Enjoying a plate of good seafood – some grilled sea bass, langoustines, and small octopus – while watching the sailing boats in the small harbour slowly move along with the waves. For me, this is one of the perfect moments in life. (Of course, I understand this might be different in case you don´t like seafood at all.) This time, the place was Izola, and I was at the end of my holidays in Slovenia. Even though I had only been there for a few days, I was impressed by this small country. It seems to have a lot of diversity in such a small area.
First of all, the weather had been very diverse in the space of a couple of days. From quite decent, to some torrential rains during my drive from the mountains to the sea through the vineyards, ending up with very warm and sunny at the coast. But also the landscape and therefore my holidays in itself were very diverse. I started off in the capital, Ljubljana. A beautiful city, small but with very nice architecture and a good atmosphere. Many people relaxing around the river and outside at the restaurants. And plenty of street musicians and dancers to bring some entertainment to the streets during the evenings. From there, I went into the mountain area. Around lake Bled, the famous lake with a small island with church in the middle of the lake, I was surrounded by tourists. Among others so many of my Dutch country-mates: mainly families with children and caravans. But escaping the tourists turned out to be easy. Even at busy lake Bled, it was quiet once I took a short hike to a viewpoint. And especially when driving a bit further into the mountains. On a decent hike to a waterfall, ending in rock climbing with help of some metal pins sticking out from the rocks, I only met people greeting me in Slovenian. Finally, there was the coast. Cute small cities with coloured houses, reminding me of Italian cities. Small winding streets with the laundry drying outside to provide the streets with liveliness and pops of colour. No real sandy beach, but an opportunity to do some sunbathing on the stones protecting the boulevard. And a lovely sea with a nice temperature.
So all in all, a great and diverse time that seemed longer than just a few days. And not only the weather and landscape were diverse: the food as well. In Ljubljana I ate in a restaurant focused on the products of the north east, with the meal I had based around buckwheat and pumpkin seeds. In the mountains, the food was on the heavier side and I had for example dumplings with pork meat, and a dish of gratinated gnocchi. Finally, at the sea, I had to spoil myself with some seafood that is more difficult to get at home at the moment. So overall, very different styles, but good food in all places. And let´s not forget to mention the Slovenian wines, which were also far from disappointing!
The dish below is inspired by the food I had in the mountains, rolled strukli dumplings with pork meat from the oven, and the sunflower seed pesto I had in Ljubljana. Probably not very traditional, but I hope you will like it. If possible, pair it with a good glass of Slovenian wine, although that might be hard to get outside of Slovenia.
Rolled dumplings with pumpkin seed pesto
The main part of this dish are the dumplings and the pumpkin seed pesto. But it is great to have some pork loin medallions wrapped in prosciutto with them. Or, for a vegetarian option, some simple grilled zucchini.
In any case, the dumplings are boiled slowly wrapped in a clean cloth. So make sure to have a clean tea towel and some thread to bind it up ready as well.
Ingredients (For 2)
- 180 grams of flour
- 1 egg
- Vinegar – half a teaspoon
- Cottage cheese – 200 grams
- Basil – a good bunch
- Parmesan cheese – 30 grams, and some extra for serving
- Pumpkin seeds – around 60 grams, plus some extra for serving
- Garlic – 1 small clove
- Olive oil
- Pumpkin seed oil – optional in case you have it at home or can get it
- Black pepper
- 250 grams of pork tenderloin
- 6 slices of Parma ham / prosciutto
For the dough, place the flour on a clean working surface and make a well in the middle. Add a pinch of salt, the vinegar, half a tablespoon of olive oil, and the egg. Start mixing this together. While mixing this, add around 3 tablespoons of water, more if needed. The exact amount of water needed depends on factors like the other ingredients and the moisture in the air. So it can be a bit different every time. Knead the dough until it does not stick to you hands anymore, but is soft and elastic. Wrap the dough in some plastic wrap, and place in the fridge to rest.
Let the dough rest for about 15 minutes, meanwhile you can gather the other ingredients. Also, roast the pumpkin seeds for around 4 minutes in a dry, hot frying pan. Take them out of the pan once they have a nice and toasted smell.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Take the dough out of the fridge and roll it out in a rectangular shape. The short side should be around 10 centimeter and the dough should be rolled out as thinly as possible. Spread the cottage cheese all over the dough and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grate the skin of the lemon, and sprinkle the lemon zest over the dough. Press some of the lemon juice, around two tablespoons, over as well.
Roll the dough up tightly into a long roll. Seal the two ends, and roll into a snake-like spiral. Wrap this carefully into a clean tea towel or other piece of cloth. Tie up with a piece of thread and place carefully into the water, that should be boiling by now. Turn the fire down to medium until the water simmers. Leave to simmer for around 25 minutes.
Now, it is time to make the pesto. Grate the Parmesan cheese and cut the garlic in small pieces. Using a stab mixer or pestle and mortar, blend the basil, Parmesan cheese, roasted pumpkin seeds, garlic, and half a tablespoon of olive oil until smooth. You can add a little bit of water to make the blending easier and to loosen up the mixture. Start by adding only half of the clove of garlic and increase if you would like more, since otherwise the raw garlic easily overpowers the other flavours. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
In case you want to serve the dumplings with the pork meat, take the meat and slice it up in medallions of around 2 centimeters thick. Press those down with the palm of your hand to half of their thickness. Season the meat with salt and black pepper. Then, wrap the pieces of prosciutto around the pork medallions. Add some olive oil to a frying pan and bring to a medium to high heat. Once the oil is hot, fry the medallions for around 3 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Take them out of the pan and let them rest.
Meanwhile, the dumplings should be about ready. Take the wrapped package carefully out of the water and let it cool down for a few minutes. Open the package, taking care not to burn yourself. Now, you can roll the spiral out and back into a long roll, which you can slice into pieces of around 3 centimeters long. Otherwise, just slice up the dumplings while still in the spiral shape, so you have long slices.
Serve the dumplings with the pumpkin pesto and, optionally, with the pork medallions. Sprinkle with the additional Parmesan cheese and pumpkin seeds. And before serving, if it is available to you, pour some pumpkin seed oil over the dumplings. If you do not have this, just use a good olive oil. The flavour is very different, but both are great!