Meat plays such an integral part in the traditional German diet that it’s often taken for granted that a dish contains it. It’s not uncommon that I’ll find a recipe with a vegetarian-sounding title and then discover a bit of meat lurking in the ingredients. This is one of those recipes. (I’ve added the meat bit to the title so as not to mislead any vegetarians.)
The name Schwarzwurzelragout, or salsify stew (known regionally as Storzenieren, which as far as I understand doesn’t mean anything at all), doesn’t even hint at the fact that the dish involves lots of little balls of veal. Or anything else. But it is, in fact, a complete one-pot meat dish, because as well as the roots and the meat, it also contains potatoes, all in a rich, creamy sauce. So, although there’s little bit of work in its preparation, you don’t need to make anything else to go along with it – although you might like some steamed greens on the side, and perhaps a glass of white wine.
Salsify has a lovely light, oystery flavour that I find terribly moreish; my husband even prefers it to white asparagus, king of all the vegetables here, which is quite something for a German (it looks pretty similar once it’s peeled, hence the comparison). As well as being available freshly harvested in the winter months, you can buy salsify here year round, fully prepped, in jars, which is good news if you don’t like getting your hands dirty, but I can’t say how it tastes. I don’t mind having to scrub all the dirt off the stick-like roots, but they exude a weird, sticky sap as you peel them that leaves your hands looking like you’ve had a terrible accident with a tube of henna and no soap on earth seems to get it off. So, you might want to don a pair of kitchen gloves for that bit.
A quick word about the meatballs: I’ve tried this recipe with both veal and pork and wouldn’t recommend the latter as it has a very strong flavour that overwhelms the delicate taste of the salsify and its gentle, creamy sauce. I’d recommend sticking with veal (Kalbsfleisch): if you’re in Germany, ask your butcher for Kalbsbrät, or raw sausage meat; if you buy a Kalbsbratwurst, the meat will have already been scalded and you won’t be able to mould it into meatballs. For those of you concerned about veal production: in Europe, the farming of young calves now adheres to strict laws, but as with all meat, it remains important to buy it only from a source you trust.
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 lemon (you’ll need some for cooking, some for seasoning and a squeeze for preparing the salsify)
450g smallish potatoes (ideally vorwiegend festkochend)
500g veal mince (Kalbsbrät)
1 tbsp plain flour (use rice flour if you’d like gluten-free)
Freshly ground nutmeg
20g chervil or parsley leaves, chopped
Fill a large bowl with cold water and a squeeze of lemon juice. Scrub the salsify before peeling it, rinsing it, chopping the roots into 4cm pieces and dropping them into the bowl. (This prevents the salsify from discolouring, which happens very quickly.) When you’ve peeled the lot, drain and rinse once more and add them to a wide pan with 1/4 l water, 3 tbsp lemon juice and a pinch of salt and sugar. Bring the water to the boil and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
Whilst the salsify is cooking, boil your potatoes until when you poke them, they slide of the end of a knife; and form little meatballs out of your veal mince – you should be able to get approximately 24 of them.
Remove the salsify from the heat and drain, retaining the cooking water in a separate bowl. Melt the butter in the pan, then add the flour and stir for a minute till well mixed and heated through. Return the cooking water to the pan, add the cream and cook on a medium-low heat, stirring, till the sauce is creamy and slightly thickened. Season to taste with salt, white pepper, nutmeg and lemon juice.
Add the salsify, potatoes and meatballs to the pan. You don’t need to worry about the meatballs falling apart – they won’t – just plop them in and mix everything together very carefully. Cover the pan and simmer very gently, on a very low heat, for 10-15 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through.
Serve sprinkled with the chopped herbs.