Croatian chef Goran Hrastovčak preserves tradition with 19th-century cuttlefish stew recipe
Learn about a modern take on a historical Saint Nikola island dish from a 19th-century Istrian marquise's cookbook. It features fresh, local ingredients like tomatoes, olive oil, wine, and cuttlefish cooked into a rich ragù and served with fluffy, made-from-scratch gnocchi.
Croatia's northernmost island, Saint Nikola, has a storied history in guiding merchant ships through the Adriatic Sea, with its early-15th-century, Venetian-built lighthouse still standing. Tucked off the coast of the Istrian Peninsula, it's only natural that this noble family enclave would also be known for outstanding seafood. These days, Chef Goran Hrastovčak is keeping Saint Nikola's culinary traditions alive at the island's five-star hotel, Valamar Collection Isabella Island Resort, with his take on a famous 19th-century recipe: cuttlefish stew with gnocchi.
The dish dates back to the Polesini family, caretakers of the island in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Marquis Benedetto Polesini built a castle for his wife Isabella, which now serves as part of the resort, while their descendant Marquise Eta Polesini wrote a cookbook of Istrian delicacies. Chef Hrastovčak pays homage to the marquise's original recipe by using local ingredients, including onion, garlic, wine, butter, and olive oil, to complement locally caught cuttlefish in a rich ragù. He also uses local tomatoes in both concentrate and dehydrated form, adding natural sweetness and bold color, along with vegetable stock, chili pepper, and rosemary for elements of umami, heat, and earthiness.
Combining what he learned at chef Heinz Beck's masterclass in Rome with his own modern influences, chef Hrastovčak also incorporates scratch-made ricotta gnocchi, the most delicate, pillowy puffs of pasta you've ever tasted. He mixes cooked potatoes with cheese curd, egg, olive oil, salt, and pepper with two kinds of flour, helping the dough achieve the perfect texture after cooking.
This rustic Croatian comfort food is ideal to cook for loved ones during cooler months, with your own local ingredients. If you can't find cuttlefish, substitute squid, and feel free to experiment with your favourite wines. As they say in Istria, dobar tek—bon appétit!
SERVING SIZE: 4
- 300g Adriatic cuttlefish
- 100g onion
- 30g garlic
- 50ml wine
- 300g tomato concentrate
- 50g butter
- 50ml olive oil
- 20g dehydrated tomato
- 400g potatoes
- 100g curd
- 100g smooth flour
- 50g grano duro flour
- 1 egg
- 0.03l olive oil
- Chili pepper
- Vegetable stock
1. Clean the cuttlefish, separate the filets, then cut them into as small cubes as possible. Also, chop the onion and garlic.
2. Put olive oil in a pot, add sliced onion and fry until caramelized, then add garlic.
3. When the garlic has turned slightly yellow, pour in the wine, let the wine boil and add the cuttlefish. When the cuttlefish releases all the water, let it bake lightly, as this gives it an extra taste.
4. Before pouring the stock, put a little tomato concentrate and dehydrated tomatoes, fry them, and gradually add the stock. Add a sprig of rosemary and cook altogether for another twenty minutes.
5. When the stew is done, add the butter and stir gently. To enhance the taste of rosemary in the dish, add flavored rosemary oil.
1. Wash the potatoes and put it to boil in salted cold water. When the potatoes are cooked, peel and squeeze them.
2. Then add the chopped cottage cheese, flour, egg, seasonings and mix together.
3. When the dough becomes compact, make narrow and long rolls and cut them with a knife into the pillow shapes.
4. Cook gnocchi in a boiling salted water.