Americans know quite about about some European foods -- French and Italian food, of course, quite a bit about German, Greek and Spanish cuisines, and then at least a little about Polish and European Jewish food. To some extent, this knowledge comes down to us through the cooking of early immigrants. In other instances, our exploration of these foods reflects historical cultural alignments and, yes, our aspirations. All through the 20th century, for instance, French cuisine represented for many Americans food that was "upper-class," and in many American towns the "best restaurant" was usually French.
Even the revolution in restaurant cooking that began in California with Alice Waters was directly inspired by the food she'd eaten as a young woman when she traveled in France. While Ms. Waters' accomplishment consisted exactly in not delivering traditional French cooking, she still named her first restaurant Chez Panisse, a French name inspired by a French literary character.
When you look at a map of Europe, however, you can see that there are many European countries, especially in Central and Southern Europe, whose cuisine is largely unfamiliar to us. These countries include Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, Monetenegro, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Smack dab in the middle of this vast area of food about which we know relatively little is Serbia.
Unsurprisingly then, many Americans will never have tasted Gibanica, a traditional Serbian dish that is delicious nearly to the point of addiction.
Gibanica comes in two flavors. Sweet gibanicas are crusty layered pastries with many variations. Some are a little along the lines of a mille feuille -- better know as a Napoleon. Savory gibanicas --the salty gibanica in the recipe below is an example -- can be very hearty, with layers of delicious pastry dough and meats, or they can be, again like the current recipe, entirely meatless. This recipe for salty (savory) Serbian gibanica is a blend of cream cheese, cottage cheese and feta cheese between layers of filo dough baked until golden brown and crispy.
Makes 6 to 8 servings of Salty Serbian Gibanica #2
- 1 (8-ounce) package softened cream cheese
- 9 large eggs
- 2 1/2 pounds large-curd cottage cheese
- 1/2 pound crumbled feta cheese
- 1 pound thawed filo dough
- 8 ounces (2 sticks) melted butter
- In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Add 3 eggs at a time, beating well after each addition. Add cottage cheese and feta cheese and mix well. Set aside.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Fold 2 sheets filo dough in half and place in a lightly buttered 13x9-inch pan. Lightly brush filo with butter. Spread with about 1/2 cup filling. Continue in this manner until all but 3 sheets of filo are left. Top with last 3 sheets filo and brush with remaining butter. Place on a sheet pan to catch any drips and bake about 1 hour or until golden. Let sit 15 to 20 minutes before cutting into squares and serving warm.