Sunday, March 1, 2009
Hungarian Penicillin - My Great Grandmother's Beef Soup
My mom is under the weather and requested that I make this soup for her. The recipe is my great grandmother's, and I ate a lot of it in the winter growing up.
When I first moved out on my own, I didn't know how to boil water, let alone cook. I would often call home and ask my mom how to make something. She had a regular rotation of basic dishes, and she rarely cooked from a recipe, so I'd get instructions like "add flour 'til it sticks together and feels right'. Uh, ok, how do I know when that is? That's when I figured it was time to start teaching myself how to cook.
She was kind enough one year to sit down at the typewriter and type a bunch of family recipes on large index cards and tuck them into a photo album. Some of them are just as perplexing to me now, but this one I've made enough that I can do it without the recipe. The first time I looked for it in the photo album was a little challenging, because we always called it Rivule Soup, yet the card is called Beef Soup.
She never made rivules, which are basically tiny, rough, little egg noodles, from scratch, but I'm sure my great grandmother did. For years we've used Mrs. Weiss's Egg Farvels, but alas, they are nowhere to be found this winter. I usually keep a stash, but there were none in the pantry, and a couple of supermarket scouts with no luck.
My friends at Mediterranean Imported Foods at West Side Market saved me with these noodles, which look pretty much like the egg farvels/rivules with maybe a touch more egg yolk.
Of course, the rest of the ingredients came from West Side Market: celery, carrots, onion, tomatoes, cabbage, parsley - still using that $1 bargain one from last week, and a big beef shank from Larry Vistein's - aka Meat Man.
The secret ingredient, and key to the soup, is pickling spice. And it has to be McCormick's. We've tried other brands, and it just isn't the same. I use most of jar in a muslin bag, but a big tea strainer works as well.
I can't tell you how nice it is to make a big pot of soup on a REAL stove. The pot-filler faucet is just a bonus - the fact that the pot came to a boil before noon was the real thrill.
I remember the first time I made it and was confronted with the instruction to skim off the scum. Had no clue how that was supposed to work. Now I have a nice stainless skimmer I picked up at the All-Clad sale. A few swipes and it's history.
So it's simmering away on the stove. There is nothing quite like the aroma of this one cooking; the pickling spice is distinctive. Four or five hours, strain out the solids and you have one sinus clearing beef broth. The rivules get cooked and added separately.
The perplexing instruction: Add the vegetables you want to eat, also needed explanation. At most some carrot chunks get back in, but mostly it's beef stock with the noodles.