The second episode in the Eat The World series will take us from Afghanistan to the Balkans, specifically Albania. As the bolani came out delicious, choosing a dish from the next country on the list I had high expectations. This time it was again for the meatless option – a typical Central Albanian peasant delicacy called fërgesë. The word itself comes from the verb fërgoj – meaning to fry. The version I made is popular mainly in summer (hence the name: verorë – summer). In winter, the meat variant is usually consumed. The most common option is with liver, although there are also fërgesë with beef or lamb.
Albanian tables are ruled above all by onions(fifth in terms of per capita consumption) and olive oil – present here since the dawn of time. As it is in Mediterranean countries, Albania has no shortage of good cheeses, fish, fresh herbs, or fruits and vegetables bathed in sunshine. Since it is poorer here compared to other countries in the region, chemical fertilizers are not used as much, so the crops are more natural.
There is no shortage of Italian or Ottoman influences in Albanian cuisine, hence the popularity of Sicilian cannoli (called kanojët here) or Turkish baklava. One also eagerly eats challah or rachatlukum, which shows the extent of the stigma imprinted before the Turks.
Many countries, led by Poland, have developed some kind of cottage cheese. Albanian gjize cheese is a saltier counterpart to ricotta, which is made by coagulating the proteins in milk or yogurt. Typically, milk or thick Greek-type yogurt is heated along with lemon juice over low heat. Under the action of the acid, proteins begin to shear and lumps of cheese form. Finally, the fresh cheese is pressed on a cheese cloth and salt. The gjize obtained in this way will be perfect both as a filling for burek-type bread and for our fërgesë.
Fërgesë – few ingredients, lots of flavor
To prepare a summer vegetarian version of the Albanian delicacy, we need the following list of ingredients:
- three peppers – I used each a different color
- average onion
- a few skinless tomatoes
- 400 gjize – or similar cheese: you can use ricotta, fat cottage cheese, feta or even mix several types of white cheese
- olive oil
It is important to remember that when using a substitute for gjize, you need to take the salt correction.
I must point out that – as with many traditional dishes, the recipes for which have been passed down from generation to generation, the ingredients and preparation may vary. There are versions without onions, and even with the addition of a butter and flour roux. Information about eggs appears in places, but this is not a standard element of fërgesë.
Recipe for fërgesë – step by step
- Clean the peppers from the seed nests and white membranes, then cut them into thick strips,
- Peel the tomatoes from the skin or use ready-made ones from a can – if you don’t have access to really good tomatoes or you’re cooking in the winter, there’s no better option
- Dice the onion
- Heat olive oil in a frying pan
- Fry the peppers skin side down on a high-powered burner
- Reduce the power and add the onions
- When the onions are glazed, add the tomatoes and crush them with a wooden spoon
- Reduce the total slightly and add cheese
- Cook for a few more minutes until the cheese begins to combine with the rest of the dish
- Traditional way: put the whole thing into small clay pots and bake in the oven or stove another ten minutes or so
- Sprinkle the whole thing with basil
Fërgesë can be eaten with fresh bread or just by itself straight from the pan or clay pot. This is an excellent vegetarian snack that can be made in no time at home – with readily available ingredients. Since I did not make my own gjize, I used salted, fatty cottage cheese. The dish does not have the best appearance, however, it tastes delicious. I recommend it to everyone.
After making the classic summer fërgesë, you can also try a meat version with liver, and indulge in various experiments. A variant with a roux or the addition of hot chili peppers sounds tempting.
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