Delicious Bologna

On Saturday we went on a 1/2 day food tour of Bologna which was a gift from my work colleagues when I left home. Thanks team. This has been a highlight of my travels to date. There were seven of us on the tour so it was a friendly group just strolling and chatting and eating delicious food. We started the morning in a pasta laboratorio. This is not a laboratory as we might think of it where chemical mysteries are concocted but rather a workshop where the sfoglines weave their pasta magic. We saw them rolling out the freshly made dough, cutting it into squares, dropping pea sized portions of seasoned pork onto the pasta and deftly twisting them into the tortellini shape. They also made the larger tortelloni filled with pumpkin. I hope to take a class here and master these skills myself. First consumption stop was a welcome espresso and a sweet filled croissant. In Italy they seem to favour sweet pastry for breakfast which they confusingly call pasta. The next stop was a bakery where we tasted a torta de riso. I had just read about this in the Guardian and wanted to know where to find it. Now I know. It is like a rice pudding cake. If you love rice pudding, which I do, you will love this. It is traditionally eaten at Christmas so my family can expect this to be produced for our family Christmas this year.

The next eating stop was La Salumeria which was somewhere I had stumbled upon a few weeks back and couldn’t recall where it was or what it was called. Here we had a selection of Bologna meats and aged Parmigiano Reggiano drizzled with Balsamic condimento, served with chilled Lambrusco. I knew Lambrusco was red sparkling wine and I thought I didn’t like it. I did not know that it should be served chilled and it pairs well with a meat and cheese platter. This was an entirely different experience. Do try this at home. At La Salumeria we also tasted a few drops of extra vecchio Aceto Balsamico, aged for 25 years. 100 ml of this elixir will set you back € 99,00. Don’t drop the bottle. Here you can also buy the pasta made in the laboratorio, cured meats, cheeses and a variety of other deli delights. I suspect that I might visit here to buy good quality prepared food for weekday suppers when I don’t feel up to the task of cooking in my Italian kitchen. Having walked off a little of the salami and cheese, we wandered by a pizza bar where we sampled a small portion of Roman style pizza. The pizza was sold by weight and was delicious. Similar to focaccia with a light crisp crust. More topping than Neapolitan pizza. Do they do my favourite potato and rosemary? I’ll have to find out.

After some meandering around the city we visited Trattoria Tony where we enjoyed a plate of tortellini in brodo. I have talked about this dish but I hadn’t tried it and was not really convinced. Tiny rings of meat filled pasta in clear broth? Yes! This dish delivers so much more than it promises. This is the dish Bologna is most proud of and rightly so. I will buy this from La Salumeria when I want to eat it in our Italian kitchen but I will also learn to make it so I can prepare it for you at home. Then we ate more pasta. We had a small portion each of lasagne and tagliatelle al ragù. I learned that lasagne is traditionally made with green pasta. In the past, it would have been coloured with nettle leaves but these days spinach is usually used. We drank Sangiovese wine, the blood of Jupiter, with our pasta. When we’d finished lunch we wandered around the corner for gelato. I’ll write more about this later but for now you only need to know that Italian gelato is the best in the world. Having consumed two scoops of gelato, one black sesame and one stracciatella, we waddled home and went to bed without any supper. If you visit Bologna, do take a tour with Delicious Bologna. Remember not to have breakfast. Thanks again KIMD.

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Bologna basics

Here we are in Bologna, renowned for its food. The Italian classics we all know and probably have in our cupboards at home, Parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar and prosciutto, hail from the region of Emilia-Romagna of which Bologna is the capital. The most famous Bologna dish is probably spaghetti Bolognese, which has the local Mayor in a rage. The traditional ragù alla Bolognese bears little resemblance to the soupy, tomato-heavy sauce we usually serve at home and is always served with tagliatelle, never spaghetti. However, the pasta dish Bologna is most renowned for is tortellini, which is a small ring-shaped pasta stuffed with meat and served in a broth. Tortelloni on the other hand is slightly larger, folded differently and is filled with ricotta and served with a sage and butter sauce. Do not confuse them.

I am discovering how to shop at the markets and small specialist shops so that I can learn more about what ingredients I am buying and also to support local business. It can be a challenge with the language but I am making progress. It helps that I write my shopping list in Italian – however it can be interesting when I have forgotten what the word means. It is a pleasant surprise to ask for melanzane and be presented with a perfect…aubergine. The quality of produce is outstanding. The vegetables are very fresh and always indicate the region of origin. A trap for the uninitiated is shopping hours. Supermarkets and large chain stores are open all day, however markets and specialty shops close in the middle of the day for lunch. This break is not consistent across all shops nor even sometimes for the same shop on different days. Many close 12.30 – 3.30 while some choose 1.30 – 4.30 or 5.00. On the day, they may reopen later so that by the time the doors finally open there is quite a queue on the pavement. Some shops stay closed on Thursday afternoons or maybe a different afternoon. Understand that advertised opening hours are a guideline only and may not represent actual events. The moral of this story is do your shopping in the morning.

I am slowly mastering the fromaggeria. The Parmigiano is graded based on age and priced accordingly. I can choose cow’s milk ricotta, sheep milk, a mix of both, or goat. They have slightly different textures. There is a hard ricotta called ricotta salata which is delicious grated on soups and suchlike. I have also been introduced to burrata. Burrata is a fresh cow’s milk cheese from the Apulia region in the south. It is made from mozarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella, while the inside contains stracciatella and cream.  Stracciatella, not to be confused with the Roman meat and egg soup of the same name, is produced using a stretching and shredding technique. I think they share the name because egg is added to hot soup producing a shredded effect. All of these cheeses have a role in the meal and you can use them all in the same meal at different stages of the cooking process.

Now that I am getting to know the produce, I will let you know what I am making in my Italian kitchen.

Hello and goodbye to Berlin

I spent two and a half weeks visiting family in Berlin. I was staying in a pension in Weissensee, which was a borough in East Berlin and is now part of the larger borough of Pankow. Fun fact – it is the location and title of a popular German soap opera set in the 1980s, which I think would be great to see. I had little opportunity to prepare my own meals other than breakfast so I got to sample the varied tastes of Berlin including the famed currywurst. There are two key things to note about eating out in Berlin. You can rarely pay by card so you will need to carry wads of cash, and be prepared to be pestered by wasps if you are eating outside in late summer. Berlin is home to a huge range of cuisines, brought by immigrants and then, as is usually the way, tweaked to suit the local palate. I think the most popular and one my favourite Berlin cuisines is Turkish. I had a great Turkish meal at Osmans Töchter in Prenzlauer Berg, which serves modern mezze style food. I can recommend the hummus and the fried haloumi with spinach, red onions and oregano. I had a very basic and very delicious lunch at 1001 Falafel, also in Prenzlauer Berg, which describes itself as middle eastern late night food with outdoor seating. I had falafel and haloumi with hummus and yoghurt. This is where I was introduced to Ayran. For the uninitiated, this is a popular Turkish drink of yoghurt mixed with water and salt. It is similar to the Iranian drink Doogh and Armenian drink Taan and is unbelievably refreshing. I went immediately to the supermarket to stock up and drank this for breakfast every morning for the rest of my stay in Berlin. I will be making this at home.

I had wonderful avocado on toast for lunch at Father Carpenter in Mitte. I think I said in an earlier post that I was not a fan of bagels but I may need to retract that statement. I have to admit that I enjoyed delicious bagels at Books and Bagels in Friedrichshain, not once but twice. Books and Bagels is a combination of the English language bookshop Shakespeare and Sons, and the bagel bakery, Fine Bagels. I absolutely loved the black sesame bagel with goat cheese, avocado and tomato. And I found the perfect book to send my sister for her birthday. Koshary Lux in Charlottenburg was my introduction to Egyptian food. I had Daoud Basha, which is meatballs served on a mix of basmati rice and vermicelli with a spicy tomato sauce. After we walked off the lunch, we treated ourselves to a traditional German cinnamon scroll.

As you know I am a fan of German breakfast. I made two visits to Café Tasso in Friedrichshain, which also doubles as a secondhand bookshop and triples as a music venue in the evenings. They do a great frühstück. In Weissensee, I enjoyed dinner at Parkstern on Parkstrasse. This restaurant sits on the corner of a suburban street and looks unprepossessing but serves up wonderful German food with an excellent wine list and service to match. I can recommend the pork schnitzel with preiselbeermarmelade and the pink duck breast with pfifferlinge. Still in Weissensee, I had a delicious lunch at Babushka. This is a daytime café in an old smokehouse and it is understandably popular. Many of the diners appeared to be regulars. When they paid, a number of people said, “See you tomorrow”. I had meatballs with mashed potatoes and charred leeks. The beetroot soup was highly recommended. On our last day, combining culture with food we had a stupendous lunch at the Café Dix at the Berlinische Galerie in Kreuzberg. I usually steer away from gallery cafes because they are often overpriced and underwhelming. This was neither. The quality of the café matches the quality of the art and both are well worth a visit.

To wrap up, I’ll share three bar experiences. On a very hot day, when we just wanted to sit for half an hour with a cold drink, we discovered Piccolo Giardino in Mitte. I ordered an aperol spritz which came with a tube of pasta in place of a straw. This was very welcome – I have been both surprised and disappointed by the number of cafes serving drinks with plastic straws. We were introduced to Botanical Affairs, a gin bar in Mitte, where they serve a huge range of gins and tonics. Here we encountered an issue that I have experienced across Europe. The barman wanders over and asks you what you want almost before you have sat down and certainly before you have been presented with any menu. I don’t know what I want yet and I am struggling to decide because I don’t know what they serve. In the end I asked for a German gin with whatever he thought best and it was delicious. But I would have liked to see what was on offer. And finally there is the biergarten. A very German institution and a lovely place to visit on a hot day. This is a good place to try a dish of currywurst. If you aren’t familiar with this, it is a bratwurst cut into slices, doused in tomato sauce then liberally sprinkled with curry powder and served with a side of fries. I am not really sure how this became a thing, and I am not sure I am recommending it, but I did share a plate of this celebrated Berlin favourite at the biergarten in Weissensee, and I have nothing more to say about it. Auf wiedersehen, Berlin!

Parting thoughts and Preiselbeeren

I leave this town on Thursday and I thought I would share a few thoughts before I go. Top of mind is how summer happens outside. Almost every weekend we have been here there has been some kind of three-day summer event Thursday to Saturday. When we arrived there was a music festival that that ran over three or four weeks with outdoor concerts at the Dom, the city’s cathedral. The first weekend there was a three-day Ritterfest, a medieval fair. Then the Pflasterspektakel, street performance art. This last weekend was the Krone Fest. I am not really sure what that was, but it included wine tasting and musical performances. This coming weekend there is Wein und Kunst, wine and art, which I will sadly miss. Although I feel that this is quite a conservative city these events give the town a sense of life and engagement. People are having fun. I feel that this is in part because after summer comes winter with extreme cold and snow. But perhaps they just wrap up and keep having fun outside. I know Austria is famous for its Christmas markets.

In the cafes and bars people eat and drink outside. Along all of the streets there are tables set up outside. You just sit down and someone comes and asks you what you would like to eat or drink. Actually sometimes they hand you a menu and ask what you want at the same time, which is a little disconcerting. It takes me a few minutes to decipher the menu. Sometimes it turns out the bar isn’t really a bar. On Friday the bars are full from midday when work finishes for the day. One evening we were walking along the Herrenstrasse planning to stop for an Aperitif. Most places were full but we found a building with three or four tables outside and one was free. I didn’t notice what it was called or what kind of bar. We just had our drink, paid and left. When I was walking that way a few days later I noticed that it was in fact an upmarket dress shop which serves drinks and snacks outside in the evening. Seems very enterprising.

In cafes and shops there are common expressions that threw me at first. Especially because they are not all standard German. I have already reported on grüß Gott. When you say danke schön, they say bitte schön. At first I was confused. Why do they say please when I say thankyou? But I think it means, your’re welcome. And in fact often people say the “you’re welcome” phrase before I have had time to say thankyou. And sometimes they say even longer phrases after that I don’t understand. I smile and nod and hope that is the correct response. They don’t say auf wiedersehn, they say wiederschau’n which translates as “again behold” so I guess it also means goodbye. Sometimes people in cafes are very helpful and just speak English. When I was asked if I had any wishes I immediately thought of the Psammead and was tempted to ask for wings. I was warned to be prepared to be asked if I had a lust for action which fortunately I never was. Those phrases serve to remind me to be careful when I use a dictionary to make a literal translation from English to German. I may ask for something I don’t want.

We discovered the market and learned about summer fruit and vegatables. I enjoyed cooking with Eierschwammerl and Preiselbeere. Eierschwammerl are the golden peppery mushrooms that grow in Europe from summer through autumn. I used them in risotto. There were many other magnificent mushrooms I have never seen before. I have felt a little daunted. Perhaps I’ll try them in Italy.

I had seen Preiselbeere sauce on the menu with schnitzel but never had it. When they turned up at the market and there were queues to buy them at 12 Euros a kilo, I had to find out what they were. They were lingonberries, which I knew as a Scandinavian berry popular in a sauce served with meatballs. I bought 250g and made a sauce to go with our schnitzel. It was so simple. Add 1/4 the quantity of sugar to the weight of berries and simmer with a small quantity of water for 10 minutes. Put the saucepan in cold water and stir 2-3 minutes. Result a delicious tart sauce perfect with schnitzel. I imagine it would go well with any cold meat. Perhaps the Christmas ham.

As many of you will recall from my “using up things in the pantry” effort before we left Wellington I am used to having all the ingredients at my disposal. Here, I bought three staple items when we arrived and prepared all my meals around a minimal pantry. I have one kind of vinegar, one mustard, salt, pepper and chilli flakes. I just cook with what is in the fridge. This was not a limitation. I discovered some wonderful meals. It didn’t get much simpler than spaghetti and onions. Sauté a thinly sliced white onion in olive oil about 20 minutes until caramelised. Add 2 sliced garlic cloves and a sprinkling of chilli flakes and continue to cook until the onions are a rich brown without burning. Add some halved cherry tomatoes and fresh herbs. I usually have parsley, thyme and basil. I would have added olives if I’d had any. Cook for a minute or so then stir in cooked pasta, 1/2 cup pasta water and a knob of butter. Serve with a lemon wedge, Parmesan and a little chilli flakes sprinkled on top. The chilli comes in this nifty little container with a grinder and I sometimes grind one turn too many.

The star meal from the minimal pantry was the quinoa strawberry salad. This meal contains all the things I have on hand everyday in Linz at the height of summer, with a couple of treat items. I did splash out and buy some sliced almonds. I added the remainder of the packet to the muesli. I also bought feta cheese. I have been using cottage cheese instead of feta but I just thought the salad needed the extra saltiness you get with feta. We have mostly eaten vegetable meals and I grilled some chicken to accompany this meal. Make a dressing with olive oil plus lemon juice, honey mustard and fresh thyme. I happen to have honey mustard but if I didn’t, I would add a tsp of honey. I usually make my dressings 3 units of oil to one of vinegar or lemon but I have been reversing that here. It seems to work. Cook 1 cup quinoa in 2 cups of water until water is absorbed. Mix through the dressing while the quinoa is warm, reserving a little to drizzle over at the end. Mix 2 cups rocket, the cooled quinoa, 1/2 a thinly sliced red onion, 1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds, 250 grams halved strawberries, 100g crumbled feta. Serve topped with slices of grilled chicken and drizzle a little of the dressing over the chicken.

I started making a weekly meal plan twenty-five years ago when we were living in Liverpool with five children and I could only get to the supermarket once a week. I made a plan for the week and a shopping list and shopped only for the meals on the plan. I still do that today. I think I might extend that to incorporate the minimal pantry approach. Only one kind of grain or rice or vinegar in the cupboard at a time. Spaghetti with things I found in the fridge is a delicious user-up meal. And I will miss this owl tablecloth.

The Salzkammergut

We decided to take a short break away while we are staying in Austria. A number of factors came together resulting in our stay at Gasthof Botenwirt in Faistenau. As some of you will know I have my mother’s 1956 diary of her European travels and I am interested in revisiting places where she and my father stayed and noticing how things have changed. The closest to us that they got was one night in a guesthouse just out of Salzburg. But it is high summer and the Salzburg Festival so no room for us there. I recently read and enjoyed The Tobacconist by Robert Seethalter. The book is set in Vienna but the protagonist hails from Attersee in the Salzkammergut and that appealed too. Putting together Salzburg, Salzkammergut and somewhere accessible by train that we could do in a weekend, we ended up in Faistenau and it was the perfect destination.

Botenwirt is a small family run hotel with seven rooms and limited dining timeframes. Dinner is done by 8.30. I am known in my family for a dining timing error I nearly made in the Black Forest a few years ago, when I misunderstood our host. We were going out for a walk and I thought she was telling me dinner was at 7.00 p.m. “We will be back by 7.00”, I said cheerfully. Luckily my daughter’s German is better than mine. She was very firm with me. “Mum! Dinner finishes at 7.00!” This time I was careful to listen and be in the dining room in good time. The meals were primarily Austrian and I was looking forward to trying some new things. On our first evening I had Tiroler Gröstl and Peter went for the Eierschwammerl with Spätzle. Gröstl is boiled potatoes fried up with speck and onions, and flavoured with paprika and caraway. It is often served with a fried egg on top which I did when I made it back in Linz. Botenwirt served mine with a delicious vinegary slaw. If you are making this from scratch boil the quantity of potatoes you need and cool, then peel before proceeding. In Linz, when I am boiling potatoes for a meal I do all I have and save what I don’t need in an airtight container for salad. They peel and slice much easier the next day. Sauté about 100g speck or bacon lardons with a roughly chopped onion until the speck is golden and the onions soft. Set aside on a plate and add the potatoes chopped into smallish chunks. Fry them for about 10 minutes until golden then add 1 tsp caraway seeds and 1 tsp hot sweet paprika. Return the bacon and onion to the pan to heat through. Serve with parsley and, if you like, a fried egg on top. It was delicious in Faistenau on a warm evening with a cold glass of Grüner Veltliner and an Austrian style coleslaw. I imagine it would be very comforting on a winter’s evening in the alps with a glass of something warming.

One of the evenings at Faistenau was not steaming hot and Peter and I shared a bowl of soup. I had been keen to try the consommé with pancake stripes. Everywhere we eat there is a broth with pancake stripes on the menu. Yes – that is strips of pancake in the soup, not noodles. When I make this at home, I will think of it as pancake stripes. I also had goulash with semmelknödel. Austrian goulash is similar to Hungarian goulash but not the same. I assume that it has its heritage in the imperial Austria-Hungary. I love how food we associate with one country has connections with so many others. I always think of spätzle. I first had this in Würzburg where I was told it was a speciality of the town. Then everywhere we travelled after that right across to Strasbourg in France it appeared on every menu and was the speciality of that town. And it is served here as an Austrian dish. It would be interesting to group European regions by food specialisation rather than political boundaries. We might find more similarities than differences. In Austria goulash is served with semmelknödel which is a giant ball of bread. It is core to the culinary traditions of Austria, Bavaria, and the Czech Republic. It is stale bread mixed with flour, onion and herbs which is rolled into a large ball and boiled. It is also surprisingly delicious, if somewhat filling. It does a great job of soaking up the gravy from the goulash. I won’t be trying this one until I am at home in Wellington. Peter had the Tiroler Spinat Knödel which is basically the same thing finessed with spinach and Parmesan. Also delicious.

The best thing about Botenwirt among many great things was breakfast. Frühstück was served between the civilised hours of 8.00 a.m. and 9.30 so no rushing required. We ate in the dining room rather than outside and our table was set with a card with our name. We felt expected. Our host greeted us, offered coffee and asked if we wanted eggs. The soft boiled eggs were cooked to perfection and it was worth coming just for those. A sideboard was set up with all the options including a refrigerated bain-marie for the yoghurt and meat and cheese. Everything was local and organic and where practical home made. There was home-made elderflower cordial, basic muesli with fruit and delicious home-made yoghurt. There was meat and cheese and vegetables, and a delicious fresh cheese/ chives spread. There were all the bread rolls plus home-made jam and local honey. It was all fresh and delicious.

The Salzkammergut is very picturesque. There are mountains and lakes and green fields with herds of cattle, if a group of six cows constitutes a herd. It could be described as picture postcard, but it is much more than Instagram ready scenery. It is evident when you walk around the towns and villages and lakes that this is where Austrian people live their lives and, in summer, holiday with their families. It just felt like summer and I would love to return in the cold months and compare the winter landscape. I felt that families were making the most of the outdoors because in winter everything will happen indoors expect maybe for skiing. I’d love to eat my gröstl by a fire looking out at the snow covered hills. Perhaps we’ll do that.

Pflasterspektakel und Schnitzel

The Friday evening before we travelled to Nottingham for the weekend, we thought we would take a stroll along the Danube, which we call the Donau in Austria. We arranged to meet at the Nibelungenbrücke and discovered the streets closed to traffic and filled with people due to the annual Pflasterspektakel ,which translates as pavement spectacle and is an international festival of street performance art. We took our stroll and looked for somewhere to eat. On the way we stopped to listened to two performances, Faela, a Latin band whose members are from Argentina, England, Sweden and Spain, and Adam Kadabra who plays acoustic guitar using a lap-tapping technique. Both are worth looking out for in your local fringe festival. The evening was warm and the atmosphere was more lively than I expected to find in Austria. But we still hadn’t eaten and there were people teeming everywhere. We stumbled into Keintzel Wirtshaus im alten Rathaus, a tavern in the old townhall. This was brilliant because although it was full the turnaround was fast and they serve traditional Austrian food with no frills. It’s also cash only. Austria is a predominately cash society which can be a trap for the unwary. Apparently there is a high level of mistrust of cashless transactions, possibly because of data collection concerns. Cash is anonymous. We both ordered the Wiener Schnitzel and were not disappointed. Schnitzel is traditionally served with Petersilerdäpfel, (Petersilienkartoffeln in German), which are steamed potatoes tossed in parsley butter. It also came with a side salad dressed with the most perfectly vinegary Austrian dressing. I drank the classic Grüner Veltliner, which is a white grape variety grown primarily in Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. And of course a glass of wine is served with a glass of water which is very welcome on a hot evening. A wonderful introduction to Austrian cuisine.

Our focus in Nottingham was family rather than food, although we did eat well. I recommend a visit to Delilah Fine Foods. We bought a delicious selection of English meat and cheese and a bottle of English sparkling wine. Yes wine. Following our principal of consuming local produce, we bought a bottle of Three Choirs sparkling wine. It was excellent.

Beetroot and potato salad

I’m pleased to report that on our return the beetroot and fennel had survived in the fridge. With the beetroot I made an Austrian-style version of a Salade Russe, if there is such a thing. Mix diced boiled potatoes with diced roasted beetroot, chopped spring onion, radishes, hard-boiled egg, chives and peas in a large mixing bowl. Make a dressing with 2 tbsp vinegar, 2 tsp Dijon mustard, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup Greek yoghurt, salt & pepper to taste. Combine vegetables with dressing. I made all the dressing although it was more than I needed and I keep it in a jar in the fridge. It is lovely on a green salad.

Fennel risotto

With the fennel I made a risotto. Sauté a red onion in olive oil for a few minutes, add diced fennel and cook until both are soft. Stir in 1/2 cup Arborio rice and add 1/2 cup white wine. I think Grüner Veltliner is great for this. Cook until the wine is absorbed, then add a handful of pitted chopped olives and 1/4 tsp fennel seeds. Gradually add 1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock and cook on a low heat until all the stock is absorbed. Stir frequently to release the starch in the rice. When the rice is tender add 1/2 cup frozen peas and stir through. Add rind and juice of a lemon, a knob of butter and some grated parmesan. Cover, turn off the heat and rest five minutes. I always add a pinch of salt to the onions at the beginning as I think it prevents them burning and then taste and season at the end. I am using a stock cube here because I can’t make my own stock and it is more salty than my homemade, so I am cautious with seasoning. Serve with more grated parmesan and a green salad.

Friday was too hot to stand over a stove so we met up for a drink at the Café Traxlmayr which is a traditional Austrian bar/café. One of the attractions on this occasion was that if you sat outside the front of the café, every few minutes you were sprayed with a very fine mist of cool water – very handy when the temperature is in the 30s. These were fixed all along the front wall under the roof. We both enjoyed a Hugo. Have I mentioned this already? It is the most refreshing drink in the world. Combine Prosecco, soda, elderflower cordial and a lot of fresh mint. I am not sure of the ratios. The best ones are very minty. From there we revisited Keintzel Wirtshaus to sample the Eierschwammerl salad. It wasn’t nearly so frantic as the previous week and we had a very relaxed meal. We noticed there were a lot of large family groups and one family were playing cards.

On Saturday we revisited the Südbahnhofmarkt for breakfast and shopping. Interestingly it was hard to find somewhere to sit and eat, however we could drink beer or wine at any number of places. I have noticed this beer for breakfast thing but can’t find anything written about the practice. There seem to be small glasses of beer available on breakfast menus, however at the market we saw people drinking large steins and also people drinking wine which may have been spritzers. Does anyone know of this Austrian, maybe Bavarian, custom of drinking beer for breakfast? It hasn’t appealed yet. I’ll keep you posted. We found a delicious breakfast and did our shopping. I was looking for schnitzel and thought I’d found it. At a meat stall we saw a woman carefully cutting slices of pork which looked exactly like the pieces we had at the tavern. We waited our turn and asked for two pieces. But no, all the slices were for the customer ahead of us and they had sold out. We had to resort to the supermarket.

Could I make schnitzel and potatoes at home? Start by preparing the schnitzel. Gently pound the meat until thin. Lay out 50g flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs on separate plates. Gently boil waxy potatoes whole until just cooked. I think I would steam if I had a steamer. When the potatoes have 10 minutes to go start cooking the schnitzel. Lightly oil and season each piece, then coat on both sides with flour. Draw through the beaten egg ensuring no part of the schnitzel remains dry and coat in breadcrumbs, carefully ensuring full coverage. Fry each slice separately for a couple of minutes each side in a hot pan with plenty of oil and butter. Ensure that the bread coating is golden brown. Keep the cooked slices warm in the oven. When the potatoes are done, drain and return to the pan. Gently toss in butter and plenty of parsley to coat. Serve with a green salad dressed with the yoghurt dressing above. Just like a bought one.

Südbahnhofmarkt

We discover a market. Südbahnhofmarkt. It’s a bit of a walk from our apartment. I can’t quite tell which days it operates and it might be every day, which will be excellent. It sells fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, cheese, baked goods, flowers. All of the things I might want to buy. I will need to learn the Austrian names for the fruit and vegetables because these are definitely not Standard German. Often the German names are easy to translate. Apricot is Aprikose in German. I can do that. However here we call them Marille. I can work out that Grüne Bohnen in German is green beans but Fisolen? There is always pointing until I master the words. This Tuesday, I headed home laden with chard, mushrooms, courgettes, fennel, a beetroot and apricots. Now we have to eat it all before we go away for the weekend. Did I overstretch myself?

Quinoa salad with chard and mushrooms seemed the perfect way to start with my shopping. Remove the stems from a bunch of chard and chop into 2 cm pieces. Set aside the leaves. Cook about 1/2 cup quinoa in vegetable stock using the absorption method, stir through a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and set aside to cool. Sauté a diced onion and a chopped garlic clove, with the chard stems, in olive oil. In a separate pan, sauté sliced mushrooms until lightly browned. I used Eierschwammerl, which I know in German as Pfifferlinge, and chanterelle in French. Add the sliced chard leaves to the mushrooms to wilt. Stir the onions and the mushrooms through the quinoa and serve with crumbled feta.

There were green and yellow courgettes and scallopini at the market. I didn’t really need all of them at once, so two meals were required. First up was risotto. Sauté a diced onion in olive oil until translucent. Add diced courgette and cook about 5 minutes. Stir in a 1/2 cup of arborio rice with minced garlic and cook a few minutes. Add 1/2 cup of wine and stir until it has been absorbed. Turn the heat to low and add about 1 1/2 cups of hot vegetable stock, about 1/2 a cup at a time, stirring until each cup is absorbed. When the rice feels done, season and add zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon, parsley and Parmesan. Remove trom the heat. Add a knob of butter, cover and rest five minutes. Serve with extra Parmesan.

Along with quinoa and Arborio rice I have penne pasta so that was the base for the next courgette dish. I think it would be nice with fusilli pasta. Cook about 120g penne according to the instructions on the packet. Mine was 9 minutes. Season chunks of courgette with salt and pepper and sauté in olive oil until golden but not soft. Remove from the pan and set aside. In the oil, gently heat for about 30 seconds crushed garlic and chilli flakes and return the courgettes to the pan with the juice and zest of half a lemon. Add the drained pasta to the pan with about 1/2 cup of the pasta water and grated parmesan. Serve with fresh herbs – mint, basil, chives, parsley and more Parmesan.

One of the things we seem to have here is leftover bread. And tomatoes are plentiful so it seems a good idea to make a panzanella. Start by sawing the bread into a few pieces that will fit into a bowl? Have I mentioned that we have no mixing bowls and one small serving bowl? Luckily we have a range of saucepans. Thinly slice a red onion and layer over the bread. Pour on cold water, cover and let sit for 20 minutes. This will soften the bread and remove the sharpness from the onion. Drain the bread, squeeze out excess water and crumble into a bowl/saucepan with the drained onion. Add chopped tomatoes, basil and parsley. Make a vinaigrette with olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper. I have a range of vinegars at home but wanted to have one all purpose vinegar here, so I bought a white vinegar with herbs, seven herbs actually. It is very good. Mix the vinaigrette with the salad and let sit 10 minutes. Add feta cheese and black olives to serve.

You will notice that I have not used the beetroot or the fennel. They are wrapped in beeswax cloths in the fridge and I hope they are still fresh when we return from our weeked in Nottingham.

Early days

We are settling into life in Linz. For context, Linz is a city in Upper Austria, straddling the Danube River midway between Salzburg and Vienna. Our apartment is in the Innere Stadt district which is pretty much the city centre. It’s about fifteen minutes walk from the main square. From the kitchen window we look out towards the Pöstlingberg, which is a hill (539 m) on the left bank of the Danube. So we’re central but looking out on hills not other apartments.

Frühstück in the Konditerei

It’s all very well staying in a hotel and eating in restaurants in another language. It may take a couple of days to find your way around a menu but someone else does the shopping and the cooking and your job is just to eat. I don’t want to buy too much stuff. Remember the salutary lesson of #usingup. From now on we are taking #theminimalpantry approach. Before we embarked on the challenge of stocking the pantry so that we could prepare a basic meal we needed to build our strength. We enjoyed a traditional Austrian Frühstück in a Konditerei. Bread, meat and cheese seems to be the standard fare and everything comes with chives. If you are a long black drinker then you want to ask for ein Verlängerter. It is always served with a glass of water and apparently this is not to dilute the coffee nor to aid digestion. It is an historic custom symbolising that you are a valued customer. I have noticed that you also get a glass of water served with wine but not at any other time. I have read that if I ask for Leitungswasser I may get a glass of tap water rather than overpriced bottled water but have yet to try it. So far I have been charged for water unless it comes with wine or coffee.

Fortified with Frühstück we braved the supermarket. We bought potatoes and frankfurters along with basic items so that we could eat breakfast and a basic dinner. We found a wine shop and bought some Austrian wine so that we could toast our achievement. The first meal was a German-style potato salad. Halve the potatoes and simmer until just cooked. Add the frankfurters near the end of the cooking to heat them through. Meantime cook a few handfuls of roughly chopped speck in a pan then drain on a paper towel. Gently sauté some finely chopped spring onions in the speck fat then add the onion to the warm potatoes. In the same pan mix about 1/4 cup vinegar, a pinch each of sugar and salt, 1/4 tsp each of paprika and mustard with a small quantity of water and bring to the boil, whisking to combine. Roughly slice the frankfurters. Pour the warm dressing over the potatoes and crumble the cooked speck over the top. Add some chives. Notwithstanding the challenge of no measuring implements and no mixing bowls, our first Austrian meal could be deemed a success. One meal done, 49 to go.

On Sunday Austria is closed. What we hadn’t bought on Saturday would have to wait until Monday. We had the wherewithal to prepare Frühstück at home and at lunchtime I realised Mittagessen is Frühstück with beer. In fact I noticed on the previous day that beer is sometimes consumed with Frühstück. Although that might be with Gabelfrühstück or second breakfast. Yes, this is a thing and I will look into it further. At our table we had yogurt with strawberries, and bread, meat, cheese and tomatoes with coffee for breakfast and bread, meat, cheese and tomatoes with beer for lunch. We had left over potato salad for dinner.

Cabbage, carrot and kohlrabi coleslaw with quinoa

The selection of vegetables in all the supermarkets seems to be limited. I did discover a vegetable market in the main square (Hauptplatz) on a Tuesday, however it seemed to consist of one stall with the same limited vegetable selection. I suspect I am not looking in the right places and further exploration will remedy this. A vegetable that does seem to be plentiful and with which I am not familiar is kohlrabi. Enter cabbage, carrot and kohlrabi coleslaw with quinoa. Cook about 1/2 a cup of quinoa and leave to cool. I discover I don’t have a sieve to strain the quinoa so I use the evaporation method to cook the quinoa – however with no measuring implements or mixing bowls and not having yet mastered the electric hob, this is challenging. When the quinoa is slightly cooled mix with a combination of finely shredded kohlrabi, cabbage, and carrot and 2 tbsp. chopped dill and 1/2 tsp nigella seeds. I fortuitously found these in the kitchen cupboard. Make a dressing with 3 tbsp lemon juice, 2 tsp mustard, 2 tbsp oil, 1/4 cup Greek yoghurt, salt and pepper and toss with the vegetables and quinoa. Serve with cottage cheese spooned on top. The cottage cheese here is delicious and often comes with mixed herbs.

I am discovering the specialities of Linz. The Linzer torte is reputed to be the oldest cake in the world. There is a biscuit version called a Linzer Augen. You pronounce these cakes as if there is a T between the N and the Z, Lintzer. Do not make the schoolboy error of asking for a Linsen Torte. You will be requesting a lentil cake and cause your waitress some consternation.

I have a long way to go before I can say I am comfortable shopping and cooking in a foreign language and an unfamiliar kitchen, however we have made a start. As my vocabulary improves it will be easier to both shop and order in a café. English is not widely spoken and in fact the language is Austrian German and not the German I learned at school, so it is very easy to get confused. The people however are very friendly and I sense that I am going to enjoy my sojourn in Upper Austria.

Enoteka Pergamin

Wandering along Ul. Grodzka on our first day in Kraków looking for something light for lunch, we came upon Enoteka Pergamin. It was 34 degrees and the heavy meals we saw on other menus did not appeal. This restaurant had many different options including light tasting boards and so we entered. My heart was won immediately. We ordered a blini and a potato cake from the section of the menu labelled “homemade, mini, regional… to some wine”. But which wine? Our waiter asked us about our wine preferences, made some suggestions and brought us some options to taste. I settled on a glass of the Solaris, Winnica Turnau, 2018. Peter had a glass of the Aureus, Winnica Fritz, 2018. It was all just perfect and we decided to revisit later in the week for dinner.

Polish meat and cheese board

Later in the week, the next evening in fact, we arrived around 7.45 and decided to start with a plate of Polish meat and cheese. Again our waitress was very helpful. She asked us about our meat and cheese preferences and put together a custom board with wine. She told us a bit about the Polish wine regions and the wine. It was just wonderful. My very favourite cheese was the Długodojrzewający ser krowi typu parmezan, which was indeed a Parmesan style cheese.

Chicken salad with pickled rhubarb

It was still very hot (36 degrees) and we both chose salads for our main course. My salad was described on the menu as “free range chicken – rabarbar / kalarepa / boczek z podstolic / polski parmezan / majonez” which I think translates as rhubarb, kohlrabi, pork belly, Polish parmesan with mayonnaise”. As you may know I did not care for rhubarb until I discovered it as a vegetable and I have a few savoury rhubarb dishes I make at home. I will definitely be making a version of this salad. The rhubarb was thin slivers, probably created using a vegetable peeler and then lightly pickled. Peter had the other salad on the menu, three cheeses with pear, honey, cucumber and mango. I think I was the winner on the night. We noticed that there was a sign pointing downstairs to a cocktail bar but were still too tired from our journey to explore further. I felt a third visit coming on.

The following night we visited the Klezmer Hois and by chance the walk back to our hotel took us past the Enoteka. This seemed the perfect opportunity to investigate the cocktail bar. Down two flights of stairs and through two dining areas we came to a room filled with wine and spirits. There was one other couple there, from Edinburgh. They had come to Kraków to visit Auschwitz as many seem to. A bit like coming to Wellington to take the ferry south and missing out on the joys of our city. However they had read about this bar on Trip Advisor and had come to try it out. This Scotsman did not usually drink spirits, however he had decided he needed to try Polish vodka. The barman, like the wait staff upstairs, was both knowledgeable and engaging. He talked Peter and our Scottish companion through the vodka menu and then he served a glass of a 2018 Polish potato vodka with a small tasting glass of the 2017 to see the difference. I am not a vodka drinker but I had a small sip and may have been converted. I had a gin cocktail with lavender and white bitters which was wonderfully refreshing. In an adjoining room was a humidor, a cigar smoking room. There was no-one there and I asked the barman if it was popular. He said it was not but he also didn’t seem to think that was odd. They sold Nicaraguan cigars produced by small family owner/operators and had some special certification to sell them. We were not tempted to try the cigars.

On our last day in Krakow we were taking a night train to Linz. We had had a late lunch at the MOCAK and an ice cream in Kazimierze so didn’t really feel like an early dinner. It seemed entirely appropriate to revisit the Enoteka and enjoy a meat and cheese board with a glass of Solaris wine one last time. We sat in the evening sun people-watching while we filled in the time before our train.

A last cheese board

Enoteka Pergamin was a place where you could sit and enjoy a meal and a drink to fit your appetite. It was never crowded and it was somewhere we felt very comfortable. For me it epitomised modern Poland. It had a sense of being both European (Poland has been a member state of the EU since 2004) and distinctly Polish. It served traditional Polish food in a contemporary way and it showcased the best of Polish produce and wine. The staff were proud of their country and their city and happy to talk about the produce of the region in a very engaging and yet understated way. If you are visiting Krakow make this restaurant one of your first stops. Your first visit will not be your last. I wonder if I will find somewhere in Linz that engages me in the same way.

Śniadanie and kolacja

We spent a week in Kraków in Poland en route to Austria. I have never been to Poland before and had absolutely no idea what to expect from the food. We arrived late in the evening and went straight to sleep so my first meal in Poland was breakfast, or śniadanie. Always a challenge. Breakfast is one of those meals that many people like to be familiar. I used to stick with toast until I made a conscious decision to “breakfast like a local”. This was challenging initially especially when confronted with items like meat or noodles which is far from what I eat at home. Some years ago I fell in love with German breakfast and then when I tried to replicate at home it was not appealing at all. These days, as some of you will know I do eat radishes and tomatoes for breakfast when we have them in the garden, but I usually stick with toast and vegemite.

Śniadanie at Tomasza

Back to Kraków. We set off for breakfast around 8.00 on Sunday morning having no idea what we would find. We stumbled upon a nice looking café, Tomasza 20 Resto Bar, and sat outside to enjoy our breakfast in the sun. Having come from Wellington winter, sitting out on a warm Sunday morning was very appealing. In fact the temperature climbed to 36 degrees that day which became less appealing. I chose one of the set breakfasts which consisted of bread, cheese, tomatoes, olives, cottage cheese and scrambled eggs. The scrambled eggs in Kraków were not scrambled they way I do them at home. Firstly there were always three eggs which did seem somewhat excessive. I think the eggs were broken directly into the pan and scrambled gently in the pan so that the whites were just set and some of the yolk was still soft. They had chives sprinkled on the top and were wonderful. Three eggs were a bit much for me and it was a struggle to finish the bread and cheese however I made a valiant effort. I will try this method at home.

With this meal we had unlimited coffee for 1 złoty which translates to about 40c. I was initially dismayed by the bucket of coffee approach however it was really nice coffee. I discovered that if you asked for black coffee you either got this 1 złoty bucket of coffee or the best long black ever for around 4 złoty and you didn’t know until it arrived which it was to be. Both were excellent coffee and the bottomless style was great for breakfast. I initially fell into a trap for the unwary – if you asked for a glass of water you will pay upward of 8 złoty for a bottle of mineral water, still or sparkling. I was quite taken aback when the bill came. If you order a short espresso you do get a glass of still water on the side, however the water is never chilled.

Eggs at Wesola

I had the eggs again at Wesola café. I then decided that 3 eggs for breakfast was too much for me. I am however going to attempt the scrambled eggs at home using three eggs between two rather than three each.

We discovered a café called Smakolyki and as part of my breakfast set I had what I think was a basil smoothie. That was rather amazing. I am not sure what was in it. The bread was also hot from the oven with very crusty crusts so I ate rather a lot of it.

On the last day I had an obwarzanek krakowski. I had been avoiding this because it was referred to as a bagel and I am not a fan of bagels – too dry. This is not a bagel. It is a thing of wonder. Similar to but definitely not a bagel. Next time this will be my go to Kraków breakfast.

Sugar extravaganza

Lunch in Europe is often a three course dinner so we tended to look for the “snack” option on the menu and there isn’t much to say. I prefer my dinner in the evening. There is an abundance of cake and sugary goodness, most of which we avoided. I did succumb to a salted caramel ice cream which was delicious. The temperature was over 30 degrees for half of our stay and in the high twenties for the rest so it seemed a necessary indulgence.

One evening we went to Klezmer Hois in the area known as Kazimierze which was the old Jewish quarter from the 14th century until 1941 when the Jewish population was moved into the ghetto in nearby Podgorze. The Klezmer Hois was a former mikveh, a bath house used for ritual bathing. During dinner each evening a Klezmer band played, which was the main reason we went. They served classic Polish Jewish cuisine. I started with beetroot soup which was astounding. It was a thin liquid with such depth of both colour and flavour. This is another dish I am going to try and recreate at home. There was no texture of beetroot, just flavour of beetroot. The following evening I had this at Smakolyki but with pierogi, Polish dumplings. For my main dish I had chicken kniedlach – matzah balls, with boiled potatoes and beetroot salad. The dining room was reminiscent of a grandma’s sitting room and the band created a wonderful atmosphere.

My sojourn in Poland started with me knowing nothing about Poland or its food. I learned a great deal about both, in particular the history and culture of Kraków and its rich and varied cuisine. I enjoyed both the traditional and the modern. Much of Polish cuisine is intertwined with its rich and ultimately tragic Jewish history and the shadows of the twentieth century are certainly perceptible, however modern Poland is very evident in both cuisine and in culture. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Krakow (MOCAK), which is housed in the building that was Oskar Schindler’s enamel factory, is one of the most exciting and challenging modern art collections I have seen. We also discovered a contemporary dining establishment, Enoteka Pergamin, which warrants an entry of its own.

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