Bordered by Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary, the nation of Slovenia has found itself at a literal crossroads between Western and Eastern Europe, with Asia farther (but not too far) afield. It’s unsurprising, therefore, that its culture and cuisine – like much of the region – has touches of influences and shared histories with its neighbours; today’s recipe bears similarities both to Turkish kuymak and, more familiarly, Italian polenta.
Recipes for žganci date back at least three centuries and first began with buckwheat flour, later evolving to other grains like wheat and maize. As its ingredients are both affordable and more readily accessible, I chose to create my own interpretation of a Styrian žganci; the result is moist and soft rather than dry and crumbled. It serves as the perfect starch, whether on its own as a savoury or sweet dish, or as a side dish for a hearty meal.
Yield: 6 Servings.
• 3 cups corn flour (not cornmeal)
• 5 cups water or broth
• Salt to taste
Savoury topping/inclusion ideas
• Pork cracklings or bacon
• Hard cheese (such as Parmesan)
• Stew (goulash or
braised lamb shank)
Sweet topping/inclusion ideas
• Yogurt or Kefir
1. Bring the water to a gentle boil in a medium saucepan – if you have one with taller sides, it will work best with this recipe, as the bubbling tends to splatter later on!
2. As soon as the boil starts, salt the water, then pour the corn flour in all at once. Cook on medium heat for approximately 15-20 minutes. The corn flour will form a large mass – that’s normal!
3. Pierce the ball and flip it over, breaking the pieces apart to cook through the inside of the žganci. This will take another 8–10 minutes – keep an eye on it at this stage; much of the water will have been absorbed and you don’t want the bottom of the žganci to scorch.
4. Drain most of the water or broth, but keep it aside. As you stir through the žganci, you may want to add back the liquid in order for you to reach your preferred texture. Though traditionally very dry and crumbly, adding liquid creates a smoother end result.
5. Season to taste. As a sweet dish, the žganci can be served sweetened with sugar, with yogurt or warmed milk, or with honey. As a savoury dish, pork cracklings (and a drizzling of drippings!) is the traditional accompaniment, as is kraut or a hearty stew in the wintertime. In my case, I chose to serve it alongside roast pork belly and finished off my žganci with a drizzle of honey, a few cracks of black pepper and a pat of butter.
6. Regardless of what ingredients you add, make sure to serve it warm, and enjoy!