Peasant Fare

1 / 4
Germany's contribution to the world of comfort foods is Gaisburger Marsch, a stewlike concoction served in a casserole of your choosing.
2 / 4
Sausage provides the foundation for a delicious Cumbria Pie, which with its top of mashed potatoes makes a complete meal.
3 / 4
Create a tasty Arroz con Pollo for your next family gathering; everyone will love it.
4 / 4
A simple recipe, Students' Ragout is layered in a pot and cooked on the stovetop or a single burner, making it a great one-dish meal.

I’ve traveled quite a bit, especially in Europe, and discovered that American macaroni and cheese isn’t the only comfort food in the world.

Once, on a visit to Bunratty in Ireland, we planned to have dinner at the castle there, but they were booked so our hostess said, “Why don’t you go to the caille instead?” When I asked what that was, she said it was the feast the servants had that was more casual and more fun than eating at the castle. She called and made a reservation for us.

The caille included ballad singing, clog dancing and a delicious dinner of lamb stew, salad, Irish soda bread and fruit cobbler. I knew immediately that lamb stew was the comfort food of Ireland, and everyone seemed to agree with me.

Irish Lamb Stew

2 1/2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder
1/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons dry mustard, divided
2 tablespoons bacon drippings
4 small onions
2 stalks celery
3 carrots
2 medium potatoes
2 turnips
1/4 teaspoon marjoram
1/4 teaspoon thyme
2 cups water
4 1/2 ounces frozen peas (approximately half a 9-ounce package)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons vinegar
Cut meat in chunks. Combine flour, salt and 1 teaspoon mustard; roll meat in mixture. In large, heavy saucepan or kettle, heat bacon drippings and brown meat. Add peeled and sliced vegetables (turnips in chunks), marjoram and thyme and cover with water. Cover and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours or until meat is tender. Add peas and cook 5 minutes. Mix sugar, vinegar and remaining teaspoon of mustard and blend into sauce. Add to stew. If necessary, thicken with a flour and water paste. Yields 8 servings.

From Ireland, we flew to England, where, while touring the Lake District, we stopped at a small town in Cumbria for lunch. Our waitress recommended Cumbria Pie, a dish well loved by the locals, for an authentic taste of the region. I ordered it and decided the residents were right. Cumbria Pie really qualifies as comfort food.

Cumbria Pie

Cumberland sausage
Mashed potatoes
Cheddar cheese, grated 
Cut sausage in chunks, slice tomatoes, onions and apples and cook together until vegetables are tender. Transfer to casserole dish and cover with thick layer of mashed potatoes. Sprinkle with cheese and bake in oven until heated through.
If I can’t find Cumberland sausage, I use knockwurst, which is almost the same. For the amounts, I use 1 large sausage, 1/2 large onion, 1 medium tomato and 1/2 large apple per serving. In Cumbria, this was served with a salad of shredded lettuce covered with sliced beets, cucumber, red onion and tomatoes and a soft roll that was also typical of the region.

From England we traveled to France, and there we found two comfort foods. One was their famous French onion soup, which is delicious, but the other I found more interesting and unusual. It was called Students’ Ragout and could be cooked in one pot on one gas or electric burner, thus the title. I was told it was a favorite with the art students in the Latin Quarter. It is easy to prepare, delicious and inexpensive.

Students’ Ragout

1/2 pound sliced bacon
4 to 6 medium potatoes
3 or 4 carrots
3 medium onions
1 pound round steak
1 cup beef bouillon
Cut bacon into thirds. Peel and thinly slice potatoes, carrots and onions. Cut steak across grain into strips about 2 inches long by 1/2 inch wide.
In large pan, starting with bacon, layer bacon, steak, onions, potatoes and carrots. Sprinkle each layer lightly with salt and pepper, and pour bouillon over top. Cover tightly and cook over medium-low electric or gas burner for about 45 minutes. Yields 4 servings.

Our next stop was Spain, home to my son and daughter-in-law and some of my favorite foods. First, I thought of delicious Spanish soups – Sopa de Ajo (garlic soup) for winter, or the famous Cold Gazpacho for summer. But I really wanted a casserole that would be a complete dinner. Of course, the famous Paella is delicious, but it’s quite expensive and time-consuming to create. Another favorite dish, and one most people love, is Arroz con Pollo or rice with chicken. It is simple to make, inexpensive and really delicious. Of the many versions, this is my favorite.

Arroz con Pollo

6 skinless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large Spanish onions
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup white rice
1 1/2 cups chicken bouillon
1 small can mushrooms
1 can (16 ounces) stewed tomatoes
1 small can sliced black olives
In large skillet, brown chicken in olive oil and remove from pan. Slice onion, peppers and garlic, add to pan and sauté lightly. Add all remaining ingredients, including chicken, and cover. Cook about 30 minutes or until chicken and vegetables are tender. If it needs more liquid, add small amount of water or wine. Yields 4 to 6 servings.

After our visit in Spain, we headed to Germany to visit a dear friend. I asked her to help me decide on a comfort food for her adopted country. She wrote it all out in German first and then translated everything except the name, Gaisburger Marsch (pronounced something like Guys-boor-gah Mahrsh) into English. I hope you enjoy it.

Gaisburger Marsch (March of Gaisburger, Brisket of Beef Soup/Stew)

2 cups beef broth
3 onions, divided
1 large carrot
1 stalk celery
1 bay leaf
2 cloves
2 pounds stewing beef
2 beef bones
1 beef marrow
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound potatoes
1/2 pounds Spaztle (German egg noodles), cooked
Grated nutmeg
In large saucepan or kettle, heat broth and cook 2 onions, carrot, celery, bay leaf, cloves, stewing beef, bones and marrow for 90 minutes. Slice remaining onion into rings and brown in butter; set aside. Take out meat and strain vegetables from broth. Cook potatoes in broth until done. Add cooked noodles.
Cut up meat and add to casserole. Decorate with parsley and browned onion rings, sprinkle with nutmeg and serve. Yields 4 servings.

This is a simple meal enjoyed in the winter by farmers in southern Germany; a true comfort food.

Margaret Saul calls Grants Pass, Oregon, home, although her travels often keep her on the road.