Author Alice (“Ally”) Phillips, on Baked Croatian Cottage Cheese Struklji:
When my Croatian grandparents were teenagers, they came to America looking for a better life beyond their peasant villages and difficult times in the small town of Dišnik, a couple of hours from Zagreb. Recently I visited my grandma and grandpa’s homeland and their small hometown. What a God wink it was to find relatives still living there nearly 100 years after my grandparents came to America!
A favorite local dish is Štruklji. The traditional version, Zagorski Štruklji, is served in most Croatian households and is very popular. My version is a regional variety specific only to Hrvatsko Zagorje where my grandparents lived, and I created a few shortcuts to make it easier for the everyday home cook — and me.
Štruklji is usually made with homemade dough rolled and cut into pieces, then baked (pečeni štruklji) or boiled (kuhani štruklji). I prefer baked because it’s easier, and I used puff pastry instead of making my own dough. My boho’d version isn’t even rolled at all! This unique but traditional Slovene dish reminds me of my grandparents whenever I make it.
As I mentioned in my review of Ally’s cookbook, my palate is perhaps a tad less adventurous than some. But I do love to travel — and I definitely try to taste dishes native to wherever I travel. So when it came time for me to choose a recipe to test from Ally’s Kitchen: A Passport for Adventurous Palates, I decided to first choose where I’d want to go on Ally’s “magic carpet.” Europe, the Mediterranean, the Mideast, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean Islands? For me, the choice was easy: I have always wanted to see the cobalt-blue skies, turquoise waters, and bright-white beaches of the “stunning Mediterranean.” Perusing the recipes in this section, I immediately found the one that fit my style. Ally’s Baked Croatian Cottage Cheese Štruklji recipe uses store-bought puff pastry instead of homemade dough, for a result that looks like you spent the entire day in the kitchen. That’s my kind of cooking — simple, with a deliciously gourmet result. The fact that this recipe was inspired by Ally’s Croatian grandparents was a nostalgic bonus.
My first mistake of note was that I cut the puff pastry sheet into only six (instead of twelve) squares. But this was more than OK, because it meant that I ended up with a double-size štruklji. No problems there, since we would have just wanted two each anyway.
To start, I made the dessert version. This batch was so crazy-easy to make, so puff-golden beautiful, and so light-lemony delicious that I quickly thawed out the other puff pastry sheet and got busy with the “boho-ing.”
I went savory with the second batch, mixing in spinach, mozzarella cheese, and Italian spices (and making them double-size on purpose this time). These štruklji were the perfect accompaniment to our planned meal of tomato soup, making for an easy yet now-much-more-elegant Friday night supper.
Plus, I had extra filling — “mistake” number two. What to do? Not one to ever waste leftovers, I put this filling into a skillet with scrambled eggs the next morning. Talk about an unexpectedly gourmet start to Saturday morning!
Speaking of leftovers, we had one (extra-large) lemon-sweet štruklji remaining. Want to start the week off right? Just top one of these with fresh strawberries and Greek yogurt. Now that’s what I call a good Monday morning! So good, in fact, that I ate this before I remembered that I had wanted to take a photo…
Many thanks to Ally’s Kitchen: A Passport for Adventurous Palates to THREE lucky winners. Be sure to enter the giveaway here (contest ends 6/12/15).
Baked Croatian Cottage Cheese Štruklji
Featured Recipe From: Ally's Kitchen: A Passport for Adventurous Palates
Yield: 12 pastries
1 sheet of puff pastry (prepackaged), cut into equal-size squares
3⁄4 cup small-curd cottage cheese, drained of some of the excess liquid
1⁄4 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp. sugar
1⁄4 tsp. sea salt
1 Tbsp. lemon zest
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice 1⁄3 cup flour
1 egg, beaten
1 egg white mixed with 1 Tbsp. water 3 Tbsp. powdered sugar
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lay out 6 of the pastry puff squares on the baking sheet. Put the remaining 6 squares on another sheet of parchment paper on your work surface.
In a mixing bowl combine the cottage cheese, sour cream, sugar, salt, lemon zest and juice, flour, and egg and stir to blend. Scoop equal amounts of the mixture onto each of the puff pastry squares on the baking sheet.
Using a pastry brush, coat the tops of the other 6 pastry squares with the egg white and water mixture. Gently place them on top of each of the filled pastry puffs. Bake 18–20 minutes or until golden brown on top. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and eat warm -- or munch on later
You can go from sweet to savory by omitting the sugar and adding fresh-chopped spinach and/or fresh herbs to your cottage cheese mixture. Or why not add grated pepper jack cheese to make a spicy filling? Or, how about keeping that sugar and adding finely ground nuts for a decadent dessert? Try it with toppings, too -- fresh fruit, sauces, or drizzles of chocolate ganache. Truly, the sky’s the limit! Pick your favorite and make Štruklji your signature dish.
© 2015 Alice Phillips
Reprinted with permission from Ally's Kitchen: A Passport for Adventurous Palates, by Alice Phillips (Front Table Books / Cedar Fort)