John is part Croatian and his dad is from Split, so we were very excited to visit the city. The thing to see in Split is Diocletian’s palace. The palace was built by the Roman Emperor in the fourth century AD as a retirement home. The palace is very large and made from brac stone, a type of marble only found on the island of Brac in Croatia (you can find brac stone souvenirs all around the country.)
Apart from the sheer size and splendor of the palace, there are two things that to me, make it so amazing. The first is that the palace remains very intact, especially compared to many of the runes of ancient Rome from around the same era we had seen earlier in our trip. The second is the fact that the palace is being used and lived in by the locals. The walls are lined with restaurants and shops for tourists, and there are people living inside the walls. The room we rented was in the section of the palace that was once reserved for the soldiers.
From Split we took a boat to Hvar. On the way to the island, we stopped at Blue Cave. What made blue cave this colour is an underwater tunnel that connects the dark cave to the bright outdoors, dispersing light through the water in the cave that lit up blue. The dim blue light in the dark cave was stunning.
Hvar is known as being quite the party town. It’s interesting that every town we visited in Croatia seemed to have some sort of city wall and/or castle. Hvar was no different. As we learned, everyone and their mom tried to take over the Dalmatian coast over the last couple thousand years so this may be why.
From Hvar, our next stop was the town of Korcula, located on the island of the same name.. The town of Korcula is small and easy to walk around, surrounded by the sea on three of the four sides. In Korcula, we rented a small boat and traveled to some of the nearby small islands, while swimming in the beautiful water of the Adriatic Sea.
One of our favourite meals of the trip was at a restaurant on the island of Korcula, the family run restaurant Konoba Ranch Maha. To get there, we took a taxi into the island. Surrounded by acres of open land up in the hills, we were greeted with the most beautiful sight – an outdoor restaurant surrounded by lush greenery and large fiery cooking pits. Here we enjoyed one of our favourite dishes of the trip, Dalmatian peka. Peka is a stew consisting of your choice of meat or octopus (we had veal and lamb) and potatoes. What makes is so special is that it is cooked under a cast-iron bell on hot coals for several hours. John and I simply loved it!
Apart from peka, our favourite dish in Croatia had to be pašticada. Unfortunately, I am not equipped to make peka at home, so I thought I would give pašticada a go instead. Pašticada is a beef roast cooked in a sauce consisting of red wine, prosek (a Croatian dessert wine similar to port) and prunes. You can serve it with mashed potatoes, but traditionally it is served on gnocchi. We learned quickly that even throughout the Dalmatian coast, the recipes for pašticada varied, differing in sweetness and acidity. We got the distinct impression that a good pašticada was a source of pride for these restaurants.
At first, I found this recipe quite daunting but it was much easier then I thought it would be. The trick is to give yourself plenty of time as it takes three hours to cook in the oven. But it was worth the time. The beef was tender and the sauce was both sweet and acidic. To make matters better, we opted to fry our gnocchi instead of boiling it!
Pašticada is a wonderful way to bring some authentic Croatian cooking into your kitchen!
Other posts in this series:
Part 1: Barcelona, Spain and Chicken and Sausage Paella
Part 2: Montserrat, Spain and Patatas Bravas
Part 3: Rome, Italy and Pasta Carbonara
Part 4: Florence, Italy and Bistecca Fiorentina
Click here to view the printable Word version of recipe:
2 kg beef roast (I used flank, traditionally bottom rump roast is used)
6 garlic cloves, cut in half lengthwise
2 cups red wine vinegar
4 slices bacon, cut into pieces
2 onions, sliced
2 sticks celery, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
10 prunes, chopped into smaller pieces
1 cup beef broth
2 cups red wine
1 cup Prosek, or other sweet dessert wine
1/2 can tomato paste
1 bay leaf
2 tsp salt
Pepper to taste
- Using a thin knife, cut holes into the beef. Insert garlic and cloves throughout.
- In a large ziplock bag, marinade beef in red wine vinegar overnight, moving and flipping periodically.
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Heat oil in an oven-safe dutch oven. If you don’t have one, use a stove top pot and transfer to a roasting pan for oven.
- Remove beef from bag and drain vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Dust with flower. Fry quickly on all sides to brown. Remove beef from dutch oven.
- Add bacon pieces, cook for a few minutes. Then add onion and garlic and cook.
- Add carrots and celery. Mix well and cook for a few minutes. Add 2 tsp salt and pepper to taste.
- Add prunes, red wine and beef broth. Put beef on top of vegetables and bring to a boil.
- Meanwhile, mix tomato paste with prosek. Add to pot. Add bay leaves.
- Once liquid is boiling, cover and bake at 350 for 2 hours, basting occasionally.
- When beef is done, remove from dutch oven and blend sauce with a hand blender.
- Serve sliced beef on a bed of gnocchi or mashed potatoes, with sauce.