The length of this recipe belies how fun the soup is to prepare; at the same time, it’s a real indication of how elaborately satisfying and delicious the results are. There are four components to this Danish specialty (broth, meatballs, dumplings and raisin-studded rice), which comes from Jon Bansen, an Organic Valley farmer who grazes 160 Jersey cows in the lush greenlands of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Both the recipe and farming were passed down to Jon from his grandparents. The soup is a favorite among his siblings and he makes it at least three times a year for his own family of six, because “there’s a lot of joy in it—both in cooking it and in how it is received.” He says, “Farming organically is a way to build on my granddad’s legacy and to leave a good legacy myself.” No doubt serving this traditional soup to his loved ones is also a way to spread the legacy.
1. Broth: Start this the day before or the morning of the day you want to serve the soup. Dry the beef bones well with paper towels. Heat a very large, heavy soup pot over medium-high flame. Add vegetable oil and swirl pan to coat the bottom. Add the bones and brown them well on all sides. (Do them in batches if necessary to avoid crowding the bottom of the pot.) Meanwhile, clean the vegetables. Peel the onions and carrots. Coarsely chop the onions, celery and half the carrots.
When bones are well-browned, add 12-16 cups water and stir well to dislodge browned bits of meat from the bottom of the pot. Bring to simmer, then skim foam from surface. Add the chopped vegetables and parsley sprigs. (You can also add the onion skins if desired; they will add color to the broth.) Return to a low simmer, skim again and cook gently 4-6 hours.
Strain the broth through cheesecloth and/or a fine mesh strainer into a clean pot. (“Feed the meat off the bones to the dogs and cats, and the chickens get the veggies,” says Jon. “But this part works only if you live on a farm!”). Cool down and then chill the broth overnight, then discard the fat that has solidified on the surface. If you don’t have time for this, let the broth stand for a half-hour or so, then spoon off as much of the liquid fat from the surface as you can or want.
To finish the broth: about a half-hour before serving time, dice the remaining carrots and add them along with the chopped parsley to the broth. Add salt to taste. Return broth to a low simmer and cook until carrots are tender.
2. Meatballs: Bring a large pot of water to boil. Mix all ingredients and form into small, bite-size meatballs. Working in two batches, drop meatballs into the boiling water and simmer until cooked through, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer meatballs to the simmering broth (or keep them warm and serve them in a separate bowl, if desired).
3. Rice and Raisins: Prepare rice according to package instructions, with this exception: About 5 minutes before the rice is done, uncover the pot, scatter raisins over the rice, cover again, and continue cooking. (This will “plump” the raisins.) When rice is done and has rested off the heat for a few minutes, gently toss the raisins and rice together.
4. Dumplings: Bring a large pot of water to a low boil. Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over medium flame. Stir in 1 heaping cup of the flour until it’s fully incorporated. Add 1 cup of the boiling water and salt; stir vigorously until smooth. Let the mixture cool a few minutes and then add the eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. The batter should be loose, but thick enough to scoop with a spoon; stir in more flour if needed to get the right texture.
To form and cook the dumplings: Use a spoon to scoop about a tablespoon of the batter at a time, then use a second spoon to shape and scrape the dumpling into lightly boiling water. Continue to form and cook dumplings, but don’t crowd the water; you’ll need to prepare them in two or three batches total. Be sure the water is at a low boil or the dumplings will fall apart. Cooking time will be about 5 minutes; to check for doneness, cut a dumpling in half to see if it is cooked through. Remove cooked dumplings with a serrated spoon and transfer them to a platter. Keep them warm while you prepare the rest.
5. To serve: Let diners ladle broth with meatballs into their own bowls and add their desired amounts of dumplings and rice.
More about Danish Soup:
Only for gonzo cooks is this a one-person job, and although recipe contributor Jon Bansen seems to fit that bill, he gets helps from his eleven-year-old “sous chef son” with such things as cutting the carrots and forming the meatballs. In fact, it’s an ideal recipe for bringing people together around food—the aromatic broth, which pretty much cooks itself, draws them into the kitchen, where everyone can pitch in with the rest of the production.
It all comes together in the bowl, which diners can fill with as much or little of the parts as they like. Jon says, “In our house everyone dishes their own broth that already contains the meatballs and then adds rice and dumpling to their own tastes.” As for the raisins, he notes that they’re optional. “But any true Dane prefers to have them in the rice.”
As for the dumplings, sometimes he makes a double batch, since they’re in so much demand at his house. If there’s any leftovers (“a rare thing”) the family eats them the next morning, sautéed in butter and drizzled with maple syrup.
What to serve with Danish soup? “Nothing!” says Jon. “With all the parts, you’ll find you just keep adding a few more dumplings, then another meatball, then some more rice, to get the balance just right. By the time you’re done eating, you’re so full you can’t move. It’s a big, big, big meal.”
Contributed by Jon Bansen