30.6.15

gužvara

Gužvara is an old Serbian recipe for a feta cheese pie, and a favourite amongst busy cooks because it is very simple to prepare and the result never disappoints.


The photo is from my iPhone. Even though I'm an artistic photographer, I absolutely hate photographing food. Food doesn't inspire me at all, which seems a bit strange considering this cooking blog.  I just happen to be a really good cook (thanks to my grandma) so I've been cooking for my family for a long time and I also love to try different foods (in keeping with my mission to find delicious recipes you can make in half an hour tops).

So I wanted to share some of the Balkan favourites with the world, as well as some recipes from all over the world that I tried and liked. But basically, for me, cooking is so torturous that when I had my 40th birthday recently, and no female relative nearby to make me a proper Austrian-style birthday cake, I agonised over it, made folders with my childhood favourites (Boem kocke, Charlotte Royale) and ended up buying Black Forest Cake from Waitrose in the end. It was a total fail, and I was really disappointed in myself. But the truth is, as much as I love cakes I dread making them, it feels like time I'll never get back and if I eat more than one piece, I'll feel guilty (and those cakes are BIG), so in the end I managed to talk myself out of it.

So I don't bother with the proper photos on this blog, and upload recipes with just snapshots taken with an iPhone. These days I spend all my spare time writing novels, I rarely take photos in general and least of all food photos. In that spirit, I decided to let it go and freed some brain space to share recipes without the dread of the photo session. Even though the photographer in me cringes, I need to be confident enough as a person to resist feeling bad if I don't pursue perfection in every aspect.

Anyway, gužvara. Here it is.

I tried looking for videos on youtube to show you how to make it, but I couldn't find anything that looked just right, so I hope you can make do with these instructions. If not, I'll be making this again, and next time I can snap up photos of the process, to illustrate what I mean.

Ingredients:

2 packets filo pastry (Sainsbury's own brand is good)
5 eggs
2 small containers (400g) Half fat Creme Fraiche (or sour cream)
300-400ml sparkling mineral water
300g feta cheese
good glug of olive oil (about 100-200ml)
a bit of salt (1/2 tsp approx)

Method:

Using a lasagna type baking tray, oil the bottom with olive oil. Preheat the oven to 200 C.

Beat 4 eggs with a fork. Crumble feta (all of it) into the eggs, then add one and a half containers of creme fraiche and olive oil and mix well with a fork. Season to taste. Add two-thirds of the sparkling mineral water. You are looking for a reasonably thin consistency and lumps of feta in it.

Unwrap your filo (one at a time) Separate two sheets, and without much overlap, dip them flat into the mixture. Fold over and dip the other side, scooping a bit of feta with it, gently scrunching the sheets into a loose 'rose' or a 'ball' that loosely fits into the palm of your hand.  Don't press them hard, the idea is to soak it just right, so that the loose 'rose' isn't pouring with liquid but it's moist and there's enough filling to soften it.

Scrunching up is 'gužvanje' in Serbian, hence 'gužvara' or 'pita gužvara'.

Place the 'rose' of gužvara into a corner of lasagna pan and repeat the process, arranging the subsequent ones in rows, again don't press it too tightly, only about 3-4 'roses' per row, and 4-6 rows, depending on the size of your pan (mine had 4 x 6 'roses' because it's a big lasagna pan).

About two-thirds of the way through, you'll run out of most of the liquid, but you'll still have feta left on the bottom. Now beat another egg into the mixture, and add the remaining creme fraiche and mineral water. Continue with the process until you use up all the ingredients. If you have a little bit of mixture left over, pour it over the gužvara. Check the individual 'roses' that they don't have lots of dry bits inside. If you do, swirl it around and get it properly soaked. You need all the pastry to be moist and soft, but not to be swimming in liquid. As you do it a few times, you'll get a feeling for how much liquid your pastry needs, the recipe is entirely flexible and if you increase of decrease or change proportions of most ingredients (within reason) you should end up with a delicious pie.

The scrunched up pastry in the pan will start absorbing the filling. Leave gužvara to rest for about 30 minutes to one hour, until the pastry is soft and bubbled up.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 45-60 minutes, depending on the oven. I baked mine in a fan assisted one, 190 C for almost an hour (lower down in the oven), until it's all risen up and golden.

Let it rest for about 20 minutes, cut into squares and serve immediately. Gužvara is also delicious cold or next day, with cold meats, just salad, sausages or anything really (especially Ajvar!). Yum!



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