It’s been more than 12 years since I started my ongoing exploration of Germany’s food. As my long-term readers know, I have been a broken record writing over and over again that authentic German cuisine and what Germans eat is diverse, colorful, seasonal, and ranges from tasty to delicious. With the first ZEIT Kochtag today, April 17, there is another living proof that people eat well in Germany. And that they can cook. And how!
ZEIT Kochtag was initiated by the weekly newspaper Die Zeit (one of its founders was Marion Gräfin Dönhoff, I wrote about her in a previous blog post) in collaboration with Slow Food Deutschland. Here is what the organizers of ZEIT Kochtag say about it:
If you appreciate good food, if you like to cook and want to eat a balanced diet, you are in a good place in Germany. Its food culture reflects a multitude of culinary traditions, and you can find high-quality ingredients anytime and anywhere.
But despite these favorable conditions you can get the impression that Germans don’t care much about what they eat. Compared to other European countries we spend little money on food. For some consumers, cheap food, and lots of it, are the main criteria. Also, working folks often don’t have the time to think much about what they eat. In all of this, the awareness for regional and seasonal variety is getting lost more and more.
With the ZEIT Kochtag on April 17, 2015, we want to set a signal against this trend. We want to inspire people all over Germany to cook and be more aware about the food they eat.
Two hundred and fifty events are being held today all over Germany, at schools, shops, markets, workshops, churches… If I were there, I would have a hard time deciding where to go, there are so many great topics. Two events in particular caught my eye: Taste the Waste in Cologne, where volunteers from Slow Food Youth prepare dishes from fruits and vegetables that were saved through Foodsharing, a German initiative to give edible foods to others instead of throwing them in the garbage. Anyone who walks by can join in. Also, there is the Teller statt Tonne in Hamburg, where a meal is prepared from vegetables that do not fit the strict EU marketing standards for fresh produce, also known as “ugly vegetables” – something I am very passionate about as a gardener.
The newspaper also encouraged people to provide the names of the dishes they were planning to cook at home today. Reading through that list made me hungry. And I was quite impressed. It includes many exotic and sophisticated dishes but also lots of German comfort foods and regional classics (Grüne Soße seemed to be a favorite, it appears a few times). There are also several dishes using ramsons (Bärlauch), the European cousin of ramps, which are all the rave during springtime in Germany.
Let’s face it: A day like this cannot turn things around. People who do not cook and just pop a TV dinner into the microwave won’t change their habits because of this. ZEIT Kochtag may appeal mostly to people who are already into it, therefore it might be preaching to the converted. Still, the day is a push in the right direction, and a formidable concept to raise awareness.
I had fun holding my own ZEIT Kochtag event on our rural hilltop in Pennsylvania, 5,000 miles away from Germany. And it certainly gives me a boost to continue repeating my mantra about German food.
Although this is more of a fall and winter dish I chose Baeckeoffe because it is a typical Grenzgänger (“border crosser”). Baeckeoffe is usually attributed to Alsace in France but variations of it can also be found in the regional cuisines of Saarland, Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden.
This dish reflects well how Germany’s neighbors have enriched its culinary traditions. Recipes know no borders, they have moved freely back and forth throughout history.
I made the Baeckeoffe in a Römertopf but any large ovenproof casserole or Dutch oven will do. The Römertopf has to be placed in the cold oven; if you use a casserole, you can put it in the preheated oven right away in step 6.
Most Baeckeoffe recipes do not call for a dough cover, and if they do, it is usually a plain white flour mix without any yeast. Since we love rye bread so much, I tinkered with the recipe and topped it with a yeasted rye bread dough. It was an added challenge but the intoxicating smell when we cracked it open at the table, and the taste of the bread dipped into the gravy was worth it.
2 pounds (900 g) high-quality organic pork butt
2 cups (500 ml) Riesling or other dry white wine, more as needed
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 whole cloves
6 juniper berries, crushed
½ teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon dried marjoram
½ teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup (240 ml) lukewarm water
1 cup (5 ounces/140 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 cup (5 ounces/140 g) rye flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 ounces (350 g) low-starch potatoes, preferably red and organic
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small stalk leek, thoroughly cleaned, trimmed and sliced (while and light green parts only)
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
7 ounces (200 g) pancetta, cubed
1. The night before, rinse the meat under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Trim the fat and cut the meat into 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes. Place it in a non-reactive container (plastic or glass) and add the garlic, cloves, juniper berries, peppercorns, bay leaves, and marjoram. Pour the wine over it and marinate covered overnight in the refrigerator.
2. For the dough, mix the yeast with ½ cup of the water in a small bowl. Stir well and set aside for 10 minutes, or until it foams. Mix the flours and the salt in a bowl. Add the remaining water and the foamed yeast mix. Stir well with a wooden spoon until the dough is evenly moistened and no flour pockets remain. Cover and let sit at room temperature.
3. The next day, if using a Römertopf, place bottom and lid, in a sink or a large container filled with cold water and soak for 20 to 30 minutes. The pot should be completely immersed in water. Drain and dry. If using a casserole, lightly grease it.
4. Cut the potatoes into even thin slices (if using organic potatoes, no need to peel them). Mix the onions, leek and carrot in a bowl. Cover the bottom of the Römertopf or casserole with potato slices.
5. Remove the meat from the marinade. Strain the marinade and set it aside.
6. Layer meat, pancetta, vegetables and potatoes until all the ingredients are used up, ending with a layer of potatoes. Lightly season each layer with salt and pepper.
7. Add the marinade and additional white wine, water, or a mix of both, to just cover the potatoes. Gently press everything down into the liquid. Put the lid on the Römertopf and place it in the lower third of the unheated oven.
8. Set the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, remove the Römertopf from the oven and gently press everything down again to make sure that it is fully immersed in liquid.
9. Place a large piece of wax paper or parchment paper on the work surface and generously dust it with flour. Remove the dough from the container with well-floured hands and pat it to the size of the Römertopf or casserole plus about 1 inch (2.5 cm).
10. After the Baeckeoffe has cooked for 1 hour and 45 minutes, take it out of the oven. Remove the lid and carefully place the dough on top. Remove any excess dough with a knife (the dough will have stretched as you lifted it up).
11. Bake for another 30 to 45 minutes, or until the dough cover is crusty. Break it open at the table and serve right from the Römertopf.
Makes 8 servings
If you have dough left over, no need to throw it out. Just shape it into rolls and pop them in the already hot oven for 20 to 25 minutes.