Our big celebration is tonight, in the Polish tradition of Wigilia. Tomorrow we’ll kick back and enjoy the day.
It’s finally snowing. I guess we’ll have a white Christmas after all!
Spent today cooking, cooking, cooking. There must be something I’m trying to get out of my system. Either that, or the huge loads of vegetables we typically collect in the summer are making me feel guilty. Don’t waste that! It’s fresh. It was plucked out of the ground just this morning. You’ve got a freezer, right? Get those pots out, girl.
I took care of two items cluttering my fridge and counters this afternoon. Our neighbors/condo co-owners belong to an organic farm share and kindly shared a huge bag of fresh beets. They’re not fond of beets, but they thrill me to my Polish core. Beet soup. Beet salads. Grated beets. You name it, I love it. I whipped up a humongous batch of Rydzynski family beet soup, straight out of my grandmother’s kitchen and passed on to me via my dad. Every family probably has a grandmother like this: about 4 feet tall, hair in a bun, black orthopedic shoes and a pot of something on the stove (or in the oven) morning, noon and night. When we were kids we were ritually led to her ancient kitchen, seated onto uncomfortable kitchen chairs and given a plate of something home made to eat. Woe to the kid who didn’t finish it. Hey – people starved to death in the old country. They sure as hell weren’t going to do that here.
I’ll eventually share the recipe. In its current shape it’s a bit hard to decode and I want to play around with the proportions, particularly those of sugar to vinegar. Sweet-sour soups are an Eastern European thing, and they’re really good.
I also made my second batch of tomato sauce, this time from Marcella Hazan‘s The Classic Italian Cookbook (a real classic. Get it!). She has three fresh-tomato sauces that are absolutely out of this world. They are simply called Tomato Sauce I, Tomato Sauce II and Tomato Sauce III. They vary in the amount of time the tomatoes are cooked. Tomato Sauce I, which I made this afternoon, is the longest-cooking recipe. It’s a simple procedure involving plum tomatoes, olive oil, salt and smidgens of onion, carrot, celery and sugar. I use this sauce to accompany gnocci if I’m having it plain. It also pairs extraordinarily well with chicken. Give it a try yourself and see what you think:
Tomato Sauce I
2 pounds, fresh, ripe plum tomatoes (remove seeds and skin beforehand if you don’t have a food mill)
1/2 cup good quality olive oil
1/3 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1/3 cup finely chopped carrot
1/3 cup finely chopped celery
1 – 2 tsp salt, to taste (I use 1 tsp)
1/4 tsp granulated sugar
Wash tomatoes in cold water. Core and slice in half, lengthwise. Simmer in a covered saucepan for 10 minutes. Remove cover and simmer gently for 1 1/2 hours more.
Puree the tomatoes through a food mill (if you have one), to remove the seeds and skin. Meanwhile, wash out the pot you were using and add the olive oil. Add the onion and saute until just translucent, not brown. Add carrot and celery and saute for just another minute.
Add the pureed tomato, the salt and the sugar. Cook at a gentle simmer, uncovered or partially covered, for another 20 minutes. Stir from time to time to prevent sticking.
If you try any of the sauces I’ve mentioned, please do let me know. I’d be curious to know what you think of them.
I went for comfort food tonight. If you’re Polish – or any Slavic nationality, actually – borscht/barszcz is part of your structural DNA. This version is from Ukraine and is part of a massive collection of Polish recipes by Robert Strybel. You don’t buy this book unless your name ends in -ski and vowels are not part of your way of thinking.
Ready for a shot at this? Let’s go! Here’s what you’ll need:
2 lbs beef stew meat, with or without bone
3 – 4 medium beets, fresh
2 potatoes (peeled or not)
2 cups green cabbage
1 can small white beans (or make from scratch)
1/2 tsp marjoram
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 tsp white sugar
1 cup sour cream (one of the four food groups of Poland)
2 tbs flour
Use a food processor for this recipe, if you have one. It will cut time and labor. Beets leave a lot of red behind, but that washes out with water.
Wash and cut stew meat. Add to soup pot with 6 – 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, skim off foam, and simmer for 1 and 1/2 hours.
While the meat mixture is cooking, prepare the vegetables. Wash and trim the beets. Wrap in aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees for an hour. Cut potatoes into small dice and keep submerged in water to prevent browning. Shred cabbage and set aside. Open can of white beans, rinse in colander and set aside.
When beets are cooked, remove from oven and let cool. Slip off skins and shred beets.
Add vegetables and beans to meat mixture after 1 1/2 hours. If necessary, bone meat before adding vegetables. Add marjoram, salt and pepper. Cook mixture for another 40 minutes. Add vinegar and sugar, salt and pepper. Taste for balance.
Prepare sour cream. Spoon into a mixing bowl and add 2 tbs flour. Whisk until creamy. After 40 minutes, scoop a little bit of the soup broth into the sour cream mixture, whisking after each addition. Add broth until sour cream is pink and the mixture is no longer cool or cold. Then, slowly add the sour cream to the soup, stirring vigorously to prevent clumping.
Let the soup cook for a while longer, below the boil. to dispel the “flour-y” taste. Adjust seasonings and serve hot.
The sweet-sour thing may be confusing for some. It’s very Eastern European, and works particularly well with beets. My family makes a different version of this recipe. I guess there are as many recipes for barszcz as there are Polish people to make it.
Here are some pics I took along the way. And, I even made a little video for you. Enjoy!
Start with good veggies!
Drain and rinse your white beans. Navy beans are good in this recipe. I wouldn’t recommend cannellini. They’re too soft.
Here’s your shredded cabbage. I did this in the food processor. Big time saver.
And here are the grated beets. Isn’t that pretty???
Here’s the soup on the first boil. By the end it’ll be ruby red.
This part might be a little tricky. Add the hot broth, a tablespoon or so at a time, whisk and keep doing that until the sour cream is warm and has had a chance to combine with the broth a bit. If you don’t do this, the sour cream will separate in the soup. You don’t want that. You want this:
From ruby red to hot pink! Cleanup isn’t that bad, either. It just looks like the aftermath of a slasher movie. Just rinse out everything and you’re done.
And, here’s the video I promised!
Ukranian Beet Soup.wmv
I went to a Polish neighborhood in Boston with a friend of mine this afternoon. It's an emigre community, with a few small shops that carry food from the homeland, or about as close to it as you can get. I've done business with a few of the shops there around Easter. There's an old-time Polish baker who makes a babka that's second to none. There's also a deli run by an entrepreneurial Polish emigre family and they have some of the best stuff around. A lot of their prepared foods are home-made, or made specifically for them. They have fantastic meats: sausages, cold cuts and the like, along with a lot of baked goods, imported items, sweets, lots and lots of fantastic types of bread and more. They recently started carrying alcohol as well and had some interesting and tasty offerings along those lines.
Going there is always a treat. There's a Polish restaurant across the street from one of the shops, owned by that same emigre family. They're hard at work in the kitchen or behind the counter: no slackers here. They also own a small publishing company that puts out a Polish newspaper that's circulated throughout the country. I'd run ads for my business in it from time to time and it's always brought in new customers.
Since the holidays are coming up, my friend and I decided to stock up on some items for that occasion. My husband asked that I also pick up some stuff for dinner tonight, which I happy obliged to do.
So what was on our plate for dinner this evening? Cabbage rolls in tomato sauce (golabki), a double-smoked kielbasa and three types of vegetable salads. One of the salads was made in-house and two were jarred salads imported from Poland. I had also brought home some pierogi, but it really looked as though that would be overkill, so I put it aside for later. No rye bread, alas. I was planning on the pierogi being the "dough" portion of the meal, but we ate well nonethless.
I also loaded up on stuff for the folks back home: several different types of pierogi, ham, various types of Polish cheese, salami, two types of kielbasa and some imported items like tea and sweets. We'll, of course, bring the leftover vegetable salads back with us, where they'll promptly be devoured.
Tomorrow is the first night of Hanukkah, which my husband and his family celebrate. We're going to be visiting the in-laws before leaving town, so some of my bounty might find its ways to their table tomorrow night as well.