On a sunny autumn day, at half past four, I ran out of my house to the metro. And from the metro station at the same speed to the train. I´m not usually in a rush, but having to catch a plane is one of the occasions where a bit of hurrying might help.
The flight that day was to Vienna. From there I took the bus to Bratislava for my first ever trip to Slovakia, to visit a good friend and to explore a little bit of this beautiful country. It was an interesting experience to be in a country again where I really could not understand a word of the local language. The language is so different that I was not even sure which toilet to enter in the restaurants, as the letters on the door were not much of a help to me in this case. So it was great to have a friend who could guide me. She took me to a wine festival in Bratislava. To be honest, before I did not even realize the Slovaks make wine. But it turned out to be really good. We tried very young wine, burčiak, which is the same as the German Federweisser, and some other red and white varieties. A very positive surprise!
As only drinking wine clearly is not a good idea, we also tried some local food. The restaurant we went to for a Sunday lunch seemed traditional: white and blue checkered tablecloths, dark wooden furniture and paintings of shepherds and the likes on the walls. After a delicious soup served in bread we had a tasting of three traditional dishes. The dish I really liked was Bryndzové Halušky, potato dumplings with bryndza, a Slovak sheep cheese, and bacon. After this lunch it was definitely time for a nap! The food is delicious, but portions are certainly not small and it is quite heavy with the potatoes, bacon, and cheese.
After the weekend I took the train to Nitra, a smaller city in Slovakia. As I wanted to try some more local food on my last evening in the country I went into a small restaurant. The waiter did not speak English, and the menu was of course only in Slovak. At least I remembered the Slovak word for a beer. And the beer was a great combination with the tasty meal I ordered by randomly pointing at the menu: another version of the halušky, the potato dumplings. This time without bacon, but with sausage and pork meat. Delicious, but if possible even heavier than the version I tried before.
These meals certainly inspired me to have a go at making those dumplings myself. I tried to keep the warmth and comfort feeling of the food, but make it a bit less heavy by using pumpkin instead of more meat.
Halušky with pumpkin and sheep cheese
Ingredients (for 2 as a main course)
- 3 medium sized potatoes
- 150 grams of flour
- 1 small pumpkin
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 red chilli
- Bryndza, or otherwise another soft sheep cheese like feta – around 100 grams
- Bacon – 5 slices
- Anise seeds – 1 teaspoon
- Sage – small bunch
- Olive oil
- Salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 220 ˚C. Cut the pumpkin in half and take out the seeds. You don´t need the seeds now, but it would be a shame to throw them away! You can clean and roast them as a snack or use them for another dish. Rub the cut sides of the pumpkin with olive oil. Then place them on some aluminium foil on an oven tray, with the cut sides down. Place the tray in the oven and roast the pumpkin for around 45 minutes, until soft.
In the mean time, prepare the dough for the halušky. Peel the potatoes and grate them on the fine side of a grater. Drain the excess water that comes from the potatoes. Add a good pinch of salt, and start adding the flour in spoonfuls. Stir well every time you add more flour, and repeat until you have a thick and sticky dough. Set the dough aside.
If you like spicy, keep the seeds in the chilli, otherwise you can remove them. Finely chop the chilli and the garlic. Also finely slice half of the sage leaves and chop the bacon in small pieces. Add a little bit of olive oil to a small frying pan and fry the bacon over a low fire until the fat comes out and the bacon is golden brown. Place the bacon on some kitchen paper and set aside.
By now, the pumpkin halves should be roasted and soft. Take them out of the oven and, when they are cooled down a bit, scoop the flesh out of the skin. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil for the dumplings.
Heat some olive oil in a smaller pot and add the garlic and chilli. When the garlic starts to become fragrant, add the anise seeds. Let them fry for a minute, and then add the flesh of the pumpkin. Use a fork to mash the pumpkin flesh. Stir well and add the sliced sage leaves. Poor around 150 milliliter of water in the pot and stir well. Add half of the fried bacon to the sauce and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Leave the sauce on a low fire to develop its flavours and become thick and creamy.
In a small frying pan, heat up a shallow layer of oil. When the oil is hot, fry the remaining sage leaves for around 2 minutes, until they are crispy. Set them aside on some kitchen paper.
Finally, when the water boils, it is time to make the halušky. It is smart to try one dumpling first, if it would fall apart you know that you have to add more flour to the dough. Put some of the dough in a thin layer on a cutting board. Dip a large knife in the boiling water and use this knife to quickly slice off small parts of the dough and drop them straight into the boiling water. If you would happen to have a spaetlze maker, you can use that as well. Give a quick stir, so that the dumplings don´t stick to the bottom of the pan. When the dumplings float to the top and have changed to a more yellowish colour, they are ready. Take them out of the boiling water with a slotted spoon and drain them in a collander. Continue with the next batch in the same way, until all dough has been used.
When all the dumplings are ready, mix them with the sauce and divide them over two plates. Crumb the sheep cheese in between your fingers, and sprinkle over the top. Then serve with the rest of the bacon and the crispy sage leaves.