Tomatensoep met balletjes

The Netherlands is currently the world's largest exporter of tomatoes worldwide, ahead of Mexico and Spain. We have quite a history with tomatoes: at first deemed only a decorative fruit, the tomato was considered poisonous until they figured out that the tin plates on which they served them caused the toxins. It quickly moved from show-apple to love-apple, celebrating the presumed aphrodisiacal powers this fruit of the nightshade family might have, and has since 1900 featured in our diets in various formats, one of which is today's tomato soup. 

Unfortunately, our tomato soup has become one of those industrialized, run-of-the-mill soups that are available anywhere and everywhere. Tomato soup is standard on menus, is available from automated soup dispensers and is sold in large family-sized cans, but it's often not more than a gloopy, starchy red mass. No tomato proud of its heritage would want to end up in a can like we're going to make our own!

Wintertime is a great time to put a bowl of steaming hot tomato soup on the table: the color and the flavor will bring back memories of summers past. But fresh tomatoes are hard to come by this time of year, or at least tomatoes that have great flavor, so my go-to during this season are canned diced tomatoes. They have more lycopene than fresh tomatoes, and the flavor is hard to beat since the tomatoes are processed when they are at their ripest, and in such a fast fashion that vitamins and minerals are often preserved. 

If it's summertime when you're reading this, it's a fantastic time to revive tomato soup from its sordid industrialized image. Gardens are flooded with large, juicy, ripe, sun-kissed tomatoes all over, just plain begging to be used up for a homemade, honest, honorable tomato soup. In Holland, tomato soup is traditionally served with soepballetjes, mini meatballs, and a splash of heavy cream. The recipe below makes about four generous servings of soup, and about 20 soepballetjes.

This is a quick soup. For a more elaborate soup, look for Oma's Tomatensoep in the near future.

Dutch Tomato Soup
2 lbs/1 kg ripe tomatoes (use a variety for more complex flavor) or a 28 oz (794 grms) can of (low-sodium) diced tomatoes*
1 beef or vegetable bouillon cube
4 cups/1 liter hot water for fresh tomatoes (2 cups/0.5 liter for canned)
1 small onion or shallot
1 tablespoon butter
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves

For the balletjes:
8 oz (250 grams) ground beef
1/2 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
Nutmeg, optional

Peel and chop the onion or shallot and sauté it in the butter. Cut the fresh tomatoes up into small pieces, remove the seeds and, after the onions have become translucent and released their fragrance, add the (canned) tomatoes and simmer for the next ten minutes. Pour the hot water over the top, add the bouillon cube, the bay leaves, and the fresh thyme, bring it up to a boil, then cover and turn down the flame to simmer. In the meantime, season the ground beef with salt and pepper (nutmeg optional) and knead it with the egg and the breadcrumbs together until all the ingredients are mixed, then roll into small marble-sized balls (0.3 oz/8 grams) and let them simmer in the soup for a good ten minutes. 

Remove the bay leaves and the stem sprigs, pull out the meatballs, and blend the soup smooth. Taste and adjust with salt or additional herbs if desired, then add the meatballs back in. Before serving, pour a tablespoon of evaporated milk, milk, or sour cream into each plate and stir.

* I love the diced tomatoes with Italian herbs: perfect for a cold winter day! 

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Amsterdamse Koggetjes

Amsterdam koggetje cookies have quite the history. In 1935, a competition was held to come up with a luxury cookie for the city of Amsterdam. Both the secular Dutch Pastry Baker's Association and the Roman Catholic Baker's Association participated. 

The winner, whose name is not known with certainty but it's thought that it might have been a Mr. Van Dorssen, entered the Amsterdamse Koggetje, named after the medieval merchandise ships called Kogge (koggetje is a diminutive of kog, cog ship) that also appear on the oldest arms of the city of Amsterdam.

Courtesy of Pieter Bak
 Mr. Van Dorssen was a member of the Dutch Pastry Baker's Assocation, which excluded the Roman Catholic bakers from producing and selling the Koggetjes in their establishments. In order to ensure this, the cookies were sold in special made koggetjes cookie tins. Not too impressed with this move, the RC bakers came up with an enamel plaque to fasten next to the bakery's entrance, announding that "From Amsterdam, you bring Koggetjes home!" and baked the cookie regardless.

Nowadays, anybody is free to produce koggetjes at will. Even the HEMA, a much beloved Dutch department store, has them as a standard cookie in their assortment. Another name for koggetje is nougatine, referring to the caramel it contains, or kletsmajoor.

7 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup and 1 tablespoon of sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour, sifted

For the caramel
1/3 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons of water

Start with the caramel: heat the sugar and the water up, bring it to a boil and while stirring let it caramelize. Pour the hot caramel on a silicone baking mat or a piece of parchment paper and let it cool. Once cooled, break it into small pieces with the help of a rolling pin.

Cream the butter with the sugar, the salt, the milk and the vanilla. Stir in the flour until well blended, then fold in the caramel pieces. Add the dough to a pastry bag and pipe dollops on a well greased baking sheet or a silicone baking mat. Heat the oven to 320F and bake golden in 15 minutes. The dough will spread so make sure you leave enough space between the dollops.

When the cookies are golden and have a slight browned edge, carefully remove them from the oven and the baking sheet, and let them cool on a rack.  Makes approximately 24 cookies.


Hieronymus van Alphen, the famous Dutch poet who lived from 1746-1803, was especially known for his poetry for children. Even though he only managed to write less than 70 poems for this particular audience, his work ended up translated in French, German, English, Frisian and Malaysian, which for that time was quite a feat.

One of his most celebrated works is a poem called The Plum Tree (De Pruimeboom), about obedience and its rewards. It goes as follows;

Johnny saw some fine plums hanging,
Oh! like eggs, so very large;
Johnny seemed about to pluck them,
Though against his father's charge.
Here is not, said he, my father,
Nor the gard'ner near the tree,
From those boughs so richly laden,
Five or six plums - who can see ?
But I wish to be obedient,
I'll not pluck them; off I go.
Should I for a trifling handful
Disobedient be? Oh no.
Off went Johnny; but his father,
Who had overheard his talk,
Just then forward stepped to meet him,
In the garden middle-walk.
Come, my Johnny, said his father,
Come, my little darling boy,
Now for you some plums I'll gather,
Now you are your father's joy.
Then Pa gave the tree a shaking;
Johnny stooped with laughing face,
Johnny filled his hat quite brimful,
Off then galloped in a race.

For however lovely the poem is, its moral lesson went straight over my head. Only last week I saw gorgeous plums hanging in the neighbor's tree and reached to pick and eat one. Just as I sank my teeth into the sweet flesh, the neighbor walked out the door, grinning. Busted!!!

What could I do? I had a half-eaten fruit in my left hand, purple plum juice dripping down my chin and my right hand was still holding on to the branch of her tree. So I gave her a cheesy grin and shrugged my shoulders. Hey, what can I say? I'm not Johnny :-)

But this week I'm doing penance. Instead of scolding me, the neighbor lady picked two full bags of plums and left them on the porch for me to find. Nice! So I've been in plum heaven this week: I canned plum jam, dehydrated several trays of plum slices and made some yummie plum brandy. 

I also wanted to try an old recipe that I found in a Frisian cookbook from 1772, De Welkokende Vriesche Keukenmeid, one of the few recipes that lists plums. For some reason or other plums are not big in the Dutch kitchen and research only gave me two recipes: this one and a traditional Limburgse vlaai made from dark plums.

This recipe for a good old sturdy plum bread pudding, was traditionally a dish made with dried plums (i.e. prunes) and given to new mothers. Apart from the luxury of eggs, milk and sugar that surely did a new mother good, the prunes provided much needed relief from eh...well whatever prunes offer relief from. You know.

But since I didn't need the laxative benefits of a prune pudding (although some people may suggest otherwise) and I found myself with a copious amount of pre-prunes, I decided to make this dish with fresh plums instead. It lends itself to a gorgeously rich, fruity, sweet and slightly tart bread pudding that is wonderful eaten warm out of the oven, with or without a scoop of ice cream.....

10 fresh plums
12 slices of old bread
2 eggs
2 cups of milk
1/3 cup of sugar
3 tablespoons of brandy
1 tablespoon of cinnamon
1 tablespoon of orange zest
2 teaspoons of brown sugar
1/2 stick of butter, room temperature
Pinch of salt
Pinch of nutmeg

Butter an 8x8 baking pan. Cut the crust off the slices of bread and spread butter on both sides of the slice. Put four slices of bread on the bottom of the pan.

Slice the plums and distribute half of the slices over the buttered bread pieces in the pan. Sprinkle one third of the cinnamon over the fruit, and half of the orange zest. Place another four slices of bread on top, and divide the rest of the fruit over the bread. Sprinkle another third of cinnamon over the top, add the rest of the orange zest and cover with the last four slices of bread. Sprinkle the rest of the cinnamon on top, and the two teaspoons of sugar.

Beat the milk, the eggs, salt, nutmeg and three tablespoons of brandy into a foamy liquid, on medium high for about four minutes. Pour the milk mixture over the bread in the pan, cover and rest either overnight, or at least for two hours in the fridge. Remove from the fridge while you heat up the oven to 350F.

Place the pan on a baking sheet to catch any juices and bake the bread pudding for at least 45 minutes or until the top is golden. Best eaten warm.