Food and Drink: On a cook's tour of country kitchens - For a Channel 4 series starting next week, our cookery writer and her husband went to extremes to taste the variety of European cuisine - Food + Drink - Life and Style - The Independent

Food and Drink: On a cook's tour of country kitchens - For a Channel 4 series starting next week, our cookery writer and her husband went to extremes to taste the variety of European cuisine

Hungarian food and paprika go hand in hand - that is what we are always led to believe. But is it true? And why was Hungary the country that took paprika (it means fresh, sweet peppers and the dried spice) to its heart?

I now know how the peppers got to Hungary (the Turks brought them as they swept across the great plains), but not why they stopped there. And I have experienced the ubiquity of paprika in at least one area of the country.

Last September, my husband and I went to Kalocsa, south of Budapest, centre of one of the country's main paprika-growing areas, where consumption of the spice is double the national average: about 2kg (more than 4lb) per person per year. Compare that with the length of time one mingy tub of paprika dallies in your own kitchen cupboard.

We reached Kalocsa as the paprika harvest was getting into full swing, and as our week went by, the eaves in nearby villages were festooned with strings and bags of scarlet peppers. Most were long, tapering, mild peppers, but among them hung skeins of small, round, hot cherry peppers.

Of course, every dish we were served came liberally dosed with paprika: not only the fairly frequent goulash and its thicker-sauced counterpart, porkholt (goulash is definitely a soup, not a stew), but even simple fried eggs. Only a pale noodle dish escaped the mandatory splash of red.

Our Hungarian visit was part of a year's trips to eight European countries (for a Channel 4 series, starting next week), during which other culinary cliches were upheld. For instance, the Portuguese, at least those on the coast just south of Lisbon, are unabashed consumers of sardines, and the Swiss produce and eat huge amounts of dairy produce.

But other notions proved to be mythical. Portuguese cooking has an unfair reputation among holidaymakers as being, at best, less than outstanding. This may be true of tourist restaurants, but elsewhere it can be quite superb.

We ate wonderful meals of scintillatingly fresh fish, cooked to perfection, rich cheeses and thick soups laced with coriander.

In Switzerland, we soon realised that the people are anything but boring, and that a fascinating, sturdy cuisine lurks behind the pervasive fondue, rosti and chocolate. I can think of nothing I would like more right now than a slice of the indecently nut-laden, caramel- and cream-filled Engadiner Nusstorte.

Norway came as something of a surprise, too. I have never been one for cold weather, but I loved the place - snow, ice and all. We settled within the Arctic Circle, in the Lofoten Islands: Christmas-card beautiful, with chains of mountains sparkling white in the bright sunlight between the snow storms.

The food also had its ups and downs, but it was interesting, none the less. I bought a copy of a book by 'the well- known Norwegian food expert and television host, Ingrid Espelid Hovig', and this first recipe is one of hers.

Jolster applecake

More of a pudding than a cake proper, it is baked in two stages: the base alone and naked first, so that it is fully cooked through; then the whole, so that the upper layer of apples and 'cake' stay moist and slightly gooey.

Serves 6

Ingredients: 2oz (55g) unsalted butter, softened

4oz (110g) caster sugar

3 eggs, separated

2 1/2 oz (70g) ground almonds

1tbs flour

For the filling:

2lb (900g) eating apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

4oz (110g) raisins

1tsp cinnamon

grated zest 1 lemon

1-2oz (30-55g) caster sugar

Preparation: Put the prepared apples into a pan with all the remaining filling ingredients. Add about 2tbs water. Cover and cook over a low heat until the apples are tender but not collapsing, stirring occasionally. Let them cool.

Grease an 8-9in (20-22.5cm) cake tin or ovenproof dish. Cream the butter and half the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks, alternating with spoonfuls of ground almonds. Continue adding the remaining ground almonds, the flour and salt, beating well.

Whisk the egg whites until they just hold their shape. Add the remaining sugar and continue whisking until they form stiff peaks.

Fold into the batter. Spoon half the batter into the prepared cake tin and smooth down lightly. Bake at 180C/ 350F/gas 4 for 15 minutes until golden brown.

Lay the apple slices and raisins over the batter. Spoon over the remaining batter, spreading it as well as possible.

Bake for a further 20-25 minutes until nicely browned on top. Serve warm or cold, from the pan, accompanied by soured cream or thick Greek yoghurt.

Hortobagyi palacsinta

Hortobagyi pancakes seem to be an essential dish on most Hungarian restaurant menus - and when they are good you can see why.

Invariably served as a first course, they are filled with a creamy minced-veal mixture, and napped with soured cream. Pancakes and filling can be made well in advance.

Always choose veal that has a nice rosy pinkness to it (pallid meat is a sign that the calves have been cruelly cage- reared). If in doubt, you can substitute turkey or chicken breast.

To clarify butter, melt and heat it through, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface. Leave to stand off the heat for a few minutes until the white sediment has settled, then carefully pour off the melted butter and leave the sediment behind.

Serves 6

Ingredients: For the pancakes:

6oz (170g) flour

pinch of salt

3 eggs

8fl oz (235ml) milk

8fl oz (235ml) fizzy mineral water

clarified butter for frying

For the filling:

1lb (450g) veal, cut into 1/2 in (1cm) cubes

2 onions, grated or finely chopped

1tbs lard

1tbs paprika

1/2 pint (290ml) creme frache or soured cream mixed with double cream

1/2 -1oz (15-30g) butter

salt and pepper

Preparation: Sift the flour with the salt. Make a well in the centre and break in the eggs. Add about half of the milk. Stir, gradually drawing in the flour and adding remaining milk slowly, to form a smooth batter.

Leave to rest for half an hour. Just before using, stir in enough of the mineral water to make a thin batter with the consistency of runny single cream.

Brush a heavy frying pan, about 8-9in (20-22.5cm) in diameter, with butter and heat thoroughly. Stir the batter and cook the pancakes as usual, brushing the pan with butter between pancakes. You should have enough batter to make 12 pancakes, allowing for one or two disasters.

For the filling, melt the lard in a frying pan and add the onions and veal. Fry for about 5 minutes, then sprinkle with paprika, cover and stew gently for a further 30 minutes until meat is tender.

Drain off most of the juice and reserve. Mince the meat or chop very finely, and return to the pan along with 2tbs of the soured cream, salt and pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes until thick and pulpy.

Fill the pancakes with this mixture and roll them up, tucking in the ends as you go. Arrange them neatly and snugly in a heat-proof serving dish, dot with butter, then cover and pop into the oven (pre-heated 180C/350F/gas 4) to heat through.

Meanwhile, boil up the reserved juices from cooking the veal, until reduced by about half. Add the rest of the cream and boil until reduced by about one-third. Season, and pour over the pancakes. Serve immediately.

Aji no nambanzuke

On Portugal's Costa Azul, we ate Carapaus de Escabeche - marinated horse mackerel.

Later that day, in the Museum of the Decorative Arts in Lisbon, we saw the most beautiful Japanese 'namban' screens, depicting Portuguese sailors and merchants. The Japanese painted not only these strange-looking men, but also adopted and adapted some of their dishes.

Shortly after we returned from Portugal, I came across a recipe in a book, called What's Cooking in Japan, produced by the Kikkoman Corporation, for Horse Mackerel Escabeche - just what we had been eating a few days before . . . but in a Japanese form.

Serves 4-6 as a first course, or light main course

Ingredients: 12 small horse mackerel or small sardines, scaled and cleaned

flour

3fl oz (85ml) sunflower or vegetable oil

salt

For the marinade:

3 thick spring onions, trimmed

1 dried red chilli

3tbs caster sugar

3 1/2 fl oz (100ml) soy sauce

3 1/2 fl oz (100 ml) rice vinegar or cider vinegar

5fl oz (150ml) sake or dry sherry

3 1/2 fl oz (100ml) water

Preparation: Season the fish with salt and set aside for half an hour. Dry well, then dust with flour and fry in the sunflower oil, in several batches if necessary, over a medium high heat, until just cooked. Drain briefly on kitchen paper, then arrange in a shallow dish.

Trim off most of the green part of the spring onions and discard. Grill the trimmed spring onions close to the heat until patched with brown, then cut into 1in lengths.

Soak the chilli in warm water for 10 minutes. Drain, deseed and chop. Mix onions and chilli with the remaining marinade ingredients, stirring thoroughly to dissolve the sugar. Pour over the fish and leave for at least 24 hours before eating.

Travels a la Carte, with Sophie Grigson and William Black, starts in Sicily on Tuesday, 10 May, at 8pm on Channel 4. The book of the series is published on 12 May by Network Books ( pounds 15.99).

Suggested Topics
News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week