I expect most of you share my belief that a big part of the fun of travel is enjoying good things to eat and drink at your destination. During the week-plus that I recently spent in Slovenia, I took full advantage of every opportunity to try the local fare.
So what's Slovene cuisine? Well, to be honest about it, it seems that most of the regional dishes in this Yugoslav nation draw their inspiration from neighboring countries, particularly Italy (which contributes seafood from the Adriatic, pasta, pizza, risotti and a wonderful rendition of prosciutto that the Slovenes strip of its vowels to render as the Slavic "Prscut"); and Austria (which provides pork in all its forms, from sausages ("Klebasa") to bacon to schnitzel-type chops, plus sauerkraut and warm, nourishing soups.
Of all the dishes I sampled there, though - ranging from modern-cuisine twists on traditional seafood at Ljubljana's upscale Gostilna As to a really tasty pizza piled high with fresh arugula at a downscale pizzeria in a dim basement location that's said to be over 100 years old - nothing surpassed the warm, comforting mushroom soup that I enjoyed with the wine maker Janez Sekoranja of Gruben winery in Bizelskjo, a village in the Sotla River valley on the border of Croatia.
Sekoranja, the mushroom-loving son of a mushroom expert, said more than 70 varieties of edible fungus grow in this deep and forested valley, and the more different types that can be included in this nourishing soup, the better it is.
Following my host's lead, I crumbled crusty bread into the soup and ate it with gusto, accompanied by an aromatic local Sauvignon Blanc from an anonymous carafe.
Later in the afternoon, we would tuck into a mountain-size platter of pork in a half-dozen forms - salami, prscut, bacon, cracklings and a succulent steaming ham hock, along with red beans, mounds of mashed potatoes, buckwheat dumplings and a heap of sauerkraut.
But the memory I brought home - and the first dish I tried to replicate upon my arrival - was that wonderful mushroom soup. There's something about mushrooms that I find particularly appealing: Earthy and "meaty," they go remarkably well with both red and white wine; they're easy to prepare, and with their low-calorie, zero-fat composition, it's hard to imagine a more healthful food.
I didn't ask for the recipe, but working by instinct from memory on my first evening home, I put together this quick and easy rendition that seemed to do justice to the dish in Bizelskjo.This week's recipe: Mushroom soup gostilna style
Inspired by the mushroom soup at Gostilna ("restaurant") Kojcan in Bizelskjo, Slovenia, this dish is light yet filling. It took less than 30 minutes to complete, and it goes very well with wine.
INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)
12 ounces fresh mushrooms (I used a mixture of white and brown; a variety of types and textures is best, and fresh porcini, if available, would have been a wonderful addition)
1/2 ounce dried porcini (again, variety is the key to this dish, and a combination of other dried mushrooms would not go amiss)
1 medium shallot, chopped fine
1 large garlic clove, minced
Dried red pepper flakes or hot paprika to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons flour
a bit of chopped fresh thyme
salt and pepper
2 ounces heavy cream
1. Soak the dried mushrooms in 2 cups very hot water for about 15 minutes, then drain, straining the soaking liquid through a strainer lined with a paper towel to remove any grit, reserving the liquid. Chop the reconstituted mushrooms into fair-size bits.
2. While the dry mushrooms are soaking, rinse and dry the fresh mushrooms (or wipe them clean if you don't believe in washing mushrooms, although in my opinion there's no need to worry about this), and discard hard stem portions. Slice them thin.
3. Put the olive oil into a soup pan, heat it to sizzling, then sautee the chopped shallots and garlic with the red pepper flakes or paprika until the vegetables are translucent but not brown. Add the mushrooms and sautee until they start to cook down and give up a little liquid. (Add a splash of the reserved soaking liquid if things get too dry. When the mushrooms are soft, sprinkle on the flour and stir briefly to remove lumps; then gradually stir in the reserved liquid and reduce heat to very low. Simmer for a few moments, adding the thyme, salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and stir in the heavy cream. Serve, with plenty of fresh, crusty bread and a simple green salad.
As noted above, the traditional accompaniment is an aromatic Sauvignon Blanc; and Pinot Noir almost always makes an amiable match with mushroom dishes. I went a slightly different direction, though, opening a Provence red that was next up for tasting, and as I had hoped, its simple, earthy fruitiness made a fine match with the soup. It's really a wine-friendly dish that should go well with most dry wines of any color. The Provence wine was today's featured Tasting Note, online at
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Thursday, March 28, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.
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