Flammkuchen, so hot right now

When I came to live in the Netherlands after years of living elsewhere, I quickly realised I’d missed all the recent developments and the latest hypes. The Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet scandal mostly passed by me unnoticed and uncared for. Primark had suddenly opened stores all over the country, whilst I thought that only the British would be willing to buy their neon-coloured leggings and animal-print onesies. I can’t even remember who the Prime Minister was the last time I spent any noteworthy amount of time here, but there definitely was a queen back then, who has been swapped for this chubby blond character in the meantime.

Of course I don’t actually care much about politics or shopping, so the above-mentioned developments raised one of my eyebrows, but didn’t really shake me further. Of course this cannot be said for the brand new culinary delights that I’ve been seeing around the country. Because there’s a weird trend going on there, as well: everyone eats fuckin’ Flammkuchen now.

Seriously, Flammkuchen, where did it come from? What is it even? I never even knew this thing existed but there you go, this country lives off them now. It’s kind of like a German, white pizza, except there’s no yeast involved, so you get a super thin, crispy base, traditionally topped with crème fraîche, onion and bacon lardons, but in reality topped with whatever people here can come up with. Knowing the Dutch, that’ll be the wildest, craziest, most ridiculously disgusting abominations. The traditional one is really good though, and it’s not very difficult to make.


Literally, Flammkuchen means something like ‘flamecake’ in German and although it’s not a cake, it should ideally be cooked over fire, in a proper wood oven. I don’t have that, so instead I just preheat my oven to the highest temperature it can possibly reach and then I up the cooking time a little bit. Not ideal, but it’s the best I can do. See how hot your oven gets and change cooking times depending on that. You’re going for crispy.

For a couple of Flammkuchen, use:

  • 200 gr plain flour
  • 125 – 150 ml water
  • good pinch of salt
  • a small tub of crème fraîche
  • a wee pack of bacon lardons
  • a couple of onions

First of all, mix the flour with the water (go easy first, then add more if you need to) and a pinch of salt. Knead properly, you really want to take your time here. Once you have a smooth ball of dough, wrap it up in cling film and leave it for about an hour.

When an hour has passed, rip your dough in two halves, then flatten them both out as flat as you possibly can. Thin and crispy, keep that in mind.

When you’ve got two flat discs, top them both with crème fraîche, the lardons, and the thinly sliced onions, and stick them in a scorching hot wood oven for about 8 minutes, or a normal oven preheated to the highest possible temperature for about 12 – 15.

Eat with copious amounts of German beer.


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Health burger

Remember how I wrote about Italians being massive pussies when it comes to being ill? And how they have all these weird ailments that the North of Europe has never even heard of? Turns out both are contagious – being a pussy, and these imaginary conditions.

A couple of weeks ago I went to Italy for a dear friend’s birthday. Of course it was a weekend filled with booze, food and partying. After the weekend, I was suddenly confronted with a couple of deadlines that I had sort of, you know, forgotten about completely. So I stressed. I went on a coffee-fuelled power diet, determined to stay up as long as it took for as many days as it took until I got all of my work done. After a couple of days of that, I felt… Somewhat poorly, as a proper Northerner would put it. But my symptoms (terrible stomach ache, loss of appetite, acidity) sounded awfully like something the Italians call gastrite, and which the Queen of the Nights Out sometimes had after a particularly boozy weekend. I tried asking people here if they knew what the best cure was, but no-one had even heard of it. People simply didn’t know what it was.

I decided to ask the Queen herself what I should do. The verdict was not a pleasant one. “You can’t have anything that’s fatty, acid, sweet, or caffeinated. No tomatoes, nothing fried in oil, no butter. You need lots of green vegetables, preferably cooked. Lots of grains, and everything wholemeal. Eat slowly and small portions. Oh, and Ditta? Strictly no alcohol.”


Screw that. I’m not going to eat boiled broccoli for a week. I can live with cutting down on the booze and coffee for a few days, provided that I can still eat normal people food. No oil and no tomatoes is a tricky one, but surely I’ve had to deal with worse restrictions in my life. Nothing fried in oil, that means everything from the oven. No fatty foods, so lean chicken breast should be doable. Green vegetables, so spinach and lettuce are probably OK. Wholegrain bread with extra seeds, check. Cheat a little bit and have some raw onion, and there you go, healthiest, leanest, most dietary-aware chicken burger you’ve ever seen. Oven-baked chicken burger with spinach and nut pesto, awesome!

And just for the record: after a couple of days of eating super healthily I decided that I’m not Italian and that gastritis doesn’t exist up here. I went for a careful pint and realised that it stayed down just fine. Gastritis will only get you if you let it. Never surrender!


For one, and then you can just multiply the ingredients by however many people you’re feeding, use:

  • one chicken breast
  • some flour
  • some breadcrumbs
  • one egg
  • some lettuce
  • half a red onion
  • a roll of your choice

And for the spinach and walnut pesto:

  • a small handful of fresh basil
  • two small handfuls of fresh spinach
  • half a handful of mixed nuts (in my mixed nuts bag there were walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts)
  • some freshly grated parmesan (I don’t know, like, three spoonfuls or something)
  • a small clove of garlic
  • some olive oil
  • couple of spoonfuls of water, for easier mixing purposes
  • a pinch of salt

Also get some

  • potatoes

for the chips!

So the first thing you probably want to do is cut up your potatoes in nice chip-shaped strips. Chuck them in a bowl of cold water, then rinse and leave them to drain. You want to put your chips in the oven (220°C) about 20 minutes before you put in your chicken. If you’re on a diet, sprinkle them with salt and nothing else. Otherwise, add some olive oil.


Now take your chicken. Put it on a chopping board on some cling film, then cover it with some more cling film. Now grab a rolling pin (or, if you’re a drunk who doesn’t own a rolling pin, an empty wine bottle), and smash the shit out of it. You want to flatten it out so that it cooks properly without turning into some godawful piece of dry, stringy I don’t even know. So nice and flat, don’t be afraid.

After that, slap it about in the flour, dip it in the egg, then bread it. Now put it in an oven dish on some baking paper, then pop in the oven for as long as it takes. Remember my oven? I don’t know how hot it gets exactly, but I think it’s about 180°C, so my chicken takes just over half an hour. You might get yours done in about 20 minutes on 220.

While you wait for your chicken, chuck all the ingredients for the pesto in a jug and just stick the hand blender in. Taste for any of the ingredients, and add more of what you feel is missing.


Wash and dry your lettuce, and slice your onion into the thinnest rings you can manage.

Assembly time! Cut open your roll, put in some lettuce, shove the chicken in there (check it’s cooked beforehand, but you should be fine, really), top with some onion and the pesto. If you’re a tough northerner, enjoy this one with a pint.

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The importance of having a local pub

When you move to a new place, there are certain things that make you feel like you’re at home, rather than just a stranger in a town that happens to contain your most recent crib. There’s finding your way around, getting a bike and riding it around town, having some friends among the locals, finding a nice route for your evening jog, things like that. The single most important thing, the one crucial factor, for me at least, that’ll make you feel right at home in any place, is having a local pub. It’s absolutely fundamental in tying you to a place emotionally. The role of the local pub cannot be overstated.

Any potential local pub of mine has a few criteria to meet. The music has to be decent, of course – there’s no room for compromise here. It goes without saying that there need to be some good beers on offer, bonus points for pubs with specials that change monthly (although Italian bars, which are notoriously bad with beer, can get bonus points for wine or cocktails). The third factor, and the one with the most power to make or break a local, are the staff. They should be well-humoured, and if at all possible I’d like to be on first-name terms with them.

In Turin I never made it. All of my favourite pubs there met two out of three criteria, but no bar in that city managed to tick all three boxes. I reckon it’s a cultural thing, with Dutch bars just being superior to their southern counterparts, because within two weeks here in The Hague I’d found the place I’ll be calling my local for however long I live here. It’s called Huppel the Pub, and it’s nice and cosy, the staff are pure gems, and their home-brewed beer is delicious.

They also do this delightful thing on Sunday where you can go and have soup there, and you can even sign up to be the person who makes the soup! Of course I’m dying to be the soup-maker at my new favourite hang-out, but at the same time I’m dead set on making a good impression, so I’ll have to play the long game. Over the next few weeks, or months, however long it takes, I’ll be honing my soup skills. And then, when the time is right, I’ll knock ’em right out with something amazing. Here’s the first one from an undoubtedly long series of try-outs and experiments. Something with beer, to impress the other raging alcoholics that come to the pub even on a Sunday: pumpkin, carrot & bockbeer soup.


For not quite a pub-full but definitely 3 or 4 people, use:

  • a small pumpkin
  • a small kilo of carrots
  • one medium-sized potato
  • one dried chili
  • some dried marjoram – a couple of teaspoons should do it
  • 2 large shallots
  • 2 large cloves of garlic
  • 2 generous tbsp of crème fraîche
  • half a bottle of bock beer
  • salt and pepper

The pumpkin and carrots are very sweet, so you need a nice and bitter bock beer to balance out the flavours. Bock beers tend to be quite sweet, but there is a lot of variety between them different brands and breweries, so see if you can get one on the dark and heavy side of the spectrum.

Crush your garlic, peel and chop your onions, and chop your chili. Put a heavy soup pot on low heat, put in a little bit of oil or butter (your call) and put in the garlic, onion, and chili, plus the marjoram – leaves only, chuck out twigs and flowers. While they slowly heat up, use a potato peeler to peel your pumpkin (don’t worry, you won’t break it) and your carrots, then chop them up into medium chunks, and add those to the pot. Peel the potato, cube it, and add it to the pot, too. Now add a couple of glasses of water, keep the heat low and let the ingredients simmer for about half an hour, maybe forty minutes, while you go and chill. Maybe have a bock in the meantime, I don’t know.

So when all the ingredients are dead squishy, stick in the crème fraîche and a hand blender, then make the whole thing into a smooth, but not completely homogenised liquid. If you have some chunks of vegetables floating around there, that’s good. So taste for salt and pepper, but don’t go mad on the salt just yet – let the bockbeer do its magic first. Keep tasting and add as much bock as you think is necessary – it really depends on the beer you’ve chosen here, so use your tongue and keep going until you hit the perfect balance between sweet vegetables and bitter bock beer. Again, taste for salt and pepper, and if the soup is as you want it, serve up with some brown bread and a cold glass of delicious bock beer!

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Mac and cheese, but for actual people

People like me, who have never been to the United States but who do spend a lot of time on the internet, usually have this weird image of the US that’s entirely based on completely random and unconnected stereotypes. There’s those ridiculous red cups, of course, that they’ve now started to import to Europe, God knows why. There’s massive cars and incredibly irresponsible motorbiking (no helmets – seriously?). And there’s the food: always the same food you see on so many blogs and websites that we simply don’t seem to have around here. There’s pumpkin spiced flavoured anything (although I still haven’t found out what pumpkin spice is), oreo-flavoured everything, but apparently also everything-flavoured oreos. Then there’s the million food blogs that always write about pulled pork and brisket, which actually look really really nice.

All of that aside though, we need to talk about one dish that keeps rearing its ugly head. The stuff of nightmares: mac and cheese. It’s difficult to really understand what this mac and cheese is if, like me, you’ve never eaten it, but what I’ve understood is that it comes in quite a lot of variations, the most ubiquitous of which seems to be the plain and simple Kraft instant version. This looks mostly like a mixture of a sort of yellow-orange powder, milk, and bits of rubber. I can’t really tell, obviously, but it looks pretty revolting and anything made by Kraft is generally pretty disgusting.

However, I may have to admit there’s something quite comforting in shoving a mixture of salty, creamy, cheesy and savoury in your gob by the spoonful. I may have to acknowledge that. So if we ignore the Kraft business for a minute, and focus on the other version, the home-made one, than we might just be able to make this thing work. All we’ll need to do is add some adult flavours and make this into something that a real person could eat. So for starters, let’s add some vegetables. And then, for added flavour, some different types of cheese.

Is this blasphemy? Is this an insult to the pasta-tradition? Am I getting in so much trouble with so many people for even thinking about making this? Probably. But it’s kinda nice, honestly.

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So after you’ve binned your Kraft packages, get the following for two people:

  • 250 gr of pasta – in the picture you’ll see the tiny little elbows, but next time I’m definitely going for something more substantial like penne
  • half a litre of milk
  • 50 gr butter
  • 50 gr flour
  • a few of your leftover crusts of cheese, like Gouda or cheddar – something nice and savoury
  • about 75 gr of gorgonzola
  • you pick: either a good couple of handfuls of cherry tomatoes, or 3 legs of celery
  • black pepper

So boil water for your pasta. Whilst you wait for it to boil, make a béchamel. Melt your butter in a saucepan, then add the flour. Stir until it’s a smoothish paste, then add the milk, not all in one go, but pouring slowly and stirring and you go. Keep stirring and wait for it to thicken.

Hopefully you’ve grated your cheese or cut it up into fine bits. Add those to the bechamel and keep stirring so that they melt. Add some black pepper. Taste to see if it’s cheesy enough and add some more if not.

Chop your celery into slices, or if you’re using tomatoes, quarter them. Keep them aside for now.

Boil your pasta according to the instructions on the pack. Drain, then add the whole lot to the cheese sauce. Add whichever vegetable you’re using, mix well, serve up and top with a bit of grated cheese.

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My lack of knowledge about the Dutch

As I keep mentioning, I recently returned to the Netherlands to go back to university for a year. I wasn’t at all happy about leaving Italy, or about living in the Netherlands in general, but thankfully I managed to surround myself with foreigners straight away, making the transition that little bit easier. It’s not even like I actively sought it out – most people on my course are not from around here, so I just ended up being one of the few Dutch people in my social circle.

Since most people I hang out with are here for the first time, sometimes I’m approached as if I were some kind of expert. However, the truth is I often don’t know the answers to people’s questions. It was so long ago that I last lived in this country, and quite a lot has changed in the time that I spent elsewhere. “How does insurance work here?” Beats me. “How long is maternity leave here?” Not my area, sorry. “So what’s the deal with the Dutch right-wing movement?” Fuck if I know.

The questions that I can always answer, are the ones about food. I love those. “What’s a typical Dutch dish?” It’s most definitely stamppot. There’s other ones, but this one’s the best, especially now that winter is coming. The name stamppot is a compound noun made up of the verb ‘stampen’, to mash, and the noun ‘pot’, which can refer to an actual pot or pan, but also to a dish of completely mixed up ingredients. I’ve talked about stamppot before, so you know the principle: mashed potatoes with a more or less leafy vegetable of your choice mixed in, usually served with smoked sausage, bacon, gravy, and something pickled (like gherkins or pickled onions).

I was asked about this dish by a vegetarian recently, which got me thinking. Most types of stamppot are terrible without meat. Of course there’s nothing worse than trying to substitute meat with fake meat – better find a way around it and think of something different altogether. So I came up with something, inspired by a dish someone described to me recently: endive stamppot. Stamppot needs four elements to be good: a hearty base of mashed potatoes, a slightly crunchy leafy vegetable, something sweet and tangy, and something really salty. Here, the sweet and tangy is represented by red onion in honey and balsamic vinegar, while the salty comes in the form of soft goats’ cheese. It’s delicious and you should totally try it.


For two, use:

  • a generous half kilo of potatoes
  • 2 or 3 endives
  • 4 or 5 red onions
  • 2 discs of soft goat’s cheese, probably amounting to about 150 gr
  • 3 tbsp runny honey
  • a dash of balsamic vinegar
  • a large knob of butter, plus one more for frying your onions
  • half a glass of milk
  • black pepper

Peel your potatoes, cut them in cubes, and boil them in plenty of water with a generous sprinkle of salt.

Whilst your potatoes simmer away, peel your onions and slice them into rings – they don’t have to be rings, they can be half rings, but I just like the way rings look. Chuck them in a large frying pan with some butter and leave them to soften up on medium-low fire. Once they’re pretty soft, turn up the heat, then add the honey. Let it bubble for a wee bit, then sprinkle on the balsamic vinegar, enough to calm down your honey onions. Stir well for a minute, turn off the heat and keep for later.

Slice up your endive in bits around 1 cm wide. When you get nearer the base, you’ll have to pick out some of the hard middle bits that are actually the stem.


When your potatoes are pretty much done, chuck your endive in with them and blanche them for about one minute. Drain the lot, then throw them back into your pot. Add the butter and some milk, and a good dash of black pepper, then start mashing the shit out of it. Taste for salt, but be careful – the cheese will add a lot of salt, too.

So now you’re ready to serve up. Throw a dollop of endive stamppot on each plate, then top with the onions and the cheese. Optionally throw on some more black pepper. No longer traditional, but definitely very nice.

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What to do when your oven is an oven/microwave combo

As I may have mentioned before, I’m once again back to being a penniless, scruffy student, and with it comes all the charm of student life, such as having a tiny tiny kitchen. My tiny tiny kitchen also has a tiny tiny oven, which is actually one of those oven microwave combos. This is a shame, because I do like baking, and I’m not entirely sure how well that’s going to go down in this thing. That’s why a bunch of experimentation is in order!

The best way to go about this is by starting with things that really can’t go wrong, just to see if and by how much the temperatures and cooking times should be changed. That way, you get used to the thing without having to stand by helplessly as your soufflés collapse. I figured a nice quiche would be my best bet, because what can really go wrong with quiche? I settled for a classic, quiche Lorraine.

Regardless of what you and I have always believed, the original quiche Lorraine doesn’t actually contain any cheese whatsoever. It’s just bacon, eggs, and cream on a base of pâte brisée, pretty much shortcrust pastry. I was going to get ready-made shortcrust, but the shop had run out, so I made my own instead. Easy peasy, let’s do this.

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For one quiche, use the following:

Shortcrust pastry:

  • 200 gr plain flour
  • 90 gr butter
  • a pinch of salt
  • some ice cold water

For the filling:

  • 200 gr lardons
  • 3 whole eggs plus 2 egg yolks
  • 50 ml of crème fraîche
  • some pepper (not sure if this is authentic, add at your own risk)

So first of all, the pâte brisée. Your butter needs to be really cold for this, and you’ll also need some ice water, so either place a small cup of water in the freezer for a bit, or just add some icecubes to some tap water. I don’t have ice cubes because I used my ice cube tray for storing the juice from all those limes I bought the other week, so I put some water in the freezer for a few minutes.


OK so put your flower in a bowl, add the salt and mix. Cut your butter up so that it’s in smallish cubes, then add those to the flour. Now sort of rub it together with your fingertips so that it becomes sort of crumbly. Then add the ice water (about 3 tbsp, probably, but whatever feels right) and quickly work the mass into a nice and smooth ball. Wrao that up in clingfilm and keep it in the fridge for an hour.


Now go and gently fry those lardons.

Also beat your eggs plus yolks, add the crème fraîche, some pepper, and mix well.

When the dough is chilled, take it out, pop it onto a working surface between two sheets of baking paper and roll it out. I don’t have a rolling pin so I used a bottle. Roll it out to a little over the size of whatever dish you’re using. Grease that dish up a little and put in the sheet of shortcrust. Stick this in the oven on 200 degrees for about 10 minutes. You can put on some baking parchment and some baking beans, but don’t worry if you don’t have those – it’s not like it’s going to rise or anything.

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Now throw your lardons in with your egg mixture, mix briefly, and chuck all of it in the now slightly-baked shortcrust base. Shove it back into the oven on 200 degrees for 30 minutes (or, if your oven is like mine, 220 for 40-45 minutes).

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More reasons to go to the market

Now that I live near the sea, I can eat fish all the time! For all of my fish needs I normally head to the Haagse Markt, or Hague Market, which is a delightful place. After Porta Palazzo in Turin, I didn’t imagine any market could ever be as good as that. The Haagse Markt… isn’t, to be quite honest. But it’s still really really good. It’s big, it’s got loud, shouting people, and much like Porta Palazzo, the produce there is not offered on a price-per-kilo basis, but on a “you can get this much for a euro” basis, which I always find kind of convenient.

I love going to the Haagse Markt not only for the delicious produce (think avocados), but also because I am actually secretly but probably pretty blatanty madly in love with the boy who works at one of the fish stalls. A mad looker, and so polite. He’s sort of North-African-looking, with those large hazel eyes and dark, wavy hair. And then he’ll open his gob and, with the broadest Hague accent I’ve ever heard, call out from behind the counter “WHAT CAN I GET YA TODAY LOVE, TURBOT MAYBE? TURBOT ONLY 8 EUROS, TURBOT TURBOTURBOTURBOT COME GET ‘EM”. Love that guy.

So now that the R is back in the month, mussels are in season again, so I got some the other day. I love mussels. There’s so much you can do with them. In Italy it was usually garlic and tomato, but I live in Holland now, so I can do whatever I want. The classical version around here is leek, onion and carrot, but the limes were going for 1 euro a bucket this week, so I went for something more exotic – mussels in spicy coconut sauce!

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For 2, use:

  • 1 kg mussels
  • 250 ml coconut milk
  • 1 lime – zest and juice
  • 1 cm of fresh ginger, in thin slices
  • 1 stalk of lemon grass, halved lengthways
  • 3 cloves of garlic, smashed but not crushed or chopped
  • 1 red chili
  • 1 heaped tsp of turmeric
  • 3 spring onions
  • a handful of fresh coriander

First of all, wash your mussels. Check they’re all good, take out any ones that are broken or open (if you find one that’s only a little open, try to close it by banging it against your chopping board). If it’s easily opened by hand (i.e. if you apply pressure with your thumb and index finger, and the two halves slide apart easily), chuck it out. Remove the funky creature that attach themselves to the shell (but I don’t know what they’re called). Rinse the mussels well so that any sand or dirt comes off.

Now grab yourself a big-ass pot and chuck in you coconut milk, ginger, turmeric, garlic, lemon grass, lime zest, and bring the whole thing to a quiet boil. Once it’s going bubbly, turn down the heat somewhat and add the mussels. Put on a lid and cook the mussels, this won’t take more than 10 minutes. You can stir them about a little bit if you fancy. The mussels are done when they’re open enough for you to see the mussel properly.

Use a skimmer to remove the mussels, put them in a bowl or dish with a lid on to keep them warm. Now we’re going to finish the sauce!

Add half of the chili (chopped), the juice of half your lime, and half your spring onions (chopped). Turn up the heat, stir, and wait 5 minutes for your sauce to dense up a bit.

Serve with white rice, and top with the rest of your chopped chili (seeds removed!), spring onion and fresh coriander!

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Posted in cooking, Fish, Food, recipes, spicy | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment