For Christmas, my friend E. gave me a cookbook called "Everybody Eats Well in Belgium", by Ruth Van Waerebeek. I had never heard of this cookbook, though it is not an ancient tome or the production of an obscure publisher. It was released by by Workman Publishing in 1996, and I have certainly been devouring information and reviews about new cookbooks since well before then. So I was a curious on that account-not that I never miss anything wonderful in this area, but I do try not to. It didn't sound even vaguely familiar.
Then there was the fact that the title was clearly not true-and I don't just mean technically untrue, as in "there might be a few eccentrics in Belgium who have no interest in food." I am perfectly willing to believe that Belgian culture and tradition place an emphasis on fresh, well prepared food, and all that. But hey, it's a Western European country-which means that it is full of two-earner families with limited cooking time, and also full of all sorts of convenience foods, some good, and many bad. It's got to take some effort to eat well there, and nowhere near everybody is going to be that interested. Could be some of the people, most of the time, and most of the people...well, never mind.
But then, I started reading it. This is a very good cookbook. It has some nice background chat about Belgian home cooking traditions, and the recipes are unpretentious, distinctive, and so far, they work very well. I've made a couple of things, and liked them very much . One is this homey and flavorful tomato soup, with tiny little veal meatballs, which is delicious, comforting, and a keeper. I had some with a sandwich of leftover thin sliced grilled beef and horseradish, and it really hit the spot. I'll be taking the rest to work with me for lunches.
I adapted this recipe only very slightly, based on ingredients at hand, an approach sanctioned by Ms. Van Waerebeek.
unsalted butter 3 tbsps
onion coarsely chopped one
leek coarsely chopped one
carrot peeled and chopped one
fennel coarsely chopped 1/2 large bulb
small potatoes peeled and chopped 3
minced fresh parsley 2 tbsps
salt and pepper to taste
home canned tomatoes, drained 2 qts
Homemade beef broth 3 cups
cream or whole milk 1/2 cup
chopped chervil or fresh chives
ground veal, 6 oz
minced parsley 1 tbsp
freshly grated nutmeg pinch
S and P to taste
Melt the butter and cook the carrots, onion, leek, and fennel until soft-do not brown them. Add all soup ingredients, down to, but not including the milk. Bring to a boil, cover and cook about 50 minutes, until all veg are very tender. Meanwhile, boil a big pot of salted water. Mix all of the meatball ingredients together, and form into tiny, marble-sized meatballs. Poach about 3 minutes in the water. Remove with slotted spoon, and reserve. When soup veg are tender, puree the soup, with an immersion blender or otherwise. When ready to serve, correct seasoning, add milk or cream, and a bit more butter, if desired. Heat, but do not boil. Add meatballs, grate a tiny bit of extra nutmeg in, top with the chopped fresh herbs, and serve. Ms. Van W. emphasis the importnce of distributing the tasty little meatballs equitably.
After I discovered that I am, after all, very fond of this cookbook, I noticed that the back cover blurb is by Richard Olney, and that the book is loaded with twenty-one five star reviews at Amazon. I am probably the only person on earth who did not already know about this cookbook. I guess I did just miss it the first time around. I'm glad I lucked out this Christmas, thanks to my clever friend.