Sunday, August 17, 2008

Harvest Meal: Pyttipanna

Cooking out of a garden comes with certain imperatives. We must use up what is ready for harvest, find a way to store it, or let it go to waste. The chickens are more than happy to accept certain things, but this is very much a close-to-the-last-resort option, coming in just slightly ahead of the compost bin. Right now, at the height of garden output season, meals are starting to look like the assets, and the outflow of food sorta, kinda looks like a problem. But not really. It's just work.

Right now we have a few beets and plenty of potatoes, among other things, ready for harvest. This turned my mind to a dish I enjoyed while visiting Scandinavia. It's called pyttipanna in Swedish, and apparently it means "put in pan." Pyttipanna, like so many traditional dishes from so many countries, is a case of making the best of what was available: in this case, leftovers. Scandinavia, being a rather northern country, relied on pickling to store vegetables over the long winters. And the hardy potato, once introduced from the New World, rapidly became a staple crop. Pyttipanna practically self-assembles from leftover cooked potatoes, pickled beets, onions, and some cured meat such as ham or sausage. The ingredients are all chopped up and cooked together like hash. It is frequently served with a fried egg on top. This is hearty Nordic fare, capable of sustaining one through long, cold winters. I really enjoyed it during my travels.

We're not exactly in the middle of a Scandinavian winter here though. Nonetheless I have beets and potatoes, and a steady supply of eggs. The supply demands to be used up. So I figured that giving some version of the dish a try was in order. We'd eat lightly the rest of the day to compensate for a large, highly caloric meal.

The potatoes I've harvested so far are of the Sangre variety. These are smallish, red-skinned, waxy potatoes, and not the ideal type for frying or hash browns. But that's what I had, so that's what went into the pyttipanna. I also had one medium beet fresh out of the garden, and a small piece of chuck roast from the freezer to go into the dish. These items were augmented by a store-bought onion, a few spices, a surprising amount of butter, and eggs from our hens.

Well, I gotta tell you, wrong sort of potatoes or no, this turned out delicious. It certainly wouldn't win any beauty contests with the disintegrating potatoes, but we loved it. The sweetness of the beet was remarkable, given how little of it there was compared to the other ingredients. And the chuck roast did fine when cut into small bits, even thought it usually requires a long, slow, wet cooking method to tenderized it. In small bits, it wasn't tough at all. Topped with a freshly fried, runny-yolked egg, the pyttipanna was filling and yet seemed very wholesome. There were surprisingly few leftovers. I will definitely be making this dish again.

Cost-wise, the pyttipanna was a hit. I'd guess we spent $3.50 for the entire skillet full of food, mostly due to the large amount of organic butter I fried everything in. I used about 3/4 lb. of meat, and it would have been fine with a little less. We ate big portions since it was so good, but we still got three meals and a snack out of it. So figure $1 per serving. The only ingredient in it that we bought recently was the onion. Everything else was either pulled from storage or came from the garden.

Homegrown beet
Homegrown Sangre potatoes
Part of a chuck roast from the freezer (bought on sale a while ago)
Eggs from our laying hens
Purchased onion and butter (both organic)
Purchased spices and seasonings

When we did nibble on the leftovers, they were incredibly satisfying, in a sort of eat-it-cold-straight-out-of-the-container way. Also, the leftovers strongly suggested themselves, or a close variation, as a possible filling for Cornish pasties. Stay tuned for further culinary adventures as I run around like a madwoman trying to use up all this food!

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