The Art of Soup: Central Europe's Warmest Traditions
In the heart of Europe, a grand soup-making tradition endures
Enlarge Image Credit: Todd ColemanWhen there's a chill in the air, few sights are as reassuring as a pot of soup bubbling on the stove top. That's true in much of the world, but the countries of Central Europe have given rise to what is arguably the richest soup-making tradition of all. Dumplings in meaty broth, hearty pottages thick with barley, velvety purees of vegetables and cream: Soups like these run through the region just as surely as the Rhine and Danube rivers do. There are diff erent inflections, of course, depending on where you are: the bonanza of dumplings—from tiny spaetzle to brawny, meat-filled Maultaschen—in southern Germany; the penchant for sour cream closer to the Black Sea; and in Hungary, the vivid red broths spiced with paprika. Over the centuries, these disparate foodways have coalesced into a unified canon, and the soups on the following pages are all shaped by principles of classical technique still rigorously upheld in Mittel-European professional kitchens. Soup is, fundamentally, the most economical of foods, a means of making leftovers and scraps into a satisfying meal. But exquisite soups like these are something more: a testament to the transformative power of passionate and thoughtful cooking. They are as pleasurable to prepare as they are to eat.
Maultaschensuppe (Dumplings in Broth)See the recipe »
The meat-filled, ravioli-like dumplings in this deeply comforting soup (pictured on the previous page) are a specialty of Swabia, in southern Germany. Their name, Maultaschen, literally means "feedbag," probably because their shape resembles one, though they're also known as Herrgottsbscheiβerle, or "little ones to cheat the Lord," as they're traditionally served on Christian days of fasting—the assumption being that God won't be the wiser as long as the meat is concealed within the pasta. This simple-looking soup is similarly deceptive: Complex flavor is built in at every stage of the cooking process. The base is a chicken stock enhanced with a confetti of brunoise-cut carrots and celery, and garnished with chives. The filling in the dumplings is a savory mix of minced beef, pork, veal, and smoky bacon; egg, cream, spinach, and nutmeg make them even more sumptuous. And a final dollop of caramelized onion on each meaty dumpling provides a hit of concentrated sweetness.