Saturday, May 21, 2011

Definitely Not Peggy Guggenheim’s Hungarian Goulash

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

For dumplings:

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.

Serves two.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

John and Barbara Suval’s Grilled Lamb

John Suval, a third-generation dealer in rare porcelain and a celebrated carnivore, and his wife Barbara, a charming and generous hostess and excellent cook, live in one of the most beautiful and historic 18th century houses in Fredericksburg. Wellford House on Caroline Street was built in 1785 by Dr. Robert Wellford, a close friend of George Washington. Were General Washington to stop by today, he would probably feel very much at home in a house that is beautifully furnished with period antiques and a gorgeous selection of Chinese and China Trade porcelain and early British and European ceramics.

We are fortunate that because of our close friendship with John and Barbara, Wellford House is the place we dine most often after our own home. To say that we have never had a bad meal there is an understatement. This is their recipe for grilled lamb that we have often enjoyed. It is a collaborative effort: Barbara buys and prepares the lamb; John grills it.

1  five-pound leg of lamb

4 tablespoons of lemon or lime juice

3 tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

3 tablespoons of soy sauce

3 tablespoons of Dijon style or other fine mustard

3 or 4 cloves of garlic, finely minced

2 tablespoons of brown sugar

A dash of Tabasco sauce

Ask the butcher to de-bone and butterfly the lamb.

Combine and whisk together the other ingredients in a bowl until they are well blended.

Using paper towels, pat the lamb until it is dry, and then brush the sauce generously over it.

Place the lamb in a large bowl or a zip-lock bag and let marinate in the refrigerator for up to two days.

The lamb is best prepared over coals on an outdoor grill.

When the coals are hot, place the lamb on the grill and let cook for about 40 minutes, turning it occasionally and basting with what is left of the sauce.

When lamb is done, remove it from the grill to a large platter and let it rest for five or ten minutes. Carve on the slant and serve.

Serves four

Saturday, May 7, 2011

La Salade de la Marquise de Sevigné

Café Le Sevigné on a sunny April afternoon

In the late 1960s, I lived for a time in the Marais, a section of Paris that had not yet become fashionable, where many buildings were shabby and rents were cheap. I had a tiny apartment with a huge casement window overlooking the garden of the Hôtel Lamoignon and the Musée Carnavalet. Almost everything I could see from my window, except for the pigeons, dated from the 17th century.

In the spring and summer, every night precisely at nine, the garden of the Hôtel Lamoignon was beautifully illuminated. Once, when I was to be traveling in Germany, I lent the apartment to some friends from England. We spent one night together in the apartment before I left on my trip. After an early dinner somewhere, we returned to the apartment. At one minute before nine, I opened the window, picked up the phone, and asked an imaginary operator to connect me with the gardener. I paused for a second, then said: Vous-pouvez illuminer le jardin maintenant.” I put the phone down and the lights in the garden magically came on. My friends were enormously impressed… until they realized that the lights came on every night at nine.

A few blocks from my apartment, on the corner of the rue Payenne and the rue du Parc Royal, was a small hotel with a family style restaurant that served good, inexpensive food to its customers who sat together, family style, at several large round tables. One day I was having lunch there with my friends Jean and Gino and a rich and stylish Lesbian from Omaha named Marilyn (a.k.a. “Superdike”). Marilyn drove a Porsche and wore lots of leather, all of it Gucci. She also had an incredibly filthy mouth. It was the Sixties and many women were beginning to use four-letter words in public, something my rather genteel southern upbringing had not prepared me for.

Gino and Marilyn were having a discussion laced with expletives about a subject I will not mention. Across the table from us sat an elderly and elegant woman, her jowls gently lifted by a silk ribbon to which was attached a small cameo. One could see the ghost of great beauty in her features. Just as I was hoping that she did not understand English, she turned to me and said with a crisp English accent: “May I have the vinegar, please?”

“Are you English?” I asked as I handed her the vinegar, already knowing the answer. “Yes,” she said, “but I have been in Paris for a very long time. I came over to dance in the Folies Bergère just after 1900. Paris was so wonderful then, I can’t tell you how wonderful it was!

I was also a model. I modeled for Boldini and Degas…quel salaud, ce Degas! … which roughly translates: “Degas, that bastard!” …at this point I stopped worrying about her overhearing Marilyn and Gino’s obscene conversation. She had obviously heard it all.

“Life in Paris was magical,” she continued, “until, of course, the First World War came along and ruined everything. It was horrible, and I was desperate. I didn’t have a sou! I had to do something…so I went to Rio de Janeiro…I met a very nice man there who told me: ‘If you want to get back to Europe, don’t let them buy you anything but champagne’…I followed his advice and I developed quite a taste for it…eventually, I did get back to Paris, and I still love champagne…a lovely man I knew used to send me a case of it every year. That was long ago.” She sighed and looked wistful. Then brightening a bit, added: “I still have some of the drawings that Boldini did of me. Perhaps someday I’ll show them to you.”

Alas, I never saw her again. A few years later, at a huge Degas exhibition at the Met, when I came upon some of the loose drawings of dancers Degas made toward the end of his life, I wondered if she might have been one of them.

L’Hôtel du Parc Royal has disappeared and in its place is the Café Le Sevigné which describes itself as a “Bar-Brasserie-Salon de thé.” It is one of our favorite places for lunch in Paris and we have become very friendly with its charming patron, Philippe. We discovered it one hot spring afternoon when we stopped in for a cold beer after visiting the Musée Picasso, just around the corner. We happened to be in the Marais again the next day, and when we went to Le Sevigné a second time, Philippe was so pleased to see us that he insisted on buying us a round of drinks.

I told him the story of the lunch I had had in the same room, now much changed, forty years before, and he was intrigued by it. He mentions it every time we eat there, and he treats me with great respect as a relic of his bar’s historic past. He also always treats us to at least one round of free drinks.

Our usual lunch there is one of the several large salades composées on the menu. Our favorite is La Salade de la Marquise de Sevigné.

It is « composed » of the following ingredients:

About half a dozen leaves of butter lettuce

Two thin slices of a tart green apple covered with thin slices of foie gras

Four thin slices of Jambon de Parme

Two thick slices of tomato

The above ingredients are arranged on a plate, dressed with a light vinaigrette and topped with a generous serving of still warm fried chicken gizzards. Washed down with a large schooner of Leffe Brun, a brown Belgian beer, and accompanied by several chunks of a good baguette, it makes a lovely lunch on a warm Parisian afternoon.

                               La Salade de la Marquise de Sevigné

                               Philippe and I at Café Le Sevigné

 Café Le Sevigné, on the corner of the rue Payenne and the rue du Parc Royal

                     Square du Parc Royal, across the street from Café Le Sevigné