Saturday, July 12, 2008

Can’t find the berries you’re looking for? Grow your own! - Gooseberry Sauce (Stachelbeersoße)

In her last entry, Nadia talks about her remedy to get the berries she could not buy in the United States: home gardening. And she gives us a new recipe for gooseberry sauce that might even be included in a future edition of Spoonfuls of Germany.

A few years after I came to the United States, my cravings for the berries that accompanied the summers of my childhood in Germany became so strong that I decided to grow my own – gooseberries, black currants, red currants, and elderberries. I was happily surprised to find all types of berry plants are available from nurseries in the United States.

I would have loved to include dishes like Gooseberry Pie, or my grandmother’s Elderberry Soup with Egg-white Dumplings, in Spoonfuls of Germany but since I knew these ingredients are very hard to find in North America, I left the recipes out.

Four years into my garden, I am thrilled to report that my undertaking has been successful. The hardy berry bushes are thriving here in northeast Pennsylvania. I was even able to grow black currants. In Germany black currants, which, just like gooseberries, cannot be eaten raw, are used to make jams and jellies that burst with flavor. Black currants might not be widely known in the United States today but they were once popular, before their ban in the early 1900s, that is. The ban was based upon the suspicion that black currants helped spread a tree disease--white pine blister rust--that was endangering the country’s lumber industry. The federal ban on growing currants was finally lifted in 2003, in perfect timing for me when I started my garden in 2004.

Of course I couldn’t stop at berry growing. I also started growing everything else that we can eat fresh from the garden, or that I can possibly freeze or preserve in any other way. In view of increasing food prices and the desire to better control the chemicals that we put into our bodies, home gardening is booming in the United States. Just recently, on June 11, the New York Times reported that “seed companies and garden shops say that not since the rampant inflation of the 1970s has there been such an uptick in interest in growing food at home.”

Germans have always been keen on organically grown products, as long as they don’t cost too much, and are easy to find. With food becoming more expensive in Germany as well – my mother just told me on the phone last weekend that for two pounds of white asparagus, two pounds of strawberries, and two pounds of cherries, she had to dish out 19 euros (about 30 US dollars) at a local farm stand – I think Germans will also latch onto growing fruits and vegetables in their back yard.

For those of you who can get their hands on fresh or frozen gooseberries (canned gooseberries are not suitable because they contain too much sugar), here’s a great sauce for roasted poultry or game.

8 ounces ripe gooseberries
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup chicken broth
¼ cup white wine
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons sour cream
Salt and freshly milled black pepper

1. Cook the gooseberries in the chicken broth, covered, until very soft. Strain them through a fine sieve or a food mill.

2. Deglaze the pan in which you roasted the poultry or game with the wine. Strain the juice into a small saucepan. Add the gooseberry puree and the ginger and simmer for a few minutes to thicken. Add the sour cream, salt and pepper and serve hot.

Pictures courtesy of Nadia Hassani and her garden.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Red Berry Pudding with Vanilla Sauce (Rote Grütze mit Vanillesoße)

In the second part of our German berry feast, Nadia not only provides the recipe for one of the most scrumptious German summer desserts, but she also tells us why Red Berry Pudding is like German cuisine – a rediscovered culinary treasure.

When I was a child growing up in Germany, I could not get enough of this dessert, and I was never sure what I liked more: the fruity pudding, or the smooth vanilla sauce. It was not a popular dish. One of the reasons, I always thought, was the ugly name. “Grütze” means porridge in German, and the word sounds unappealing even to German ears. Because it was my grandmother who always made it, and because it was so hopelessly old-fashioned, I simply renamed it “Nostalgiepudding” (“nostalgia pudding”).

My first inkling how delicious Red Fruit Pudding was not only for my own taste buds but also for others' dates back to my 17th birthday party. I watched one of my classmates, a guy with the reputation for coolness and great intellect, standing next to the buffet and scratching the last little bit of Red Fruit Pudding right out of the large glass bowl! It was around that time that Red Fruit Pudding became a culinary blockbuster in Germany. It made a comeback, just like German cuisine did, and nowadays it’s everywhere. Despite its unappealing name, Rote Grütze has made it to Germany’s culinary hall of fame.

Redcurrants are much more popular in Germany than in North America, where they are nearly impossible to find. Actually, my craving for this dish was one of the main reasons I started my own garden. But I shall leave that topic for my next blog entry.

It is up to your personal taste what other fruits you use: raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, or blueberries. However, but there is one rule of thumb: you should include at least one tart fruit. Cherries are a great addition too. If you use fruits that do not yield much juice, or if you prefer a softer consistency, you might want to reduce the amount of cornstarch. Likewise, the amount of sugar you use depends on the ripeness of the fruit. Taste the fruit before cooking and let your instinct be the judge.

There are also several possibilities for toppings: vanilla sauce made from scratch, whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream. My American husband likes Red Fruit Pudding plain. First I kept telling him that he is committing a culinary faux pas but then I realized that I prefer it that way – it leaves more vanilla sauce for me.

6 to 8 servings

For the pudding:
2 pounds mixed berries (fresh or frozen) and pitted cherries, washed and picked over
¼ cup bottled fruit syrup or a good fruit juice (raspberry, strawberry, or any other of the fruit you are using)
Sugar to taste
½ cup cornstarch

1. For the pudding, bring the blueberries and cherries to a boil in a large saucepan until they pop or release their juice. Hull the strawberries and cut very large ones into quarters. Add the more delicate fruit like strawberries and raspberries last. Stir in the syrup and sugar to taste.

2. Dissolve the cornstarch in at least ¼ cup cold water. Remove the pan from the heat, stir the cornstarch into the fruit mixture, and cook briefly over low to medium heat, stirring constantly. Make sure not to undercook the pudding, otherwise it will taste chalky. When the pudding turns clear and thickens, remove the pan from the heat immediately. Continue stirring for another 1 to 2 minutes.

3. Pour the hot pudding into a glass serving bowl or individual dessert bowls. To prevent the glass from cracking when you pour the hot pudding into it, put a damp dishtowel underneath the bowl (that’s an old trick my grandmother taught me). Refrigerate for several hours until set. Serve the pudding cold, but take it out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving, so it can develop its full flavor.

For the vanilla sauce:
3 egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1½ cups milk
1 vanilla bean, or 1 tablespoon pure vanilla bean paste

Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar and cornstarch. Add the milk and the vanilla. If using a vanilla bean, slit it lengthwise, scrape out the seeds with a sharp knife, and add the bean and the seeds to the mixture. Cook over low heat until the sauce thickens, whisking constantly. Make sure that the sauce does not boil, or the egg will curd. Remove the vanilla bean, if using. Refrigerate. Stir the sauce well before serving.

Pictures courtesy of Nadia Hassani and Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

"Berry-ous" Delights from Germany: Blueberry Soup with Caramelized Croutons (Blaubeersuppe)

Think that German food is all bratwurst, wiener schnitzel, and sauerkraut? This week, Nadia Hassani, author of Spoonfuls of Germany, is here to disabuse of us of that notion with introductions to a variety of German recipes with berries – including cakes, desserts, and more!

Summertime is berry time, and German cuisine abounds in wonderful dishes with different berries. While some of the berries are widely available in the United States, such as blueberries and raspberries, you might have to hunt for gooseberries and other less common types, or join the growing ranks of home gardeners and grow your own.

Blueberry Soup with Caramelized Croutons, or Blaubeersuppe, is a refreshing, velvety soup and one of my summer favorites. It is a dish from the North of Germany, a cuisine that often combines sweet and sour ingredients. Traditionally it is served as an appetizer but it is also a wonderfully light dessert or a mid-day snack. The croutons are optional.

In Germany, the soup is made with “Heidelbeeren” (bilberries or whortleberries), the European cousin of the blueberry. Bilberries are smaller and tarter than the North American blueberries, which work just as well. And, as we all know as educated consumers: size does NOT matter. The important thing is that the berries are ripe, so don’t be tempted by those gigantic blueberries that almost look like purple grapes.

A note about lemon zest: Countless German dessert and baking recipes call for lemon zest. Preferably the lemons should be organic lemons but since they are not always available, or quite expensive, I have resorted to packaged lemon zest. My favorite is moist lemon zest, which is also sold as “European” lemon zest. You can also use dehydrated lemon zest, but to get the full flavor, you need to soak it in warm water for 15 minutes before adding it to the dish.

6 to 8 servings

2 pints fresh blueberries
½ cup sugar
1 stick cinnamon
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated, preferably organic
2 cups dry red wine
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch

8 thin slices baguette, or 4 slices firm white bread
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sugar

1. For the soup, clean the blueberries and pick them over for culls. Put them in a large saucepan with 2 cups water, the sugar, cinnamon stick, and lemon zest. Cover and cook over low to medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain the soup through a fine sieve and pour it back into the pan. Add the wine and bring the soup back to a simmer.

2. Mix the cornstarch with a few tablespoons of the soup in a small bowl until the cornstarch is completely dissolved, and whisk it into the soup. Simmer until the soup thickens and the cornstarch becomes clear. Remove from the heat. Cool and chill.

3. For the croutons, cut the bread into 1⁄2-inch cubes. Heat the butter in a large skillet and add the bread. Crisp the bread over high heat, turning frequently. Sprinkle the sugar over the bread and caramelize. Stir the soup well, ladle it in individual soup bowls, and top with a few croutons. Serve at once.

Pictures courtesy of Nadia Hassani and Wikimedia Commons.