One of the biggest reasons I love food is the fact that you can transport yourself into different parts of the world so easily with it. With some music and perhaps wine from the region while preparing and enjoying the meal, it really gets to be quite an experience. Especially if I have company and someone to cook with, I love cooking with friends much more than alone!
When I miss my home and family more then on any other regular day (when I miss them tons), I like to cook a meal that will take me back there. If not literally, then at least with my senses. Pašticada is definitely one of those meals. It originates in Dalmatia, the south coastal part of Croatia. The simplest description for it is that it's Dalmatian pot roast, but it is somehow so much more.
It takes a while to prepare it and usually it's made for some special occasion, but the effort and time are worth it.
By the way, have you seen Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations - Croatian Coast episode? It doesn't show all of my favorite dishes, but there is a lot of them in there and I think I watched it 20 times at least. I would say double that, but then you would just think I'm crazy.
Back to Pašticada though. To me, the most special part and flavor of this dish comes from using prunes, it gives it a very special sweetness that combined with wine and other spices takes an ordinary piece of meat to something extraordinary.
about 4 lbs of beef top round
5 garlic cloves, quartered lengthwise
2 slices of thick bacon, cut into 1/2" pieces
2 large onions
3 large carrots
1/4 of celery root or 2 celery stalks
2 sprigs of parsley
1 tsp of peppercorns
2 cups of red wine vinegar
2 cups of water
some canola oil for searing
1 Tbsp of finely chopped fresh rosemary
about 10 prunes
3 bay leaves
3 whole cloves
pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
2 Tbsp of tomato concentrate
3 cups of good quality red wine (if you have some Prosecco replace 1 cup red wine with that)
1 small shot of Brandy or Cognac
beef stock 2 - 4 cups
salt and pepper
about 2 tsp of sugar
Start by Boiling 2 cups of vinegar and 2 cups of water. Boil for a few minutes and then let cool. While it is cooling, wash the beef round and dry it well. With a thin and long knife make holes all around your meat and alternate filling them with garlic and bacon chunks.
Chop the onions, carrots and celery into large chunks and add them to boiled vinegar once it is cooled. Also add the peppercorns, parsley and finally your meat. Let it marinate for minimum over night or up to 24 hours.
I like to use my cast iron pot for this dish because it's great on the stove top and in the oven. When you are ready to start cooking remove the meat from the marinate and dry it well, but don't throw away the vegetables from the marinate. Sear the meat from each side so it's nicely browned and then add the vegetables to the meat. Pour your wine to the pot and make up the rest with some beef stock until it covers the meat. Add the Brandy or Cognac if using. The alcohol will completely evaporate from wine and the Brandy, so no need to be worried about that. Unless you would like it to be alcoholy. Then I'm sorry. Alcohol will completely evaporate. :))) Add the bay leaves, cloves and nutmeg to the pot as well as your tomato concentrate. Stir it around a little and it is ready to start cooking.
If you have an oven proof pot, put it on 325 F and cook for two hours. If not, cook on stove top on medium heat. After two hours you will carefully remove the meet and all the vegetables from the pot, strain the juices to get rid of the bay leaf and cloves. Mash the vegetables together with some of the juice and then return to the pot. You can also use an immersion blender for finer texture, but I like it mashed better, not completely smooth for this dish.
Slice the meat into about 1/4" thick slices and return to the pot, making sure it's all covered with the nice sauce. Add the prunes to it and then return to the oven and cook for another forty five minutes or so. It is done when the meat is soft. Once it is done try it, if it's too sour add little more sugar. If it's too sweet you can add a little bit of red wine vinegar.
Serve over gnocchi (homemade are best, but store bought are fine as well) and with some freshly grated Parmesan Cheese on top.