Mediterranean brunch with the Butuls

Photo: Iztok Dimc

August 2010

A special energy surrounds Slovenian Istria. It is full of different smells and flavours, and there is a gentle breeze and a view over the northernmost end of the Adriatic Sea. All around are olive groves, promising olive oil of the finest quality, and vineyards that are home to the finest wines. Vegetable gardens bear plentiful crops, as do the fruit trees. The herbs have a distinctly Mediterranean fragrance. The people, too, are open and warm-spirited. This is, after all, the Slovenian Mediterranean.

All of this is of course reflected in the region's cuisine, in the preparation of food, in the wine cellar and in the herb garden. The food is rich and varied, full of flavours that are complemented by herbs.

Visiting the Butul farmhouse in Manžan

Photo: Iztok Dimc

To get to know Slovenian Mediterranean cuisine, let’s set off to the Butul farmhouse in Manžan, a little village not far from Koper, where for several years they have been organising themed events and culinary workshops. It all began when a mother and son combined their passion for cooking and decided to pass it on to other people. The workshops are always well attended: up to 80 people in a single day. All catered for by Tatjana and her son Črt.

The Butuls enjoy teaching people about eating well

Photo: Iztok Dimc

'At these workshops we pass on our way of life. People discover things here that are always on our table and that are seasonal. When it is the asparagus season, we prepare asparagus dishes. Another time it might be beans, or kakis (also known as Japanese persimmons). The Mediterranean climate means that we have something fresh in the garden all year round,' explains Tatjana. Everything is based on olive oil. They like to share their experience and the heritage of their ancestors with others. It is no surprise, then, that their visitors return, call them to ask for culinary advice, or simply stop in for a visit or a chat.

A Mediterranean herb garden in Slovenian Istria

Photo: Iztok Dimc

Tatjana is continuing a house tradition by offering workshop participants simple cookery secrets that are a normal part of the everyday life of the Mediterranean housewife. Olive trees grow around the house. There are also kaki trees and lavender bushes. This is the lavender season and Tatjana and Črt are already preparing culinary workshops on the theme of lavender.

Tatjana loves lavender and uses a lot of it in her cooking and to make various products. She even mixes salt with this aromatic plant. 'A lot of people think that lavender is only good as a perfume for wardrobes. But when they try food made with lavender, they soon change their minds,' she says. She loves to try out new things, experimenting with flavours and aromas. And now they have the Mediterranean herb garden planted by her son Črt.

The Butuls use herbs to make syrups and herbal infusions. They use them in sweet and savoury sauces, for herb salt and even for specialities such as rosemary wine (which helps in cases of fatigue or exhaustion). Rosemary and lavender are also used to prepare various tinctures. St John's wort soaked in olive oil is used to treat back problems. A new product this year is dark chocolate with lavender.

Because the climate is so warm, herbs do very well here. The setting of the herb garden is excellent for outdoor culinary workshops, where delicate olive trees offer protection from the summer heat.

Gastronomy: How to prepare a simple Mediterranean brunch

Photo: Iztok Dimc

Tatjana brings fresh courgettes, tomatoes, curd cheese, young cheese and figs. Also marinated anchovies and cooked green beans, and bread that she had baked the day before.

What marinade does she use? Tatjana explains that it is made from their own olive oil with lemon from her mother's garden, chopped marjoram and coarse salt from the Sečovlje saltworks. Anchovies in this marinade can be kept in the fridge for up to four days. Before serving, they are sprinkled with chopped fresh basil.

Meanwhile, Črt deals with the green beans, which he seasons with olive oil, fleur de sel, lemon juice and lemon thyme.

Now it is time for the other delights. While Črt is preparing the barbecue, Tatjana tears off a few vine leaves and wraps the young cheese in them, seasoning with fresh marjoram and thyme. The courgettes and tomatoes were chopped into large pieces. Everything is now ready for the grill. The figs were cut in half and a peach sliced. Črt grills everything to perfection on the barbecue.

Tatjana quickly mixes the home-made curd cheese with chopped balm, spoons some into a bowl and sprinkles it with lavender flowers, and tops it with half a grilled fig and slices of peach. The finishing touch is a pinch of fleur de sel. But this valuable seasoning is only used sparingly.

Tatjana remembers that with food like this a glass of wine is needed to make the pleasure complete. Malvasia from Slovenian Istria, to complement the flavour.

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Text by Polona Prešeren, Sinfo August 2010