So Thursday afternoon was a gathering of the part-time tribe… a bunch of us that, every now and then get together at someone’s house to do homely bits of work together – a big spring clean, planting. And – more often than not – cooking. Some of us have children; some are expecting; the idea was to get together in a more productive and stimulating way than the average toddler-minding tea party. (The “tribe” idea is borrowed from Jean Liedloff’s offbeat little book, The Continuum Concept.)
This time was at Anja’s house – her friend Sofia had brought over a massive sheaf of herbs to make Grüne Sauce (Green Sauce). This is a traditional German recipe, though it might have its roots in the Italian bagnet verde, a simple sauce of minced herbs, garlic and olive oil. The German version is creamier and somewhat fresher-tasting as a result of the mix of herbs: borage, chervil, parsley, cress, chives, sorrel and salad burnet. Alberto at the Il Forno blog sums up the mix of flavours succinctly: “Borage and burnet have both a light cucumber like taste, sorrel gives an acidic note, parsley, chervil and chives contribute their typical aroma and peppery cress adds a bit of spice.”
Most of the herbs were used for the sauce, which traditionally accompanies bowls of freshly cooked potatoes and boiled eggs. But some of it also went into lightly fried herb and parmesan cakes, made by simply stirring some parmesan, breadcrumbs and beaten egg into the herb mixture and forming little flat cakes for frying. All of which composed a very beautiful feast at the late end of a rainy afternoon…
about 200 g of the following herbs, mixed: borage, chervil, parsley, cress, chives, sorrel, salad burnet
500 g plain yogurt
250 greek yogurt (or full fat quark if you can find it)
4 hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped
1. Wash and dry the herbs, then wield the biggest knife you can find and chop them very finely on a big board. Don’t pound them with pestle and mortar, and don’t blitz them in the blender. Apparently it’s just not done that way; finely chopped by hand is the way to go here.
2. Add the yogurt (and any other seasonings you like), and, like Bob Marley says, stir it up. That’s it.
Anja says: ” Now, if you want you can season it with mustard, mayonnaise, onions, garlic, vinegar, and/or sugar. But that’s up to you. Some people use instead of yoghurt/quark soured cream.A bit to rich for my taste. But you can also mix yoghurt with soured cream.
I personally think the less the better. Just herbs and yoghurt/quark. The herbs have such a great taste and strong aroma, that it doesn’t need anything else.”
Anja was also keen to try baking traditional German pretzels, and – unable to resist the temptation to get up to my elbows in good yeasty dough – I was soon rolling and twisting a dozen or more of the long stretchy strands required for these curiously satisfying little works of breadmaking art.
40 g cake yeast
600 g – 800 g flour
350 ml warm water
1 tsp sugar
3 tsp salt
1 TBSP oil
1. Dissolve the sugar into the water.
2. Crumble the yeast into the water. Briskly stir in a couple of cups of flour to make a thick batter. Leave it for about 15 minutes to get happily bubbly.
3. Sprinkle on the salt and the oil; stir these in.
4. Stir in the rest of the flour, bit by bit to make a smooth dough. At some point you’ll have to switch from using a spoon and other utensils to using your hands.
5. Turn it out onto a floured worktop and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Now here’s the thing: don’t bother leaving it to rise.
7. Now the time-consuming bit: roll each piece of dough out into a long, thin strand.
This is a little tricky as the elasticity of the dough will keep making it want to bounce back into a shorter, fatter thing. And you need it fairly long and thin so that you can form the pretzel twist (shown in the photo above).
Some of ours were somewhat too short and fat; others got overly stretched, distended and twisted in places… fortunatly breadbaking is a forgiving sort of business and all shapes taste good in the end!
8. Once you’ve formed the pretty knots, you’ll need to get a big pot of water on the boil. Oh, and preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Once the water is boiling furiously, add three tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda to the water. Lower the pretzels in gently with a slotted spoon or egg lifter. They should bob around for a bit, then rise to the surface of the water. Ours seemed to float immediately to the surface – I think this was because we took a while over the rolling and knotting process, which gave the bread plenty opportunity to rise a bit, forming air pockets that would cause the pretzels to float. Nonetheless, a couple of minutes in the boiling water is all they need.
9. Lay the boiled pretzels out on a lined baking tray. At this point, you can sprinkle them with a variety of toppings: sesame and/or sunflower seeds; poppy seeds; grated cheese; rock salt. Any or all of the above. (The general inclination was pro-cheese; I preferred the plain rock-salted version.) Although the recipe didn’t say so, I suspect that they brushed theirs with egg for the traditional shiny brown finish in the styled picture.
10. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes in the preheated oven.