Two Croatian Easter Recipes from Acclaimed Massachusetts Chef Johnny Sheehan

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Chef Johnny Sheehan of Salt Raw Bar + Fine Cuisine and Leena’s Kitchen in Plymouth, MA, the town where the Mayflower landed on Plymouth Rock, was so inspired by wines from Croatia that he created several wine pairing dinners with Croatian wines, the most recent one with 9-courses and wines. 

Here are two of his recipes to pair with Tribidrag (aka Zinfandel) and Plavac Mali (descendant from Zinfandel), both from the wine region of Dalmatia, known for 83 indigenous varieties. 

Both recipes are perfect for Spring and so festive that they can be used as Easter recipes – Lamb Assiette and Beef Cheek Ravioli. We also added a wine that he paired with his fairly complex dessert. All three wines are from the fully-organic appellation of Komarna, Croatia’s newest appellation with a perfect view of the Pelješac bridge. Živjeli!

Lamb Assiette

Chef Johnny uses multiple parts of the animal and multiple cooking techniques to create this lamb assiette. The dish is comprised of three many components – the tenderloin, strip loin, belly, plus the bones for broth. The tenderloin is pan-seared and basted with butter. The strip loins are rubbed in a compound butter of roasted garlic, pureed anchovy filets, shallot, fresh herbs of thyme and rosemary, and dried mushroom powder. The belly is fried. The bones are roasted and made into a stock with wine, tomato paste, herbs, spices, and mirepoix.

In the restaurant, each plate gets a portion of tenderloin, seared strip loin, fried belly, and a serving of blitva na lešo (smashed potato with swiss chard and olive oil), lamb demi-glace, fresh herbs, fried potato, and crisp onion rounds. 

Learn how to make a simplified version of this restaurant dish below – pair with this Tribidrag from Rizman! Živjeli!
A plate of food

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  • 8 lamb chops, salted and peppered
  • 2 oz. vegetable oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • half of a small shallot, minced
  • ½ cup good red wine
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1 half stick of unsalted butter

Photo:  Croatian Premium Wine Imports, Inc. 


  1. Heat a pan over medium-high heat.  Add vegetable oil and then sear the lamb chops seasoned with salt and black pepper.  Brown on each side to medium-rare (an internal temperature of 120°F). 
  2. Remove the chops and add the garlic, shallot, and herbs. Stir quickly to keep it from burning just long enough to soften the garlic and shallot and bring out the oils in the herbs.  Deglaze the pan with the red wine and reduce to almost dry, add the chicken stock and butter.  Reduce down, swirling the pan till a beautiful glossy sauce forms.  Do not over-reduce because the sauce will break and become greasy (if it does break, you can add a bit more stock and reduce again). Season with salt and pepper.

Blitva na lešo (smashed potato & swiss chard)A plate of food and wine

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  • 4 medium to large golden potato
  • 1 bunch swiss chard, washed and chiffonaded
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, small dice
  • 6 ounce olive oil, preferably Croatian
  • 4 oz. milk
  • salt and pepper to taste

Photo:  Croatian Premium Wine Imports, Inc. 


  1. In a large pot boil the potatoes with salt until they fall apart tender. Strain the water and set it aside. 
  2. Heat a large saute pan preferably with high sides over medium-high heat.  Add half of the olive oil and then the garlic and shallots.  Season with salt and pepper cooking till translucent. 
  3. Add the swiss chard, and season again with salt to pull the moisture from the greens.  Turn down the heat and cook till fully softened and the olive oil and natural juices blend together. 
  4. Add the potato, milk, and remainder of the olive oil.  Smash together incorporating all the ingredients.  Season with salt and pepper if needed.

Beef Ravioli with Plavac Mali

If lamb isn’t your forte, maybe this braised beef pasta will be. For this recipe, the beef cheek is slowly braised in cherry juice, chicken stock, wine, aromatic vegetables, herbs, and spices. At the restaurant, the finished beef cheek is shredded and folded into fresh spinach ravioli then finished in a sauce made with the reduced braising liquid, sauteed garlic and shallots, and butter. When making the dish at home, you’ll use thick-cut pappardelle.

Both dishes (restaurant dish and at home) are garnished with paški sir cheese from the Croatian island of Pag. Pair with Plavac Mali from Terra Madre!  Živjeli!

Braised Beef Pasta


  • 2 lb. beef short rib or shank
  • 16 oz. black cherry juice
  • 24 oz. chicken stock
  • 6 oz. dry white wine – Croatian Pošip
  • 1 medium size onion, diced
  • 1 small carrot, diced
  • 2 ribs of celery, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • spices: a sachet of thyme, parsley, bay leaf, 5 black peppercorns, 1 tsp fennel seed, 1 tsp coriander seed

Photo:  Croatian Premium Wine Imports, Inc. 


  1. In a dutch oven or braising pan of your choice sear the beef till browned on all sides.  Deglaze the pan with white wine removing all and any fond on the bottom of the pan. 
  2. Add vegetables, juice, stock, and sachet.  Bring up to a simmer. 
  3. Cover your pot and transfer to a 300°F oven. Cook for 1 hour 45 minutes. Beef should be cooked until fall-apart tender.  If the beef is not done, continue to cook in 15-minute increments till done. 
  4. Remove the beef and strain the liquid to reserve for the pasta sauce.

Pan sauce and pasta


  • 3 oz. olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 small sprig of fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme, chopped
  • 16 oz. of reserved braising liquid
  • ½  of the shredded braised beef (reserve the remainder for another recipe or round two of the same)
  • 3 oz. unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbsp mascarpone cheese or creme fraiche
  • 1 lb. pappardelle pasta 
  • 4 oz. pasta water
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • grated paški sir cheese (or hard sheep’s cheese)
  • sprig of fresh basil


  1. Bring a large pot of salted water up to a boil to cook the pasta. Cook the pasta till al dente.
  2. At the same time heat, a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and then garlic and shallot.  Season with salt and pepper and cook until translucent and aromatic. Put in the chopped herbs, stirring quickly. Add the braising liquid and beef, and heat to a simmer. 
  3. Place in the butter and mascarpone or creme fraiche, reducing the liquid to emulsify.  
  4. Add the al dente pasta and pasta water.  Simmer together working the pasta around in the pan until the starches from the pasta thicken the sauce into a beautiful creamy creation. Season again with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with freshly grated cheese and basil.


A glass of wine next to a bowl of ice cream

Description automatically generated with low confidenceAnd as if we had room for a dessert, Chef Johnny created a Chocolate Petit Gateau, with wild berry mousse, chocolate ganache, powdered strawberries, and fresh cream, and paired it with the Volarević Plavac Mali Gold Edition 2016. This recipe may be “a bit complicated” for home kitchens, so we suggest pairing this reserve and powerful Plavac Mali with dark chocolate – either the chocolate or a dark chocolate dessert.  

Remember to decant all reds from Dalmatia for an hour or two – particularly the ones you pair with desserts.

Enjoy the festivities with your family. Živjeli!

Recipes courtesy of Chef Johnny Sheehan, Salt Raw Bar + Fine Cuisine, and Leena’s Kitchen in Plymouth, MA.; photos courtesy of Croatian Premium Wine Imports, Inc.

Presented by Coravin. To purchase these wines, click on the Coravin Wine Shop links in the article.  

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