Iće i piće

NO 12, February 2009

TRADITIONAL CUISINE: Copanjak from Plešivica

Savoury cake for Friday, appetizer and poor feast day

Josipa Andrijanić

Photos: Damir Fabijanić

When our way took us to the grape-growing and wine-producing area of Plešivica, not far from Zagreb, we had no suspicion that in addition to a really superior glass of wine we were going to try something outstandingly tasty. The savours were so magical that we rolled up our sleeves, and with Katarina, the grandmother, and her daughter Mirjana, we prepared Plešivica copanjak, an original and traditional dish of the Jastrebarsko region.

Every place has a song of its own... and every region has a dish of its own, the roots of which go back into the distant and sometimes unknown past. Which versatile cook left this indelible mark, who thought it up, shaped and breathed life into – all this is seldom remembered. And it is not all that important, for the authentic recipe is handed down through the generations. Dishes the roots of which are in some little rural regions on the whole have a similar secret, hidden in the simple combination of tastes and the freshness of home-produced ingredients, mainly off the land around the holding. We can assume that all of us in our hearts have something special that is always and again a new source of gladness. These are flavours that are not forgotten and that link us for ever with our birthplace, some special event or atmosphere.

On every journey I like trying something indigenous, something particular to the region. In this way I have the idea that I can the easier understand the different cultures, customs and people, and some of dishes send me back to a long distant past that I have never even known. But without all that, there’s nothing finer than savouring a recipe at the place of its origin.

One area called it copanjak, the other greblica. Greblica comes from the bread oven it’s baked in, it would take the form of the ancient baking paddle or peel, called greblica, used to put it in and take it out of the oven. But it’s the same dish. My mum was taught by hers, and our grannies were good at combining the same ingredients. In the past it was a cake that was usually made on Friday, and at the time of a fast it would served, after some modest stewwed vegetable dish, as cake. Today it’s served as a warm appetizer...

Katarina explained to us To the question of how it is possible to serve something that is warm and savoury as a pudding, Katarina replied with a smile that the taste was so full, rich and delicious that the juices would start running down your arm as soon as you put it to the mouth. And anyway, in those impoverished times, real cakes were seldom made, and copanjak was taken to be and served as a real, tasty and calorific treat.

The way it turns out

The basis is pastry, a very simple one, made of flour, lard, sour cream and a bit of salt. A practised housewife will judge the ingredients by eye and mould them into a smooth paste by hand.

Mother and daughter both say that the pastry is much better and suppler if you use home-made sour cream; the taste is better too. When you have mixed the pastry and let it stand for a bit, then roll it out and fill it with the filling made in advance and let to cool – made of briefly sautéed spring onion and spinach, with fresh cheese, eggs, finely chopped parsley and salt to taste mixed in when the vegetables are cool. This actually means, the way it turns out, says the cook, and reveals that about the filling you can use your imagination. Long ago they used only spring onion and parsley for the greens, and with time, spinach got into the act, but copanjak is still copanjak, even if it includes something in season like chard or pumpkin.

We most often use spinach today, but because we try to make our food from fresh and home-produced ingredients, before we start making, we take a stroll into the garden to pick what there is. Spring onion gives a special flavour, and we have that almost always. You’ve got to put in the green and the white bits. Put in parsley to taste, but don’t likely leave it out if you want the taste to be the way it was once.

The dough is then rolled out twice as big as the baking sheet, and put on the greased sheet. Don’t ever use stainless steel, because the copanjak won’t get nice and brown, they warn us. And it’s this golden brown colour that makes it attractive and nice.

When the filling is spread out over the dough, the ends are folded over and pinched up to make sure that the mixture doesn’t run out. Then cover it with cream and put it in the oven. Don’t forget to make a little hole to stop the pastry blowing up. With a spot of good will the food is very simple to make, and doesn’t at all take much time. It’s much better if it’s baked in a baker’s oven. And when they warm treat appeared in front of us, then we all understood. It irresistibly recalls other regional dishes, but then again has its own particular taste. I’d like to tell you in words the rhapsody of tastes, but we aren’t confident of succeeding. We’ll try it with the photos. And since I took part in the process of making them myself, I was rewarded with a little packet to take home, and so I have good cause for saying it’s excellent cold too.

Copanjak from Plešivica

flour 500 g
lard 1 large spoon
sour cream 200 – 250 cc
salt 1 teaspoon
spring onions about 10
spinach 200 g
fresh (cottage) cheese 500 g
eggs 2
salt 1 teaspoon
chopped parsley
  1. Mix the ingredients for the pastry well. If necessary increase the quantity of flour to get the right consistency.
  2. Chop the spring onion and sauté in a little oil, add the chopped spinach and sauté a little more until it gets softer. When it gets cold, add the cheese, eggs, parsley and salt to taste.
  3. Roll out the pastry to twice the size of the baking tin. Spread out the filling, cover it with the top of the pastry, and pinch up the ends so the filling doesn’t leak out.
  4. Coat it with sour cream and bake until it gets golden brown.

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