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.

Mountain restaurants in Engelberg

April 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

A second post from our recent ski trip to Engelberg in central Switzerland. Truthfully, it’s not too difficult finding handy places to eat here because of the more compact nature of the resort compared to say Klosters or Zermatt. Also, the piste map helpfully lists contact details and thumbnail photos for all 16 mountain restaurants.

Nevertheless, here’s my choice of four of the best, just right if you’re planning a long weekend here perhaps?

Skihütte Stand

At the top of the Stand cable car, or, if you prefer, at the end of the itinerary run down from Klein Titlis, you’ll find the traditional-looking Skihütte Stand. Don’t be fooled by the wood-cladding – it’s a relatively newly built structure which is just a little too close to the cable car for comfort as gazing out of the window at the metal gantries intrudes on the mountain idyll just a little.

The interior is rustic too – lots of wooden beams, bare slate and spectacular hunting trophies.

They do a reasonably priced dish of the day here, plus lots of Swiss classic dishes including, unusually, a refined version of the Vaudois speciality Papet, braised leeks and potatoes topped with a whole smoked sausage:

Bärghuis Jochpass

The Bärghuis (a central Swiss spelling of the Haupt Deutsch Berghaus) is a proper mountain hut with bedrooms as well as functioning in the ski season as a busy and popular restaurant. You’ll find the sturdy dark wood shingle-clad building at the top of the Jochpass chairlift.

Inside, you’ll be seated on shared refectory style tables and served by waitresses with the latest electronic gadgetry – no paper orders and bills here. The food is a mixture of hearty Swiss classics plus lighter pasta dishes and salads. Here’s the pretty-as-picture rösti with smoked salmon and horseradish which I ate here:

Rossbodenhütte

From the Jochpass, continue over the Graustock ridge taking the blue Engstlenalp run down to the chairlift. Incidentally you are now in the new canton of Bern with stunning views to the Haslital and beyond. Now follow the signposted path to the Rossbodenhütte, a 20 minute or so skate, push and shuffle along a lakeside path where you might see fisherman patiently sitting beside the holes they’ve cut in the ice, eskimo style.

We arrived here for an afternoon snack after climbing up and skiing down the nearby Graustock. Here am I basking on the sunny terrace with local guide Frédy.

They do a skiiers’ and walkers’ lunch here and lots of homemade goodies at other times of the day. We tried the apple tart and local speciality Haslikuchen, a dense Bakewell style start but made with ground hazelnuts:

A plate of the prettiest homemade biscuits arrived afterwards on the house. They were as fresh as could be, still warm from the oven. I would love to get hold of the moulds to try making these at home:

Flühmatt

Finally, the Flühmatt, a farmhouse on the Brunni side of the valley. The Brunni ski area is rather under-represented in my mountain restaurant round-up as we skiied exclusively on the other side of the valley where the best snow was to be found. I’m not even sure you can reach the Flühmatt easily on skis but you can certainly walk there through the fields and forests. This is what we did on an evening outing organised by our hotel.

After a descent from the Brunni cable car our party of 40 hotel guests floundered through fresh snow half an hour or so before the welcoming sight of the Flühmatt came into view round a final bend. We were greeted on the threshold by steaming glasses of mulled wine (hot apple juice for the children):

We took off and hung up our snow-covered outdoor things and were ushered through into the cosy low ceilinged wood-panelled dining room. Just one dish was on the menu, the central Swiss speciality of Älplermagronen, pasta tubes baked with cheese and cream, topped with crispy brown fried onions and served with generous dollops apple sauce. Sounds weird but it hits the spot after a hike in the snow.

A riotous torchlit walk (or rather, slide) home through the forest rounded off the evening perfectly.

Contact details

Skihütte Stand
+41 (0)41 639 50 85

Bärghuis Jochpass
+41 (0)41 637 11 87
www.jochpass.ch

Rossbodenhütte
+41 (0)79 810 55 55
www.engstlenalp-rossbodenhuette.ch

Flühmatt
+41 (0)41 637 16 60

Susanne Kuhn’s carrot cake from Engelberg

April 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

Peter and Susanne Kuhn are the charming and mildly eccentric (in the nicest possible way) couple who run the Hotel Edelweiss in Engelberg, central Switzerland, where we spent our half term skiing holiday this year.

Engelberg is just 50 minutes by train from Lucerne and its encircling mountains are dead ringers for Himalayan peaks.

Talking of Himalayan peaks, more than 200 Bollywood movies have been filmed in and around Engelberg, a peaceful stand-in for war-torn Kashmir. Engelberg is now a Mecca (please excuse inappropriate cultural metaphor!) for wealthy middle class Indians who flock here in droves. This explains the rash of multilingual notices pinned up everywhere:

The monastery which dominates the Engelberg valley adds a further “Black Narcissus” vibe to the village:

The monks who founded the monastery not only gave Engelberg its name “the Angel Mountain” but also endowed the place with its own dairy so you can combine a cultural visit with a little cheese shopping. Both a traditional waxed hard cheese and the newer soft-rinded bell shaped “Engelberger Klosterglocke” are made on site:

Engelberg is a weird mixture of charming family resort – the Belle Epoque architecture lend the village a quaint nostalgic feel – and freeride skiing paradise “It has glaciers, cliffs, endless pillow lines – and some of the sickest snow anywhere” to quote a recent article in Fall Line magazine, the ski bum’s periodical of choice.

Here’s the solid imposing bulk of the Hotel Edelweiss where we spent our week:

And here am I, with mountain guide Frédy, contemplating some of Engelberg’s perfect untracked powder (yes, there really is some truth in the ski mag hyperbole):

Looking at the Engelberg piste map, regular French Three Valleys skiers might be a little sniffy at the apparently scant number of mainly red runs here. But it’s quality not quantity that counts – remember that from the Klein Titlis at 3028m it’s more than 2km of vertical drop down to the village at 1050m. That’s a figure that most heliski operators would fail to match in a day…

The Kuhns promote the Edelweiss as a family-friendly hotel. During half term week the hotel was indeed packed with mainly Dutch families, children of all ages everywhere. This could have been hideous but in fact the comfortable, spacious hotel and Peter and Susanne’s attention to organisation meant that all ran smoothly and calmly. Imagine a Mark Warner or Ski Esprit style establishment but run by experienced grown-ups rather than hung over gap year students!

We had a very relaxed and comfortable week, and as we left, I was delighted that Susanne, hearing of my interest in collecting recipes, handed me a photocopy from her treasured handwritten family recipe book:

Here’s my translation of the recipe from the Schwyzerdeutsch. The picture is a bit of a cheat as it’s not a carrot cake made by either my or Susanne’s fair hands but was taken at the very handy Steiner bakery at Zürich airport. This looks to be a very different version of carrot cake from the American version we’re all used to. It’s got me wondering where the first carrot cake recipe came from – is it a mittel European recipe that was taken to America, made richer, bigger, coated with cream cheese and exported back again?

Recipe for carrot cake

Ingredients

5 eggs, separated
300g sugar
zest of 1 lemon
75g flour sifted with1 teaspoon baking powder
250g finely grated carrots
150g ground hazelnuts
150g ground almonds

Prepare a 26cm round cake tin, preferably springform, by greasing and lining with fine dry breadcrumbs.

Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until the mixture becomes a thick, pale foam (you will need an electric mixer of some kind to achieve this).

Add the flour and baking powder mixture, the grated carrots and ground nuts.

Whisk the egg whites to the soft peak stage and fold in to the mixture.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin and spread with a spatula to level.

The temperature and cooking times quoted are for a fan oven. Bake for 15 minutes at 170 degrees C then lower the oven temperature to 150 degrees C and bake for a further 30-40 minutes.

Turn out onto a rack to cool. Then ice with a mixture of 200g icing sugar mixed with 2 dessertspoons of lemon juice and 2 dessertspoons of water and, if liked, decorate with 16 marzipan carrots.

I haven’t tried the recipe yet so would love to hear any feedback. And if you know anything about the history of carrot cake and how it arrived in the US I’d be really interested in hearing about it.

Contact details

Hotel Edelweiss
Terracestrasse 10
CH-6390 Engelberg
Switzerland
Phone: +41 41 639 78 78
Fax: +41 41 639 78 88
Kuhn@edelweissengelberg.ch

Show Cheese Factory at the Engelberg Monastery
Klosterhof
CH-6390 Engelberg, Switzerland
Phone +41 41 638 08 88
Fax +41 41 638 08 87
odermatt@schaukaeserei-engelberg.ch

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