No matter where you go in Europe, you’re never far from a great meal. French and Italian are two of the world’s most revered cuisines, and Spanish and Portuguese food has influenced cooking in every corner of the globe, from South America to Japan. The Germanic countries have given the world sausages, pastries, schnitzels and more. The Scandinavian nations, which have long been content to sit quietly in the north with their rye breads and pickled fish, are now starting to flex their culinary muscles. And anyone who’s been to Belgium knows the secret to true happiness is a beer, some moules and frites (and maybe a sneaky waffle for the walk home).
Even England, the perennial whipping boy of European cuisine, has upped its game in the past few decades to the point where it’s now known less for warm beer and soggy chips and more as the breeding ground of some of the world’s best-known chefs, from Heston Blumenthal to Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White. Europe’s given us so much to love, but if you can’t jump on a plane and head there now, here are a couple of lesser-known classics that are dead easy to put together in your own kitchen.
SWEDISH BAKED SALMON PUDDING
Known as “laxpudding” in Sweden, this creamy tray-bake of salmon and potatoes is classic comfort food. The brown butter that finishes off the top of the dish is the best part.
• 1kg waxy potatoes, washed
• 25g butter, plus 75g extra for greasing and serving
• 2 brown onions, peeled and thinly sliced
• salt and white pepper, to season
• 1 bunch spinach, shredded
• 400g salmon fillets, skinned, pinboned, cut into 2cm pieces
• 100g smoked salmon, sliced into strips
• ¼ cup finely shredded dill, plus extra sprigs to serve
• 4 eggs
• 2 cups milk
• ½ cup pouring cream
• lemon wedges, to serve
• green salad, to serve
Place the potatoes in a large pot of cold water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 20-25 minutes until the potatoes are cooked through. Drain and cool, then remove the skins and cut the potatoes into ½cm-thick slices. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat and add ½ tbsp of butter. Fry the onion with a pinch of salt until translucent and remove from the pan. Add another ½ tbsp of butter and fry the spinach with a pinch of salt until wilted.
Heat your oven to 200°C. Grease a 25cm x 35cm baking dish with a little butter and layer a third of the potatoes at the bottom. Cover with a layer of half the onion, then half the spinach, then a layer of both kinds of salmon. Season with salt and white pepper, scatter half the dill on top, then repeat with layers of potato, onion, spinach, salmon and dill. Top with the remaining third of the potatoes.
Mix eggs, milk and cream with ½ tsp of salt and a little white pepper. Pour over the assembled pudding and bake for 30 minutes until the top is golden and the eggs are set. Add the remaining butter to a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until the butter is browned and nutty. Pour the brown butter over the pudding and serve with lemon wedges and a green salad.
Adam’s tip For a different version of this laxpudding, add salmon roe to the top as you serve, or even try it with a mixture of salted or smoked cod and fresh fish such as ling. The mixture of the cured or smoked fish and fresh fish gives the dish a little more interest.
ZUCCOTTO WITH PRUNES, PORT AND DARK CHOCOLATE
Zuccotto with Prunes , Port and Dark Chocolate. Photo: William Meppem
This foolproof Italian dessert hails from Florence and literally translates as ” little pumpkin”. All you need is a shop-bought sponge cake, a bit of stirring and it’s done.
• 100g dried pitted prunes • ½ cup port
• juice of ½ an orange
• rind of ½ an orange, thinly sliced
• 1 unfilled round double sponge cake (approx 460g shopbought, or you can make your own)
• 300ml thickened cream
• 250g ricotta
• 250g mascarpone
• 45g (¼ cup) icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
• 1 tbsp cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting
• 120g dark chocolate, shaved, reserving a little for garnish
• ½ cup roughly chopped walnuts, reserving a few for garnish
Add the prunes, port, orange juice and rind to a small saucepan with 1 cup of water. Bring to a simmer and cover with a round of baking paper. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, then strain to remove the prunes and rind, reserving the syrup. Roughly chop the prunes and set aside. Cut each sponge cake layer into 2 to form 4 layers.
Set one layer aside and cut the remaining 3 in half to create semi-circles. Line a large bowl or pudding basin with cling film, with plenty overhanging, and arrange the semi-circles around the bowl so they overlap like the petals of a flower, with the points meeting in the centre. Brush the sponge with the port and orange syrup, reserving some for the “lid”.
Place the cream in a large bowl and whip to soft peaks with electric beaters. In another large bowl, combine the ricotta and mascarpone and beat until smooth (you don’t need to wash the beaters in between). Fold the cream into the cheese mixture, then divide again back into two equal portions. Fold the prunes (and any orange rind mixed with them) into one portion of the mixture, reserving a little for garnish.
Beat the cocoa into the other, then fold through the chocolate and walnuts. Spread the chocolate mixture in an even layer inside the sponge “shell”, then add the prune mixture to fill. Brush the reserved sponge layer “lid” with the remaining syrup and place on top. Place a plate on top and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to firm. Ease from the mould onto a serving plate, dust with icing sugar and cocoa, and scatter with the reserved chocolate, walnuts and prunes.