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

  • Difficulty: easy
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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

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Easter Ham With a Shortcut

easter ham platter

Gadget of the Day: the pressure cooker. I was planning on raving about this device for some time and what an opportunity presented itself: the crown jewel of the Easter table, no less!

Definitely not in my top 5 when it comes to frequency of use and not the cheapest cookware either, a pressure cooker is an item well worth investing in nonetheless. But what the heck does it actually do?

Glad you asked! If you’re into science to some degree, you’ll find this interesting. If not, feel free to skip the next paragraph or, you could read on and tick the ‘Today I Learned’ box.

Invented in 1679 by French physicist Denis Papin, the pressure cooker is a vessel with a lid that seals airtight, fitted with a regulator valve for the slow and safe release of steam. The method is quite simple: during the cooking process, pressure builds up inside the pot increasing the boiling point of the cooking liquid.

Why is this any good? Because the cooking time shortens – you get the same result as if the food has been braised long and slow, but much quicker and with less energy used.

As I mentioned my pressure cooker isn’t out very often, but there are a few dishes I haven’t made in any other pan since I bought it. And Easter Ham is one of them.

cooked easter ham

BTW, have you ever wondered why we eat ham on Easter when under Jewish dietary laws pork is strictly forbidden? The answer is actually quite profane: it’s in season. Just like fruits and vegetables, meats also have seasons even if this fact is mostly shielded from us by modern storage techniques and efficient food supply chains.

So the tradition of eating pork instead of lamb to celebrate Christ’s resurrection started for practical reasons. Salted, smoked and cured hams of pigs slaughtered in the winter are ready to eat in the spring. And what a reward to think about during a long period of Lent!

easter ham slices

In Hungary, we cook our ham for Easter. Traditionally I mean as I, for one, love to prepare the roasted and glazed variety too. For this dish I buy boneless, cured, smoked and netted shoulder cuts with the skin on. These are smaller pieces around 1,5 kg / 3.3 lbs, but would still feed an army (remember to leave room for all the other holiday delicacies!).

Naturally, you can make this in an average pot, but this way the cooking won’t take up half a day. Just put all ingredients in the pressure cooker, set the stove on high to reach boiling, than reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Steam and pressure will do the rest in less than an hour. Top tip: the remaining broth worth its weight in gold and it’s freezable!

I like to do the cooking the night before. After the meat has cooled slightly in the stock, I transfer it to a tray and carefully remove the netting. After a night’s resting, we eat it thinly sliced on Easter morning with hard-boiled eggs, radishes, spring onions, tangy horseradish sauce and fresh braided challah.

When I am to roast ham, I cook it the same way first. What if this year you stopped at that stage too?

Hungarian Easter Ham

  • Difficulty: easy
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Cooked, not roasted: the Hungarian Easter classic.

Ingredients

smoked, netted ham around 1,5 kg

2 bay leaves

1 medium onion

3 garlic cloves

1 tsp whole black or mixed peppercorns

cold water

Directions

  1. Put ham, peeled onions and spices in the pressure cooker, fill up pot with cold water to cover ham.
  2. Close lid. Cook on high until boiling, reduce heat to low.
  3. Counting from reducing the heat, simmer for 40 min.
  4. Switch stove off. Let cool for at least 30 min, open pressure cooker.
  5. Transfer ham to a tray, remove netting.
  6. Strain cooking liquid through a sieve and keep for later use.
  7. Let ham cool completely before slicing. Enjoy!

easter ham with egg

easter ham with egg

Do you also eat ham come Easter? How do you do it in your country? What do you eat it with?

Happy Easter!

Love,

Fruzsi

Opening Grill Season With Langalló, the Hungarian Pizza

hungarian langallo flatbread

Grill season is here and I couldn’t be happier! I’ve a smile on my face just thinking of all the F&Bs we’re going to consume this year on the patio. Our back yard is not huge by any measure, but that’s not stopping us from doing cookouts. Let the good times roll!

It’s true the weather can be quite unpredictable in April around here (it’s sunny and then a minute later there’s a shower) so to open garden season, I thought we’d play it safe. In the time Husband mowed the lawn and I tended to my awakening herb garden, a batch of langalló dough has risen nicely.

Langalló (pron. laan-gaallow), also called kenyérlángos (pron. ken-yeer-laan-gosh) is a type of flat bread baked with various toppings. Traditional Hungarian fast-food, or our take on pizza if you please. Let’s start with a brief lesson in history. I promise to keep it short!

hungarian langallo flatbread

Still with me? Great! So according to the Hungarian Baker Association, we eat langalló since the 14th century. Round and somewhat thicker than the Italian cousin, it was the typical meal of bread baking days: prepared from the leftover dough after loaves were shaped, eaten fresh out the furnace.

Today, we don’t have to bake bread to eat langalló, it’s available at bakeries and is a favorite of fairs, markets and festivals. The shape changed to rectangular over time to fit commercial baking trays, but it’s still best eaten fresh and warm.

Baked in a hot oven until golden, langalló smells and tastes like fresh bread. Crust should be crunchy outside and soft inside. Classic toppings include cottage cheese with dill, sour cream with garlic, smoked sausage slices, bacon or pancetta, red onions, grated cheese and – although not as often as I would like – bone marrow or duck cracklings.

A very filling meal high in simple carbs and fats of not exactly the best kind. Precisely what was needed in the times people worked on the fields from dawn till dusk, but not exactly what we call healthy these days.

But it’s OK to indulge sometimes when you’re on an otherwise balanced diet, and making langalló is doing it good while you’re at it. Just wait until you smell the baking bread and roasting garlic!

hungarian langallo flatbread

Sadly, I don’t have a wood-burning furnace and while that would be peak hygge for me, the oven is an acceptable compromise. Surely, smoke adds more flavor to any food but it adds more clothes to the laundry as well, so let’s just count our blessings on this one shall we. 🙂

Back to the dough: it’s not at all complicated, basically just flour, water, salt and yeast. Additionally, almost every recipe calls for boiled potatoes and I use them too to soften the dough (remember reserving the cooking water to add extra starch).

Whichever topping you decide on, be it traditional or something entirely let’s-see-what-we-have-in-the-fridge kind of spontaneous, I’m warning you: beer and wine spritzers go equally well with langalló. Are you drooling yet?

Hungarian Langalló

  • Difficulty: medium
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A type of flat bread baked with seriously sinful toppings.

Ingredients

For the dough:

500 g (4 cups) bread flour

1,5 tsp salt

1 medium potato

300 ml (10 fl oz) of the boiling water reserved

3 tbsp vegetable oil

20 g (0.7 oz) fresh yeast

Toppings:

250 ml (1 cup) sour cream

2 garlic cloves

50 g (½ cup) grated cheddar

2 medium red onions

200 g (7 oz) bacon or smoked sausage

Directions

  1. Peel, cube and boil potato. Reserve 300 ml of the cooking water, set aside. Mash potato with a fork and let cool.
  2. Sift flour and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer attached with the dough hook, add mashed potato, oil and lukewarm boiling water, crumble yeast on top.
  3. Start kneading on low until dough comes together, then increase speed to medium. Knead until dough is shiny and not sticking to the side of the bowl.
  4. Cover and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 45 min.
  5. While dough is rising, prepare toppings: season sour cream with salt and pepper to taste, add crushed garlic. Grate cheese, peel and thinly slice red onions, cut bacon or sausages. Set aside.
  6. Cover a baking tray with parchment paper.
  7. Turn dough on a lightly floured surface, roll out and fit into baking tray.
  8. Top dough: cover with sour cream, pile on cheese, onions and bacon or sausage.
  9. Preheat oven to 200°C / 400°F, let dough rise until oven is heating up.
  10. Bake until crust is golden, about 30 min. Serve warm. Enjoy!

What are some of your favorite foods to prepare outdoors during warmer months? By the way, grill or BBQ? Store bought spice mixes (which brand?) or secret family concoctions? I’d love to hear it all!

Love,

Fruzsi

Family Heirloom Vanillekipferl

vanillekipferl title

Fact: in this part of the old continent there is no Christmas without Vanillekipferl. These crescent-shaped biscuits are very popular in the Advent season throughout Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Romania and in my home country.

To confuse you, we all call them different names, but shhh! they are virtually the same. I’ve decided to refer to them by their German title in this post simply because I thought it will be the most familiar of the bunch.

Legend has it the flaky, buttery pastry was created to celebrate the 1683 victory of the Austro-Hungarian army over the Ottoman Turks in the siege of Vienna: the shape of the cookie is said to represent the half-moon of the Turkish flag.

Wether this is true or not, Vanillekipferl spread and soon become a festive specialty in Central-Eastern Europe. The dough is a simple shortcrust or shortbread pastry enriched with ground walnuts, almonds or hazelnut depending on family tradition (= what your folks could get), shaped into tiny horseshoes, dusted generously with vanilla sugar.

Now, I could call my recipe the Best Ever Vanilla Crescents or Impossible Christmas Biscuits, but those attributes are so overused. Also, this pastry is assumably not the best, nor is it impossible. What it is is sweet and humble, just like my beloved granny who taught me how to make it.

Vanillakipferl is more than a winter treat for us though: it’s tradition, family and the essence of Christmas in a delicious bite the size of your pinky. Ask anyone from this region, childhood memories will be sure to pop up regarding the delicate little crescents.

And today I’m giving you my family heirloom recipe, just in time for the holidays. They probably won’t be the star of the holiday table when it comes to looks, but these crescents make Christmas magic happen. Just watch!

Oh, and don’t even bother making one batch, double the recipe! It will quickly disappear.

vanillekipferl closeup

Vanillekipferln (Traditional Christmas Vanilla Crescents)

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

200 g (7 oz) butter or margarine

280 g (10 oz or 2 ¼ cup) all-purpose flour

50 g (1.78 oz or ¼ cup) granulated sugar

100 g (3.5 oz or ¾ cup) finely ground walnuts

1/2 cup powdered sugar and 1 pack (8 g or 1 ½ tsp) vanilla sugar mixed, for dusting

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients with your hands until dough comes together.
  2. Shape dough into a ball, wrap in cling foil and let rest in the fridge at least 2 hours, or as long as overnight.
  3. Preheat oven to 175°C / 350°F, line baking tray with parchment paper.
  4. Divide dough into two parts. Work with one portion at a time, put remaining dough back in the fridge (when cool, it’s easier to shape and crescents hold better during baking)
  5. Pinch off chunks from the chilled dough, shape into crescents the size of your pinky.
  6. Place crescents on baking sheet a little apart.
  7. Bake for 25 min, until slightly golden on the sides.
  8. Gently roll in vanilla sugar to coat while still warm.

Yields approx. 75 crescents, filling 1 and a half baking trays. Stored in an airtight container, vanilla crescents are delicios for weeks.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year for all!

Love,

Fruzsi