Think Austria…Think sausages, pork chops, venison and goulash loaded with meaty chunks.
But, all of a sudden, the spotlight is on vegetables. During our two weeks in Vienna and the last couple nights in the Salzburg countryside, we’ve been amazed at the creative vegetable-based dishes and the extraordinary flavor of the local produce. Some menus have offered a separate section of vegetable entrees, others simply added them to the regular line-up of Wienerschnitzel, Tafelspitz and Backhuhn.
We hit the jackpot at Gasthof & Hotel Fürberg on the Wolfgangsee (Lake Wolfgang), south of Salzburg. The hotel, straight out of a fairytale, is tucked away in thick woods, smack on the banks of the lake and accessible only by a single lane, twisty road that ends at the inn.
After a 3-hour drive from Vienna, we stretched our legs on a two-hour Wanderung (hike/walk) along the edge of the lake to the nearby town of St. Gilgen. At dinnertime, we settled ourselves at a table on the outdoor terrace and watched as dusk gave way to a string of twinkly lights along the lake’s jagged coast.
Just when I figured life couldn’t get any better, along came the first course, a glossy Thai-inspired soup of coconut milk and pureed vegetables, ingeniously seasoned, and served in a pretty glass tumbler. Austrians are not known for their experimentation in the kitchen --- soup usually means Speckknödelsuppe (clear soup with big dumplings), Fritattensuppe (clear broth with pancake strips) or Griesnockerlsuppe (clear broth with little dumplings…you get the picture --- so we were particularly thrilled with our good luck.
Entrees were equally exciting. Spinatknödeln (spinach dumplings) were light and airy, with more spinach and less bread than the traditional rendition, and the bright green flavor of fresh spinach. The two Knödeln sat in a shiny pool of melted parmesan cheese, surrounded by roasted cherry tomatoes that exploded upon first bite.
Gemüselaibchen, a mouthful that translates into vegetable patties, were fashioned from topfen (a cheesy wonder known as quark in the U.S.), minced veggies from local gardens, and fresh herbs. The discs were sauteed in plenty of butter and set afloat in a light cream sauce loaded with fresh local mushrooms. Deep-fried arugula leaves crowned the simple but stunning dish.
The next morning we worked off the calories with a hike along the wooded path that leads to the town of St. Wolfgang (where a ferry takes hikers back to Fürberg and other villages). The periodic peeks out to the lake were jaw-dropping, the path was steep but wide and fairly smooth, and the history lesson we got at Falkenstein, an ancient Celtic site midway on the path, was fascinating.
It seems this path was a popular pilgrimage route centuries ago and is today full of myth and legend. At the imposing church (formerly a monastery) that’s built into the side of the stony hillside, hikers can go inside and recite a popular prayer to St. Wolfgang and hear him respond (it’s all about the echo effect). At another tiny chapel, we discovered a spring gushing from a rock. Legend has it that blind voyagers could see after splashing the water in their eyes. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I gave it a try. I’m still waiting for the sign from St. Wolfgang that I can throw my Costco multi-pack of cheaters away.
Check out Hotel Fürberg on line. It’s one of the most captivating places we’re visited. And check back here in a week or so for the recipes for the spinach dumplings and veggie patties.