Last week in New York was bitterly cold, a genuine arctic chill descending on the city with scathing, raw cruelty. It gave new meaning to the familiar imagery of winter’s icy fingers stabbing through thick coats and beneath woolly hats. As dank and cold as Edinburgh was throughout last winter and well into spring and summer, its predictable and consistent chilliness felt like an unpleasant bruise. The teeth-chattering, breath-stealing freeze of lower Manhattan in January feels like a slap to the face—a series of them. Brrr.
When the weather forces me to hurry from place to place in an effort to lose as little body heat as possible, I like to use my time in the kitchen as a counterpoint and cook long, slow dishes full of flavor and warmth. I don’t mind standing over a hot stove when outside the wind is howling and the snow is swirling. In fact, the steam rising from a pot of boiling water creates a humidifier effect, killing two birds with one stone as my dry skin takes on much-needed moisture!
I’m not sure if this dish qualifies as a true goulash but it shares enough ingredients with more traditional versions that I think it’s okay to use the name. It is not a soup. It’s not even really a stew, as it uses very little liquid. It’s just a braised meat dish that goes perfectly with my homemade spätzle, which is why I came up with it. I need no excuse to make these noodle-dumplings because they’re chewy little addictions; however, they do taste best paired something rich and slightly stew-y. If you’re a vegetarian, they’d go great with spicy lentils or vinegary, warm red cabbage.
The spätzle (also spelled spaetzle) comes down from my grandmother, the progeny of a Bavarian mother and an Alsatian father. Her recipe has no exact proportions and each time I’ve made it, somehow the amounts of flour and water are always slightly different. The best guidance is to get the mixture to the consistency of waffle batter—thick but still pourable—knowing you can always adjust by adding more water or flour if the first couple rounds don’t turn out the way you like. I also recommend making the batter about 20 minutes before cooking, as it thickens slightly with the wait.
Beef Goulash with Mushrooms
1.5 lbs sirloin tip or other stewing beef, cubed
1 med. onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. sweet paprika
1 tsp. tomato paste
1/4 c. red wine
1. c. beef broth
1 lb. button or cremini mushrooms, thick sliced
4-6 Tbs. sour cream
1. In a Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot, heat olive oil on med-high and brown beef in batches, setting aside after each batch.
2. Drain any excess fat, leaving 2 Tbs. Still on med-high, sauté onion and garlic for five minutes. When softened and onion is getting brown, add paprika and tomato paste and stir, 30 seconds.
3. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and cook down, 1 minute. Return the beef and stir to combine.
4. Add broth and mushrooms, salt and pepper to taste, stirring all to combine. Cover and cook on low 45-90 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Just before serving, turn off heat and stir in sour cream to taste. Serve immediately over hot spätzle.
2 + cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cups water
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1. Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. While it’s heating, make the batter and let it sit for a few minutes.
2. In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients together. Whisk in eggs.
3. Starting with 1 cup, whisk in water, adding more gradually until the mixture has the consistency of waffle batter.
4. When the water is boiling, hold the bowl in one hand, tilting it over the pot, and use a dull knife to “cut” the batter into the rolling water. (See photo.) Cut 3-4 noodles at a time. Allow them to rise to the surface and boil a further 2-4 minutes. (As the water gets low, the spätzle may stick and you may need to “help” them up by gently loosening them from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon.)
5. Remove the noodles using a slotted spoon or spider. Place in a hot casserole dish and rub with butter to keep from sticking together. Keep the dish in the oven to stay warm while you cook the remaining spätzle.