No Bitterballen, Please!

When you think of great Dutch achievements, you think of them as great explorers, travelers and businessmen.  Yes, the Dutch are all those things, but what they are not are good cooks.  Go ahead, name one important culinary achievement made by the Dutch?  OK, Dutch Apple Pie,  I’ll give you that one.   But for the rest, forget it.    

As I mentioned in the last post, the Dutch look at food as a means to stay alive.  My images  of making pasta with my mother and planning Christmas dinner (IN JULY) with my sister are not shared here.  The Dutch eat simply and go into a convulsive shock when presented with something out of their comfort zone. “The farmer doesn’t eat what the farmer doesn’t know” the adage goes.    The diet here consists heavily of  bread, potatoes, cruciferous vegetables, and small quantities of meat (as compared to American diets).  A typical breakfast consists of un-toasted sliced bread, a smear of heart-friendly-fake-butter-spread so light if might not even be there and some sort of topping. ‘Hagelslag’ is a favorite.  Hagelslag can best be described as chocolate sprinkles like the kind you put on ice cream. Not chocolate flavored sprinkles, I tell you,  but real chocolate.  So picture this, buttered bread with real-chocolate sprinkles.  On her visit, my best friend Amy was so impressed she brought  3 boxes of hagelslag home for her family.   

Lunch usually consists of Broodjes (BRO-jes).  Sandwiches basically.  A broodje is a soft bun, like a hamburger bun, a roll , or bread slice, again lightly smeared with the heart-friendly-fake-butter-spread with 1 thin slice of cheese or lunchmeat on top, usually eaten with a knife and fork.  People will eat 3 or 4 of these for lunch (In contrast to Americans who eat one thickly piled sandwich).  I remember this episode of Rachael Ray on her trip to Amsterdam going GOO-GOO over these broodjes and saying how awesome they were.  Hardly , Rachael!  What people do for ratings, I’ll never know!  

Dinner is simple to prepare, takes about 15 minutes to cook and mostly revolves around the vegetable and potatoes.  I have to admit, the quality of the vegetables in the Netherlands far surpasses the quality of the typical American supermarkets even though the Dutch will complain bitterly about the quality.   Here, we rarely eat canned or frozen vegetables.  The question of “What’s for dinner?” , is almost always answered with the vegetable.  The meat on the other hand is terrible; small, tough and tasteless. This is really surprising since a good portion of the land is for livestock.  Export, is the reason.  They get a better price exporting the better cuts of meat rather than selling it here.  You will find meats in nice little perfect 100 gram portion sized packages without a trace of fat.  Meat is usually pan fried in heart-friendly-fake-butter and served with jus, rarely ever cooked in the oven.  Potatoes are usually served boiled or pan fried.  When served, they are feverously mashed by the eater and smothered with the above mentioned jus.  Vegetables are boiled or steamed .  Sometimes the entire contents of the plate is mashed together and eaten.  

Sometimes it just cooked that way.  The Dutch are crazy about this dish called ‘Stampot’  and it’s just as it sounds.  Put potatoes and a vegetable in a pot, cook it to death and then mash it together.  It’s quick. It’s simple and it keeps you alive another day. 

But what about the title?  What are these bitterballen?  Bitterballen are the quintessential  party food of Holland.  No festivity no matter how formal is complete without these fried orbs.  Bitterballen are essentially  fried golden brown breaded balls of meat gravy.  Croquettes,  if you will.  Perfectly round and about the size of a super-ball.  Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside and served with course mustard or garlic mayonnaise for dipping.   I hate the damn things. 

As far as stampot goes, this is one of my favorites.  I keep about a quarter of the chopped frisee leaves aside to be mixed in after cooking.  This gives a nice bite and a fresher taste. 

Frisee Stampot  (4 people)

1 lb of white potatoes, peeled and quartered. 

1 large head of frisee, washed and chopped.

4 tablespoons of butter (or to taste)

½ Cup cream (or milk)

¼ teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg

2 teaspoons coarse mustard (or to taste)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 onion chopped

6 ounces bacon or pancetta chopped. 

 In a large stock pot, cook potatoes in water and a bit of salt over med-high heat.  In the last 5 minutes of cooking add ¾ of the chopped frisee.  When the frisee is wilted and the potatoes cooked, remove from heat and drain.  Mash together.  Add butter, cream (milk), salt, pepper, mustard, and nutmeg.  Mix well.  In a sauté pan, sauté bacon and onions in a bit of oil.  When bacon is cooked and the onions light browned,  add to the potato mixture.  Add the rest of the frisee.  Mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings. For a bit more zing, add another teaspoon mustard.  Mix well and serve. 

Roast chicken or pork shoulder is excellent with this.  Serve with gravy made from the drippings.

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