Vegetable Marrow 

Vegetable Marrow 

The squash called "vegetable marrow" is appearing at markets (mid-August) and there's still time to make this classic Hungarian dish. 

Not long ago I talked about an iconic Hungarian food - mixing noodles with almost anything - sweet or savoury. (See Noodles with Cabbage.)

Another classic are dishes are called főzelék - what could be described as "creamed vegetables" that could be used as sides, or as the main course served with eggs or Hungarian meatballs (fashirt). 

This is home cooking fare, and as Wikipedia mentions, such dishes rarely appear on a fine dining menu. Wikipedia offers a fairly long list of vegetables that are creamed - the most common in my own experience being yellow waxed beans (babfőzelék) and this vegetable marrow (tökfőzelék).

Tökfőzelék with eggs and toast

Tökfőzelék with eggs and toast

Vegetable marrow is a summer squash, not unlike the zucchini family. It appears at markets in August and will be available for a few weeks. 2017 is turning out to be a good year - last year my farmer source said the entire crop failed. (I have never seen them in a regular grocery store - at least not in Canada). In Hungary, this dish is so popular with home cooks that grocery stores sell the marrow already shredded / ready to use with a bit of dill added to the package. Some Hungarian recipes also refer to using frozen, shredded vegetable marrow.

The basic approach any "főzelék" is to cook the vegetable (adding a bit of water in some cases) and thickening the cooked vegetables with a roux (called a rántás in Hungarian). Sour cream is also usually part of the scene. A rántás is not hard to make, but some Hungarian cooks make (and refrigerate) a small batch at a time and use it by the tablespoon as needed. It is often made with lard, though this recipe uses butter.

Because this is a home cooking staple, there are many versions and variations. The KB version is an amalgam of recipes and tips from loving Hungarian cooks. Most versions will refer to using one medium sized marrow, but in the KB kitchen this is never enough, so I always double the recipe below.

Getting Ready:

  • prepare the vegetable marrow (can be done ahead of time)
  • chop onions (can be done ahead of time)

Overall method: 1) cook onions until slightly golden, 2) add grated marrow, 3) add vinegar, roux, suagr, dill etc.

All done!

All done!

The roux / rántás. This will not be needed until near the end, but most cooks make this first. The vegetable marrow, surprisingly, does not take long to cook (and some like the marrow to be a bit al dente) so it's best to have this thickener all ready to go when the marrow has cooked as desired.

Melt 2 TB of unsalted butter and add 2 TB of flour. Cook this briefly, just until it begins to look beige instead of white. Take it off the heat to prevent further browning. If you'd like to see a video go to minute 1:49 in this YouTube - however, I must point out this recipe deviates from some of his methods. Also, see NOTES for variations on the roux.

1 vegetable marrow

Peel the marrows, remove the seeds and shred them.  Important: you want "short spaghetti strings" of the vegetable marrow, so using a food processor or box grater (or any other method that results in one inch bits) is not ideal. Best to use a mandoline with the medium shredding blade. (If by now you have a spiralizer - a really long noodle-like spiral would not be ideal for this dish - though I suppose you could cut that into shorter lengths.) Also, you'll get nice "strings" by shredding from the side of a piece of marrow, rather than a cross-cut piece. (I know I'm making this sound fiddly - one can see why Hungarian cooks must be thrilled they can buy the marrow already shredded.)  Set aside.

1 large (or 2 small) yellow onions, chopped
2-3 TB unsalted butter
2 TB vinegar
1 TB sugar (optional)
2 TB chopped dill
1/4 - 1/2 tsp paprika (optional)
1/2 cup sour cream

Melt the butter in a Dutch Oven. Some of the flavour will come from the onions cooked slowly in the butter until translucent and slightly golden. Do not take them to the caramelization stage. 

Add the shredded marrow to the pot. The marrow will eventually release some liquid, but you may (or may not) at first have to add a bit of water (usually no more than 1/4 cup). When the marrow is tender, add the vinegar. Take care to not overcook the marrow to the point where it becomes mush.

Add the roux and the dill (and the sugar if using). Season with salt to taste. Some cooks add paprika - though usually I do not. If you do add paprika, take care to not add so much that it changes the colour of the dish. Add the sour cream just before serving. An additional dollop of sour cream and a sprig of dill can be used as a garnish.

Notes and Tips...

  • Rántás -  read more on Wikipedia. My Ham and Bean Soup post has some images of a lard / flour rántás. If you Google recipes for this dish, you will see that some people make the roux with lard or oil, but many (like me) prefer the added flavour of butter. I also came across recipes where the roux was not made separately and instead flour was added to the butter / onion mixture. In another recipe, the flour was added to the sour cream and, with a bit of water, made into a slurry. It seemed to do the trick. So many little variations!
  • Ready-made - I mentioned above that I have only seen this marrow prepped in Hungary, but here it is on sale in the UK at Woolworth's sold as Baby Marrow Spaghetti!
  • For KB Recipe Attribution Practices please click here.

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