"When I eat pork at a meal, give me the whole pig," wrote Nikolai Gogol, the nineteenth century Russian genius, in his masterpiece Dead Souls. On another occasion he commented that he had no use for "great gentlemen who live in the big cities and who spend their time in deliberating what fine foods they will eat tonight." Gogol preferred the healthy Slavic appetite to the delicate diets imported from the West, and indeed the characters in Dead Souls eat incessantly, their meals featuring all of Russia's traditional fare.
Chichikov, the protagonist of this grotesque tale, who spends long hours on the roads, "is wise enough to ask for ham at one post-station and suckling pig at another, and a portion of sturgeon or some smoked sausage and onion at a third. Later, when he finds an inn for the evening, as if he had eaten nothing at all for three days, he will request a stuffed chicken and, because a single chicken is never enough for one man, he will request as well a plate of cabbage, perhaps with a few sausages."
Chichikov eats heartily also at the tables of landowners, with whom he is negotiating ownership rights to their dead serfs. Sobakevitch, for example, gives him cabbage soup, sheep's stomach stuffed with porridge and brains, and all sorts of first courses. That done, "the servants applied themselves to bringing in various comestibles under covers, through which could be heard the hissing of hot roast viands." When Chichikov lodges in the home of an old woman on a stormy night, he wakes to find the table "already spread with mushrooms, pies, fritters, cheesecakes, doughnuts, pancakes, open tarts with all sorts of different fillings, some with onions, some with poppy seeds, some with curds, and some with fish, and there is no knowing what else." Reading these descriptions, which mock the gluttony of the landowners, one cannot, however, but feel that Gogol rejoices in the ample nourishment of his beloved Rus.
Dostoyevsky once said, "We all came out from under Gogol's cloak" thus acknowledging his predecessor as the father of Russian literature. Gogol himself led quite an ascetic–one might even say miserable–life, haunted by poverty, real or imaginary rejection, and suffering from bouts of depression. In his last years Gogol resided in Rome, where he developed mystical and religious inclinations. Upon returning to Moscow in 1852 he destroyed the second volume of Dead Souls, refused to take any food and died in agony when he was only forty-two.
The following recipes, adapted from a nineteenth century Russian cookbook, would have pleased Chichikov.
Chicken Stuffed With Beef and Nuts
1 large chicken
rind of 1 lemon, grated
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/4 lb (675 gr) chopped beef
6 Tbsp half-cooked rice
2 Tbsp parsley, chopped
5-6 oz. chopped almonds
1/2 cup oil
2 tsp sweet paprika
salt and pepper to taste
Clean the chicken well, discarding the excess fat. Sprinkle lightly with salt, inside and out, and set aside for 1 hour. Rinse the chicken under cold water and dry well inside and out.
Combine the lemon rind, onion and garlic with the chopped beef. Add the rice, parsley, almonds and 1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper. Mix well by hand. In a skillet heat 1/4 cup of the oil and in this fry the mixture until the onions are translucent. Stuff the cavity of the chicken with the mixture and sew closed.
Place the stuffed bird in a baking dish and sprinkle generously with paprika and to taste with salt and pepper. With a brush, coat the chicken lightly with part of the remaining oil. Place the chicken in a hot oven, basting occasionally with the remaining oil and the pan drippings. The chicken will be reddish brown when ready (about 40 minutes). Serve hot. (Serves 4-6)
Sausages with Cabbage
2 lb (900 gr) lean, boneless pork
6 oz (175 gr) pork fat
About 2 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp finely ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried basil
bacon fat for cooking
1 cup Béchamel sauce (see page xxx)
1 cup milk
4 cups cabbage, shredded finely
Grind the pork and the fat together. In a mixing bowl combine the pork and fat with the salt, pepper, thyme and basil. Blend together well. Shape the mixture into individual patties about 3" (8 cm) in diameter and 1/2" (1 cm) thick.
In a heavy skillet melt the bacon fat and in this fry the patties over a medium flame. Turn occasionally so that both sides cook evenly. Cook until the sausages are well browned on the outside and done inside. Drain off the excess fat as it accumulates, leaving about 1/8" (1/4 cm) of fat in the pan at any time. Drain the sausages on absorbent toweling. Set aside to keep warm.
Prepare the Béchamel sauce.
In a large saucepan bring the milk to a boil and into this gradually drop the cabbage. Boil for 2 minutes and then drain.
Discard the milk. Drop the cabbage into the hot Béchamel sauce, toss well and simmer for 2-3 minutes longer. Serve immediately by piling the sausages on top of the cabbage. (Serves 6)