I arrived in the Czech Republic from New York City on a drizzly Sunday afternoon in late September 2017. As I rolled my small black suitcase to the exit of Vaclav Havel Airport, I wondered if my Italian cousin Pierluigi would recognize me. Fifteen years had passed since we met each other in Cosenza, Italy, where he grew up and I met my grandmother's family while studying abroad in Florence during college. Thanks to Facebook and email, we had reconnected several months ago and now I was here in Prague to visit him and his Czech girlfriend Monika for one week.
We spotted each other right away and my cousin greeted me warmly. A few minutes later, we zipped off in Pierluigi's red car. On the drive to his apartment, he made detours to show me parts of the city, pointing out the history of churches, belfries, and Prague's Municipal House with green and gold domes, where he once went to a ball with Monika. I could tell from the car ride that we would get along just fine on this trip and was grateful for the instant rapport.
The Czech Republic is my seventh trip in nearly 3.5 years and it’s a “solo-ish” trip, the first where I’m staying the entire time with family, though I have the first three full days mostly to myself for sightseeing. When I started traveling solo in June 2014, beginning with my trip to Sardinia, Italy, I was recently divorced, coping with depression and seeking to escape my "real life." I kept to myself and rarely made the first move to know other people. Over time, my travels have helped me to heal and change my mindset. I've become happier, more secure, and open to making connections. I see traveling as an opportunity for forming friendships and keeping in touch. I have to say, I like this version of me a lot better.
On my first night in Prague, Monika made the Czech dish goulash for dinner and infused some Italian flair with ingredients brought back from a trip to Calabria in August. The love and care she put into her food set the tone for the rest of my visit. I would be in good company. On a recent autumn evening in New York City, I recreated her simple and delicious recipe with some small tweaks, then set to work writing this blog post, the perfect pairing to reminisce about my memories of this trip. Coming up, I'll recount each day of adventures (and more recipes) from my time in the Czech Republic.
1 large onion
1 large red pepper
1 1b cubed beef
2 raw garlic cloves, squeezed through a garlic grinder (or use oven-roasted garlic, as I did)
Dash of salt
Few grinds of black pepper
Paprika (sweet or smoked, as per your preference)
Malloreddus (Sardinian pasta)
Dried Calabrian pepperoncini (or crushed red pepper flakes)
Parsley (optional for garnish)
Pour sunflower oil into a pot to coat the surface and heat it on the stove.
Chop the onion into small pieces. Add to the hot pot and sauté.
Chop the red pepper into equally small pieces.
Once the onions caramelize, put the cubed beef in the pan. Mix with a wooden spoon.
Add the garlic clove mash to the pot.
Sprinkle the spices into the pot: salt, black pepper, and paprika. If using sweet paprika, add many generous shakes. If using smoked paprika, as I did, less is more. Mix it up.
Add the chopped red pepper.
Pour in enough water to just cover everything. Put a lid on the pot and simmer low and slow for awhile. The sauce is done when it's thick and coats a wooden spoon.
In a separate pot, bring water to a boil, add salt, and cook the malloreddus. Strain when done.
For an extra kick, add dried Calabrian pepperoncini to the mix toward the end of cooking.
Enjoy this dish with family or friends. It pairs well with the Calabrian red wine Poderi Marini "Korone."