I spent a nice weekend in a fantastic place last week. If you think that I went to Rome or Barcelona and spent hundreds of Euros at fancy restaurants, you are completely wrong. Actually, I only went 75 km away from Kraków, to reload my batteries in a peaceful place. Some friends of my family's, Ela and Adam, decided a few years ago to escape from the city and to spend the rest of their lives conducting a small "chambre d’hôtes" in Koninki, a village close to Gorce National Park.
The village itself, although surrounded by low mountains and forests, like thousands of other Polish villages, is full of architectural mess. Amongst simple and nice houses in local, rustic style, one can find some ugly constructions built without any sense of architectural order. Some of them are not even finished (people live on the ground floor and the other floors are not completed). But, well it is mostly a heritage of the previous era, like in every ex-communist country.
Ela and Adam's house is one example of how a house and its environment can create an harmony with nature. Their property is remote from the village and is surrounded not only by a forest, but by a small river as well.
The owners are warm people, who spoil their guests with homemade food and one can notice straight away their engagement for this piece of land. They like what they do and they found a sense to their existence living there. Ela and Adam not only renovated the old wooden house and created a small, but charming garden; they also collected hundreds of regional and artisanal gadgets and sculptures. On the other hand if you wish to take a bath in a Jacuzzi, it is not a problem at all – Ela and Adam installed one.
This reminds me of my holidays in the Podhale region. Usually, in the eighties, houses in villages did not have running water. Baths were taken in a metal tub or in the river. Often, iron beds did not have mattresses, but instead just a padding filled with hay. We did not have any civilized WC, too. Instead, one was going to fix his or her physiological needs in a wooden privy. Even toilet paper in the crisis of the eighties was a crucial problem and that’s why one could always find old newspapers cut into pieces and hanging on a nail in the privy. We did not have TV (even if we did, the quality of the network was awfully bad and there were only two state-owned channels at that time). Milking the cow from time to time, helping owners to collect hay in the fields, picking up mushrooms or forest fruits, sitting by the river and constructing stone dams, or just going on an escapade to the Tatra Mountains were amongst my daily attractions. If it was raining, we could play cards for the whole day (I knew tons of card games at that time).
Coming back to Ela and Adam. Ela is a specialist in homemade preserves, both savory and sweet. She makes tons of confitures, jams and juices from ecological fruits. She knows where to buy the best strawberries, gooseberries and other seasonal fruits in the neighborhood. In the season, she collects bilberries and mushrooms. And she cooks lunches for the guests.
Her husband, Adam, bakes bread and bread rolls from scratch (he mills grains to obtain his own flour). He makes his own charcuterie, too (unfortunately, he made it only when I left – I hope I can watch the process the next time I will visit them). He has a habit to spoil children by picking up some wild strawberries in the morning and serving them on a blade of grass as an accompaniment to breakfast.
On Saturday, we also visited a tiny wooden shepherd’s house nearby in the mountains, to order some authentic local cheeses, made from the sheep milk produced by his 400 animals.
I already was mentioning to you two of local cheeses from the south of Poland - oscypek and bryndza.
The third one, called bundz (or bunc), is made in the south of Poland as well. It is rather difficult to buy it in the other regions of Poland (still, the production is small and distribution is badly organized).
Authentic bundz should be made only from sheep’s milk between May and October (some say the best comes only in May). The shape resembles a round meat loaf of bread. Fresh cheese has a sweet and delicate taste. I dare to say that cut into thin slices and served with some fresh herbs, ripe tomatoes and a good olive oil constitutes an alternative to Italian caprese, which here, in Poland usually is served from industrially made gummy and chewy mozzarella. The first phase of the production of bundz resembles the production of oscypek - unpasteurized sheep's milk with the addition of rennet turns into a kind of curd – and takes about 24 hours.
The cheese is available in some shops in Kraków and on food markets, like Kleparz. It is sold by farmers coming from the Podhale region. The cheese found at those food markets is not 100 percent made from sheep’s milk, that’s for sure, and that is mostly why you can get it all year round. They use cow’s milk instead, sometimes less, sometimes more, but even amongst those one can find quite good ones. Two weeks ago, when I visited the food market where the cheese is sold, I bought 4 types of it: a freshly squeezed one, which was quite sweet in taste; an older salty one; a spicy one and a smoked one.
Should you visit Kraków one day, try to find this cheese. In the season, it is served in some restaurants or on food markets (the best place to buy it is straight from farmers on Kleparz – a food market operating every day except on Sundays, in the center of the city).
I made several salads and starters using bundz, which I present today. You can try to replace this cheese by your favorite one.
Salad with Smoked Bundz Cheese, Fava Beans, Green Peas, Spinach and Chanterelles
Makes 1 big lunch salad
4 thin slices of fresh bundz cheese (around 100 g) – depending on its size
A handful of fava beans
A handful of green peas
A handful of baby spinach
100 g chanterelles
1 tablespoon butter
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
½ onion or one small shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped scallions or fresh thyme
Firstly, cook both fava beans and peas al dente separately, in salted boiling water. Strain the vegetables and mix them in a bowl (peel the fava beans first).
Wash the baby spinach and drain them in a salad spinner or with a paper towel and add them into the bowl with fava beans and peas.
In the meantime, start preparing the chanterelles. Delicately clean the mushrooms from leftovers of the forest. Scratch the stems to remove soil. Rinse the mushrooms delicately under cold water. Cut some mushrooms in halves, should some of them be too big. They all should be about the same size, so they will fry evenly. In a hot frying pan, melt butter, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, add onions and cook on a medium flame for 10 minutes. After 5 minutes, add garlic. Mix occasionally and do not let the onion and garlic burn. Add the mushrooms into the frying pan and sauter them on a medium flame until they release their juices and absorb them back in.
Salt and pepper generously at the end. Pour hot mushrooms into the bowl with vegetables. Mix everything (the spinach should soften a bit). Add 2 tablespoons or more of olive oil, scallions or thyme and adjust to taste, if necessary.
Put some slices bundz on the bottom of the plate and place the warm salad on top of it.
Salad with Fresh Bundz Cheese, Strawberries, Pepper Mint in Balsamic – Strawberry Dressing
4 thin slices of fresh bundz cheese (around 100 g) – depending on its size
100 g strawberries, washed and cut into slices
A few nice leaves of pepper mint
1 tablespoon balsamic sauce (see below)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons strawberry purée (see below)
1 tablespoon grilled and chopped walnuts (you can use hazelnuts, too)
Thick balsamic sauce
120 ml balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons flower honey
1 little spring (around 7 cm long) of fresh rosemary
Pour balsamic vinegar and rosemary into a small saucepan and cook over a low flame until it is reduced by around one third (about 10 minutes). Remove rosemary, add honey and cook over a low flame until the sauce thickens a bit (do not thicken it too much, because it will get completely solid once cooled down). Add a bit of freshly ground pepper.
100 g of nice strawberries, washed
Reduce strawberries into puree. Strain through a chinois to get rid of strawberries’ seeds.
Preparation of the salad:
Put slices of cheese and strawberries onto a plate. Mix 1 tablespoon of balsamic sauce, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of strawberry puree. Add quite a lot of pepper and taste. Pour over the salad or on the bottom of the plate. Add mint. This time I served it without any green salad, but it goes really well with rucola or baby spinach.
If you do not like strawberries, you can prepare a similar dressing using raspberries or even bilberries. I made those dressings, too, and they go excellent with cheeses, nuts and green stuff.