I recently read on a blog (which I can not find for the life of me, but if it was you, kindly mention it with a link in the comments) a rant about restaurant service where wait staff remove empty dishes from the table before everyone has finished eating. This is a HUGE issue in Toronto, particularly with the roadhouse-style (3 star or less) establishments. It is a disgusting trait, particularly when there are ONLY TWO people dining. Because JT
inhales eats much quicker than I, I am often left eating at the table while his plate is cleared away. Just because restaurants here only pay servers minimum wage, it doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be training! UGH.
I mention this trend because on a recent dinner with neighbours (progressive dinner folks) at a fairly well reviewed French restaurant in our historic Distillery District they actually went one step further. It wasn’t a busy night but service was slow and we were through a bottle of wine before our first course even arrived; eventually we casually ate our appetizers and chatted up a storm so when they removed the dishes I got up for a quick bio break. I ordered my favourite bistro dish, Table Side Wellington Country Beef Tartar which is prepared in front of the guest. Can you guess what’s coming next? The server actually PREPARED MY DISH WITHOUT ME BEING THERE! OMG, did that really happen? Oh yes, it did. I was so aghast, I was speechless! So now, several weeks later I am ranting on my blog. Shame on you, French restaurant in the Distillery District, the remainder of the experience wasn’t even worth mentioning (OK, I will say the steak frites came in pieces (what? did they gather up the leftovers from other plates?) AND it was over-cooked). Strike that place off my list.
It is no secret that Hungarians love food and we love to cook; so while my cousin and his lovely wife, Éva were visiting, I asked her to show me how to make a traditional, light Hungarian supper called Szilvásgombóc (Plum Dumplings). I’ve read many a blog that this dish is NOT a dessert and the Hungarians are quite adamant about it. When I was a child, we had this dish during plum season but I can’t recall if it was a main or a dessert. I have never made it on my own so I was happy to have Éva make it while I watched. It is delicately sweet and seasoned generously with toasted bread crumbs and cinnamon. We always had it with sour cream so my presentation included Greek Yogurt, but Éva always had it plain with extra cinnamon or with some lekvár (thick jam).
We made the dish at the cottage, so I wasn’t able to document the weights and measures and I still have some in the freezer so I won’t be making it any time soon. For an experienced cook, like most of my followers, it is a recipe made by feel (similar to making Italian Gnocchi), but I will reference Ilona Horvath’s recipe from The Traditional Hungarian Kitchen published in 1996 and 2000. It is an excellent cookbook translated and worked into North American cooking standards and according to my dear Mom, good, old fashioned Hungarian recipes.
Below, I present my dear Mother’s recipe from her Mother’s cookbook that she brought with her on her escape from Hungary in 1956, Az Ínyesmester Ezer Új Receptje published by Athenaeum, 1935. It is a well-loved, faded copy and the recipe for szilvásgombóc in the book is entirely by feel (no measurements documented!).
Magyar Szilvásgombóc (Hungarian Plum Dumplings)
Makes about 24 gombóc
- 12 sweet plums (the small Italian ones are best, we were not able to find them so we cut them in half)
- Boiled potatoes (we used 5 medium-sized yukon gold potatoes)
- All purpose flour
- 1 egg
- 4 tbsp cinnamon, divided
- 3/4 cup of unseasoned bread crumbs (we made our own from whole wheat bread)
- 2-3 tbsp sugar
- While boiling the peeled potatoes, wash, pit and cut the plums in half and season with 2 tbsp of cinnamon, set aside.
- Rice potatoes while still warm (Éva made a point of this). Beat the egg by hand and combine it with the riced potatoes.
- Slowly add flour to the potato and egg mixture to make a soft dough.
- Using about two tablespoons of dough, press out to about 1 cm thick in the palm of your hand (about the size of the palm of your hand), add a quarter of a plum to the centre and cover entirely with the dough, pinching the seams shut.
- Boil water with a pinch of salt. Boil plum dumpling until done (they should float to the top, just like gnocchi).
- Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, toast the breadcrumbs until golden and while still warm, add the sugar and mix gently until the sugar has melted and caramelized. It should not be a sopping mess. Turn off the heat. Add the remaining 2 tbsp cinnamon and mix well. Roll each cooked dumpling in the bread crumbs and plate.
- Serve warm or cold, with or without yogurt or sour cream
- We tested one plum ball first to make sure it didn’t fall apart during boiling and decided it was a bit too soft and we added more flour.
- The old cookbook describes a good plum dumpling dough to be thinly wrapped around the plum, a fine and light texture, somewhat pillowy (not chewy). “A jó szilvásgombóc téstája vékony, finom és könnyu, sőt omlós.”
- I wish we had tasted the plums because they had very little taste and we should have seasoned them with a touch sugar to bring out their plum taste. This dish should not be sickly sweet, it is delicately sweet.
- Ilona Horváth adds lard to the dough but we did not.
- My relatives LOVE cinnamon so the proportions may be a bit much for the average person, add according to your own personal taste. Cinnamon in Europe is the real McCoy and is a lot stronger than our Cassia. Too much cinnamon may make the dish bitter!