Easy Serbian Djuvec Pork Casserole, also Known as Đuveč rice casserole or Serbian Ratatouille

Djuvec (pronounced JOO-vech, with a hard “j” as in “jingle”) is a hearty Serbian casserole of veggies, meat, and rice that comes together easily with just a few simple ingredients, and will impress your friends as it nourishes them. Serve it for folks coming over, or take it along to a potluck and get ready to collect the compliments.

In Serbia and other parts of the former Yugoslavia, djuvec — properly spelled đuveč — is a layered pork, vegetable, and rice casserole topped with a layer of tomato slices. These bake and caramelize into a heavenly sweetness that drains downwards and infuses the whole dish as it bakes.

Djuvec falls into the category of one-pot meals that are named after the vessel in which they are prepared. Another example is, in fact, the casserole. “Casserole” is the French word for a shallow baking pan. The word djuvec comes from the Turkish güveç, or guvec, a tall, round, earthenware baking vessel — and also a hearty one-pot meal, usually made with lamb or chicken.

Djuvec at its best is mellow and succulent, with a complex play of meat and vegetable flavors. It’s meant to be served straight out of the pot. As the top layer of sliced tomatoes roasts and concentrates, it becomes both decorative and delicious.

I’m amazed by how much flavor this dish carries, since the seasoning is so minimal. It’s a wonderful tribute to the powerful deliciousness of vegetables. Tasting this dish, I realized I’ve come to rely on herbs, spices and stocks to create the flavor profile of a dish, using vegetables mainly for their volume, texture and color – but not especially for flavor. This djuvec brings home how potent are the tastes of tomato, of eggplant, of bell pepper, of celery.

Onion, too, is a big player in this dish. You just chop it and mix it with the other veggies; no sauteeing required. Easy, and with a freshness I would have otherwise missed out on, because I automatically just sautee practically every onion I cook with.

This djuvec recipe is adapted from one that I found in Yugoslav Cookbook (1963, Izdavacki Zavod Jugoslavija). That one calls for green peppers instead of red. Also, it uses all fresh tomatoes, whereas I use fresh slices only for the top layer, and crushed canned tomatoes for the deeper layers.

The best cut of pork for djuvec
Rice Casserole

You can use just about any tough cut of pork in djuvec. The source recipe doesn’t specify what cut of pork (or anything else) to use. I chose country-style ribs – a cheaper cut with a moderately long cooking time and a fairly hefty amount of fat and flavor. Its strong pork presence can be overwhelming, but that’s a strength when you want flavor that will permeate a great big pot of food. Another good choice, I’ll warrant, would be pork belly.

I’d love to try this with pork we’ve smoked in our new/old smoker that we just scored at a local thrift shop.

You can make a traditional djuvec with other meats as well. The source recipe in the old cookbook, for instance, calls for equal parts beef and pork, or, alternately, lamb. Many Serbs make a chicken and rice casserole version of djuvec, though I don’t remember anyone in my family making it that way. The essential part is the layering of vegetables with rice and meat — and plenty of tomatoes and oil to saturate the rice so lusciously while it bakes.

cuts to Avoid in Making Djuvec

I advise against using anything tender and mild like pork tenderloin. That’s a delicacy that’s marvelous on its own, simply rubbed with salt, pepper, and herbs, and then grilled or flash-cooked to medium rare. But pork tenderloin doesn’t have a lot of flavor to spare, and it would just get lost in a stew. The same goes for chicken breast and filet mignon — it would be a waste to use them in here. Use chicken thighs instead, or any slow-cooking cut of beef.

The best pot to cook djuvec Rice casserole

This dish is assembled in layers. Use a heavy pot with a big footprint. A cast iron Dutch oven is perfect.

If you don’t have a round, deep baking vessel that’s big enough, you might try to get away with a roasting pan, the kind you might bake a lasagna in. However, you won’t have much of a layering effect.

You can use the stoneware liner from a slow cooker. They work just fine in an oven. Any pot that holds at least six quarts will do for this recipe.

A regular casserole dish would be too small for this recipe. If you want to use a casserole dish, just cut the recipe in half.

I like to double the recipe and use a massive French oven casserole, which is similar to a Dutch oven, but bigger, and oval instead of circular. Ours is made by Club, and it’s a beauty in white-enameled cast iron with a black enamel interior. We got it at a Goodwill in the early 1990s for 10 bucks. What a deal! Usually, you can only find big iron pieces like that in antique stores, where the prices are closer to the real value of these beauties. You can buy new cast iron Dutch ovens by Lodge, the last of the old-time cookware foundries that’s still in operation in the U.S., and enameled cast iron Dutch ovens by Lodge, Le Creuset, and others.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium eggplant, cubed
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • Handful fresh parsley, chopped
  • 3/4 pounds onions, quartered
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 pound fresh tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 t black pepper, approximately
  • 2 pounds country-style pork ribs, cut off the bone and cut in 1″ cubes
  • 3/4 cups olive oil
  • 1/4 cup uncooked white rice, or 1 cup day-old cooked rice

Instructions

In a mixing bowl, toss together all the vegetables (except tomatoes and crushed tomatoes) with the salt, pepper and about 1/4 cup of the olive oil.

In a heavy skillet over highest heat, sear the pork until nicely browned. (Sear pork in batches small enough that they don’t crowd the pan, so that there is enough space for evaporation. Otherwise, they’ll start to boil without browning.)

Put down layers in this order, bottom to top:

  1. Half the crushed tomatoes
  2. Half of the veggies
  3. Rice
  4. Meat
  5. Remaining veggies
  6. Remaining crushed tomatoes
  7. Sliced tomatoes
  8. Remaining olive oil

Bake at 350 F for about 2 hours, or until the meat is tender and the rice is thoroughly cooked. Remove the lid during the second hour, to get the tomatoes to form a nice crust.

Enjoy!

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