The 1970s are long gone, which means that entertaining a group of friends no longer means slaving in the kitchen over a hot stove for hours (if not days) before the event. I'm mentioning this because, no doubt, there are those who are already in a flap about 'the big day' that's so quickly approaching. Yes, you know what I'm talking about. I can see you nodding!
Still on the subject of great produce from the NSW Southern Highlands, I'm sharing my recipe for this rib-sticker of a soup, created last week using a smoked pork hock from the good folks at Maugers Premium Quality Meats in Burrawang and Moss Vale.
'Is it really still summery in your neck of the woods,' I asked of a dear friend who now lives up north. 'Yep,' she replied. 'We're expecting blue skies and a balmy 28 degrees C today.'
Her response had me swooning, particularly as I had woken up to a brisk Canberra morning, heavy with thick fog and grey skies.
With the party season in full swing, please allow me to tempt you with an intriguing offering that's bound to surprise those taste buds and please palates as well. A combination of my zingy and refreshing gazpacho, with Heston Blumenthal's wonderful wholegrain mustard ice cream.
Once a delicacy reserved for royalty and rulers, asparagus was bestowed the title "King of Vegetables" by the ancient Egyptians. According to The World Encyclopedia of Vegetables, the ancient Greeks enjoyed wild asparagus, but it was not until the Roman period that it was cultivated. It's said that Julius Caesar best enjoyed his asparagus dishes with melted butter. Simple and delicious.
'What sort of soup are you making this afternoon, mum?' my grown up son asked. 'Leek and potato,' I responded. 'Oh yum, you make a really good one of those,' he exclaimed, making me smile. I could almost hear him smacking his lips together over the mouthpiece.
For as long as I can remember, I have loved wonton soup. If I close my eyes and wrinkle my nose in deep concentration, I think I can recall the first time I tasted it, sometime in the late 1960s, about the same era that I tasted my first ever 'potato scallop'. But that's another story.
Don't throw the pa-ast away
'A person who is eating has neither greed nor anger,' goes a zen saying. The partaking of food promotes a harmony within ourselves, as well as with nature and those with whom we share our meal. From the small harmony of a meal at a day's end grows the larger harmony of the family, the community, and all that surrounds. Dinner is served. The whole world is seated.
It would be little wonder if Hungarian goulash had complained of an identity crisis over the years. Recognised internationally as a stew (and frequently bastardised in various ways), the famous icon of Hungary is a thick and wholesome soup named after the nomadic Magyar herdsmen or gulyás of the Great Plain.
In The Cuisine of Hungary (Penguin), George Laing explains that goulash is [one of] 'the four pillars of Hungarian cooking' and the origins can be traced back to the ninth century, when 'the ancient Magyars dipped into the gulyás with their wooden spoons'. Yeah, those guys knew how to eat with gusto!
At its best, goulash is cooked outdoors in an iron kettle or bogrács suspended over an open fire (per my cousin György's method in the photograph above). Add a generous blob of pork lard during the cooking (if you dare) and make sure you have large chunks of home-baked bread sliced and ready. Then invite a loud and ravenous family over, and finish off with Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody belting out from the ipod dock.
If you don't happen have a bogrács, which Hungarians transport to picnics much like other nationalities might do with a picnic basket or an esky, then cook your goulash in a soup pot indoors. Jó étvágyat kívánok! Enjoy.
GOULASH THE WAY MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME
1-2 tablespoons oil
2 brown onions, chopped
1kg beef shin (or stewing steak), cubed and trimmed of fat
1 tablespoon Noble Sweet Hungarian paprika
2 carrots, peeled & cut into chunks
1 green capsicum, sliced
1 tomato, chopped
1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
up to 2 litres water
3 potatoes, peeled and quartered
a few sprigs of parsley
a few caraway seeds (entirely optional)
Heat the oil in a large saucepan or stock pot and saute the onions until they are just golden. Add the beef and cook it until it is well browned. Stir in the paprika, carrot, capsicum, tomato, salt and one litre of water.
Bring the soup to the boil, the lower the heat, cover the pot and cook the goulash gently for up to two hours. At this stage, add the potatoes and parsley, and up to an additional litre or so of water (less if you prefer a less liquid Goulash). Then simmer until the potatoes are tender. Serves 6.
11/2 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons water
1 free range egg
Combine the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Knead to a firm, dry consistency. Grate directly into simmering soup or pinch off 1 cm pieces and drop into the soup. The noodles are ready when they rise to the top. Serves 6.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.