Smells and aromas of food dishes, along with scents and sounds in nature, trigger me into fond, hypnotic-like trances and happy food comas. The smells can come from a family kitchen, a street vendor and food truck, or a backyard smoker. They often come from the scent of herbs, foraged greens and wildflowers, emanating from a damp forest glen and its spring brook filled ravine; or from the earthy thyme-like scent of thawing soil, being warmed in the sun on hillside meadows sprouting wild morel mushrooms, after an April shower. Then there is something powerfully sentimental to a fresh plowed farm field in spring, as the smell of herbaceous cow dung stings the nostrils. Here, you recall walking the pastoral fields and grazing pastures along a trout stream on opening day as a boy with your father, while forever on the lookout for fiddleheads and ramps to be thrown in the wicker creel with a fresh caught brown or brook trout for our motherly kitchen. My Austrian/Polish mother would frown on us if we did not bring home trout for her kitchen, since it was an old world delicacy. She wrapped the trout in smoked bacon, pan sautéing them in a thyme/dill butter with white wine, and then adding the fiddle heads, ramps, new spring redskin potatoes and mushrooms- was insanely delicious! These pleasurable foraging thoughts release comforting endorphins filled with beautiful memories often so badly welcomed in our distress filled world of today. For me and others, they will always resurrect happy thoughts from days traveling through magnificent places and dreaming of their past history and experiences.
Every time I eat and think of strudels-both the sweet apple kind topped with a sinfully rich whipped cream or French Vanilla ice cream; or the hearty comfort pasty gourmet versions, I could still hear the Trans Alpina train car crawling, clanking and making wild steel sheering/ grinding sounds on the tracks, startling me out of my sleeping bag in my seat, as it climbed a steep cliff alongside an Alpine mountain. When you looked outside the coach window, you gasped in astonishment and truly feared for your life wondering how the hell the train can be up such a narrow track and on a cliff hanger, as the world dropped-off below you thousands of feet into a narrow abyss of the valley floor. Being so high up, the village below looked like it did from an airplane. The marvels of man to construct a railroad in this rugged and impossible terrain is still baffling.
Those were special days indeed, taking the train through the Alps as an intern in Europe on an Eurail pass in my twenties. I mostly slept on the budget trains in sleeping bags to avoid having to pay for lodging as a starving student. I became a master of keeping up my young cavalier “bel giovanotto” appearance and scent by using cheap cologne and patchouli in train station bathrooms to mask the showerless days traveling- sure could have used “Lume” back then! But given the opportunity, I took many a bath in a mountain stream or lake- weather permitting.
When I got paid cash for a brief cooking stint from usually taking the jobs no cooks wanted like butchering and resurrecting unusable cuts of meat from fatty carcasses, or cleaning shellfish/fish and risk disfiguring your hands and arms-not to mention the ever present leaving work smelling like a foul sardine factory, the cash I got paid under the table would allow me to splurge and find a pension or youth hostel to shower, shave and get civil for a night on the village town square pubs. Because the meager wages you got paid had to last, you always looked for the “hole in a wall ”, cheap dive/mom and pop little eateries, which in Europe are everywhere in the centuries old towns and villages, where you stayed over to explore history ,hike, fly fish etc.
Each village had their pastries and cheeses, charcuteries and craft beers you relished. All had outdoor open markets and grills on Saturday, where they cooked their traditional sausages, as “oompah” bands serenaded the townspeople by the beer tents. The aromas from these sausage/ würstel grills carried in the air forever. Many in the crowd were often going to the town soccer team match- these gatherings were their version of our tailgate parties. I often had a chance to fish a farmer’s property after always securing permission, which was often easily granted to young traveling Americans back then, since we were somewhat a novelty in the backwoods countryside- not so much the case today. The farm folk always asked you if you knew their cousins in America and how that they always wanted to go to the new world. But still today the country farmers are always more friendly than city folk-you’ll find this no matter where you go. With the rod/reel and one box of dries and stoneflies I had strapped to my backpack, and which miraculously survived all the travels, I fell in love with the little mountain brooks that held the beautiful red spotted native brown trout ( in German they were bachforellen: “bach” meaning brook, “forellen”meaning trout- in French/Spanish they were called “Fario”) The grayling seemed to be always more numerous as they were quick and willing to take whatever fly you offered- the wild browns not so much. Their stubborn personality made me fall in love with them and eventually write a book about my infatuation with the elusive Salmo trutta.
On my travels through these French/German/Swiss/Italian Alps, each town and village had a signature dish or two. In my diary that I kept, I wrote postcards on my observations to my mother and dad to share my culinary findings with them. Even though our family kitchen was mainly strict Polish-Austrian/German cooking ,they always seemed to be familiar with whatever nationality’s dishes I shared.
Our featured strudel is a true winter/ early spring dish honoring its ingredients perfectly. In one French village I came upon, where a trout stream ran through town, I found a little café that made these delicious smoked salmon /mushroom pasty strudels. They were pricey, but the one thing I splurged on. Hundreds of years ago the River Seine, which originates in the Alps, and which dumps into the ocean/English Channel at Le Havre, along with its mountain tributaries, once held populations of wild Atlantic salmon. ( See miraculous return of Atlantic salmon recently in Paris in this piece : https://www.france24.com/en/20090811-gone-century-atlantic-salmon-stocks-return-seine-
Always willing to strike up a conversation with the owner/chef and possibly hooking-up with a brief cooking stint, the chef said he got the salmon from a fisherman that worked a river estuary off of the province of Brittany, which still had, and has to this day, runs of Atlantic salmon in some rivers. He said the river in front of the café had Atlantic salmon at one time a century or so ago, which his grandparents remembered. They still have native brown trout and grayling today. The forests near him had every wild mushroom imaginable for his duxelles- thus his specialty was perfectly suited for his menu, using both green and white asparagus. He often served the strudel with a spring leek chowder, or a beer and cheese soup on the side, which was to die for!
From a historical perspective, when the Roman Army traversed through Gaulish Aquitania, England and Scotland, and the heart of the Alps, they were often in search of true epicurean valuables that could be exported for the Roman ruling upper-class/deity- salmon was one of them. The Rhine was once the largest salmon bearing rivers in Europe, along with the Seine. A hundred years ago, a million salmon were migrating between Greenland, the Rhine and its tributaries all the way up as far as the Swiss Alps. But the original strain of these Rhine fish has suffered great losses over the centuries. Yet the love for them is a true delicacy, especially in the cured form, and is still a hallmark of holiday celebrations that is imported and enjoyed.
French Alpine Strudel- Smoked Salmon/ Asparagus/Wild Mushroom Duxelles-with Gruyere Cheese in a Puff Pastry, Fresh Dill – Morel Mushroom Cream Sauce
( Matt and Laurie Supinski)
Puff Pastry- We use Pepperidge Farms, Dufour or Trader Joe’s Puff pastry frozen sheets- 2 sheets in every package- Dufour and Trader’s is buttered, Pepperidge is vegetable fat product- Very consistent products that save you time
If you choose to make your homemade puff pastry, consult this awesome site which has so many great recipes https://anitalianinmykitchen.com/puff-pastry/
Wild Mushroom Duxelles mix- a pound or two ( based on how much you prefer , you could always use the leftovers and make more and do a Beef Wellington, which we will have a recipe for you on our next tutorial) of mixed oyster, porcini, Portobello, Shitake, chanterelles, morels- whatever you can buy or forage- or just plain white buttons if that’s all you have.
Asparagus spears – 1 nice healthy bunch with fresh tips
Gruyere cheese wedge
Smoked salmon – We highly recommend Santa Barbara Ca. Smokehouse and their outstanding and award winning smoked salmon products:https://www.sbsmokehouse.com/ As their Scottish Style Balmoral Smoked Salmon-or their Honey Roasted Smoked Salmon- But any high quality Nordic style cold-smoked Atlantic salmon will do ( Whole Foods usually has responsibly obtained/framed/sustainable raised brands)
Misc: shallots,butter, red wine, beef bouillon cubes
morel mushroom cream sauce– Here is a preparation that is easy and like ours, and is handy. Another great site that has so many great recipe ideas. Always taste your sauces and impart any flavor you think is missing or you would like-feel free to improvise and add:
wild mushroom duxelles: For our favorite recipe that’s handy and similar to ours, here is our favorite recipe from “The Kitchen”. It is an amazing site full of cool foraging and recipe items-check it out!:
Here we go:
How to Proceed: To Prepare the Strudel:
Step 1: Defrost puff pastry and prepare sheets
Step 2. Prepare wild mushroom duxelle
Step 3. slice thin slices of gruyere cheese (¼ inch thick)
Step 4. make morel cream sauce
Final Preparation: Make your filling layers for the puff pastry roll in the following order: wild mushroom duxelles on bottom, a healthy portion but not overwhelming- (remember this is a nice appetizer or lunch item- or can be dinner when put with a soup), next is layered rows of asparagus, next-Gruyere cheese slices, topped off with flakes/thin slices of honey roasted smoked salmon or Scottish Balmoral cold smoked, again amount is to personal taste and should be balanced with the other layer portions)- then roll the strudel into a firm log shape for baking.
Pan and baking time: Place on a baking sheet and cook 20 – 25 minutes at 400 degrees
Serve with morel mushroom cream topping and fresh dill garnished. Serving a hearty chowder or cup of soup is the ideal combination. A buttery cold chardonnay or crisp Sauvignon Blanc to accompany.
( each roll serves 4 nice portions)
Bon Appetit !
Matt and Laurie Supinski