Jun 272018
 

On this date in 1358, the Republic of Ragusa, centered on Dubrovnik in Dalmatia, became independent from Venice and remained an independent maritime enclave until 1808. I am sure that if you ask the average English speaker where Ragusa is (or was), they will have no idea. If you ask a French, Italian, or Dalmatian speaker you are likely to get a more informed answer because in those (and other) languages, Ragusa is another name for Dubrovnik. Its Latin motto was “Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro” (It is not good to sell your liberty for all the gold [in the world]). The Republic of Ragusa was a compact area of southern Dalmatia – its final borders were formed by 1426 – comprising the mainland coast from Neum to the Prevlaka peninsula as well as the Pelješac peninsula and the islands of Lastovo and Mljet, as well as a number of smaller islands such as Koločep, Lopud, and Šipan. In the 15th century the Ragusan republic also acquired the islands of Korčula, Brač and Hvar for about eight years. However, they had to be given up due to the resistance of local minor aristocrats sympathizing with Venice, which was granting them some privileges.

According to the De administrando imperio of the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, the city was founded, around the 7th century, by the inhabitants of the Roman city of Epidaurum (modern Cavtat) after its destruction by the Avars and Slavs ca. 615. Some of the survivors moved 25 kilometers (16 miles) north to a small island near the coast where they founded a new settlement which they called Lausa (“rocky island”). Excavations in 2007 revealed a Byzantine basilica from the 8th century and parts of the city walls. The size of the old basilica clearly indicates that this was a sizable settlement at the time. There is also evidence of older settlements (possibly Greek).

After the Fourth Crusade, Ragusa came under the sovereignty of Venice from 1205 to 1358. In this period it adopted Venetian laws and customs. After Venice was forced in 1358, by the Treaty of Zadar, to yield all claims to Dalmatia, Ragusa became an independent republic although it was to be a vassal of Louis I of Hungary. On 27th June 1358, the final agreement was reached at Visegrád between Louis and the Archbishop Ivan Saraka. The city recognized Hungarian sovereignty, but the local nobility continued to rule with little interference from Buda. Ragusa profited from the suzerainty of Louis of Hungary, whose kingdom was not a naval power, and so they had little conflict of interest. The last Venetian conte left, apparently in a hurry.

In 1399, the city acquired the area between Ragusa and Pelješac, called the Primorje (Dubrovačko primorje). It was purchased from Bosnian king Stephen Ostoja. A brief war with Bosnia in 1403 ended with Bosnian withdrawal. Between 1419 and 1426, the Konavle region, south of Astarea (Župa dubrovačka), including the city of Cavtat, was added to the Republic’s possessions. In 1458, Ragusa signed a treaty with the Ottoman Empire which made it a tributary of the sultan. When in 1481 the city passed into Ottoman protection, it was to pay an increased tribute of 12,500 ducats. For all other purposes, however, Ragusa was virtually independent and usually allied with Maritime Republic of Ancona. Ragusa could enter into relations with foreign powers and make treaties with them (as long as they did not conflict with Ottoman interests), and its ships sailed under its own flag. Ottoman vassalage also conferred special trade rights that extended within the Ottoman empire. Ragusa handled the Adriatic trade on behalf of the Ottomans, and its merchants received special tax exemptions and trading benefits. It also operated colonies that enjoyed extraterritorial rights in major Ottoman cities.

Merchants from Ragusa could enter the Black Sea, which was otherwise closed to non-Ottoman shipping. They paid less in customs duties than other foreign merchants, and the city-state enjoyed diplomatic support from the Ottoman administration in trade disputes with the Venetians. Ragusa reached its peak in the 15th and 16th centuries, when its maritime mercantile regime rivalled that of Venice and other Italian maritime republics.

Ragusa adopted what are now regarded as modern laws and institutions early in its history: a medical service was introduced in 1301, with the first pharmacy, still operating to this day, being opened in 1317. An almshouse was opened in 1347, and the first quarantine hospital (Lazarete) was established in 1377. Slave trading was abolished in 1418, and an orphanage opened in 1432. A 20 km (12 mi) water supply system, instead of a cistern, was constructed in 1438 by the Neapolitan architect and engineer Onofrio della Cava. He completed the aqueduct with two public fountains. He also built a number of mills along one of its branches.

The city was ruled by the local aristocracy which was of Latin-Dalmatian extraction and formed two city councils. As usual for the time, they maintained a strict system of social classes. The republic abolished the slave trade early in the 15th century and greatly valued liberty. The city successfully balanced its sovereignty between the interests of Venice and the Ottoman Empire for centuries.

The languages spoken by the people were the Romance Dalmatian and common Croatian. The latter had started to replace Dalmatian little by little since the 11th century among the common people who inhabited the city. Florentine and Venetian became important languages of culture and trade in Dubrovnik. At the same time, Dubrovnik became a cradle of Croatian literature.

The economic wealth of the Republic was partially the result of the land it developed, but mostly because of seafaring trade. With the help of skilled diplomacy, Dubrovnik merchants traveled lands freely and on the sea the city had a huge fleet of merchant ships that travelled all over the world. From these travels they founded some settlements, from India to the Americas, and brought parts of their culture and flora home with them. One of its keys to success was not conquering, but trading and sailing under a white flag with the Latin word “Libertas” (freedom) prominently featured on it. The flag was adopted when slave trading was abolished in 1418.

Ragusa gradually declined due to a combination of a Mediterranean shipping crisis and the catastrophic earthquake of 1667 which killed over 5,000 citizens and levelled most of the public buildings, and consequently negatively impacted the whole well-being of the Republic. In 1699, the Republic was forced to sell two mainland patches of its territory to the Ottomans in order to avoid being caught in the clash with advancing Venetian forces. Today this strip of land belongs to Bosnia and Herzegovina and is that country’s only direct access to the Adriatic.

In 1806, the city surrendered to the Napoleonic army, since this was the only way to end a month-long siege by the Russian-Montenegrin fleets. At first, Napoleon demanded only free passage for his troops, promising not to occupy the territory and stressing that the French were friends of Dubrovnik. Later, however, French forces blockaded the harbors, forcing the government to give in and let French troops enter the city. On this day, all flags and coats of arms above the city walls were painted black as a sign of mourning. In 1808, Marshal Auguste de Marmont abolished the republic and integrated its territory first into Napoleon’s kingdom of Italy and later into the Illyrian provinces under French rule. This was to last until 28th January 1814 when the city surrendered to Captain Sir William Hoste leading a body of British and Austrian troops who were besieging the fortress.

I have visited Dubrovnik several times because Croatia is home to a set of traditional dances that are related to morris dancing and other European dances that I have researched and written on for 4 decades. Colleagues have organized academic conferences in the region, and I have also brought dancers to perform alongside locals. One of my favorite dishes when I visit is octopus salad, a dish much loved by locals as a first course. All I really need to do is describe the dish for you to get the idea. It is made from slices or chunks of octopus with vegetables, sometimes potatoes or lettuce, marinated in olive oil and lemon juice, and chilled. The trick is knowing how to cook the octopus so that it is tender, because it is all too easy to have it turn out tough and rubbery. Local cooks have all manner of “tricks” which are more superstition than useful. Some will tell you to add a splash of wine to the cooking water and add the wine cork to it when cooking, for example. This is a waste of time.  There are 2 mistakes that novice cooks make all the time: (1) cooking the octopus too quickly (2) cooking the octopus too long. What I did not know for many years is that you do not have to immerse octopus in water to cook it.

Start by peeling an onion and studding it with cloves. Place it in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with a lid and place the octopus beside it. Put the lid on and set the heat under the pot to the lowest possible. The rule of thumb for cooking time is 1 hour plus 30 minutes per kilo. Croatian cooks poke the onion with a fork, and when it is soft in the middle the octopus is ready. However, what counts as “soft” is a matter of experience. The bigger the octopus, the bigger the onion, also. Remove the octopus from the pot and let it cool to the touch. Cut off the head, and then cut the tentacles into chunks (keeping the tips whole). Now it becomes cook’s choice. Toss the octopus with a vegetable or vegetables of your choice. This could be salad greens, or diced, poached potatoes, or even just chopped parsley – or any combination. I have had it all ways. Dress the salad with extra virgin olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice, toss again to coat evenly, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Serve in small portions on chilled plates.

Oct 182016
 

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Today is International Necktie Day which is celebrated primarily in Croatia, but also in various cities around the world such as Dublin, Tübingen, Como, Tokyo, Sydney and other towns. The celebration is not of major importance anywhere, of course, but it has a certain resonance in Croatia because wearing the original version of ties began in military regiments in Croatia and spread outward, first to France, then to the rest of Europe and beyond – evolving along the way. The original word for a tie in many European languages, cognates of “cravat,” are also cognates of the Croatian word for a Croatian – Hrvat. Hrvat actually sounds more like “cravat” when spoken than might appear when written because the /h/ is guttural and the /r/ contains a slight vowel sound.  Ties these days are nothing like their original Croatian version, and they are finally going out of fashion; but the trend is desperately slow. I am going to use the word “tie” here, not “necktie.” “Necktie” is American English, and even though my spelling these days is generally American English rather than British English, because I lived and worked as a writer and professor in the United States for 35 years, and my vocabulary is not British at all (I say “elevator,” “apartment,” “hood” and “trunk” (for a car)), I just can’t bring myself to say “necktie.”

Soldiers in traditional military uniforms attend a guard exchanging ceremony at St. Mark's Square in Zagreb

The modern fashion of the tie traces ultimately back to the 17th century. The passage of the tie from Croatia to France (thence beyond) is a bit murky, but common legend has it that Croatian mercenaries from the Croatian Military Frontier in French service visited Paris during the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648) in celebration of a hard-fought victory over the Ottoman Empire. There, the soldiers were presented as glorious heroes to the boy king Louis XIV, and it so happened that the officers of this regiment were wearing brightly colored handkerchiefs fashioned of silk around their necks. In imitation, Louis XIV began wearing a lace cravat around 1646, when he was seven, and set a fashion for French nobility which then started a fashion craze in Europe of both men and women wearing pieces of fabric around their necks. The first lace cravats, or jabots, took time and effort to arrange stylishly. They were often tied in place by cravat strings, arranged neatly and tied in a bow. From there the tie evolved.

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In 1715, another kind of neckwear, the stock, made its appearance. The term originally referred to a leather collar, laced at the back, worn by soldiers to promote holding the head high in a military bearing. The leather stock also afforded some protection to the major blood vessels of the neck from saber or bayonet attacks.

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Stock ties were initially just a small piece of muslin folded into a narrow band wound a few times round the shirt collar and secured from behind with a pin. It was fashionable for the men to wear their hair long, past shoulder length. The ends were tucked into a black silk bag worn at the nape of the neck. This was known as the bag-wig hairstyle, and the neckwear worn with it was the stock. The solitaire was a variation of the bag wig. This form had matching ribbons stitched around the bag. After the stock was in place, the ribbons would be brought forward and tied in a large bow in front of the wearer.

Some time in the late 18th century, cravats began to make an appearance again, and this fashion recall is usually attributed to a group of young men called the macaronis (of “Yankee Doodle” fame). These were young Englishmen who returned from Europe bringing with them fashion from Italy. At this time, there was also much interest in the way to tie a proper cravat and this led to a series of publications. This began with Neckclothitania,  a book that contained instructions and illustrations on how to tie 14 different cravats. Soon after, the immense skill required to tie the cravat in certain styles, quickly became a mark of a man’s elegance and wealth. It was also the first book to use the word tie in association with neckwear.

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It was about this time that black stocks made their appearance. Their popularity eclipsed the white cravat, except for formal and evening wear. These remained popular through to the 1850s. At this time, the neckerchief gained in popularity. It was often held in place by slipping the ends through a finger or scarf ring at the neck instead of using a knot. This became classic sailor neckwear which is still common. It is also common for Boy Scouts, and as a teen I had a large collection of both neckerchiefs and rings (called “woggles”).

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, more people wanted neckwear that was easy to put on, was comfortable, and would last an entire workday. Hence ties were designed long and thin that were easy to knot and did not come undone over the course of a long day. This is the tie design that is still worn today. Other styles of neckware also evolved in the 19th century including the bowtie, which is a simplification of the bow of the cravat strings, and the Ascot tie worn originally during the day at the races at Ascot.

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Since the tie has origins in Croatia, a Croatian recipe is appropriate. The cuisine of Croatia is quite eclectic with regions varying considerably. In a broad sense it can be divided into inland cooking and coastal recipes. My travels in Croatia have focused on the Dalmatian coast and its islands so I am more familiar with those traditions than inland ones. I’ve been more than content with feasts of fried whitebait and squid along with black risotto. But the ubiquitous dish which you will be served everywhere, and which I love, is salata od hobotnice – octopus salad. To make this dish well is no small feat because octopus is notoriously hard to cook so that it is not tough and leathery.

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To cook octopus well you should start with frozen octopus. The freezing begins the tenderizing process. Thaw the octopus and heat a pot of water and white wine to a bare simmer. Some cooks believe that putting the wine cork in with the liquid helps tenderizing, but I think this is just a Croatian superstition. Do it if it makes you feel good. I don’t. Simmer the octopus until it is just cooked and no longer (about 10 minutes per pound). Longer cooking makes the octopus tough and there is no recovering once this happens. Remove the octopus from the poaching liquid and when cool enough to handle rub off the skin. Chill completely and then cut into bite-sized servings. I like to cut the flesh into paper thin rounds to ensure extra tenderness. Toss the octopus with chopped greens, green onions, and tomatoes dressed with extra virgin olive oil, and serve well chilled with crusty bread.

Apr 152016
 

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On this date in 1935 a number of nations signed The Treaty on the Protection of Artistic and Scientific Institutions and Historic Monuments, commonly called the Roerich Pact. The most important component of the Roerich Pact is the legal recognition that the defense of cultural objects is more important than the use or destruction of that culture for military purposes, and the protection of culture always has precedence over any military necessity. The pact was the brainchild of Russian painter and philosopher Nicholas Roerich. This date is also now celebrated in various nations as the Universal Day of Culture, the World League of Culture, and the World Day of Culture.  The aims of the celebration are all the same, namely, to emphasize the value of diverse cultures, and to protect them against the ravages of war.

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Nicholas Roerich was born on October 9, 1874, in St. Petersburg. His parents encouraged him to study law, but seeing their son’s interest in painting, they allowed him to study both. In 1900, Roerich went to Paris to take lessons from Fernand Cormon, teacher of Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec. Upon his return to St. Petersburg, he married Helena Shaposhnikova, who later developed the Agni Yoga philosophy.  Ultimately Roerich became a successful painter; one of his paintings was purchased by Russian Tsar Nicolas II. Roerich also worked as stage and costume designer for several operas and ballets by Maurice Maeterlinck and Igor Stravinsky, premiered in St. Petersburg.

Roerich formulated the idea of protecting cultural objects from the devastation caused by war and other modernist forces in 1899. During his excavations at Saint-Petersburg province, he began to point to necessity of preserving ancient artifacts, because they help preserve long dead worldviews.

In 1903, Roerich together with his wife, toured 40 ancient Russian cities, including Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Vladimir, Suzdal, Yuriev-Polsky, Smolensk, Vilna (Lithuanian city, briefly part of Russian Empire), Izborsk, Pskov. In 1904 he visited Uglich, Kalyazin, Kashin, Tver. During this travel Roerich created a series of architectural studies – around 90 paintings of the sites he visited. Later many Russian churches were destroyed by revolutionary forces and these paintings remain the only record of them.

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After his travels Roerich gave a report to the Emperor’s Russian Archeologist Society about the sad state of historical monuments and the need to take prompt action to protect them. During the Russo-Japanese war (1904–1905) Roerich again emphasized the need for a special to protect institutions and cultural monuments from war.

In 1914, Roerich appealed to the high command of the Russian army, as well as the governments of the USA and France, with the idea of formulating an international agreement aimed at the protection of cultural values during armed conflicts. He created a poster “Enemy of Mankind” denouncing the barbaric destruction of cultural monuments, and the image “Glow” as a protest against World War I.

In 1929, Roerich, in cooperation with G.G. Shklyaver, a doctor of international law and political sciences from Paris University prepared a draft resolution of an international pact for the protection of cultures. The scheme was to be a cultural analog of the Red Cross’s medical neutrality. Simultaneously Roerich proposed a distinctive sign to identify the objects that are in need of protection, which is now called the Banner of Peace. It consists of a white background with a red circle and three red circles inscribed in it. This banner has been displayed in prominent places – including the North and South Poles, and the Mir space station.

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In 1930 the text of a draft agreement accompanied with Roerich’s appeal to governments and peoples of all countries was published in newspapers and distributed to governmental, scientific, artistic and educational institutions around the world. As a result, committees supporting the Pact were established in many countries. The draft pact was approved by Committee for Museum affairs at League of Nations and also by the Committee of the Pan-American Union. Ultimately, the Pact was signed by 21 states in the Americas and was ratified by 10 of them.

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A few years after the Second World War, the Roerich Pact played an important role in forming international law standards and public activity in the field of protection of cultural heritage. In 1949, at the 4th session of general UNESCO conference, a decision was accepted to begin the work of international law regulation in the field of cultural heritage protection in case of armed conflict.

Needless to say, the ideals far outstrip the reality. The Pact was in effect when Allied and Axis powers bombed countless historic sites around the world. Money and power have a way of trumping cultural interests. One of the tenets of the Pact is that nations should strive to spend more on cultural institutions – art, music, theater etc – than on weaponry. Rotsa ruck with that !!

In October 2003, The Roerich pact was extended to include the protection of non-material cultural heritage, which was accepted by the 32nd session of the General U.N. Conference on Education, Science and Culture.  The UNESCO World Heritage List is well known to most, but there is also another list, the Intangible Cultural Heritage list intended to safeguard non-tangible items such as music and dance. In this list there is a growing number of entries related to food and food culture. On the list are French and Mexican cuisine and the Mediterranean diet. These are rather too general, I would say, to qualify as my recipe of the day, but you can make coq au vin, tacos, or pasta primavera if you wish.  However, licitars (Croatian gingerbread hearts) are also on the list. I recommend going to Zagreb if you want to try them, but you can make a simulacrum if you want to. You’ll find a serviceable recipe here:

http://www.chasingthedonkey.com/croatian-cooking-licitar-recipe/

However, you won’t produce anything like the real thing. Licitars are colorfully decorated biscuits made of sweet honey dough that are part of Croatia’s cultural heritage and a traditional symbol of Zagreb. They are used as an ornamental gift, often given at celebrations of love such as weddings and St. Valentine’s Day. At Christmas time, the city of Zagreb and the Christmas tree in the main square in particular are festooned with thousands of licitar hearts.

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The tradition of making and giving Licitars goes back to the 16th century. Licitar makers, known as Medičari, were highly regarded in society, and their Licitars very much sought after – much more sentimental than giving a bouquet of roses, for example. Even today the tradition is kept alive by a select few who shroud the art in family secrecy, and claim their methods of production have scarcely changed. One licitar still takes over a month to make.

Licitars became famous due to their being sold at the Marian shrine of Marija Bistrica (in Zagorje near Zagreb) where pilgrims journeyed for the Assumption or St Margaret’s Day. Although not a religious symbol, licitars were often bought by pilgrims to take home as a reminder of their long and sometimes arduous journey to Zagorje. Licitars’ simple shape and attractive color and decorations were a common souvenir to show family and friends when they returned.

Licitars are also known in neighboring Slovenia. The oldest licitar workshops can be found in Slovenj Gradec (established in 1757) and in Radovljica (established in 1766). Both workshops are still producing licitar today and the one in Radovljica is open to tourists.

Licitars are made using traditional ingredients and methods. Their ingredients are simple (honey, flour, eggs, water and natural colors) but their preparation is long. The dough matures for a few days, then is shaped and baked and left for two weeks to dry. Coloring is the next step after which they are left to dry again for two weeks. Once dry, the licitars are finally decorated and again left to dry for a week.

Traditionally Licitars are 100% handmade, decorated with a swirling outline, small flowers and a small mirror. Being made of honey dough and natural products licitars are edible, but few people actually eat them. Licitars are often referred to as “gingerbread,” though they do not actually contain ginger.

 

Jun 252014
 

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[Once again, struggling to keep my head above water amidst my visa tribulations among other things. I am so sorry for the short post. I am very fond of Croatia and Croatian cuisine, so I cannot let this day pass unmarked. I also do not want to disappoint my faithful readers.]

Today is Statehood Day (Dan državnosti) in Croatia, an annual holiday to celebrate the country’s 1991 declaration of independence from Yugoslavia. Statehood Day is an official holiday in Croatia. After the independence referendum held on May 19th, 1991, the Croatian Parliament formally proclaimed independence with Ustavna odluka o suverenosti i samostalnosti Republike Hrvatske – the “Constitutional decision on sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Croatia.” Statehood Day used to be May 30, marking the day when in 1990 the first post-Communist multi-party Parliament was constituted. There was some public controversy regarding which date is more suitable for the day to celebrate statehood. Since 2002, June 25 has prevailed as Statehood Day, and May 30 is marked as a minor holiday. This holiday is not to be confused with Croatia’s Independence Day, which is marked each year on October 8. Croatia declared independence on June 25, but as per the Brioni Agreement, a three-month moratorium was placed on the implementation of the decision, and the government did not cut all remaining ties with Yugoslavia until October.

Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia at the same time, and its Statehood Day coincides with Croatian Statehood Day, on June 25.

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One small tidbit about Croatian culture to amuse. The European gentleman’s fashion of the cravat originated in the 1630’s and was of Croatian military origin. In the reign of Louis XIII of France, Croatian mercenaries were enlisted into a regiment supporting the King and Cardinal Richelieu against the Duke of Guise and the Queen Mother, Marie de’ Medici. The traditional Croat military kit aroused Parisian curiosity because of the unusual scarves distinctively knotted at the Croats’ necks; ranging from the coarse cloths of enlisted soldiers to the fine linens and silks of the officers. The sartorial word “cravat” derives from the French cravate, a corrupt French pronunciation of Croate i.e. Croatian (Hrvatska in Croatian). The Spanish word for a neck tie is a cognate – corbata. Croatia these days celebrates Cravat Day on October 18.

Note also that Croatian is written using the Roman alphabet, whereas their close neighbors, the Serbs, use the Cyrillic alphabet. Croatian and Serbian are very close, mutually intelligible, languages, but there is zero love lost between Croats and Serbs. Hence they use any means possible to distinguish one from the other.

Croatian cuisine is quite varied in general, but is also known as a cuisine of regions because various areas of Croatia have their own traditions based on their history. The most notable divide is between the coastal area and the inner mainland.  Mainland cuisine is characterized by earlier Slavic traditions combined with more recent contact with neighboring cultures – Hungarian, Austrian and Turkish primarily – using lard for cooking, and spices such as black pepper, paprika, and garlic. The coastal region bears the influences of conquerors – Greek, Roman and Illyrian – as well as of later Mediterranean influences – Italian (especially Venetian) and French, using olive oil, and herbs and spices such as rosemary, sage, bay leaf, oregano, marjoram, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, lemon and orange rind. Coastal cuisine is dominated by seafood; the islands, in particular have few animals for meat. Goats and sheep are the most common.

How I wish I could regale you with tales of fabulous meals on my trips to the Dalmatian coast and islands. How about being taken to a deserted island in the Adriatic by a fisherman who caught fish that morning and roast them over a driftwood fire on a beach of sparkling sand beside shimmering warm waters? Or being served goat’s milk by my host on Lastovo island for breakfast, still warm from the udder? Freshly pressed olive oil, new made wine, octopus salad, deep fried squid . . . the list goes on. I never have managed yet to get Dalmatian goat tripe stew in Croatia because goats are not butchered often. They are kept mainly for their milk and wool. One day.

Here is a recipe for black risotto, which is a specialty of Dubrovnik (marvelous old town). The black coloration comes from squid or cuttlefish ink. I make it when I can in a very simple way by cooking rice with canned squid in its own ink, which is quite easy to find in good supermarkets. Here is a more authentic recipe.

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©Dalmatian Black Risotto

Ingredients

2lbs/1 kg squid or cuttlefish with ink sacks
2 large onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
parsley, chopped
1lb/450 g short grain/Arborio rice
extra virgin olive oil
white wine
fish stock
salt and pepper

Instructions

Clean the squid or cuttlefish (or buy them pre-cleaned). The basic process involves cutting off the head and tentacles, then popping the head off. Remove the contents of the body, and pull off the skin. Cut the body into thin rings.

Bring a pot of fish stock to a gentle simmer.

Sauté the onion in a little olive oil until translucent in a large, heavy skillet. Add the squid or cuttlefish and rice, and cook gently for about 5 to 10 minutes on medium-low heat. Make sure all of the rice is well coated with olive oil. Do not let the ingredients take on any color. Add the garlic, parsley, salt and pepper to taste, ink, a splash or two of wine, and 2 ladles of the hot fish stock.

Here is where long experience comes in. There is no way to explain this process in words. Keep the stock in the skillet at a low simmer and let it evaporate as well as be absorbed by the rice. When the skillet is almost dry, add another ladle of stock, all the while stirring the rice continuously with a wooden spoon. It will probably take 20 minutes or more to cook the rice in this fashion. Ladle, stir, dry, ladle, stir, dry . . . until the stock in the skillet becomes thick and creamy, and the rice softens. After about 15 minutes you can begin biting on a grain of rice to test it. When it is almost cooked, add one more ladle of stock, stir so that you have a creamy, but not over-runny, mix and remove from the heat. Let it sit covered for 5 minutes and serve in shallow bowls with a green salad. Some people like to sprinkle the risotto with grating cheese. Do it if you wish. I think cheese compromises the deep flavors of the squid and ink.

Oct 082013
 

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Today is Independence Day in Croatia. In June 1991 Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia, with the declaration officially taking effect on 8th October of the same year. It still took 4 years of war with Serbia for the sovereignty of the nation to be lasting, however. But eventually Croatia became self governing following 900 years of domination by other states. 8th October is also significant because it was the coronation date in 1076 of Dmitar Zvonimir, who was, for all intents and purposes, the last king of an independent Croatia before it fell under the control of foreign powers.

Ethnic Croats probably arrived in the area of present-day Croatia during the early part of the 7th century. By the 9th century Croatia consisted of two duchies, which combined to become a kingdom under Tomislav in 925. The kingdom of Croatia retained its sovereignty for nearly two centuries, reaching its peak during the reigns of kings Peter Krešimir IV and Dmitar Zvonimir.

Not much is known about Zvonomir although he holds a prominent symbolic place in contemporary Croatia as a great leader of a free Croatia (hence his coronation date and Independence Day coincide). He was crowned on 8 October 1076 at Solin in the Basilica of Saint Peter and Moses (known today as the Hollow Church, an archeological site) by a representative of Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085). After the Papal legate crowned him, Zvonimir gave the city of Vrana and the Benedictine monastery of Saint Gregory to the Pope as a sign of loyalty. He is also known for building a three-naved basilica near Knin, his capital, and the city is today nicknamed “Zvonimir’s city”. He continued the expansive and pro-Roman policies of his predecessor, maintaining a close alliance with the papacy. He supported Gregory in his fight for supremacy over the Holy Roman Empire, and made many domestic reforms, including the abolition of slavery.

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There are several versions of the story of Zvonimir’s death. The most commonly accepted one, recorded by Thomas the Archdeacon, asserts that he died of natural causes.  Another account, from the Presbyter of Doclea, says that on 20 April 1089, desiring to heal the East-West Schism Pope Urban II asked Zvonimir, his strongest Balkan ally, to come to the military aid of Alexios I Komnenos against the Seljuks. Zvonimir convened the Sabor (council of nobles) at Kosovo Polje near Knin that year to mobilize the army on behalf of the pope and the emperor, but the nobility refused him and a rebellion erupted, leading to Zvonimir’s assassination at the hands of his own soldiers. His death marked the collapse of Croatian royal power. A legend arose, known as the Curse of Zvonomir, that as he lay dying he swore that because of this betrayal, Croatia would be ruled by foreigners for 900 years.

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When Zvonomir’s successor, Stjepan II, died in 1091 Ladislaus I of Hungary claimed the Croatian crown. Opposition to the claim led to a war and eventual union of Croatia and Hungary in 1102 the terms of which are not clear, but which seemed to have given Hungary some control over Croatia. For the next four centuries, the Kingdom of Croatia saw increasing threat of Ottoman conquest and struggle against the Republic of Venice for control of coastal areas. The Venetians gained control over most of Dalmatia by 1428, with the exception of the city-state of Dubrovnik which became independent. Ottoman conquests led to the 1493 Battle of Krbava field and 1526 Battle of Mohács, both ending in decisive Ottoman victories. In 1527, faced with complete Ottoman conquest, the Croatian Parliament elected Ferdinand I of the House of Habsburg to the Croatian throne. From that point until 1918 Croatia was under Habsburg domination with constant threats from Ottoman Turks, as well as Venetians and the French during the Napoleonic Wars.

In 1918, after World War I, Croatia was included in the unrecognized State of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs which seceded from Austria–Hungary and merged into the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.  A fascist Croatian puppet state existed during World War II. After the war, Croatia became a founding member and a federal constituent of Second Yugoslavia, a socialist state. In 1991, as part of the breakup of the Soviet Union, Croatia declared independence.

I spent several summers shortly after the Croatian War of Independence on islands off the Dalmatian coast conducting fieldwork on local culture, participating in conferences, and assisting local governments in their efforts to expand tourism.  As such I had considerable opportunity to sample the cooking of the region dominated by seafood from the Adriatic, combined with locally produced olive oil and wines.  Octopus features in many dishes, most especially the signature salata od hobotnice, octopus salad, as well squid in crni rižoto, black risotto, made by boiling the rice in squid ink.  You can make a very quick and cheap version of this by placing a tin of squid in its own ink in with some rice as it is boiling, draining the rice when it is cooked, and then mixing it with the heated squid and ink.

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Although seafood heavily predominates in Dalmatian cooking, there are traditional meat dishes due to the fact that island families often keep goats for milk and sheep for wool and meat.  Here is a recipe for tripice na Dalmatinski (Dalmatian style tripe) I got from a cook on the island of Lastovo. This is one of those recipes that is enjoyed in many countries, each with a slightly different regional twist.  However, the basics are the same: tripe and bacon simmered in a tomato and garlic sauce.  Most of the variations concern the kind of bacon to be used, and, believe me, this makes a considerable difference.   My favorite is pancetta, which is fairly easy to come by in the deli meat section of good supermarkets.  Pancetta is sometimes referred to as Italian bacon, but it is quite different from other kinds of bacon.  The meat is taken only from the belly, so that it is very fatty.  It is cured in salt and spices, but it is not smoked.  When it has finished curing it is rolled in sausage shapes and sliced very thinly.  It adds a much more delicate sweet meaty flavor to tomato sauces than ordinary bacon.  Basically, though, you can use whatever cured pork you favor.  Prosciutto is excellent, as is Canadian or Irish back bacon.  Even if you use plain old supermarket bacon you will still be rewarded with a hearty and robust meal.  Sheep or goat tripe is best for this dish but ox tripe will work.

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Tripice Na Dalmatinski

Ingredients:

1 ½ lbs fully cooked tripe, cut in bite-sized chunks
6 slices pancetta (or an equivalent amount of cured pork or bacon)
1 onion
1 cup light stock (veal or chicken)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
extra virgin olive oil
black pepper

Instructions:

Cut the pancetta slices into 4 or 6 pieces and gently fry them in a little extra virgin olive oil so that the fat is rendered, and the meaty portions are well cooked but not crisp.  Remove the pancetta from the pan and reserve.

Thinly slice the onion and sauté in the oil and bacon fat until soft.  Finely mince the garlic and add to the onions for an extra minute.  Do not let the garlic take on any color.

Heat the stock and dissolve the tomato paste in it, then add this mixture to the garlic and onions.  Bring to a gentle simmer and add the tripe, pancetta, and the chopped parsley, plus a few grinds of black pepper.  Continue to simmer for about 30 minutes.

Serve with boiled new potatoes and crusty bread.

Serves 4.