Pri izviru Hublja – On the Spring of Homemade Tastes

If you follow the road from the centre of Ajdovščina into the mountains, you will pass the Youth House and end up in front of an impressive waterfall of the river Hubelj. In the ancient times, Romans called it the Cold Water and it was the source of life in the valley. Next to this rock surface is the lowest mountaineer hut in whole Slovenia (only 210 metres above sea level) that is named exactly after the river: restaurant “At the Hubelj’s Spring” (Pri izviru Hublja).

The Pižent family runs the restaurant since 1992 over the weekends and from 2007 until today it is open as a standard restaurant. It is favourite getaway for the citizens of Ajdovščina, especially in warm summers when the touch of mountain gives so desired shadow. The whole family greeted us warmly and presented their cuisine that boasts with local tastes and aromas, together with the beloved wine sorts of the Vipava Valley.

In fact, it is precisely these traditional and good tastes that invites locals to Hubelj. The kitchen often prepares dishes that may be partly forgotten or are not so usual in the everyday life. In cold winter nights people still remember to warm up their organism with bacon spread over the baked bread. Full white fat melts in mouth and brings the scent of pork that is clearly very local. As a very pleasing introduction, this appetizer was given to us together with Pinela Tomas, from the Tomažič Household. Fresh white wine with accentuated acidity is a rewarding start of our culinary voyage to the classic Vipava table.

It was spring when we have arrived at Hubelj and the asparagus season. That is why we were surprised by the home-grown asparagus with homemade sheep cheese over which the local olive oil is spread. It is a mild combination where cheese dominates with its salty flavour, while the olive oil is a significant reminder that we are not so far away from the sea. The asparagus can be found also in soup, and we did refresh ourselves with an excellent soup made of asparagus, carrots, and potatoes.

Another fine example of Mediterranean influence came with gnocchi made with the bear leek sauce and ten other herbs, with addition of pancetta. The chef plays with us, the dish comes in a shape of wine cluster. Gnocchi are soft and full of potato flavour, while bear leek and pancetta give tremendous interplay of tastes. Pižents suggested us cleverly Zelen Vipavska dolina, a table wine from Zelen sort in the neighbouring villages of St Martin and Brje. Its freshness and mild aroma greatly support the culinary experience.

The same is with herb rakija (brandy) made from the herbs growing just next to the restaurant itself. We also visit the waterfall and learn more about the place that once was a mountaineering resting place near the old hydro-energy plant. It is peaceful place, excellent for body and soul. The jolly and ever-smiling family Pižent says cleverly: “If you are ashamed to eat, you are ashamed to live” and it is indeed a slogan we stand with. Their philosophy is very simple; cook as you do it at home, and put meat in the beef soup! No wonder this family, father Stane and mother Zdravka, together with daughter Sonja and brother Tomi, were cooking for the Slovene Olympics representation in 2000 in Sydney.

The reason why exactly Hubelj’s staff was invited hides in the simplicity and honesty of its dishes. Such a clear reason is the lamb with baked potatoes and onion. It is a classic meal in the Adriatic region, but every lamb has its significant touch. Mild lamb still brings its distinguished taste, it is tender, and served with caramelised onion, rosemary, and a touch of garlic. Everyone appreciates good lamb, but there are significant varieties. Vipava’s lamb is more fatty than Adriatic island lamb, and it leaves that great and unique lamb aftertaste. But, word of advice: don’t even consider to eat lamb ribs with fork and knife, it is the fingers that should feel the essence of why we love lamb so much!

The same goes for pork ribs with asparagus and fennel, an interesting combination of beautifully baked pork with strong fennel, which gives to this dish a specific taste. It is served with dumplings and salted mildly.

A beautiful dinner at Hubelj concluded with classic desserts made by Mrs Zdravka (the mother) whose knowledge and brightness transforms dough into the walnut strudel and cherry strudel. Rich in substance, it opens way to the family’s soul: giving the best of home cooking in the relaxed and enjoyable natural environment!

Gostilna pri izviru Hublja, d. o. o.
IV. Prekomorska 75, 5270 Ajdovščina
00385 5 366 37 88, 00 386 41 201 924
http://www.gostilna-izvir-hublja.si

 

 

 

The Vipava Wine and Cuisine Festival

Grape wines have been grown in the Vipava Valley since the Roman times. Local wines and vineyards were already described by Janez Vajkard Valvasor in his book from 1689. In 1844 Vinoreja, the famous first book on winegrowing was published in the Vipava Valley, whilst 120 years ago the valley witnessed the foundation of the first winegrowing co-operative in the Carniola (Kranjska) region.

Wherever we look we see vineyards, especially on the south-west side of the valley. The unique mixture of Mediterranean and Continental climate with bura wind, with warm soil and particular terroir, produce some 25 sorts of wine here. Among the white wines are: Rebula (Ribolla Gialla), Sauvignon Blanc, Malvasia, Welsh Riesling, and Chardonnay, while the reds include Merlot, Barbera, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

But, we didn’t come to Vipava for that. Instead, we’ve embarked on an oenology journey to the domestic varieties like Zelen, Pinela, Klarnica, Poljšakica, Glera, Pergulin, Vitovska Grganja, and Pikolit.  Zelen and Pinela are considered to be unique to the Vipava Valley, which were almost forgotten in the past. Fortunately, in recent years, local people have started to again appreciate the heritage of their ancestors and there are many who grow both varieties.

The producers of Zelen of the Upper Vipava Valley founded the commercial interest Association of Konzorcij Zelen in 2003. In 2006 the Pinela’s producers also joined this association whose purpose is to protect the quality of local and unique varieties. All of these wines can be tasted at the local wine road or in the restaurants.

The Vipava Valley Wine Road is one of twenty such roads in Slovenia and one of four in the Primorska region. With 30 wine villages and its farmers it is also one of the biggest of its kind, and is well-marked by the signposts. The basic offer is high quality wines, but guests can also taste local products, foods, and drinks. Together with natural and historical sights, it can be an excellent day-out or more, depending on your love for wine. Many paths are also made for cyclists, so cyclotourism combined with wine is very popular here.

Each year in May, the Zemono Manor hosts the traditional Flavours of the Vipava Valley wine and culinary festival. Our visit to the festival was a highpoint of our tour, as all the important wine makers were there. We were focused on producers of Zelen and Pinela, but also other sorts, whose combined characteristics were floral scents, rich bouquet, and often barriqued wines.

Another excellent thing in this Festival is the opportunity to try local traditional products. One of these is prosciutto, named after the Kras region. Despite numerous technological innovations locals have retained the traditional manner of producing this speciality. Just salt, fresh air, the northern wind we call the burja, and careful watching and waiting ensure that after 12-16 months maturing you’ll be able to slice with pleasure into a truly tasty, ruby red and succulent dry-cured ham with and irresistible aroma.

The region is also famous for its cow, sheep, and goat cheese products, excellent fruits, and many other gastronomy delights. All of these can be tasted in the restaurants, inns, and agritourisms of Vipava.

Vipava Valley – Uniquely Different

The road takes us from Koper into the mountains. We are driving without a single clue where are we heading exactly. Yes, we’ve heard about Vipava and its gastronomy, but we’ve never been in any of its places. The cliffs of Mount Nanos, however, gives us a familiar look. It is a mountain with wind scars: north-east wind bura is as famous here as it is all along the Adriatic coast. Beneath it starts a magnificent valley, full of history, sun, wind, wine, and cuisine, surrounded by mountains from three sides, hidden as a gem above the Italian coastline between Gorizia and Trieste.

We are passing sleepy towns and houses, whose roof-tiles are often weighed down with rocks as the strong bura wind frequently unroofs buildings in the valley. Despite it, the valley has a pleasant atmosphere, evidences since the Roman times, when the hedonistic ancient Romans planted first vine here. Another example of mild climate are the fruits, including cherries, apricots, pears, chestnuts, olives, and kakis, especially in the village of Budanje.

A short drive brings us to Ajdovščina, today the administrative centre of the Vipava valley. It is another old town, as the present buildings are built on the foundations of a Roman castrum. The military camp was erected in 270 and many artefacts can be seen in the Ajdovščina City Museum. It is also the birthplace and working place of famous Slovenian artist and expressionist Veno Pilon, whose gallery is one of the foremost places of interest in Ajdovščina.

Photo: TIC Ajdovščina

But the city itself was not judicial, administrative, and cultural centre since centuries ago. It was Vipavski Križ (Vipava Cross), which acquired town privileges as early as 1532. The whole town is formed as a castle with two distinctive churches. Within the walls is the Capuchin monastery with a rich library and the friar’s cells, of which the most famous was the preacher Janez Svetokriški.

Apart from Vipavski Križ, whose beauty is enchanting, its views beautiful, and its cosy and quiet alleys almost saint, everyone visiting Vipava Valley should also go to the place of Vipava itself. Vipava is in fact a river flowing slowly through the valley, and the town is built on its spring. Because Vipava is crisscrossed with footbridges, bridges, and the wonderful deltoid spring of the Vipava Rover, spreading out behind the magnificent Lanthieri Manor, the place is also referred to as the Slovene Venice.

We came to this picturesque valley for the Taste of Vipava, the Festival of wine and gastronomy that gathers important wine makers in the valley and presents the gastronomy offer of Vipava.

Our visit to the Vipava Valley could not be possible without the help of the Development Agency of Vipava that provided us with free accommodation at the Youth House in Ajdovščina.

Razvojna agencija ROD Ajdovščina
+386 5 365 3600
www.ra-rod.si
ra.rod@siol.net
Okusi Vipavske

Mladinski center in hotel Ajdovščina
Cesta IV. Prekomorske 61 A
5270 Ajdovščina
http://www.mc-hisamladih.si
e:info@mc-hisamladih.sit:+386 (0)5 368 93 83g:+386 (0)41 945 392

 

Vinistra 2017: Olive Oils

Together with the wine, Vinistra is place where the best Istrian olive oil is being chosen. Remnants of diverse ancient oil manufactories along the entire western coast of Istria, particularly on the Brijuni archipelago, in the towns of Barbariga, Poreč and Červar Porat, show the long heritage of olive groves in Istria.

The Istrians say: “Close to these, real industrial areas intended for the amphora manufacture had been set up. It is only natural that large olive-groves were planted aside, namely the indigenous local sorts (bjelica, karbonera, buža, etc.). Nowadays, it seems like we have to start all over again. We dispose of unrivalled legacy, apparently excellent climate conditions and soil structure, favourable geographic position, skills handed down from our ancestors, knowledge and properly qualified personnel; nevertheless, we seem to lag behind the latest worldwide trends and attainments in the field. We need to take a step forward and face the challenge of planting olive-groves consisting of selected, autochthonous sorts, producing top-quality olive-oil, accepting new growing technologies, as well as of constructing up-to-date oil plants.”

The hard-working Istrian olive growers are fit for the job, at least according to the huge push in the international olive oil ratings. At Vinistra, a dozen olive growers achieved medals: OPG Marko Radola (Barban, golden medal for buža); Azrri (Pazin, golden medal for karbonaca&buža blend); OPG Gržinić Marko (Vižinada, golden medal for istarska bjelica, leccino & pendolino blend); Dolija 08 (Krnica, golden medal for istarska bjelica); Zigante (Kostanjica, golden medal for Istrian special selection); OPG Gambaletta (Vodnjan, golden medal for istarska bjelica, buža & karbonaca blend); Monte Rosso (Umag, golden medal for leccino, istarska bjelica, pendolino/Maurino/ascolana & picholine blend); Dešković (Grožnjan, silver medal for leccino); OPG Nela Popović (Poreč, silver medal for mixed olive oil); Laguna Novigrad (Novigrad, silver medal for frantoio and pendolino blend); OPG Damir Vižintin (Oprtalj, silver medal for leccino and istarska bjelica blend); Laguna Novigrad (Novigrad, silver medal for leccino and pendolino blend); and OPG Beaković Mauricio (Kaštelir, bronze medal for leccino, frantoio, pendolino, buža & rošinjola blend).

And while we did try some of the best olive oils, our attention was given to the municipality of Tar-Vabriga. The olive oil from this Istrian municipality has a continuation of use and production since antiquity. In first six centuries after Christ, the Laron Bay was used as primary harbour for transferring olive oil on whole Adriatic. In the Middle Ages, olive oil from Tar-Vabriga was used on the tables of European rulers, and in 1970-ies FAO designated the region as best for the northernmost olive oil production. The local authorities plan to open soon an eco-museum of olive oil as a testimony to the values and traditions in Tar-Vabriga.

Everything is connected to the olive growers themselves. Their efforts and knowledge combine with heritage and love. They have preserved the dry stone walls surrounding the centuries old olive groves; they have opened their cellars for visitors to taste and buy olive oil; and combined this offer with local foods and wine for a perfect and durable experience throughout the year.

 

Vinistra 2017: Malvasia

Every year Vinistra gives IQ brands to the fresh Malvasia 2016. This year the winners of IQ brand are Benvenuti, Brčić, Capo, Cattunar, Damjanić, Dešković, Fakin, Geržinić, Kozlović, Legović, Matošević, Medea, Novacco, Peršurić M.,Pilato, Ravalico, Sirotić, Terzolo, Tomaz, Trapan, Vina Zigante, Vivoda, Zigante d.o.o., and the IQ for best matured Malvasia 2015 is Bruno Trapan.

Istrian Malvasia is kin to the more famous Italian Malvasias (Malvasia bianca del Chianti, Malvasia del Lazio, Lamvasia delle Lipari, Malvasia di Candia, Malvasia di Sardegna). It is a recognisable Mediterranean white sort which ripens well every year and is very prone to the agro-mechanical efforts. The same goes for the Istrian Malvasia, the signature Istrian white wine. The wine is mid-strong to strong, with alcohols from 11,5 up to 13,5 vol %.

Oenologists tend to classify Malvasia as a semi-aromatic sort with rich floral and fruity aromatic potentials. Specific Malvasia reminds on the acacia flower scent, especially if the grapes are cultivated on higher and sunny terrains. Fruity aromas are predominant with apples, plums, and apricots, while the fresh Malvasia may contain slightly bitter almond flavour. Its colour usually is hay yellow with golden traits. It is very old sort in Istria, but due to different local names its first documented stories came only in the 1890-ies.

The best young Istrian Malvasia went this year to OPG Privitelio Nino. The 2016 Malvasia from Vrsar arrives directly from the barrel, as Mr Privitelio never bottled his wine, which includes besides Malvasia also Merlot and Teran. This young and fresh Malvasia is usually sold as house wine in his restaurant Speranza in village of Flengi near Vrsar, or to the wondering tourists who cherish his wine as something truly local. Mr Nino did promise, however, to start bottling his wine which is made in very classic Istrian way. Champion young Malvasia is light yellow-green in colour, but the scent is completely unusual – it contains forest berries! Its 13,4 per cent alcohol is universal Istrian recipe for the seafoods.

OPG Nino Privitelio
Flengi 31, Vrsar

The best matured Malvasia comes from the Poreč’s wine and olive oil corporation Agrolaguna. Malvasia Festigia 2013 is among top Agrolaguna’s wines, which already was awarded with the golden medal in 2014 in the category of fresh Malvasias. Stemming from the Kaštelir vineyards, this Malvasia was an instant hit and unfortunately exists only in a few hundred archived bottles. A point well taken, as it teaches wine makers to go slow with this sort as it may turn out to be a champion wine. Partly macerated overnight, later mixed, and aged in the Inox barrels, the 2013 Malvasia was bottled already in May 2014 and instantly sold in big quantities. This was really a mistake but those lucky ones certainly did enjoy in it, especially if they ate seafood.

Agrolaguna – Tasting Room Festigia
Mate Vlašića 34, Poreč
+385 91 441 9998
sanela.coga@agrolaguna.hr
www.agrolaguna.hr

We’ve also tried other Malvasias awarded with the IQ label. Benvenuti brought his Malvasia 2016 which is exceptionally fresh and mineral, fruity and very drinkable. The white Istrian soil of this famous wine maker from Kaldir and the micro-climate in this valley near Motovun produce many excellent wines of which Malvasia San Salvatore 2013 stands out. But those looking for dessert wines should definitely taste Benvenuti’s Corona Grande 2015, harmonic sweet wine with aromas of acacia honey and raisins, which we also tried at the superb Peteani restaurant.

Benvenuti Vina (Z.T.O. Benvenuti)
Kaldir 7, 52424 Motovun
fax: (0)52 691 322, m: (0)98 197 56 51, m: (0)91 583 87 56
E-mail: info@benvenutivina.com
www.benvenutivina.com

Malvasia 2016 of the Poreč’s wine maker Damjanić is another straw-yellow masterpiece of Istrian terroir. This Malvasia has a typical scent which is fruity and floral, reminds us on acacia flower, elderflower and grapefruit. It has dry, fresh, round, balanced, and harmonious taste, with a hint of bitterness. The dedication to the red soil brings with itself a tremendous efforts and love for wine making, which is rewarded this year with one golden, four silver, and one bronze medal. It is a continuation of great wines coming from the cellar of Mr Ivan Damjanić.

Ivan Damjanić,
+385 91 202 0495
info@damjanic.eu
www.damjanic.eu

A great new bottle style comes from Giancarlo Zigante who also got IQ brand for his Malvasia 2015. The whole line of wines is now bottled in a very pleasing form, which contains great wine macerated and fermented before ripening in the Inox barrels for seven months. Of course, the master of the truffle production in Istria will suggest you drink it with white truffle dishes, poultry, and mild cheese, but it pairs great with seafood too.

Another great example of Poreč region is Ritoša, whose wines are firmly becoming top quality in Istria. The job done by father and daughter, whose oenological education brings knowledge and passion together, translates in beautiful wines, of which Malvasia is just one part. We’ve tried beautiful Yellow Muscat which boasts characteristic and elegant floral scent and is ideal drink for desserts. Ritoša is also known for very good red wines, of which Cabernet Sauvignon deserves a special remark.

Ritoša Vina
Ive Lole Ribara 3, Poreč
00385(0)98 195 71 24 – VILI RITOŠA
00385(0)92 176 78 18 – ANA RITOŠA
TEL: 00385(0)52 432 069
FAX: 00385(0)52 432 106
info@vina-ritosa.hr
www.vina-ritosa.hr

Vinistra 2017: Teran

Teran is the most famous Istrian red wine, the main Istrian sort in the past. For quite long time people identified Teran with Refošk, but it is not the same vine. Teran has a characteristic ruby-red colour, with purple tones. Distinctive aroma is typically fruity, with dominant raspberry scent. Relatively high acidity and somewhat sour note gives to this wine a characteristically full, strong, robust wine which blends excellent with red meat and hearty foods, especially with Istrian prosciutto, cheese, and wild. Teran is also very old wine – it is mentioned some 600 years ago.


Photo by Vinistra

Thus, „All Faces of Teran“ workshop was indeed among the best events of this year’s Vinistra. The masterclass workshop was run by the wine master Oz Clarke, one of the chief international drinks communicator. This year’s best young Teran is Fuga 2016 by Rovinj’s Dobravac winery. The fact that last year Dobravac was awarded also for the young Teran is a proof of excellence but in a very unusual way: both his fresh Terans have been given to the selection commission to check the future potentials of these wines.

Mr Damir Dobravac knows his wine should rest for a few years, but the awards have pushed him to make a new wine brand: instead of Fuga, now he will introduce Gaspar, a line of fresh Teran. The wine from Valalta terroir was macerated for three weeks and then matured in local Istrian oak barrel called tinac or bajadur. Young Fuga has all major characteristics of good Teran: it has purple-red colour, clear and dense, with berries and cherries in scent, with a particular oak sense in the background. Fresh, strong, and enduring taste of this dry wine and its 13 per cent alcohol makes it great companion to the Istrian pork dishes.

Mr Dobravac also suggests making the famous Istrian wine soup exactly with this kind of wine. The Dobravac wine stand on Vinistra was crowdy as one can expect, and it was really nice to see young people working at the winery. The music of Dobravac winery continues with Suita (Malvasia macerated for six hours), Sonata (somewhat complex Malvasia macerated for two days), Simfonija (orange wine with 80 per cent Malvasia and 20 per cent Chardonnay, macerated for two weeks and three years in oak barrel), Toccata (cabernet sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot blend), Fuga, and Allegro (dried Yellow Muscatto).

Villa Dobravac
Karmelo 1, Rovinj
00385 52 813 006, 00385 95 90 59 215
www.villa-dobravac.com
info@villa-dobravac.com

The Winery Dešković received the best award for the mature Teran 2012. The champion comes from Kostanjica near Grožnjan and it is his third champion title: first came in 2013 for the 2009 Teran, and second in 2014 for Malvasia.


Photo by Dešković

Mr Franco Dešković remembers successful year 2012 when the teran grape was harvested quite late, in the very beginning of October. Macerated for 12 days, it spent half year in the Inox barrels before being put into the barrique for two years. After additional two months in Inox, the wine was bottled in July 2015 and won last year the golden medal at Vinistra and IQ (Istrian Quality) brand. The wine should be decanted for at least half an hour to release its beautiful berries scents and strong and deep taste. Despite its years, it is still quite fresh, with a particular pomegranate taste. Dešković’s Teran pairs excellent with red and fatty meat and invites for a visit at his vineyard.

Photo by: Vinarija Dešković

Kostanjica 58, Grožnjan
Mob. 00385 (0)98 / 197 7985
E-mail. info@vina-deskovic.hr
http://www.vina-deskovic.hr

Younger generations of wine makers continue dedication of Istrian viticulture to this noble sort of wine. One such wine maker comes from the Deklić winery which has the family wine lineage since 1920. The wines come from the area of Vižinada, which has always been a wine-growing district, with the combination of an excellent climate, a fertile red soil, and a pleasant altitude. No wonder even the medieval Knights Templar have been harvesting grapes right at this location.

Deklić’s Teran 2015 has been awarded by the Golden Medal at Vinistra; it is a balanced dry wine of beautiful and characteristic ruby colour. A fruity scent brings forest berries to the mind, while the taste is harmonious and enduring. Paired with venison, red meat, truffles, and Istrian Prosciutto, this Teran is indeed a part of a truly Istrian gastronomic experience!


Photo by: Vinarija Deklić
Deklić
Ferenci 47, Vižinada
info@vina-deklic.com
www.vina-deklic.com

Krk Stew in the Konoba Ulikva, Omišalj

If you stroll through the narrow streets of Omišalj, you will end up in front of the parish church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary. Right next to the church, on an old town square, is Tavern Ulikva (Konoba Ulikva), a primary spot for traditional Krk cuisine. The place is not too big, but it has a distinctive atmosphere of gone-by ages of hard work and maritime adventures. Ulikva is local pronunciation of a particular kind of olives, which adorn the tavern’s outdoor terrace.

We are greeted by the chef and owner Željko Toić and his staff, for the Festival of Krk Lamb and Cheese. Somewhat mysterious smile and easy-going work is known characteristic of islanders everywhere, and this includes Krk too. Hard working people deliver the very best to their old-time guests and every newcomer.

Primarily, we came for lamb and cheese, but the tavern boasts other Krk delicacies. The menu is rich in seafoods and meat, and boasts with many local dishes.

We are instantly presented with the pride of the house: homemade Krk sheep cheese and wine of the house. The cheese gives familiar and aromatic scent while its crust shines beneath the lantern. The family Toić makes these cheeses in their own production and only for the purposes of the Ulikva tavern.

The wines are reminiscent of Omišalj’s history. Red and white, they are bottled with special labels. The white Malvasia is named „Rozeta“ and has an emblem of famous Omišalj’s Rosetta on the parish church. The red one, Cabernet Sauvignon, is called Beduč and its label is row of old houses in the Beduč area of Omišalj, the old quarter where once the heart of the town was.

While we discuss the cheese production, an elder member of family brings in fresh made sheep curd (skuta) and wild asparagus, the flavour of spring in many Adriatic plates. Spotless white curd and freshly picked asparagus make excellent colours and we immediately take photos, while at the same time we look at the old photographs and ship items hanging on the walls of the tavern.

And there comes the lamb stew, centrepiece of our arrival to Ulikva! Don’t expect fatty meat here; the island lamb is all about beautiful chunks of meat, with a sense of aromatic herbs that sheep eat on every corner of this island. Soft and tender lamb suits well with rightly made stew and homemade macaroni. Those in favour of stronger tastes should use a bit of grated cheese spread over the stew. Ulikva’s chef indeed knows his job!

In Ulikva we can indeed imagine old locals who sip their wine or rakija while playing cards and talking about past times, as well as gatherings of families and friends surrounded by the stone historical buildings of old Omišalj. Both can count in excellent and homemade cooking without much fuss or new imagination – it is good, traditional, and tasty!

Konoba Ulikva
Put Dubca 20, Omišalj
00385 51 841 004

 

Asparagus delights in the Lovran’s Knezgrad Restaurant

The sun is shining, scent of spring is all around us, and the Asparagus days are in full sway in a picturesque town of Lovran on the western coast of Kvarner Bay. It is the biggest spring festival in Lovran, present already 17 years. The Asparagus Days begin with a big egg omelette with asparagus (fritaja sa šparogama), and continues in several Lovran’s restaurants. One of these is Knezgrad, situated right in the centre of the town, in a beautiful park next to the town’s only cinema hall.

At the same time, Knezgrad is among the best restaurants on Opatija Riviera, because this is the place of traditional regional cuisine prepared with finest ingredients. More than 40 years of family tradition translates into fresh seafood, asparagus, cherry, and chestnut days, and more nuanced Istrian cuisine. And while the interior resembles old tavern, many come here to enjoy sunny terrace. Its name (translated the town of counts) is in fact a nearby mountain peak on the Učka mountain. Although relatively low with its 612 metres above sea level, Knezgrad is a favourite destination for hikers, as it has beautiful view of Lovran and Kvarner Bay.

Slopes of the Učka Mountain are rich with asparagus and this is precisely why we came to Knezgrad. After sip of excellent biska brandy (made of mistletoe and Muscat wine), we indulged into classic asparagus appetizer consisting of cheese spread with asparagus and ham, asparagus omelette, and asparagus salad with boiled eggs. You cannot go more classic than these. The mild and fresh cottage cheese blends perfectly with the bitter asparagus taste, while the salad with boiled eggs shows indeed the freshness of spring.

Every part of asparagus is used, told us Mr Hlanuda Jr, son of the owner Luciano Hlanuda. The asparagus root is excellent for various broths, the stem is perfect for soups, while the top is necessary for sauces or added fresh to blend with different ingredients. The basic rule is to make asparagus less bitter, which is done by boiling it: as much as you boil it, asparagus tends to lose its bitterness. In that way, chefs can easily adjust the asparagus taste to the meal. And probably the least bitter is the asparagus soup, which we had together with toast bread and sour cream. Refreshing cream soup is rich with mild asparagus, while finely mixed stems give the soup a characteristic green colour.

Main course consisted of grilled medallions with asparagus sauce and gnocchi, beefsteak tagliatelle with Grand Padano cheese, and ravioli filled with cheese and asparagus. Many who visit Knezgrad praise the grilled medallions, with fine scent of smoke and grill; they are truly soft and juicy, which makes Knezgrad a meat master in a predominantly fish restaurant! As usual on the Opatija Riviera, gnocchi are homemade, soft and with distinctive aroma of spinach in green gnocchi. Both blend with small tomatoes and mild asparagus sauce that gives just enough bitter addition.

Also, mild beefsteak puts more accent on asparagus sauce and excellent Grand Padano cheese. The beefsteak itself is juicy and rightly redish from inside, and while the meat-lovers will enjoy its pure and not-spiced taste, we would focus this dish to elegant and ingenious asparagus dip that comes along. If you’d rather go for stronger asparagus taste, then ravioli are better, cooked with cottage cheese and filled in soft dough.

Possibly the biggest surprise comes in dessert, as rarely would one expect asparagus and cheese cake or asparagus sorbet. How is it done? We asked the lady of the house, but got only a satisfied smile from her. The cake is just great for anyone who doesn’t worship very sweet things, and sorbet is more sour-sweet end to this asparagus adventure in Knezgrad.

Because of the delicate taste of asparagus, mild white wine is recommended, and you shouldn’t venture too far here. Open Istrian Malvasia, coming from Višnjan in Central Istria, is easy to drink, with fruity and flowery bouquet and very adjustable to the asparagus menu.

Knezgrad can really satisfy any expectation from classic and homemade littoral cuisine of Northern Adriatic. The place is famous for fish, risotto, scampi and clams stew (buzara), homemade squids filled with Istrian prosciutto, cheese and scampi, fish brodetto, pasta with seafood. In various seasons you can also taste great sausages, veal shanks, rich minestrone. The restaurant follows annual Lovran gastronomy events focused on asparagus, cherries, and chestnuts. Highly recommendable place which is very open and simple, but with great taste and excellent value for money!

Restaurant Knezgrad
Trg slobode 12, 51415 Lovran
tel:+385(0)51291838
fax:+385(0)51291838
mob:+385(0)98240737
mail: luciano.hlanuda@ri.t-com.hr;hlanuda@gmail.com

https://restoranknezgrad.fullbusiness.com/

 

Asparagus Cooking School in Stancija Kovačići

It is a rare treat to pick behind the kitchen’s door in a splendid restaurant. We tend to enjoy fine dining in a peaceful setting of a rural gastronomy point, enjoying the tastes and aromas of culinary heritage, and thanking the chef that has just arrived from kitchen with a quite clean apron. Seldom do we think of the kitchen place and food preparing, those nitty-gritty stuff that makes a cook’s everyday business. But when one enters this realm, one cannot separate creative chaos of a kitchen with cosiness of the dining place.

So did we enter the Stancija Kovačići’s kitchen through the School of Cooking with a topic of Asparagus. We have visited Stancija before, and wrote extensively on superb winter cuisine for which this region of Kvarner is famous. The elegant culinary philosophy of chef Vinko Frlan transforms into imaginative dishes reflecting the traditional meals of the coastal region and its hinterland.

The basis for all cooking in Stancija Kovačići is at the same time simple and very rooted in tradition. All meals are cooked on olive oil, of course that one suitable for easier cooking. For hearty meals, Mr Frlan uses the homemade pork lard. Both were easily accessible in the past in the Northern Adriatic and one cannot imagine meals without it. Extra virgin high quality olive oil, of course, is used only for salads and dipping, a favourite appetizer of Croats. Various herbs and Mediterranean spices are very local too.

Three-course dinner cooking gathered some 12 disciples who focused on Mr Frlan’s expertise and tried to learn from it. Some, including our team, focused more on wine resting on the table nearby, but nevertheless we did experience and learned a lot.

Appetizer was the mullet carpaccio, where we learned how thinly make fish fillets. Mullet is a rather small fish and indeed it needs a careful hand and a very sharp knife. The mullet fillets are places on a plate, and seasoned with salt, pepper, and few drops of lemon and olive oil.

While chef filleted the fish, others picked the tops of asparagus, which were later shortly cooked, cooled, and seasoned. From orange juice and olive oil an emulsion is made, that were added to mullets together with avocado and asparagus. The cook also quickly baked mullet skin (without oil) and added to this beautifully balanced dish with excellent freshness.

Already waiting for us was cooked octopus, to which some bay leaves, pepper and salt was added. Freshly caught, winter and spring octopus are much more cherished in the gastronomy. Cooled octopus is very, very thinly cut, seasoned with parsley and garlic. We also added olive oil and egg’s white. Some breadcrumbs were also put just to have a homogenic burger.

While cooling, good students of Mr Frlan stewed finely cut onion and celery to which asparagus tops were added, and cooked in broth. The final point is baking the octopus’s burgers on light fire. This meal is just perfect, as the fresh, juicy, and mild octopus blends perfectly with the strong flavour of asparagus.

Finishing masterpiece is veal shank a la brodetto with asparagus. The chef used his knowledge to show us how neatly the meat can be separated from strong shank bones. The meat is salted and peppered, then shortly baked on olive oil, and then taken out. On same oil onion, carrots, and fennel are fried.

Then, garlic and meat is added, together with some white wine and rosemary. This shank is then cooked on medium fire for at least hour and half. When done, the sauce is reduced, and asparagus tops are added together with small olives. As a side dish, Mr Frlan chose polenta, to which self-growing Mediterranean herbs are added.

It is indeed excellent (and rare) idea for a chef to invite culinary enthusiast to his kitchen. Easy-going atmosphere, relaxed attitude, a glass of wine and superb cuisine, it is a memory that is going to be cherished by anyone visiting the Stancija Kovačići in Rukavac, just a short drive away from famous Opatija.

Stancija Kovačići
Rukavac 51, 51211, Matulji
+ 385 51 272 106
stancija.kovacici@gmail.com
http://www.stancija-kovacici.hr

PETEANI – TEMPLE OF GASTRONOMY IN LABIN

You cannot miss the Peteani boutique hotel. It lies exactly on the main road to the Labin Old Town and its elegance is visible already from the street itself. It can easily be among the finest gastronomy experiences in Labin, which is the main destination of the eastern Istrian coast. This picturesque medieval town of long history is also the birthplace of Matthias Flacius Illyricus, the reformer and collaborator of Martin Luther, which might be interesting in 2017, when 500th anniversary of Reformism takes place.

But our place in Labin was dedicated to excellent time with Serđo Peteani, an experienced restaurateur and hotelier of this region. Mr Peteani took us to every corner of his new hotel, made within the belle époque villa from the turn of the century. Modest and self-effacing, Mr Peteani shows us spacious and unique rooms for stylish holiday. Nevertheless, it shows how much experience he has and how much love all of his family and staff give to this new project which already turns to be a blissful success.

There is something basic and earthy in this hotel. Its white-and-dark colours, its feeling of elegance but without much fuss, stone and wood, and of course some iron… all of these remind guests they are in Labin, town of miners whose time has faded away. This feeling was made on purpose and it fits great, as the details are really small and they do not change the overall atmosphere of relaxed place for fine dining.

Meeting the chefs and kitchen staff showed us something else – Peteani gives lots of space and innovation to the young people. Very young staff is ready to combine traditional Istrian cuisine with a touch of modernity, just as they themselves have chosen to live in Labin just to engage more into the tastes of the northern Adriatic. They are headed by Peteani Junior, who is running the everyday business of the hotel and the restaurant. And its food… it is really splendid!

Peteanis were kind enough to invite us to lunch although they had a dinner party for over 50 people and were preparing for major event. Luckily, this event was intended to show more of the Peteani cuisine and we came just in moment to try some things from the elaborate menu. Classic fish and meat menu is too humble to describe ideas stemming from the kitchen one floor below.

After a strong Muscat rakija (brandy) a line of five meals were introduced to us, beginning with marinated cuttlefish and shrimps with wild garlic (marinirana sipa i gamberi s medvjeđim lukom). Sea is felt all around this appetizer consisting of indeed fresh ingredients that come every day from verifiably trusted fishermen. Surprisingly mild wild garlic gives flavours to the seafood, with additional carrot dough. We enjoy the gold-awarded Medea Chardonnay 2015, dry and fruity wine with strong floral scents of acacia and lemon. Fresh, rich, and very drinkable, this wine fits great with seafood served in Peteani Restaurant.

Salted cake with pancetta and sheep curd (slana tortica od pancete i skute) is an exciting combination of salty and smoked Istrian pancetta with elegant and mild sheep curd, together with celery, root vegetables, and wild garlic paste. By itself, this meal shows essence of Istrian husbandry; pigs and sheep or rather goats are somewhat a symbol of Istrian countryside.

First main course is stewed octopus with pasta (šufigana hobotnica s pasuticama), so tender and sweet, it almost melts in mouth. Homemade pasutice is traditional Istrian pasta as it was done in past times by hard working Istrian women. It is best to add some drops of olive oil inside and when we speak of olive oil then it must be locals’ favourite Negri, made from the olive groves situated just south of Labin. William and Anessa Negri are descendants of old Labin noble family and their olive oil was part of the best extra virgin olive oils in the world by Flos Olei 2011 guide. Local Negri oil and locally caught octopus, with masterly done pasta combine in a very Mediterranean meal.

And to add a bit more of Mediterranean, we drink Chardonnay Epicuria 2013 and red blend Nomade 2013 by Koquelicot production from Central Istria. This is a very specific wine story which shows arrival of foreign wine makers to Istria, recognising its global potentials. In Gračišće, on road from Labin to Pazin, a French-Croatian marital connection brought the French style burgundy type wines in the Istrian peninsula. Perfect blend of two quite different styles contributes to the restaurants all around the peninsula, giving it a chance for more nuanced pairing of wine and foods. In our case Epicuria balances the octopus with wine vinified in French burgundy oak barriques for ten months, while Nomade is a delicate blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Teran also vinified in same barriques for two years.

Second main course is tranche of flounder fish on aromatised potatoes. Immediately when I have tried the potatoes I stated: this is potato of flounder! Such is the intensity of this very rewarding fish which is baked together with potatoes. Skill and knowledge of Peteani kitchen staff in preparing fish is immaculate, and when one sees how neatly the potato is cut then one cannot wonder where on earth did Peteani find his people!

When in Labin, one must also try krafi. Without it, the visit to Labin would be a waste of time. It is indeed curious that krafi cannot be found anywhere else in Istria in same fashion. Krafi is kind of big ravioli stuffed with cow curd or cow’s grated cheese, raisins, and lemon zest. They may be served with salty or sweet sauces and Mr Peteani opted for sweet version. The sauce is magnificent. It is made of reduced Muscat wine and dry figs, thus giving a bit of acidity and natural sugar of figs. This very local dessert, of which Labin people are especially proud (in nearby Kršan they even have Krafifest!), is also best eaten with some sweet wine. We are indeed honoured to be offered by Benvenuti Corona Grande, a blend of Istrian Malvasia and Muscat made in the cellars of Istrian family Benvenuti. This sweet wine goes perfectly with Peteani’s krafi as it is aromatic, harmonic, with acacia honey and raisins aromas.

Truly magnificent food is a new must-see place in Istria, which also revives the Labin Old Town in the most splendid way.

Hotel & Restaurant Peteani
Aldo Negri 9, 52220 Labin
+385 52 863 404
info@hotel-peteani.hr
www.hotel-peteani.hr

Croatian Gastronomy Secrets