This past Saturday I had the incredible opportunity to cook with one of Croatia’s most beloved chefs, Tatjana Ciciliani, in her 13th century palace home on the Dalmatian Coast. Tatjana (and her husband Kaja) could not be more warm, passionate or hilarious. They cracked me up all day! She represents what I love most about Croatian cooking: she’s totally down to earth, has an infectious sense of humor, gets her inspiration each day from the markets and what’s naturally growing on the hillsides and in the sea (she is from Trogir after all!) and cooks with the seasons; she serves her fresh, simple, yet creative food around her large wooden table and fully enjoys it with her family, friends and Croatian wine. I felt like I found a kindred spirit and I could not be more grateful to get to learn about Dalmatian cooking from her!
We began the day at Trogir’s market, where literally every person we passed or spoke to was one of Tatjana’s friends, neighbors or someone she’d grown up with.
I love having my recipes start at the market, and I was so happy to find that that is exactly how Tatjana passionately cooks as well. She goes with some ideas in her mind, but really relies upon what’s fresh that day and which ingredients jump out at her. We went in the butcher’s shop first and came out with lamb and veal cuts. Next to the fish market. After she explained all of the fish available on each table, she decided on octopus so fresh it couldn’t have been caught more than an hour before, along with two types of white fish for our Brudet. I’ve been wanting to learn how to properly gut and clean fish for years, and thanks to Tatjana I finally got my lesson:) After picking out vegetables, we stopped for possibly the best bread and cheese I have had yet in Croatia — the man who made the bread mills his own grain and traditionally bakes it peka style (under a dome covered in ash). The woman who made the cheese only has about 10 sheep — you could taste the quality and wild herbs her sheep graze on from the first bite.
We made a feast! Fresh octopus salad, traditional fish brudet which marinated all day long until Kaja cooked it over open flame (above), lamb pašticada which also slow-cooked the entire day with caramelized onions, red wine and dried figs to create the most incredible flavor, citrus cake, arancini (a very traditional treat during Christmas and a perfect way to use the peels!) seared veal and a salsa that encompassed so many of the wonderful flavors from Croatia’s coast: fresh parsley, lemon, dried figs, olive oil, raisins, sardines and olives. All served with local white wine.
We had to stop at one point because Trogir’s musicians dressed in full traditional garb passed right infront of Tatjana’s doorstep. Tourist season is over, so you can imagine how fun it was to see them marching through the narrow, ancient streets for the residents.
Tatjana’s lemon tree that she planted when she was young and shares with her neighbors.
Thank you, Tatjana & Kaja for an absolutely amazing day (and Dalmatian feast!) that we will never forget! Thank you also for loving on our kids even as their tenth meltdown hit:) We left possibly five pounds heavier and so thankful for your warmth and hospitality, and for sharing your beautiful city of Trogir, table and many talents with us!
If you’re ever in Trogir, and interested in a cooking lesson or private meal with Tatjana and Kaja, you can contact Secret Dalmatia