My husband, Tony, was born in Croatia. He and his family moved to Australia in the 1950s. When I met Tony, at University, I was immediately attracted to him, but when he told me that he and his family came from Croatia – that he was born there – I didn’t believe him. It was not until several months later, when he invited me home to meet his family, that I realised he was not joking.
I remember clearly the first time I visited Tony’s family. It was breakfast time.
Tony’s mum prepared a huge meal, which (to my surprise) consisted of fried eggs and bacon, salad, sliced beetroot, tinned green peas (later I would discover that Tony’s mother really loved these!), slices of cheese and olives. There was plenty of crusty bread too, but no butter. And no cereal. This was all a bit strange for me. Later Tony told me that his family did eat cereal, but on this occasion his mother was trying to impress (Tony’s words), make me welcome and go the “extra mile”. I was the first “Australian” girlfriend Tony had brought home!
Actually, I don’t think Tony’s mum really knew what to serve that would be in keeping with my expectations. It was all a bit awkward. For me, this occasion was the beginning of a huge learning curve, as I began a journey of discovery of food from my husband’s family traditions (some acquired since migrating to Australia) and those of his homeland.
Dirty Macaroni (Šporki Makaruli) is a traditional southern Croatian dish.
Tony’s mother made it often. The dish is famous in Dubrovnik, so Tony and I tried it at a restaurant there when we visited Dubrovnik in December 2004 (read 24 Hours in Dubrovnik). We reckon Tony’s mum’s version tasted just as good!
According to tradition, Šporki Makaruli is served on the feast day of St Blaise, the patron saint of Dubrovnik. Its name comes from the legend that those who were fed first during the centuries-old feast day celebrations had plenty of meat sauce with their pasta; those who came later received only a smear of sauce (hence “dirty” macaroni).
Tony says his family used to call this dish “Pasta Šuta”. Unlike the Italian fare of the same name, Tony’s mother always used beef steak, not beef mince, for the sauce. Our children used to call it “Baba’s Spaghetti”. Baba is the Croatian equivalent of “Nana”.
DIRTY MACARONI (ŠPORKI MAKARULI)
500 g shin beef (or gravy beef), diced
2 medium onions, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, bruised and chopped finely
1 tablespoon (30g) butter
2 sprigs parsley, chopped finely
440 g can whole peeled tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon white wine
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2½ cups chicken stock
3 whole cloves (or pinch ground cloves)
500 g packet Penne pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil and 2 teaspoons salt (for cooking the pasta)
50 g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
salt and pepper to taste
- In a large saucepan, over medium heat, sauté chopped onions and garlic in butter. When onions are soft and glassy add diced beef.
- Turn up the heat; allow the beef to brown slightly.
- Add the chopped parsley, tomatoes and tomato paste. Stir through.
- Add the wine, soy sauce, chicken stock, cinnamon, cloves, salt and pepper. Stir thoroughly. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat immediately.
- Simmer gently without covering for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. If necessary, add a little hot water.
- Add the penne to a large pot of rapidly boiling water, along with the olive oil and salt. Cook until the pasta is al dente. Strain thoroughly.
- Stir the meat stew gently through the cooked pasta. Leave for ten to fifteen minutes so that the ingredients blend well.
- To serve, sprinkle with grated parmesan.
POSTSCRIPT: If there are any leftovers, store and reheat the next day – it tastes even better then!