BUTIvar, a red pepper paste found in the spice section of a supermarket, is North Macedonia’s biggest secret.
Made by charring a large Balkan pepper over a fire until its rind is blistered and black, its smoky flavor lends itself well to a range of dishes.
Although traditionally served simply as part of a meze with freshly baked bread and a selection of cheeses and appetizers, it can also be added to pasta and risotto, baked with eggs, or used as a meat marinade.
The possibilities are endless, but here are some suggestions from North Macedonian brand Pelagonia and chef Keiron George.
Sourdough with ajvar, whipped feta and baked tomatoes in olive oil
200 g Greek feta
2 heaping tablespoons natural yogurt
½ garlic clove, minced
60 ml olive oil
1-2 tbsp lemon juice
250 g cherry tomato mix
1 tablespoon chopped herbs (I used oregano and thyme)
4 tbsp Aivar Pelagonia
4 slices sourdough, toasted
1. In a food processor, process the feta with yogurt and garlic. Whilst the blade is turning, drizzle ½ olive oil and lemon juice. Store in refrigerator until required.
2. Preheat oven to 180°C/gas. 4. In a baking dish, toss the tomatoes with the remaining olive oil, a good pinch of salt and pepper, and chopped herbs. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the tomatoes burst and begin to color.
3. To assemble, spread a little whipped feta on each slice of toast. Place 1 tablespoon of ajvar pelagonia on each and garnish with fried tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and garnish with a little thyme.
Spaghetti with fried garlic and ajvar in breadcrumbs with lemon and herbs
1 head of garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ bank 314 g Pelagonia Aivar
300 g dried spaghetti
1 large slice of sourdough, toasted
½ lemon, zest only
½ small pack of parsley
1. Preheat oven to 180°C/gas. 4. Cut the topmost part of the garlic bulb and drizzle it with a little olive oil. Wrap in foil and bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes until the cloves are soft and sweet, let cool slightly.
2. Pulse the toasted bread in a food processor with the lemon zest, herbs and remaining olive oil. Postpone.
3. Heat a large pot of salted water and cook spaghetti according to package directions.
4. In the meantime, heat the Aivar Pelagonia in a frying pan and squeeze out the whole head of fried garlic, getting rid of the skin. Heat gently and stir well.
5. When the pasta is done, use tongs to transfer it to the sauce and toss to coat. This, instead of draining the spaghetti, allowed some of the water from the boil to make the dish more “saucy”. Transfer to plates or a large platter and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
Aivar risotto with forest mushrooms
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
180 g arborio risotto rice
125 ml dry white wine
1 liter hot chicken or vegetable broth
200 g forest mushrooms
3 sprigs thyme, leaves removed
25g grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
40 g unsalted butter
½ bank 314 g Pelagonia Aivar
1. Place a saucepan or saucepan over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the onion and celery until soft. Add the garlic and rice and stir for a few minutes until the rice is translucent. Add white wine and boil until it is absorbed.
2. Gradually add the broth to the pot and stir until the rice absorbs it. Repeat adding ladle after ladle, stirring regularly, until the rice is soft and creamy with a slight bite, about 15 minutes. Check for seasonings – if you’re using bouillon cubes, they can be a little salty, so keep that in mind.
3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large skillet and sauté the mushrooms until browned and soft. Add thyme, a piece of butter and season.
4. Add the grated Parmesan, the remaining butter and the ajvar to the risotto and mix until smooth. Serve risotto with mushrooms and grated parmesan.
Keyron George recipes. Pelagonia Aivar, including hot aivar and other mezes, is available from Waitrose and Sainsbury stores across the UK, with co-op coming soon. For inspiration and recipes visit their website. here.