Zapekanka – or a Bake in English I suppose – is the Russian ultimate comfort, nursery food.
The basic principle of mashing ingredients to their soft, unresistant core and baking them till they form a crust, is the only rule here. What goes in, whether it savoury or sweet, is down to your liking – or availability on the shelves of the Soviet brilliantly empty stores.
Tvorog – or curdcheese – is the classic zapekanka ingredient. The sweet variety made with raisins , served in the gloopy kompot (thick fruit sauce, jelly like) was the Soviet kid’s favourite. Just as the British youngsters runs for a sponge cake with custard, we galloped for tvorozhnaya zapekanka!
Now, lately I’ve developed a particular interest in making dishes that have no meat or fish in them (reluctant to call them vegetarian, as I often cook with beef dripping or others such). Reasons – twofold: the serious one of genuinely wanting to limit the amount I scoff (and gosh, do I scoff) for health reasons.
The more fun reason for being veggie curious – is the fact that limiting oneself away from the obvious forces you to come up with ideas. Yes, that thing, being more creative.
And so here’s my let’s-use-all-the-left-overs-in-the-fridge Zapekanka:
Zapekanka (bake) of root vegetables with a crumbly topping of golden home-made breadcrumbs, pinenuts and caraway seeds.
What you will need:
- a mixture of potatoes, swede, sweet potato. parsnips, celeriac, carrot will do just as well. Boil them first and let to dry for a few minutes. you’ll then need butter and warm milk and lots of various chopped herbs.
- plus I stewed lots of onions with beef marrow (as one does), balsamic vinegar and thyme for half an hour.
- breadcrumbs (huge, home-made ones in my case)
- pinenuts (or any other nuts you may have)
- a couple of anchovies
- caraway seeds (important!) , about a tablespoon for 6 people portion
What to do
- Turn the oven to 180 C.
- Mash your roots to oblivion with lots of butter and milk, be generous with black pepper.
- Butter your dish and spread the mash evenly.
- Top with the onion mixture.
- Make the crumble by mixing all the ingredients and frying them gently in a pan with butter till golden and smelling irresistibly.
- Top the roots and onion mixture with the crumble.
- Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes.
- Eat and cry the happy tears of childhood memories.
PS. The following day you can make Zapekanka cakes out of leftovers. Just form the mixture into shapes (I also put some onion mixture inside), dust in flour, fry in butter for a few minutes and finish in an oven for about 15 mins.