Zapekana Fazule – Slovak Cassoulet
One morning recently I woke up to find my cousin Daniela already at work and Jaro in the kitchen casually preparing the day’s lunch, a Macedonian/Slovak dish called Zapekana Fazule. He had soaked large white beans over night, and had drained, rinsed and then boiled them this morning for 20 minutes, with a quartered onion thrown in for flavor. Most importantly, he had then poured the drained beans into a large Macedonian casserole baking dish. This, he intoned, was the most important “ingredient” in the dish.
Jaro then whipped up a quick roux as he poured me a demi-tasse of Turkish coffee and chatted with me about our plans for the day. First, into a pot on the stove went a ½ cup or so of pig fat that he had scooped up from a large bin of it sitting on the floor of their pantry. (When he cured bacon and made sausage in January, he had saved the pig fat for cooking. I want a bucket of my own pig fat!) Then he put in an equal amount of flour into the pot on the stove, and stirred it around for a few seconds until it had melted into a smooth paste. Finally, he added four heaping spoonfuls of another essential ingredient, paprika.
Slovaks in Vojvodina grow peppers in their lush fields and then dry the seeds and make hot or sweet paprika, depending on the type of pepper. 80 years ago, McCormick’s spices in Ontario were the same; my Grandpa Shuster had repeated this laborious manual process on his farm in Canada and sold the red gold to the spice company (more on that story another day). Jaro’s paprika had been procured from a home grown source in Backi Petrovac, and happily for me, he had bags of it for me to take home to North America.
The roux took on a dark red color, and after a couple of minutes of cooking, he poured it over the beans in the casserole, added a cup or so of water and mixed it around. He then sprinkled on top of the beans a couple of spoons of a special herb mixture that comes in a small blue bag in the supermarket that displays onions, carrots and other vegetables on it.
Next came slices of bacon that he had cured back in the winter. This bacon had lounged in a salt water bath for 2 weeks, then was smoked over hard wood over night. The bacon was in a large, white slab, the size of a thick book. Jaro sliced off 4 pieces about ¼ inch thick, then scored the slices horizontally so that it looked like a comb with thick teeth. When I was first offered the bacon as an hors d’oeurve, I was somewhat taken aback by the look of it. It appeared to be raw fatty bacon and the idea of eating it like that was not appealing to me. However, Jaro explained the curing process and encouraged me to try a small comb-tooth piece. The smooth saltiness melted in my mouth, and I was immediately smitten. From then on, I called it “Slovak sugar.” (sausage, on the other hand, is called “Slovak candy” in my family).
The four large slices went onto the top of the casserole, and scattered between them were thin slices of (smoked) hot Slovak candy, klobasa. The dish was ready to bake.
Jaro placed the casserole in a cold oven, set it at 200 degrees Fahrenheit, and baked it for 10 minutes before cranking up the oven to 350 and leaving it in for another 45 minutes.
Off we went for our morning walk around town. First stop was the school where both Jaro and Daniela teach. We popped into Daniela’s first grade class assembled in the gymnasium in their matching white t shirts and black shorts. They had a surprise for me; the children, all lined up behind one another in 3 rows, sang a couple of rooster songs for me (I had written about one of them in an earlier post). A sweet little blond haired boy raised his hand when called, and was identified as a Pintir, a distant cousin of mine (Great Grandma Julia Suster’s maiden name was Pintir). And then a cherubic little girl stepped forward and sang me a song about zoo animals, in English.
After the serenade, we headed off to the daily outdoor morning market, small, slow and somewhat disappointing on a Monday morning. Thursdays and Sundays are the big market days, and Jaro assured me the stalls were full and the aisles crowded with shoppers on those days. This morning, though, a few boxes of red potatoes, some big fat, juicy strawberries (succulent, and unlike any I had tasted in Canada), some forlorn looking greens, a dozen eggs and some beans were about all that was for sale. An older Slovak woman sat alone, stealing a sip of her morning brandy from a hidden flask, and the few vendors looking at me expectedly. I felt the heavy burden of their day’s sales on my shoulders.
A few stops later, we hurried back home to free the casserole from the oven, and sat down to lunch. As a connoisseur of French cassoulet, I have to say that Jaro’s casserole out does the French version by a mile. Smooth, creamy, a hint of spiciness, it is enhanced by the contrasting texture of the sausage slices on top, by now dry and a little crunchy. The bacon melts into the dish, and the smoked sausage slices are nicely darkened and sinking into the beans. Around the edges of the Macedonian casserole the bean mixture has crusted over nicely.
Zapekana Fazule Recipe
- Large white beans
- Smoked sausage
- Pig Fat
- Vegetable Spices
- Wash and then soak beans overnight
- Boil beans 15-20 min in water with chopped onion
- Place cooked beans into casserole
- Make a roux:
- Melt 1/3 cup fat
- Mix ¼ cup or so of flour into fat until smooth, on stove for a minute or so
- Add in ¼ cup paprika
- Stir until blended
- Sprinkle spices on top of beans
- Mix roux into beans with 1 cup or so of water
- Place slices of cured bacon on top of casserole
- Place slices of smoked sausage on top, or chunks inside of it
- Place beans in cold stove and bake at 200 degrees F for 10 minutes, then turn up temperature to 350 and bake for 45 minutes