Known as the single most defining dish of Slovak cuisine, Halušky are translated as potato dumplings, but are really more of a cross between gnocchi, spätzle and polenta. Much like the Slovak culture itself, the dish blends flavors from its various borders. Though topped with just about anything, and over 30 varieties dominate menus at Slovak cafés, the most common addition is bryndza, a farmer's sheep cheese, and bacon. The combination produces the national dish of bryndzové halušky.
Preparation is nearly identical to gnocchi, but in the final stages more water is added and the dumplings are cooked into more of a polenta-like texture, particularly once the cheese is added. This makes for a very Italian but distinctly Slovak dish.
We substitute ricotta salata for the Slovak farmer's cheese, bryndza, but any Italian sheep's cheese will lend similar flavors to the dish. While the texture of ricotta is preferable, pecorino shavings could also be delicious. I'm thinking of trying this again with a peppered pecorino. One of Italy's oldest cheeses, pecorino's origins go back to the legend of a shepherd that filled his flask with sheep's milk for a long trip and the milk accidentally fermented during his travels. If you can't find either of these cheeses, or they prove to be too expensive, which they often are, try making your own ricotta.
Due to the central role of potatoes in Danish cooking (you remember the "Jeg er en heldig kartoffel!" from Stamppot of Burning Love?) and their own version of potato dumplings, we're going to consider our dish representative of Denmark as well.
In place of the bacon, we're adding a Paraguayan touch to our Halušky by topping it with a Milanesa, a bread and fried meat, not unlike the southern chicken fried steak but much improved upon it. If you find you become a fan of the Milanesa, join the club - there's even a Facebook group!
Paraguay and New Zealand are strangely alike in culinary heritage. In Paraguay, historic influences of the Guarani culture blend with European settlers and in New Zealand, the Māori indigenous influence modern cuisine and distinguish the island from the Aussies. By far the most representative of the Maori's role in cooking are the traditional hāngi preparations that involve slow roasting meats on heated stones in a covered pit. In an ideal world, we'd roast a pig in the hāngi and use that meat to prepare our Milanesa. If you dare to try it, we'd love to see the pictures!
Halušky a la Italia y Paraguay
Prepare the Halušky:
2 large potatoes
5 T flour
3 tsp salt
Peel two large potatoes and shred finely. Add egg, flour and 1 tsp salt. Knead into a soft dough, adding flour or water if necessary.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cut the dough into small pieces and boil until the dumplings float.
Photo: Flickr: mylifeisyummy
Prepare the Milanesa:
3 thin cuts of beef steak or veal chops
Juice of 1 lime
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 T olive oil
2 C fresh bread crumbs
Soak the meat in lime juice, and gently pound into 1/8 in thickness. Pat dry and season with salt and pepper.
Beat egg with garlic, oil and salt. Coat the beef with the egg wash and then cover with breadcrumbs. Fry in hot oil until a golden color.
Assemble the dish: Scoop the Halušky out of the water using a slotted spoon. Stir in the ricotta and top with Milanesa.
HEY! We've seen that cuisine before! Cook the foods of today's competing countries using other recipes: try Slovakian Goulash on Sopa Paraguay and a New Zealand take on the Italian classic Zabaglione or Dances with Bublanina, our Slovakian twist on the most famous dessert from down under: the Pavlova. An unusual preparation of yuca as Cameroonian Couscous with a Japanese dipping sauce turned out to be a favorite, as did our Burning Love take on a Dutch Stamppot. As we get deeper into the tournament, it's time to bring out the leftovers, mix & match, and let the fusion menus run wild like a frenzied North Korean defense.
Prefer to eat out instead? Our Dining Guide tells you where and why.