Having scraped the surface of Scandinavian cuisine, we’re now venturing south, into the region of Western Europe we’re much more familiar with. That said, Ash hasn’t actually been to The Netherlands (our next ‘stop’), although Miranda has, having visited Amsterdam in 2008 with her friend Kathy. (Technically, Denmark borders Germany, not The Netherlands, but we’ve used a little bit of artistic licence here in order to make the route work.)
When looking through the photos from that trip in search of inspiration for this blog, it came as no surprise that a lot of them were of food. Indonesian food is very popular in Holland, owing to the former Dutch colonisation of Indonesia, but there are also plenty of dishes that are Dutch in their own right. However, other than the little pancakes (poffertjes) you see at carnivals and street food markets, and the ubiquitous Edam and Gouda cheeses, Dutch cuisine hasn’t really taken off outside of its home nation.
One of the most serendipitous moments from Miranda’s trip to Amsterdam was coming to the end of the moving experience of visiting Anne Frank’s house in the early evening and being faced with the task of finding somewhere to eat. A traditional Dutch restaurant, established in 1870 and offering a three course meal for €8.50 in a friendly and atmospheric setting was just the ticket, and this was where she and Kathy first discovered stamppot. This Dutch speciality is little more than peasant food (mashed potato mixed with kale), but it carries with it such good memories of the trip to Amsterdam that Miranda insisted that we had to make it for our traditional Dutch meal. Typically, it would be served with rookworst (Dutch sausage) but despite the proliferation of German and Polish sausages in our nearby shops, there was no rookworst to be found. Instead, we’ve opted for gehaktballen met jus: Dutch meatballs with gravy.
3 medium potatoes, diced
1 bunch spring greens (in lieu of kale – thanks for nothing, Sainsbury’s), stalks removed and chopped
1 bay leaf
1 onion, diced
Salt and pepper
1. Put the potatoes, onion, spring greens/kale and bay leaf into a pan with enough water to just cover it all. Cover and boil gently for 25 minutes.
2. Remove the bay leaf, drain the vegetables and mash them, adding milk and butter as necessary and preferred.
Gehaktballen met jus
This recipe is inspired by that of Nicole at The Dutch Table – we very much appreciated her passion for Dutch food when researching this meal!
450-500g beef mince (half beef/half pork would be better, but we didn’t have those quantities readily available)
2 slices bread
1/2 cup milk
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp mustard (we didn’t know what mustard to use here! We went with 1tbsp of Colmans and one of whole grain)
2 tbsp flour
4 tbsp butter
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup beef stock
1. Mix the mince, onion, egg, mustard, nutmeg, salt and pepper in a bowl and knead until thoroughly combined. Cut the crust off the bread, soak it in the milk and add it to the meat, disposing of any excess milk.
2. Divide the mixture into four equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, roll the meatballs through the flour and set aside.
3. Heat the butter in a pan (a Dutch oven, ideally!) and sear the meatballs on all sides until brown. Try not to have a panic about how much butter there is, like Miranda did.
4. Lower the heat, place the cover on the pan and let them simmer in all that fat for a good 20 minutes, then turn them over and simmer for another 10.
5. Add the water to the pan, cover and simmer for another 20 minutes.
6. Remove the meatballs from the pan, add the beef stock and stir to loosen up all the meaty bits from the bottom of the pan. Boil gently to reduce to a nice gravy sauce.
If you don’t particularly value your arteries, this is fantastic: simple, but incredibly tasty. The inclusion of plenty of nutmeg made the meatball stand out from a typical Italian or Swedish version. The cost per portion would appeal to the humblest of budgets, too, and it was sufficiently filling (even for Ash). Whilst it probably wasn’t the most appropriate meal for our balmy spring temperatures (although it wasn’t overly heavy, surprisingly with all that butter), our garden offered up some tulips alongside the weeds to honour both the season and The Netherlands all in one go.