Roasted Heirloom Tomato Soup, a Salute to Summer

roasted heirloom tomato soup

When I told him I’m writing a post on tomato soup, the Husband pointed out I once said  – in front of an audience to make matters worse – that I quote despise unquote said meal. In so many words, yes. Anything I said about tomato soup, I meant and I stand by.

Mind you, the conversation was about the Hungarian variety and I’m sorry to say this, but it’s really, truly appalling. Sweet (like, really sweet), thickened with plain flour and often further aggravated with overcooked alphabet pasta. A fond school cafeteria memory for some, a dreadful flashback for me. I never made it, and my mother gave up on it long ago as well.

Then I’ve learnt about this rustic, Italian approach and I was immediately smitten. This soup is not in heavy rotation at my house, merely because I’m only willing to make it with in-season, sun-ripened produce, nothing less: heirloom tomatoes, yellow onions and garlic from my parents’ garden. A celebration of the wonderful flavors of summer.

(I understand not everyone’s as lucky as I am to have a personal farmers’ market in the form of a childhood home. Your next best option is buying fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables directly from the source.)

Roasting makes all the difference in this soup, so do not omit this step! Going the little extra really isn’t any trouble, it’s just time the tomatoes spend on a sheet pan in the oven while you carry on with whatever household chore you’re choosing to entertain yourself with. The added flavor is just incomparable! Close your eyes and imagine your ingredients going soft, caramelized and sweetened naturally with their own juices… that’s right!

After they come out the oven, you’re just minutes away from the best tomato soup of your life. Everything goes into a pot to simmer some more, then in the blender to be pureed to smooth greatness. (It can be blitzed with a stick blender instead, no worries.)

On a sidenote, let me tell you a story about me and blenders: after two broken cheap-ass units (one of which flooded my kitchen with raspberries and plastic shrapnel at stupid o’ clock in the morning while prepping a post-workout smoothie), I finally invested in a high-power one.

Should’ve done it way earlier – my Philips ProBlend 6 is a workhorse. So far it tackled everything I’ve thrown in the durable glass jar: hot, cold, raw, cooked, frozen, fruits, vegetables, even ice. I use it to make smoothies, soups, purees, frozen drinks, even dutch babies. It’s multi-speed function will blend, crush or cut to the consistency you want. It has an easy clean option, and the parts are machine washable too, bless their little souls.

Back to the soup, it’s best served warm, garnished with a few drops of extra virgin olive oil and a splash of cream, scattered with more basil. Some crunchy croutons, or a cheesy-garlicky toast might be in order too.

Go dip in!

Roasted Heirloom Tomato Soup

  • Time: 45 + 15 min
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A hearty, creamy soup bursting with the best of summer’s flavors. Serves 6.

Ingredients

1 kg (2 lbs) sun-ripened tomatoes

2 medium yellow onions

1 head of garlic

¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

salt, black pepper

handful of fresh basil, chopped

2 bay leaves

1 l (1 quart) chicken or vegetable stock

200 ml (3/4 cup) cooking cream

1 tbsp sugar, if needed

 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 230°C/450°F
  2. Wash and cut tomatoes in half, peel and quarter onions. Peel most of the paper off the garlic, trim the top off the head to expose tops of cloves.
  3. Spread tomatoes, onions and garlic onto a baking tray in 1 layer, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
  4. Roast for 30-40 min until caramelized, remove from oven.
  5. Press on the bottom of the garlic cloves to push them out of the paper (careful, hot!). Including the liquid in the tray, transfer vegetables to a pot.
  6. Add stock and bay leaves. Simmer for 15 min or until liquid has reduced by a third, discard bay leaves.
  7. Transfer soup to a blender and puree until smooth. Pour back to pot, add cream and basil, bring to a boil. Taste to adjust flavors (if tomatoes were too acidic, add a tbsp of sugar). Turn heat off.
  8. Serve warm. Enjoy!

Love,

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I like and use the products mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders, what I write about such items represent my genuine and unbiased opinion. I am not being compensated through sponsorship or gifts, but this post contains an affiliate link: I may get a commission for purchases made through it. Thank you for helping me earn a little something on the side!*

5-min Creamy Feta Dip

creamy feta dip spread

Hors d’oeuvre? Warm, a little to the East. Antipasto? You’re getting there, but further eastwards. Mezze – now there you are!

Mediterranean mezze or meze, typical in the Balkans and the Near East, is a selection of small appetizer dishes just like the more renowned French and Italian varieties. Hot or cold, spicy or savory, served at the beginning of a multi-course meal or a meal in its own right, meze is a social event – you are not expected to finish every dish, but rather share at ease.

The recipe I have for you today is meze at its best: not only it is a total no-brainer to make, but also ready in under 5 and full of flavor. You might even have all the ingredients at home as we speak, and hopefully also the wine to go with it!

Fact: I am a feta addict (but you already know that). And after careful and completely unscientific observation of people, I came to realize it’s not just me. So meet your new way to obsess over feta cheese: a smooth, tangy spread Greeks call Kopanisti.

Base your end-of-summer party formula around this dip and lots of complimentary fresh veggies (think zucchini, carrots, cucumbers, radishes, celery sticks) and freshly toasted baguette or crusty ciabatta. Seriously, eff those carbs! Just slather on.

So, without further ado, here it is. Because you can never have too many easy, cheesy recipes up your sleeve! 🙂

Creamy Feta Dip

  • Time: 5 min
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

The taste of the Mediterranean in a schmear that’s so so easy to make.

Ingredients

500 g feta or similar white cheese

1 cup sour cream

1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

freshly ground black pepper to taste

extra virgin olive oil to garnish

optional: lemon zest, red pepper flakes, crushed garlic

Directions

  1. Use a food processor, or mash feta with a fork in a medium bowl.
  2. Season and mix in other ingredients.
  3. Garnish generously with olive oil.
  4. Serve with warm, toasted slices of baguette or ciabatta, or as a dip with raw vegetable chunks.

creamy feta dip spread

creamy feta dip spread

Love,

Fruzsi

Infusing Olive Oil

infusing olive oil

Herb season is in full swing and I’m constantly on the lookout for ways to preserve as much of the aroma of summer as I can. After herb butter, here’s another great way to do just that: making infused oils.

Create amazing flavors by mixing & matching your favorite spices, herbs and aromatics for a truly unique oil blend perfect for amping up salad dressings, drizzling over pasta and seafood, dipping bread into and so much more!

Before you start, it’s important that we talk about food safety. Although the oil itself will not, remaining traces of water in the aromatics might support bacterial growth, inducing a risk of botulism, a rare but very serious form of food poisoning. Clostridium botulinum bacteria are germs found in the soil and can survive, grow, and produce toxins in a sealed jar of food. Always sterilize your containers thoroughly and dry the herbs before using.

What kind of oil should be used? Any neutrally flavored oil will work fine, but olive oil is a natural choice since it complements a wide variety of flavors. There’s no need to splurge on the most expensive bottles, but using decent, good quality is always the way to go.

What should you infuse oil with? Garlic, chili peppers, basil, oregano, sage, rosemary, thyme and tarragon are my top suggestions. You will need about 2 tablespoons of flavoring per cup of oil.

There are two ways of making infused oils:

The cold process. Immerse the ingredients in the oil, seal the bottle and let sit in a cool, dark place. The oil will slowly infuse over time, picking up the flavor fairly quickly in the first few weeks, and then slowly intensifying. It is fine to leave the herbs in for a long time, eventually all the flavor leaves them and the oil flavor stabilizes.

The stovetop process. Heat the oil in a medium, heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat with the spices (whole or ground) for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is lightly bubbling. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. This way the oil infuses quicker and the risk of bacterial growth is further reduced. Note that boiling affects the flavor and quality of the oil! Use a food thermometer (like this one) and keep temperature below boiling.

How to store? Keep flavored oils refrigerated and use up within a few months. Discard immediately if characteristics (smell, color, consistency) have changed in any way. When gifting flavored oils, include storage instructions as well as serving suggestions on a pretty label.

Love,

Fruzsi

Title image: ‘Healthy ingredients on a kitchen table’ by Valeria Aksakova via freepik

*Disclaimer: This post contains an affiliate link; I may get a commission for purchases made through it. Thank you for helping me earn a little something on the side!*

Eggs à la Chrissy & a Controversial Question, Answered

Ok so before everyone’s imaginary BFF Chrissy Teigen and her cookbook, let me address a question I am asked frequently, sometimes with thinly veiled hostility by fellow Hungarians – family, friends and strangers alike:

But why do you write in English?

The language of my blog was an intentional decision, reach being quite high on the list obviously. How about this as a demonstrative example: more people follow Chrissy’s Insta (which is required reading BTW!) than there are Hungarians in the whole wide world (duh!)

And then there’s this: I like writing in English (and hereby apologise for any grammar mistakes, typos and idioms used incorrectly). My language choice has had a most heartening effect on me – through food and the personal stories I post along the recipes, I am able to give a glimpse to non-Hungarians into our culture, the way of life here in the heart of Europe.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, moving on to today’s topic.

Chrissy is one of the most relatable celebrities out there. I absolutely adore her for a list of reasons: she’s got tons of personality – a supermodel with a refreshingly frank tone, being freaking hilarious and with an attitude towards food I can so relate to.

Her first cookbook Cravings – Recipes for All the Food You Want to Eat was #1 best pre-seller on Amazon, an instant success. ICYMI, here’s my short review:

Yes, there is no shortage of celebrity cookbooks, so is it worth all the hype seems to be a valid question. Spoiler alert: it absolutely does! Cravings is lively and fun just like her, filled with enthusiasm and happiness.

It’s broken up into sections with witty titles and it’s studded with Aubrie Prick’s really pretty pictures. There are Thai recipes inspired by her mom, there’s a chapter on breakfast and a chapter on carbs and a chapter on toasts as well. No dish is too difficult; her recipes are accessible and un-fussy, in the realm of hearty comfort food.

I wanted to be honest in this book about the kinds of food I love, the kinds of food I crave she claims. Dear Chrissy, my husband says hi and thank you. Also thanks for liking my post on insta. It made my day, I really appreciate it!

1st recipe made from #cravingscookbook and it is soooo #delish 🍳☕️🍽🔝

A post shared by Fruzsina Farkas (@ffruzsina) on

Thumbs up for my brother-in-law as well for squeezing Cravings in the tiny carry-on allowed on board London-Budapest flights and hauling it all the way here as it wasn’t available in Hungary at the time.

I’m not really accustomed to feeding on crumbs from others’ tables, but this brunch recipe is perfect. I can hear you rolling eyes like those are just eggs but believe me when I say this is downright awesome. For me Cheesy Cheeseless Eggs justifies the purchase of the book by itself.

Although it’s supposed to be cheeseless, I still give them a good sprinkling of grated parmesan before serving and I have a strong feeling she wouldn’t find this move in poor taste. 🙂

As for the burst tomatoes, I make them in the oven, not in a skillet. While the temperature is rising to 200°C, I arrange the tomatoes with the stalks on in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, season with coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, then roast until tomatoes are blistered and a little shriveled.

I always did the bacon as Chrissy does: roasting in the oven too, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. No skillet means no oil splatters and undercooked parts. Seasoned with freshly ground black pepper and crushed garlic, it’s crisp and wonderful in under 15 min.

Make this meal for a lazy weekend breakfast and watch with undisguised satisfaction as your loved ones gulp it down!

Cheesy Cheeseless Scrambled Eggs

  • Time: 5+20 min
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A breakfast feast from Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings cookbook. Serves 4.

Ingredients

12 eggs

½ cup heavy cream

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp butter

Directions

  1. In a bowl, whisk eggs, cream, salt and pepper until homogeneous.
  2. Heat oil and butter over low heat in a large, heavy bottomed skillet until butter is melted.
  3. Add egg mixture and cook, stirring slowly but constantly until curds form and eggs start to thicken, 10+ min. Remove from heat.

Good news: I hear a highly anticipated Cravings Part 2 is coming!

Love,

Fruzsi

Disclaimer: This post contains an affiliate link; I may get a commission for purchases made through it. Thank you for helping me earn a little something on the side!

Balsamic Reduction Sauce

balsamic reduction sauce

Hmm, balsamic vinegar. Either you absolutely love it or hate it, there’s no other way around the matter. You could probably guess which side I’m on based on the fact this post is bearing the name in the title.

This aged elixir of grapes is known since the Middle Ages. Highly valued by chefs and increasingly popular in everyday cooking, balsamic vinegar is not only the base component of my favorite vinaigrette and marinades, but is great as a glaze, brings the flavors nicely together in soups and sauces, and definitely a partner in crime when braising.

My latest obsession is Crema di Balsamico, a thick, sweet-and-sour syrup over, well, a great many things actually. My go-to used to be Deluxe Crema di Balsamico and Italiamo Crema con Aceto Balsamico di Modena from Lidl. A real treat, I can only recommend both. I’ve always found the price a bit steep for those tiny bottles, but a girl has to splurge occasionally, isn’t that so?

You’ve recognized I used past tense though. The reason being, my current idée fixe just got cheaper. I was reading a recipe the other day which called for reducing a sauce instead of a classic roux, and you know what? Turns out the same thickening method is used to make balsamic sauce.

I had two bottles of the less expensive supermarket own brand Acetino (also IGP – Indicazione Geografica Protetta of Modena) in my pantry, so I’ve decided to give homemade Crema di Balsamico a go. And guess what, it is amazing! That rich, sweet, complex taste… still tangy but not offensively acidic at all.

Even the first batch turned out so good I found myself licking fingers to save every last drop from the pan. Now that I’ve acquired the know-how, I have a long list of dishes both sweet and savory in mind I want to drizzle with my very own balsamic reduction. And since I’m not one to keep knowledge like this to myself, here’s how you can make it too:

Balsamic Reduction Sauce

  • Time: 1 h
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A sweet glaze with a lovely complex flavor.

Ingredients

500 ml (2 cups) balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp sugar

Directions

  1. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring vinegar and sugar to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer, stir occasionally.
  3. When half of the liquid has evaporated (somewhere around 45 min to 1 hour), your sauce is ready.
  4. Let cool to room temperature, transfer to an airtight container. No need to refrigerate.

It should outlive all of us, but only if you forget where you kept it. Otherwise it will be gone very soon.

Love,

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I like and use the products mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders. What I write about such items represent my genuine and unbiased opinion, I am not being compensated in any way through sponsorship or gifts.*

Image via The Creative Bite

Overcoming my Disdain for Polenta

polenta with telemea and spinach

How can something so lush taste so… blah? Looks can be deceiving. If I were a Brit, I’d probably describe the flavor of polenta as subtle. But I’m not and thus I won’t sugarcoat it: cornmeal, as most cereals by nature, is bland with a capital B.

As a friend smartly put it, polenta does not inspire superfandom in most people. It’s rather a love-hate relationship and indeed, no matter how much I wanted to like it, I was always quite underwhelmed by this dish. I gave chance after chance to it, and it let me down repeatedly.

It’s because I’ve expected it to be something it simply is not. Truth is, cornmeal doesn’t especially taste of anything but corn. Make peace with that. But, flavor and polenta are not mutually exclusive at all. In fact, cooked cornmeal only comes into its own when prepared with loads of seasoning.

Polenta is a great vehicle for flavours, a neutral background to something more palatable. Actually, eating it without any “disguise” would be ludicrous in my world. (There must be people out there who like it as-is. If you’re one, I’m not here to judge! 🙂 )

I actually came to appreciate the strengths of this simple, rustic dish. You should throw your apprehensions aside too (if any) and let the simplistic beauty of this Northern-Italian rural staple shine through. I hope this version I made the other day for a light lunch will inspire you to add cornmeal to your pantry!

Although it is basically very simple, there are a few tips and tricks when making polenta. Don’t fall for the “you absolutely must use a wooden spoon and you must stir in only one direction” BS though.

First of all, a 4:1 water-cornmeal ratio seems like the way to go. It’s also vital to add the cornmeal slowly to the salted, boiling water while stirring constantly. Otherwise, you’ll end up with lumps.

After that, there’s no need to continue stirring like a maniac, but more frequently than “from time to time” should be necessary as polenta has a habit of catching in pans. In any case, you need to keep an eye on it throughout.

When all the liquid is sucked up, the grits cohere into a thick mass and the polenta starts pulling away from the side of the pan as you stir, it’s ready.

And now it’s time to add the oomph! First, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Next, crushed garlic: as much as you think you can handle, and then some more. Now’s the turn of blanched and roughly chopped spinach. Since cheese is always a good idea, stir in a pile of grated parmesan or Grana Padano as well. Finally, you can either add in a tablespoon or two of butter, or drizzle generously with extra-virgin olive oil before serving.

polenta with telemea and spinach

polenta with telemea and spinach

Have you spotted it’s neither one of those cheeses in my photos? Good eye! It’s telemea, a fresh cheese from Romania that’s matured in brine. Somewhat like feta, but the texture is different – this is more on the crumbly side rather than creamy. It’s most commonly made of cow’s milk, but partly buffalo milk products are sometimes available, a real delicacy.

Whenever I’m traveling in the region or know someone who’s headed there, I buy straight from this producer located at picturesque Torockószentgyörgy (Colțești) village. I had the good fortune to taste many of their products and they are so so good! I’m telling you, things like 50% sour cream are what dreams are made of.

Love,

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I like and use the products mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders. What I write about such items represent my genuine and unbiased opinion, I am not being compensated in any way through sponsorship or gifts.*

Sour Cherry Slab Pie

sour cherry slab pie

Pie. One of world’s favorite desserts, an affaire de coeur no matter where you live. Yet it only cleared on me know that I’m writing this post, that slab pies are quite under the radar over at your end in America. That needs to change!

When we use the word pite (pron. pee-tech) in Hungary, 9 out of 10 times it comes in rectangular form. Ditch your circular dish for once and try baking pie in a shallow, rimmed baking pan. It feeds more mouths with less mess ’n fuss, and with the bar outfit you get more crust too. Sensible. Yes, that’s the word for slab pies.

Side by side, sweet quark and sour cherry filled slab pies must be the most popular around here; almost every house in our neighborhood has a sour cherry tree in the front yard. My family moved from the capital to the suburbs some 20 years ago so ours is old now, but we still get a steady supply of the tart fruit year in, year out.

And so it pains me to see how my parents are the only ones there taking the time and effort to harvest the crimson-to-near-black delicacy when these are so sought after at the farmers’ market. Fresh sour cherries don’t show up often in stores as their shelf life is quite short: they bruise easily. That said, packages from the frozen goods section of the supermarket is your next best option.

More acidic and having greater nutritional benefits than sweet cherry, the sour type also holds its shape better when baked. And there’s no need to restrict lovely sour cherries to just pie either! Dry, can, freeze, or make jam from a batch to enjoy later in many kinds of sweet and savory dishes.

sour cherry slab pie

In this recipe, a little cinnamon goes a long way, and a woven lattice-top is making the pie visually pleasing. This crust recipe works with any berry or stone fruit that’s in season near you. Serve warm with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or cold after a good sprinkling of powdered sugar.

Yet another reason to love pie!

Sour Cherry Slab Pie

  • Time: 40 + 40 min
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

The #1 summer pie in Hungary, coming in a sheet pan.

Ingredients

For the crust:

500 g AP flour

250 g cold butter, cut to cubes

pinch of salt

2 tbsp sugar

½ tsp baking powder

1 medium egg + 1 for eggwash

1-2 tbsp sour cream

For the filling:

1 kg sour cherry, washed and pitted

4 tbsp sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1 packet vanilla flavor pudding mix (not the instant variety) or 40 g / 2 ½ tbsp cornstarch + 1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Mix pitted sour cherries with sugar, set aside.
  2. For the crust, in a medium bowl mix flour with salt, sugar and baking powder.
  3. Working quickly, cut in cold butter until rough crumbles are formed. Do not overwork, clumps should not yet collect.
  4. Add egg, plus 1 to 2 tbsp sour cream and work with your hands until dough comes together. Wrap in cling foil and refrigerate while you make the filling.
  5. For the filling, drain the juice from the previously sugared sour cherries. If it’s less than 300 ml (1 ¼ cup), add water. Mix juice thoroughly with the pudding mix or cornstarch (watch out for lumps).
  6. Heat mixture in a medium pot, stirring continuously, until it starts to thicken. Turn heat off, add sour cherries and cinnamon. Mix well, set aside.
  7. Preheat oven to 180°C / 356°F. Divide chilled dough to 2 equal parts, roll out one half on a lightly floured surface to the size of your pan. Gently lift and fit dough into the pan.
  8. Pour filling over dough (no need to pre-bake), and spread evenly.
  9. Roll out remaining dough, cut strips with a knife or pizza cutter. Weave lattice top, wash with the other egg.
  10. Bake until crust is golden, about 40 min. Enjoy!

[/recipe-dirctions]

Love,

Fruzsi

Baked Ricotta, the Appetizer You’re About to Fall For

baked ricotta

When I told you guys my plans for at-home cheesemaking and the culinary course I’ve attended, I said I’d report the results – if any – of my attempts. Well, I’m here to make good on that promise, and I’m topping it off with a recipe which defines easy entertaining.

So, ricotta. I was surprised to learn that behind the posh Italian name (simply meaning re-cooked by the way), you’ll find the very same dairy product we call orda, urda or vurda in Central-Eastern Europe. It’s a creamy, neutral tasting fresh cheese made from whey, the leftover of cheesemaking.

I don’t exactly know why, but only a few supermarkets carry it around here and it’s quite expensive for what it is. But good news! Ricotta is easy to make at home and a great secondary use for the whey which still has a lot of the goodness of milk in it, and would therefore be a waste to discard of.

For this fresh cheese, all you need to do is heat the whey from 5 litres (about 1.3 gallons) of milk to 85-92°C (right below boiling) and add 5 g (1 tsp) citric acid. Turn the heat off and wait for the proteins to coagulate: after a few minutes you’ll notice tiny “flakes” floating in the greenish-yellowish liquid. Pour through a sieve lined with cheesecloth and wait a few hours for the curds to strain. This amount of whey yields around 1 cup of fresh ricotta.

I like eating it as-is, but you may find this dairy to be a little bland. That means it’s a blank page and you can flavor the sh*t out of it! Wether you make or buy your ricotta, the following cheese number is a hugely versatile dish you can whip up in a blink of an eye even ahead of time, and play around with spices and other additions to suit your fancy.

Rich, creamy and indulgent, baked ricotta will rise nicely in the baking dish. Like a fancy soufflé, just easier – no need to worry about your folding technique. Only a few ingredients, but a gourmet addition to your repertoire.

baked ricotta

baked ricotta

Your baked ricotta will somewhat collapse after taking it out the oven but this is only natural, the steam holding it up evaporates. Serve warm on fresh baguette or as a dip with crackers.

baked ricotta

Here I made it with basil and oregano, but since then a few other variations emerged from my oven: sage and lemon zest, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic, rosemary and thyme… Can’t seem to get tired of this! 🙂

Baked Ricotta

  • Time: 5 + 40 min
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A versatile, creamy cheese number. Makes 4 ramekins.

Ingredients

500 g (2 cups) fresh ricotta

2 medium eggs

½ cup grated parmesan

pinch of salt and black pepper

any variety of fresh or dried herbs to taste

Directions

  1. Grease a medium baking dish or 4 ramekins with a few drops of olive oil, preheat oven to 190°C / 375°F
  2. In a medium bowl, mix ricotta with eggs, salt, pepper and parmesan until combined with a fork.
  3. Fold in herbs of your choice, fill ramekins 2/3 full.
  4. Bake until “soufflé” has risen and set, top starting to turn golden (about 40 min).

Love,

Fruzsi

St. John’s Magic: Greenwalnut Liqueur

greenwalnut liqueur

Sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still): the two Latin words solstice derives from. Celebrating the summer solstice, or Midsummer, is originally a pagan feast; June 24th was designated later as the holiday of Christian martyr St. John the Baptist.

Some pagan rituals continue to live on in Europe – during the eve preceding St. John’s Nativity bonfires are lit to protect against evil spirits, for witches and demons are said to roam freely during the shortest night of the year. It’s also believed that treasures are waiting for the lucky finder, and I believe green walnuts are among the prizes.

In Roman times walnuts were worshipped as Jupiter’s plant, even the gods dining on them. This time of year they are in their unripe stage, still green and immature, kernels just starting to harden. Perfect for making a traditional aperitif popular throughout the Mediterranean: greenwalnut liqueur.

I’ve first encountered this aromatic drink at the Croatian seaside where it’s called orahovac. It is available commercially, but everyone has a cousin, an uncle or neighbour making it by the gallon, and Dalmatians being hospitable as they are, you simply can’t go home from a holiday without a plastic bottle filled with the murky liquid as farewell gift/souvenir.

Nocino in Italy, nocello when in Spain, liqueur de noix vertes in France are the names to look for. These are basically the same drink, although the spices added vary from region to region, from family to family.

Folklore has it that for the best greenwalnut liqueur, barefoot virgins are to gather an uneven number of dew-laden green walnuts, which should then be left to dry by the bonfires of St. John’s Eve. Riiight… I decided to go with the uneven figure thing from these criteria and hope for the best.

Actually, making rich and intense greenwalnut liqueur is not difficult at all, but does require some patience. When I say some, what I mean is you’re supposed to wait 40 days first, and even after that you shouldn’t drink your elixir before November as it needs to mature.

If you somehow managed to hide it forget about it until late autumn though, besides the spicy and warming taste, perks allegedly also include fending off evil spirits of the night, remedy for eczema and curing sore throat. Different strokes for different folks, right?

If all this magic, tradition and benefits are not reason enough for you to give greenwalnut liqueur a go, fine, but know that the aforementioned evil spirits will hunt you down. Just sayin’. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and set about doing it! Not just figuratively, as the walnuts stain everything they touch. It’s highly recommended to wear rubber gloves and an apron.

Greenwalnut Liqueur

  • Time: looong
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Warm and spicy, ink-black liqueur infused with green walnuts from the Mediterranean.

Ingredients

25 green, soft, unripe walnuts

750 ml vodka (or other 40% alc/vol or 80-proof, neutral tasting alcoholic beverage)

1 ½ cups sugar

optional: cinnamon stick, cloves, allspice, vanilla pod, citrus peel, coffee beans

Directions

  1. Cut walnuts in half or quarters (wear an apron and gloves to avoid stains)
  2. Place sugar, walnuts and spices (if using) in a jar twice the capacity of the volume of the liquid, pour alcohol over ingredients.
  3. Close jar tightly, place on a sunny windowsill for 40 days. Gently shake every now and then to mix. Liquid will eventually turn from transparent to brownish, getting darker and darker over time.
  4. After 40 days, strain liqueur, bottle up and let mature until fall.

Salute! Salut! ¡Salud! Živjeli!

Love,

Fruzsi

Making Jam Then and Now

flatlay jam

Strawberry season is at its peak, and all the other fruits will soon start arriving to your farmers market. Do you make jam?

By the way, what is jam? If you think this question is plain silly, you were not paying attention to the news. The heated debate over EU regulations concerning preserves, marmalade, fruit-spreads, jams and jellies is far from over, some describing those rules as an example of unnecessary red tape and “gold-plating” of European Union directives.

After reading numerous articles and even a guideline leaflet on the subject, I still haven’t the faintest idea how my grandmother’s apricot jam would be correctly labeled under European law, were it ever to be sold commercially.

See, this is because our lekvár (pron. lehk-waar) is quite unique to this region. To try illustrate the difference: jams are gelled to a quite clear consistency, fruit pieces are still identifiable. Lekvár on the other hand takes longer to make, is homogenous and thick like a puree.

You must have noticed the worldwide revolution going on in the home canning and preserving front lately. I’m also trying my hands at making small batch jams, something I honestly never thought I’d do. But let’s take a short trip down memory lane to see how we got here.

What used to be necessary frugality for our grandparents in order to save as much food as possible has turned into a creative activity, yet not so long ago during the 90’s and early aughts, granny’s jams were far from trendy.

Post-soviet era Hungary, social gap growing swiftly. I was a kid then, and I used to look at those 25 oz. jars neatly labeled and lined up on the shelves of the village pantry – I know how bad this sounds – as a sign of not being well-off. My classmates ate jams bought from the store (which now also carried Kellog’s, I mean wow!) in pretty little hexagon bottles, their relatives not bothering with at-home preserving any more.

Little did I know (and care) at the time that most of those products have never seen actual fruit; all I remember is finding our homemade apricot and plum jams uncool. Well, times have definitely changed! I’ve tried many different flavors since, and as much I liked most of them, I’ve established that none are a match to the classics when it comes to crepes (What Nutella? Please…) or carnival donuts.

Anyway. The jam making frenzy of today is different from our ancestors’ ways in many aspects. First of all, fortunately it’s not about what we’re going to eat during a long winter any more. It’s rather a culinary hobby and the result of the demand to know what’s in our food.

I respect tradition, but I also like to create new and unique flavors in my kitchen through experimenting with fruit combinations and adding spices. Standing-next-to-the-stove-stirring-all-day jam making and 1:1 fruit to sugar ratios are a thing of the past. Modern jams are made quicker thanks to natural gelling agents with less sugar needed. Shorter cooking times also preserve more of the goodness of the fruit, result in better color and a more intense flavor.

So far I’ve cooked up a festive plum jam, a cardamom and vanilla flavored apricot jam, a strawberry and raspberry jam with ginger and a nicely tart vanilla-infused triple berry (raspberry, blueberry and blackcurrant) jam. Next up, strawberries with a hint of lavender. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Last summer I did a blog series on the principles of home canning based on USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning. If you feel like jumping on the bandwagon, feel free to refer back to my posts on food safety, sterilizing jars, ensuring the quality of your canned goods, and the steps of filling the jar properly.

Love,

Fruzsi

‘Sweet jar raspberry jelly homemade’ image by mrsiraphol / Freepik