grocery store, at the gym, in the garden…).” I get it! It’s a good way to live. Valentina and Mario are my new (ish) friends. Our lives kept intersecting all over town and we all just kept acting like we were friends. Now I think it’s official. 🙂
A few weeks ago I went to their place for a meal, my first. She is an amazing cook and we had cabbage rolls that that were baked on top of a bed of smoked pig parts – ribs, sausages, bacon, hocks. So good – an amped-up Croatian take on chacroute garni, sort of.
During lunch I told them about my New Years resolution to learn how to make strudel. Strudel has always kind of intimidated me but it’s never fallen off the to-do list. I prefer to make resolutions that excite me (making strudel) rather than those that sound like punishment (going to the gym 10 times a week!). Valentina said that her friend Jelena would be visiting in a few weeks and that Jelena would teach both of us. Another perfect Killaloe coincidence.
This story gets better. Way better! I bumped into Mario in the diner last week and he asked me if I wanted to get in on a deal. Their friends (the strudel-making Jelena and her Yugoslavian butcher husband Goran) were planning to visit. Mario invited me join them for a pig and pastry extravaganza. I was in.
Mario picked up 3 naturally raised and freshly slaughtered Mennonite pigs (600 pounds in all) from the abattoire on Friday afternoon and we all gathered around the table in their basement to butcher and process them. After 7 hours on Friday evening and another 11 hours on Saturday we had finished the bulk of the initial work. My take was 45 pounds of sausages, 15 pounds of stew meat, 15 pounds of yummy shoulder chops and nearly 20 pounds of ground meat. Tenderloins, loins, ribs, belly,head, skin and all manner of other bits are waiting to be dealt with. Lots of it is getting cured and will end up in the smoker for a week and I have lots of plans for further processing throughout the week (lard, head cheese, wieners…).
It was amazing to work along side a European butcher and it was truly a family affair with all three kids getting involved.. So many tips and new approaches that I will incorporate into my piggy-loving future.
The pastry lesson came mid-day on Saturday. We actually were making borek which is a meat-filled phyllo pastry that dates back to the Ottoman Empire -apparently a different Turkish delight:). The method is the same as strudel. We made a soft dough with flour, salt, and water and kneaded it for a long time to develop the gluten so that it was strong enough to stretch. Then we rolled it out and gently stretched it until it was paper thin. In La Varenne Practique, Anne Willan says that you should be able to read a love letter through the finished sheet of pastry 🙂 I expect I’ll get lots of love letters when I master this skill.
She sprinkled it lightly with lard and then put wee bits ground pork mixed with sautéed onion on top. It was gently rolled into a loose tube, turned into a coil, brushed with more lard and baked in a hot oven. Brilliant.
It’s a skill I will need to practise a lot. I’ve set an intention to make it every Sunday until I can turn out a good product. True to my word, I woke up early on Sunday and started the process while I was rendering lard, making scrunchions, making stock, and vacuum sealing pig portions in the background. . The pic above on the red sheet it my first attempt and it was pretty good and pretty thin. More practise is required for sure. I got lots of encouragement this morning at work to keep trying and trying 🙂 They promissed to continue to be my taste testers as long as I need to practise.
The word for the week is Zivjeli. Sounds like ‘Giggly’ with a v instead of the gg’s. And it means cheers in Croatian. Zivjeli!.