Who knew that potatoes with noodles can be so gratifying? For prudence, you may want to save this one for a day when physical exercise helps offset the double-dose of carbs before you. The apocryphal story is that the dish harks back to the Napoleonic Wars, when all that the Habsburg military could serve its soldiers were noodles and potatoes, which the resourceful Hungarians jazzed up in the usual way: with onions and paprika.
Yield: 4 servings; Total time: 25 minutes
200 grams (½ pound) smoked pork belly or fatback (or bacon), cut into small cubes, about 1 cm (½-inch) long. Remove skin.
1 large onion, minced
1 tablespoon Hungarian sweet paprika
1 teaspoon salt
2 pinches of freshly ground pepper
2 medium potatoes (350 grams or ¾ pound), cut into 2 cm (¾ inch) chunks
350 grams (¾ pound) dried pasta, ideally the flat and square-shaped Hungarian “csusza” or “fodros” but you can also use lasagne pasta, cracking the sheets into 1 ½-inch bits.
Small jar of sour or dill pickles, or any other pickled vegetables
Step 1: Add the bits of pork belly or fatback (or bacon) into a large pot or skillet and render the fat on medium heat until meat turns golden-brown and crispy, about 8-10 minutes. Remove the cracklings with a slotted spoon and set aside in a small bowl. Keep the rendered fat in the pot.
Step 2: Add minced onion to the pot and sauté until translucent, about 6-8 minutes. Then add paprika, salt, pepper, and potato chunks and stir well. Pour enough water to half cover the potatoes and let it steam-cook on a rapid simmer until potatoes are soft, about 12-15 minutes.
Step 3: In the meantime, bring 2 liters (2.1 quarts) of salted water to a boil and cook pasta until al dente, about 7-8 minutes. Keep a few ladles of the starchy pasta water.
Step 4: When the potatoes are ready, mash them into a rough, coarse paste using a fork. Then add pasta and a few tablespoons of the hot, starchy pasta water to the potatoes and stir well. Pasta-potato mixture should be slippery on all sides.
Step 5: Mix in the pork cracklings, then spoon the pasta onto individual serving plates and garnish with a few slices of pickles.
Words of advice
You can simplify the first step and shorten the total cooking time by starting with pork fat (lard) instead of rendering the pork belly; the downside is you won’t have the crunchy cracklings to enjoy at the end.
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I created these recipes with the help of nearly a dozen historical Hungarian cookbooks, adjusting ingredients, cooking times, and methods to reflect my own preferences and tastes of the current day. Do you have any feedback? Please let me know!