10 November 2009

Ein Pils, Ein Riesling und Flammekuchen, Bitte!

What can I say? I am missing Germany something fierce this week! The days of trundling off to the little commuter train down the hill from our home in Hohensachsen and jumping a quick ride into Weinheim are long gone. Long gone, too, the stroll into the Marktplatz to Cafe Florian for a glass of wine or a stein of beer and a warm bread board with a steaming Flammekuchen!

The other evening I sat dejectedly wishing for a taste of that authentic German pubfare. Knowing there is none to be had here in southwestern New Hampshire seemed a cruel gustatory blow. After carping about it to Silent Bob, I did what any self-respecting cook would do. I logged onto the computer and searched for recipes! It was like opening a treasure chest! There were tons of recipes out there, but wait! None of them seemed like the Flammekuchen that I remembered from our little area in Baden-Wurttemberg. One recipe had the thin crispy crust, but the mellow cheese topping seemed too bland. Another had a wonderful cheese/yogurt topping, but the onions were added to the cheese raw instead of limp and glistening from being sauted in a bit of butter. Another recipe was made with bacon... bacon! No Flammekuchen I ever had was made with bacon. Instead, the meat that dresses traditional Flammekuchen is Speck, a type of fatty ham that is cut into tiny cubes.

After about an hour of trolling the different recipes, I decided to take the crust recipe from one, the cheese mixture from another, the treatment of the onions from a third, and my memories of German Speck preparation and roll it all together into a new 'morphed' recipe for Flammekuchen. After scurrying around the market grabbing the needed ingredients, I cleared off the countertop and went to town... maybe not Weinheim, but as close as I'll get for a while.

And so... what follows is the recipe that I've come up with... it is a pretty true composite of my food memory. The crust cooks up a bit thicker than I remember, but it's crunchy and crisp and holds the toppings without collapsing or breaking off when you pick it up to knosh. The onion-y cheese topping is a perfect foil to the saltiness of the ham. And everything is better with pepper!


Oven- 450º - until crust is crisp and top is bubbly and slightly browned – about 15 minutes

* In the morning of the day you want to serve Flammekuchen, prepare the cheese topping.

In a small bowl, combine, cover, and refrigerate for the day -

1 c. ricotta cheese
½ c. plain yogurt

About 2 hours before you want to eat-

In a large mixing bowl:

2 ¼ c. flour
¾ tsp salt

Make a well and add:

1 pkg. yeast dissolved in 1 c. warm water with a small pinch of sugar

Mix until no more flour can be incorporated, then knead the rest in (10 minutes).

Cover and let rest in a warm place until doubled.

Punch down the dough and let rest again while you prepare the following ingredients.

In a fry pan, sauté until glistening and then set aside:

1 tbsp. butter
1 medium onion, thinly sliced wedges

In the same fry pan, brown and then set aside:

12 oz. fatty ham (Speck, in Germany), cut into very small cubes

Roll out the dough on a lightly oiled baking sheet until it makes a very thin crust (about ¼” thickness). Make a rim by rolling the edge of the dough back under itself a bit all the way around. This dough makes a rectangular Kuchen about 12’ by 15’.

Combine the onions and the cheese and spread on the crust.

Sprinkle with black pepper (plenty) and nutmeg (go easy).

Press the ham with paper towels to absorb some of the fat.

Top the Flammekuchen with the bits of ham and bake in a fully heated oven.

Serve this dish with a dry Reisling or German pilsner beer. A traditional German green salad would be a nice addition if you're looking to make a complete meal. Mmmm! As the Germans say, "Lecker!"

Welcome to... The Spice Garden

When my children were small, I read them a book by Frances Hodgson Burnett called The Secret Garden. In the story, young Mary Lennox asks her caretaker for ' a bit of earth'. In this small plot, she hopes to create a garden that will be a beautiful refuge from a cold and lonely world. To make a long story short, she succeeds famously. Her garden becomes a source of joy and wonder to her and those who befriend her... and that's what I hope The Spice Garden does for you, dear reader.

The Spice Garden is all about finding the fruits, vegetables, spices, and food items that spring at us from season to season. It's about celebrating them in the things we eat, the songs we sing, the literature we read, and the recipes we share. Expect to encounter recipes, essays about food, travel stories, commentary on current issues in agriculture and nutrition, and yes, the occasion 'rant' that may leave you shaking your head or posting your own comment. That being said, I invite you, dear reader to get your feet wet and your hands dirty in this spice garden of ours. I certainly hope the posts you read inspire you to try the recipes, experiment with new food items that you've not encountered before, read up on issues surrounding our national food supply and the current state of our agricultural practices, find new items to try growing in your gardens, discover new cookbooks that excite you, or find a special place in your neighborhood that is providing exceptional foods or cooking products to your community.

The Spice Garden ... our bit of cyberspace for nurturing each other as gardeners, cooks, conscientious consumers, and thoughtful readers and writers.