Beef rolls were my granny’s signature dish always served on her Sunday lunch tables with potatoes and traditionally followed by another German classic, her unbelievably good (and rich) Frankfurt Crown Cake (Frankfurter Kranz in German). This was her ritual, she dressed up, put on her lipstick and set up the table with her best linen and ‘the good tableware’. Her generation used to have two sets of plates, the more simple (and cheaper) selection for the weekdays and the delicate bone china porcelain for special occasions. I never quite understood this concept and to me it didn’t make much sense, if I really like something, a plate, a glass or a vase, I want to see and use it every day. I like to mix the simple with the extravagant, every day, whenever I’m in the mood. There’s no such separation between the formal and the normal plates in my kitchen, but to her it felt right to underline the importance and the special status of these events with a different kind of tableware. Only her Sunday, birthday and Christmas lunches saw the gold rimmed and ornamented plates and crystal glasses which were usually locked in the dark cupboards.
Times and habits have changed, and our kitchens and their functions changed over the years. It’s no longer a seperate room where food is produced, this space became an open centrepiece in houses and apartments. In our kitchen, we create, meet our friends, relax, enjoy a cup of tea or read our cook books, this is where our daily life happens and we need tools (and plates) which support this lifestyle. This is where our life takes place, and more than just the culinary one, it’s the quality of our entire life which is influenced by this space. My granny’s kitchen used to feel like a secret laboratory where she created all these fantastic treats, but contrary to my mother’s mother, she didn’t allow much of an insight. That might also be the reason why we don’t have many of her recipes anymore which is really sad. I have to remember the taste of the stews, cakes and cookies and try to recreate them out of my memory, like her beef rolls (Rinderrouladen in German and braciole in Italian). The thin meat is rolled up with tomato paste, mustard, bacon and gherkin slices to a thick roulade, it cooks in lots of wine, herbs and vegetables for a couple hours which makes the beef tender and the sauce very rich. My granny mastered this dish to perfection. For my rouladen, I combine what I learned about aromatic stews from my mother with my memory of the strong meaty flavours of my granny’s dish refined with the fruitiness of tomatoes, the spiciness of mustard, the saltiness of Tyrolean prosciutto and the subtle sourness of gherkins. And it’s back, the Sunday lunch with its wonderful tastes and the childish enjoyment of the meat and sauce mixed with potato dumplings. I make my dumplings (Kartoffelknödel in German) with the same dough as my gnocchi, I just give them a bigger round shape and fill them with a couple bread cubes. This is a great Christmas dish as you can prepare everything in advance and warm it up when you need it. Although the dumplings are best when they are made fresh, sometimes I warm them up by cooking them in hot water for 1 minute.
A few weeks ago I found an old oval serving plate with a gold rim in one of Berlin’s vintage shops, I had to buy it as it reminded me of both of my grannies. Beef rolls have a rather rustic look but on this plate they get a festive frame. I’m sure these two ladies would have enjoyed watching their granddaughter keeping up their tradition (and not just at Christmas time)!
Beef Rolls with Potato Dumplings
For 4 people you need
For the beef rolls
large flat slices of beef, topside or silverside, 4 (about 700g / 1.5 pounds), each about 30 x 10cm / 12 x 4″
Tyrolean prosciutto, or thin bacon slices, 8
large gherkin, sliced thinly (lengthwise), 4
tomato paste 4 heaped teaspoons
spicy mustard 4 teaspoons
red wine 1 bottle (750ml)
brandy or port 1 shot
medium sized carrots, cut in half and sliced, 2
celery stalk, cut into cubes, 1
leek, sliced thinly, 1/3
celery root, peeled, 1/4
garlic, cut in half, 2 big cloves
fresh thyme, a small bunch
fresh sage leaves 3
bay leaf 1
juniper berries, cracked, 3
salt and pepper
tooth picks or cotton string to fix the rolls
Lay the meat flat on the kitchen top, season with salt and pepper and spread a teaspoon of tomato paste and mustard on each slice. Put 2 slices of prosciutto and 3-4 slices of gherkin on top. Carefully roll up the meat and fix with 2 toothpicks at the ends or tie the roll with string.
In a large casserole dish, heat a splash of oil and sear the beef rolls on each side for 1 minute. Take them out, add a splash of oil and sauté the vegetables for a few minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute before you deglaze the vegetables with brandy. Put the beef rolls back in. Pour in the wine, the meat should be almost covered, add the herbs and spices and season with salt and pepper. Close with a lid and cook on medium-low heat (slightly simmering) for 2 1/2 – 3 hours or until the meat is tender. Take out the meat and vegetables and cook down the sauce for a few minutes. Season to taste and put the beef rolls and vegetables back into the casserole dish. Serve with the potato dumplings.
For the potato dumplings
potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes, 450g / 16 ounces
butter 30g / 1 ounce
organic egg yolks 2
plain flour 150 – 200g / 5.5 – 7 ounces
nutmeg, grated, to taste
salt 1 1/2 teaspoons
black pepper, grated, to taste
white bread, cut into 1cm / 1/2″ cubes, 3-4 slices
Cook the the potatoes in salted water until soft (around 15 minutes). Drain them before you press them through a potato ricer and mix immediately with the butter and egg yolks. Put in a cool place (in the fridge) until the mixture is completely cool(!).
In a large pot, bring plenty of salted water to the boil. Set the oven to 100°C / 210°F and put an ovenproof dish inside. You will need it to keep the dumplings warm while you cook them in batches.
With a spoon (or your hands), mix the cold potato mixture with the flour (use enough so that the mixture isn’t too sticky), salt, nutmeg and pepper until combined. Dust your hands with flour, take a heaped tablespoon of the dough and from a small, thick disc. Put 3 bread cubes in the middle and roll into a ball. Put the dumplings onto a floured baking sheet. Before you cook them in the water you might have to put them back into a round shape as they tend to flatten.
Cook the dumplings in batches in the boiling water so that they can float, turn the heat down to medium heat (simmering). Let them cook for 10 minutes and take them out with a slotted ladle. Keep them in the warm dish in the oven until you are done with the last batch.
This will make about 10-12 dumplings. They also taste great fried in butter the next day!