Swiss alpine macaroni (Älpermagronen)

February 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

We spent a very chilly half term skiing in Engelberg in Central Switzerland once again this year. Views from the Titlis cable car were spectacular:

but the temperature was minus 21 degrees C up there. Brrr…

All the more reason to tuck into platefuls of that Central Swiss classic dish, Alpine macaroni (spelt locally as Älpermagronen on restaurant menus), a carb and calorie laden plateful of macaroni, potato, cheese, cream and a big dollop of apple sauce. Yes, that’s right, apple sauce. It sounds weird, but given that plain cheese and apple is a favourite lunchtime snack over here, maybe combining them in their cooked form is not so odd an idea after all. Oh, and it’s a great dish for vegetarians and children seem to like it too so no excuses not to give it a try.

Here’s the Alpine macaroni as served up at Engelberg’s Flühmatt mountain restaurant last week:

The recipe I give below is my take on the authentic Swiss recipe. For a double apple hit try the apple slices poached in cider as well as the apple sauce.

Serves 4

Ingredients

For the pasta

375g peeled, diced potatoes (use a yellow waxy variety such as Charlotte)
pinch of salt
375g dried maccaroni or similar small tubular pasta
250g gruyère cheese, coarsely grated (or other hard Swiss cheese such as Appenzell, Sbrinz or most authentic of all, mountain cheese from the canton of Obwald)
100ml milk
100ml double cream
salt
freshly ground black pepper

For the fried onions

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
20g butter
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1 clove of garlic, chopped

For the apple sauce

2 large cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2-3 tablespoons golden caster sugar (or to taste)
1-2 tablespoons water

For the apple slices (optional)

4 medium eating apples ideally with a reddish skin, about 500g before preparation. Cox or Gala are good.
10g butter
1 cinnamon stick
100ml cider or apple juice
a little sugar to taste

Start by preparing the apple sauce. Put the apple slices, sugar and water in a heavy-based saucepan. Cover and place over a low heat. Stir and mash with a wooden spoon from time to time until the apples “fall” and become a thickish, smoothish sauce. Set aside.

Next, prepare the apple slices if you are going for the double apple hit (and I think you should). Quarter and core the apples, then cut into neat lengthwise slices, leaving the skin on as it looks attractive and helps the apple slices keep their shape.

Melt the butter in a medium heavy-based pan. Add the apple slices and cook for a minute or so over a medium heat, stirring carefully with a wooden spoon. Add the cinnamon stick, cider or apple juice and sugar to taste to the pan, turn down the heat and simmer until the apple is tender. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Now prepare the fried onion garnish. Melt the butter and oil together in a heavy based frying pan. Throw in the onions and garlic and cook over a low to medium heat stirring from time to time until the onion and garlic mixture is golden brown. This will take a little time – maybe 20 minutes; be careful not to let it burn. When ready, remove from the heat and set aside.

Finally, it’s time to prepare the pasta. This is a dish best served fresh and piping hot from the oven so I’m afraid it doesn’t lend itself to being prepped in advance and then baked as you might with any other pasta bake. That’s why you need to get the apple garnishes and onions ready in advance so you’re all set to go.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (180 degrees C fan). Warm a large empty baking dish in the oven. Cook the potato cubes and the pasta in boiling salted water until done. If you are confident about the timings, you can cook the potatoes and pasta together in the same pan as they should both be done in about 10 minutes. If you’re trying this for the first time, it’s probably safer to use 2 separate pans so both pasta and potatoes are cooked to al dente perfection. Drain and immediately layer into the warmed baking dish with the grated cheese, seasoning with black pepper and a little salt as you go. Go easy on the salt as the cheese is already quite salty. Start with a layer of half the pasta and potato mix, then a layer of half the cheese, then a second layer of the pasta and potato and finish with a layer of cheese. Spread the golden brown onions you prepared earlier on top. Pop the dish into the preheated oven to melt the cheese. Finally, quickly heat together the milk and cream in a small saucepan until almost at boiling point. Pour the hot milk and cream over the cheesy pasta and potatoes and return to the oven for 5- 10 minutes until piping hot. While the pasta heats through, gently rewarm the apple sauces and (optional) apple slices.

Serve onto warm plates and eat with a generous dollop of the apple sauce and a spoonful of the apple slices.

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