An ideal main dish to serve for a family lunch or supper, Bitkis are economical and easy to prepare. This Russian dish may be accompanied by buttered noodles and a green vegetable.

1 oz. butter

1 oz. flour

15 fl. oz. beef stock

1 lb. tomatoes, blanched, peeled and chopped or

14 oz. canned tomatoes bouquet garni, consisting of

4 parsley sprigs,

1 thyme spray and

1 small bay leaf tied together

1 ½ teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon salt

5 fl. oz. sour cream

½ lb. lean, minced beef

1 onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

3 x

2-inch slices bread, cut into small pieces

3 fl. oz. water

1 egg yolk teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

To make the sauce, melt half of the butter in a medium-sized, heavy sauce-pan over moderate heat. With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour. Stirring continuously, cook the flour-and-butter mix-ture for 3 minutes. Still stirring, gradually add the stock and cook the sauce for 5 minutes or until it is smooth and thick.

Add the tomatoes, bouquet garni, black pepper and salt. Stir well. Cover the saucepan and reduce the heat to very low.

Simmer the sauce for 40 minutes stirring occasionally.

Remove the bouquet garni and, with the back of a wooden spoon, force the sauce through a sieve into a bowl. Stir in the remaining butter and the sour cream and place the sauce to one side.

Preheat the oven to moderate 350 °F (Gas Mark 4, 180°C).

Put the beef, chopped onion and parsley in a medium-sized bowl. Put the bread in another bowl and pour on the cold water.

With your hands, squeeze out as much water as possible from the bread. Add the dampened bread to the beef mixture.

Put the ingredients through a mincer . Return them to the bowl. Mix in the egg yolk, -2 teaspoon of salt and the black pepper. With floured hands, shape the beef mixture into 8 slightly flattened patties.

Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy frying-pan over moderate heat. Fry the beef patties for 3 minutes, or until they are brown, then turn them over and fry them for a further 3 minutes, adding more vegetable oil if necessary. With a slotted spoon, transfer the beef cakes to an ovenproof dish or casserole and cover them with the tomato sauce. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

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