When I lived in Florence in the 1960s, I heard colorful stories about the art collector Peggy Guggenheim, but I never met her. Most of the stories were told me by my friend Count Francesco Guicciardini who knew Peggy well and on his trips to Venice sometimes stayed with her at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal.
It was common knowledge that Ms. Guggenheim collected lovers as passionately as she collected art. According to one of her biographers, Peggy and her younger sister, Hazel, competed to see who could sleep with the most men. When Peggy got to one thousand they stopped counting and she was declared the winner. Hazel is said to have commented that the only reason she lost was that Peggy was a few years older and therefore had a head start.
One of the stories that Francesco told me about his friend is perhaps apocryphal, but it seems to have had Peggy’s blessing. She owned a life-sized bronze statue by Marino Marini of a horse and nude rider that could be seen from the Grand Canal. Allegedly, the sculpture came with several detachable erect male members of varying sizes. Francesco said that whenever Peggy heard that the Archbishop of Venice was going to be passing in his barge in front of her Palazzo, she always attached the largest one.
In the late 1960s, while on a trip to Venice, I was able to visit her collection which by that time was open to the public. On the second floor of the palazzo, a dumpy looking woman dressed like a maid in a shapeless blue dress was sitting at a table selling catalogues. When I stopped to buy one, she put down a card on which she had been scribbling something. I glanced down and saw that it was a recipe for Hungarian Goulash. While she was giving me my change, I suddenly realized that it was Peggy herself looking like anything but a glamorous seductress. Sensing that it might not be wise to acknowledge that I had recognized her, I took my change and the catalogue and went to look at the impressive art.
More than a decade later, in the New Orleans Museum of Art’s Arts Quarterly, I read an amusing article about life in Peggy’s palazzo written by one of her former curators. He mentioned that once when the Hungarian Ambassador was invited to dinner, Peggy made a Hungarian Goulash that was almost inedible and made everyone ill. Was it from the recipe I had a glimpse of? Probably.
A few days ago I attempted my first goulash, the recipe an amalgam of several I found on the Internet. It was simple to make and turned out very well. At the very least, it was tasty and did not make either John or me ill.
Here it is:
1 pound of beef chunks for stew
Flour for coating beef
Enough Canola oil to coat the bottom of a large pot
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 small Jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
About 1 ½ cups of low sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon of good paprika
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
1 quarter cup of catsup
1 tablespoon of raw sugar
¼ teaspoon of dry mustard
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¼ cup chopped parsley for garnish
8 ounces of sour cream
6 tablespoons of flour
1 well beaten egg
1/8 teaspoon of salt
Coat beef with flour and brown in a large pot over a medium high frame, tossing frequently to keep the meat from burning.
When well browned, remove meat and set aside.
Toss sliced onions, garlic and Jalapeño pepper in the pot until the onions begin to turn golden. Add more oil if needed.
Return beef to the pot and add paprika, Worcestershire sauce, catsup, raw sugar, dry mustard, bay leaf, salt and pepper.
Let simmer for 1 ½ to 2 hours, until beef is very tender, adding more stock if necessary.
Before the stew has finished cooking, combine in a bowl the beaten egg, flour and salt. Let the mixture sit for at least half an hour.
Add the dumpling mixture to the stew one spoonful at a time and let simmer for about five minutes.
Ladle the stew and dumplings into two bowls, garnish with parsley, add a generous dollop of sour cream and serve.