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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Swiss new year

February 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Yikes, we’re well into February, it’s almost the half-term holiday and I still haven’t written-up our New Year meal. It’s high time I put this right. We’ve been doing the new year thing since the big millennium celebration in 2000 and have taken turns hosting along with Neal & Shelley and Mike & Janet.

It fell to us to host this year and it occurred to me that despite my enthusiasm for all things Alpine I’d never yet chosen a Swiss theme. The challenge would be to avoid as many Swiss clichés as possible – cheese, chocolate, cowbells, cuckoo clocks and similar tat, and to keep the dishes relatively light so we’d all make it into 2012 feeling fit and raring to go.

Here’s the menu I came up with. You’ll see I didn’t entirely succeed with no cheese/light cuisine idea as the Malakoffs – deep-fried battered chunks of gruyère sound like the (Scottish?) first cousin of the deep fried Mars bar, but I couldn’t resist:

Canapés

(i) Bundnerfleisch (thin slices of air-dried cured beef)wrapped around celeriac remoulade; and (ii) Malakoffs – deep fried gruyère sticks

First course

Hay soup -light chicken/vegetable cream soup infused with meadow hay

Second course

Individual Luzerner Chugelipastete – puff pastry dome filled with braised veal pieces in cream and saffron sauce

Main course

Venison medallions with preiselbeer sauce, rösti and braised red cabbage

Salad

Lambs’ lettuce (the cutely named Nüsslisalat in German)

Pudding

Walnut and cinnamon parfait with mulled prune sauce and Zimtsternen – cinnamon star biscuits

Cheese

Vacherin Mont d’Or

Menu decided, next step was to set the scene. There’s never time to sort out a table centrepiece when you’re preparing a meal so I called in professional help in the form of Vicky Clements’ magnificent Swiss flag inspired floral arrangement in red and whie, a veritable alp in miniature (see her contact details below if you’re in or around S Manchester/Cheshire):

Vicky was responsible for the fairy-lit hearts too. Sehr gemütlich, Ja?

I dusted down my piping skills to write dinner guests’ names on an experimental batch of moulded biscuits using my newly acquired Swiss Springerle moulds. They were a little involved to make but I was quite pleased with these as my first attempt. My piping is rusty though and it took a few attempts to steady the hands and create something legible:

Air dried beef is usually served as part of a large platter of cured meats and cheeses in Switzerland. We chose to roll the beef around celeriac remoulade which created a light and fresh-tasting canapé packed with flavour. Janet made the celeriac – very simply made by mixing raw grated celeriac into a Greek yoghurt, lemon and parsley dressing – and assembled the canapés and very pretty they looked too. Celeriac makes a fantastic winter salad and we’ve eaten it several times already since then:

The doyennes of cookery and entertaining always tell you not to try out new recipes on your guests don’t they? Well, I think rules like this are meant to be broken, but sometimes minor disasters will ensue. I think it’s fair to say that the malakoffs didn’t work. Tim was banished to the garage to deep fry these battered cheese parcels. I can’t abide the smell of deep-frying fat in the house, so our deep-fat fryer lives very happily in the garage which means that, with the assistance of the barbecue it’s pretty easy to rustle up a mean steak and chips for al fresco consumption in the summer.

I thought we’d followed the malakoff instructions on the Swiss food blog http://www.fxcuisine.com to the letter. Maybe the batter was too light, maybe the oil was too hot, maybe we cooked them for too long, but when we came to consume the malakoffs, they turned out to be hollow as all the molten cheese had leaked out into the frying oil creating an unholy mess (which I have yet to properly clean up I’m ashamed to say). The fritters looked the part and retained enough of the ghost of a flavour of cheese to allow you to imagine how delicious a correctly cooked malakoff might be. Another time…

We began the meal proper with an unusual hay soup, expertly prepared by Shelley. This is a traditional Swiss soup, different versions of which come from the mountainous cantons of Valais and Graubünden. I’d tasted this in Klosters a couple of winters ago, and it looked so pretty presented on its bed of hay and garnished with dried meadow flowers that I had to put it on our menu.

I couldn’t find a definitive recipe but found several different versions by searching under “Heusuppe Rezept”. Our version used a hay-infused light stock, a flavour base of sweated vegetables and a little pearl barley to thicken. I think I’d like to try out the other versions before publishing a definitive recipe.

Sourcing the hay proved to be harder than I’d thought. I scoured farms in the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales for an elusive handful of local organic meadow hay but without success – all I was offered was silage which I don’t think would make a very pleasant tasting soup. In the end, The Hay Experts (see contact details below) came to my rescue. They really do know their hays (even if the end consumer is usually a pet rabbit) and despatched just what I needed very promptly.

Our next course was a miniature version of the Luzerner Chugelipastete – an exuberant puff pastry dome filled with braised veal and veal sausagemeat in a creamy saffron flavoured sauce. In order to cut down on the pastry, I made pastry lids to cover the braised veal which was served in individual ramekins.
I posted last year on the subject of this dish:
https://rhubarbfool.co.uk/2011/03/03/lunch-in-lucerne/

I used a couple of cheat steps when I made the miniature version of the dish. Short of time, I used Dorset all-butter puff pastry – reliably good if you don’t have time to make your own. Instead of veal forcemeat balls made from scratch I used a pack of veal meatballs from Waitrose. These are made from ethically sourced British rosé veal and are delicious and versatile. Actually, I didn’t follow the Marian Kaltenbach recipe for the sauce which I’ve quoted before at all. I flash fried strips of veal tenderloin, combined them with the cooked veal meatballs, added a little stock and cream, reduced the whole lot down to make a sauce and added grapes macerated in a Swiss grappa type schnapps to finish. I was reasonably happy with the end result:

We were now well set up for the main event, a fabulous-looking venison tenderloin supplied from The Blackface Meat Company who are based up near Dumfries in Scotland. I’ve used them a couple of times before for game and rare breed meat. They may be a little expensive but they supply top quality meat, expertly butchered and delivered promptly and efficiently to your door.

I did try and obtain some local venison from Dunham Massey. Each year, the deer are culled and just a few of the younger deer are butchered and sold to the public via a local farm shop. Unfortunately because of problems with poaching this year I didn’t know if my tenderloin was going to turn up on time. When finally I did get the call that the venison was available, I was a little disappointed with what the butcher had done as this tenderloin was nowhere near as expertly trimmed as the Blackhouse meat. So Dunham’s answer to Bambi is in the freezer ready for a future Sunday lunch.

The Blackhouse website lists useful recipes and I followed chef Mark Hix’s instructions for marinading the venison in red wine before flash-frying and serving with a red wine reduction. Not an authentic Swiss recipe but very Swiss in character as you’ll find lots of robust game dishes cooked with red wine in restaurants during the autumn and winter hunting season.

The venison was expertly cooked by Janet and was served with everyone’s favourite Swiss dish, potato rösti,braised red cabbage and a spoonful of Preiselbeer sauce. The Preiselbeer is a smaller, tastier European relative of the more familiar North American cranberry. It’s also known as the lingonberry in Swedish and here in England it’s known as the cowberry but is not a popular forager’s fruit as yet.

Sorry my pictures of the finished dish are too dark to be meaningful, but here are photos of the meat bathing in its marinade, the same meat cooked and carved, and a jar of the Preiselbeer sauce brought back from a little shop in Klosters:

Avoiding the temptations of triple Toblerone chocolate mousse and the like, I chose a simple walnut and honey parfait for pudding served with prunes cooked in red wine and spices to give a delicious festive mulled-wine flavour. Alongside the parfait and prunes I served a traditional Swiss/German advent biscuit, the Zimtstern – a cinnamon flavoured dough made like a macaroon from ground nuts, sugar and whisked egg whites, topped with a crisp meringue icing. These are nutty, chewy and delicious and a tad difficult to make. I’ve not given the recipe in this post as frankly it’s too long already, and they merit a post all of their own.

To conclude the meal as we approached midnight, a superb Vacherin Mont d’Or cheese from the Jura region of Switzerland, one of my favourite cheeses. It’s soft and creamy and can be spooned out of its wooden box when properly mature and ready to eat. It’s only available during the winter months. Ours came from the Duty Free shop at Zürich airport, but you can find it over here sometimes either in a specialist cheese shop or occasionally in Waitrose. If you find one, grab it, you won’t regret it.

I couldn’t possibly list all the evening’s recipes in a single post – in fact to help with the preparations, I photocopied and printed them all out and have enough material for a small cookery book!

I’m just going to give two recipes, both straightforward and both now in my regular repertoire.

Recipe for celeriac remoulade

My lighter, fresher version of this bistro classic, replacing the usual mayo with Greek yoghurt.

Serves 4 or more as part of a selection of salads

Ingredients

1 small or half a medium celeriac grated in a food processor
juice of half a lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons thick Greek yoghurt
2 tablespoons half fat crème fraîche
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chopped flatleaf parsley

Grate the celeriac quite finely (easiest to do this in a food processor) and in a medium bowl mix thoroughly with the lemon juice to stop the celeriac turning brown. You can prepare the celeriac to this stage then refrigerate it several hours ahead of time and it will still be fine. When you’re ready to serve, add the other ingredients to the bowl and stir to combine.

Recipe for walnut parfaits with mulled prunes

Translated from the German and adapted from a little Swiss cookbook called “Geliebte Schweizer Küche”.

Serves 6

Ingredients

For the mulled prunes

1 bottle fruity red wine
200g prunes
2 cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla pod
2 cloves
1 large piece of peel from an unwaxed orange

For the parfait

2 eggs
2 dessertspoons runny honey
1 pinch powdered cinnamon
1 dessertspoon Grand Marnier
180ml whipping cream
50g walnuts, coarsely chopped

Begin by making the mulled prunes the day before you plan to serve the dish. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan, bring to the boil then leave to cool and infuse overnight.

Next make the parfait. You can make this a couple of days ahead of time as it’s frozen. Mix the eggs, honey, powdered cinnamon and Grand Marnier together in a bowl. Using an electric whisk, beat together until the mixture is light and foamy. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream to the soft peak stage and combine with the egg mixture and chopped walnuts. Divide the mixture between 6 or more small moulds (china teacups or ramekins are fine) and freeze for at least four hours.

When you are ready to serve, dip the moulds briefly into hot water, loosen with a knife if necessary and invert onto individual serving plates. Spoon the prunes and red wine sauce around and serve.

Contact details

Vicky Clements – “Inside Out” flowers and gardening, Bowdon, Cheshire
Mobile 07762 387 372

The Hay Experts – suppliers of organic and other hays
http://www.thehayexperts.co.uk/

The Blackface Meat Company – suppliers of rare breed meat and game
http://www.blackface.co.uk/

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

Lunch in Lucerne

March 3, 2011 § 1 Comment

Next stop after Zürich airport en route to Engelberg for our half term ski holiday was Lucerne. The city is spectactularly situated by the lake we know in the English speaking world as Lake Lucerne but is known in Switzerland as the Vierwaldstättersee (lake of the 4 forest cantons).

Lucerne missed by a whisker being nominated as Switzerland’s capital city (rather than sleepy Berne) and has a definite cosmopolitan European capital feel with its lakeside concert hall, museums and galleries.

We spent a few days here last summer too and had one of the most perfect al fresco meals ever in the grounds of the lakeside Hermitage Hotel:

Lucerne can lay claim to a number of local specialities. Luzerner Birnenbrot, a giant fig-roll type affair crammed full of dried pears and nuts, can be found in most bakeries.

But arguably, Lucerne’s most famous dish is the “Ächti Lozärner Chügelipaschtete”, a giant vol-au-vent type pastry case filled with chunks of veal, sweetbread, sausage and tiny mushrooms in a savoury saffron flavoured sauce. With its magnificent egg-wash gilding and pastry decoration and its saffron flavouring, the dish has a medieval banquet feel and is unusual and delicious. Here’s the version we tried, toned down a little for modern appetites:

Back home, I’ve combed through my collection of cookery books for a recipe for this dish and have come across an authentic sounding one from Marianne Kaltenbach’s “Aus Schweizer Küchen” which I translate and paraphrase below. This version doesn’t include saffron or sweetbreads which is a pity as they add to the character of this dish and were certainly present in the version we ate.

I also found this beautifully photographed and meticulously written Swiss blog entry on how to make a miniature version of this delicacy. I give the link below but you’ll need to brush up on your German if you want to read it!

http://lamiacucina.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/luzerner-chugelipastete-fritschipastete/

Recipe for Ächti Lozärner Chügelipaschtete

From Marianne Kaltenbach’s “Aus Schweizer Küchen”. Apologies in advance for any errors in translation which are mine alone!

Serves 4-5 people

Ingredients

For the pastry case

600-700g puff pastry
1 small bread roll plus a handful of tissue paper
2 egg yolks

For the filling

250g lean pork
250g lean veal
1 onion
3 dessertspoons butter
1/2 litre white wine
approx 150g pork and veal sausagemeat
1 teaspoon each of ground coriander seed and chopped marjoram (more to taste if liked)
300 ml stock
2 dessertspoons flour
50g grapes macerated in 1 dessertspoon of Swiss pear Schnapps or Kirsch
Salt, pepper, grated nutmeg
a little cream
1 dessertspoon chopped almonds

Roll out the puff pastry to a thickness of 4mm and cut out from it 2 circles approx 24cm and 32cm in diameter. Place the smaller circle on a dampened baking sheet. Wrap the bread roll in sheets of tissue paper until it forms a ball approx 37-38cm in circumference. Place it on the centre of the smaller pastry circle. Brush the border with water and place the larger circle over the top. Seal the join and crimp the border.

Roll out the rest of the pastry and cut strips approx 3mm thick and 6mm wide. Brush them with egg yolk and stick them onto the pastry dome laying 4 strips in the form of a cross and 2 others in the form of a ring. Place further strips around the base to cover the ends of the strips neatly.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Further decorate the pastry dome with star, heart and half-moon shapes cut from the pastry remnants. Finish with a large pastry rosette on top. Brush the lot with egg yolk wash.

Bake in the lower part of the oven where the temperature will be only 160 degrees C for 40 minutes. After 25 minutes, cover with aluminium foil. Remove from the oven when cooked and leave to rest for 5 minutes. Remove the top part of the pastry shell from the upper ring and take out the paper-wrapped bread roll.

(This all sounds a bit complex but the lovely photos from the La Mia Cucina blog to which a link is given above make it all visually clearer).

Now make the filling. Cut the meat into small cubes. Peel and chop the onions. Melt 1 and 1/2 dessertspoons of butter in a pan and brown the meat and onions. Add 50ml white wine to the pan and cook for 10 minutes.

Mix the sausagemeat with coriander and marjoram and form into small balls. Bring the stock to the boil in a medium saucepan and poach the sausagemeat balls for 10 minutes.

For the sauce, melt the remainder of the butter and add the flour to form a roux. Off the heat, gradually beat in the rest of the wine. Add the collected meat juices from the previous cooking steps to the pan together with the grapes and their soaking alcohol. Cook for 20 minutes. Add the meat and sausagemeat balls, heat through, season and thin the sauce if necessary with a little cream or additional stock.

Toast the almonds. Fill the pastry dome with the meat and sauce mixture, scatter over the almonds and top with the pastry lid

Variations: add a grated apple to the sauce; replace some of the meat with button mushrooms.

This dish is especially associated with “Fastnacht”, the night before the Lenten carnival, what we would call Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras. It makes whipping up a few pancakes seem like a doddle!

Edible municipal gardening in Switzerland

August 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

An idea from Switzerland that could work well back home. Municipal planting in the North of England where I come from tends to take the form of highly coloured highly regimented and highly maintained beds of marigolds, begonias, lobelia and the like. I saw recently in both Champéry and Vevey, two towns in la Suisse Romande (French speaking Switzerland), examples of edible flower beds.

In Vevey these were straightforward ornamental vegetables, rainbow chard, sweetcorn and tomatoes.

In Champéry, a more imaginative approach was taken. Herbs and edible plants were displayed in planters which formed a trail through the village with a recipe for the relevant edible plant displayed next to it. The recipes were compiled into a handy little brochure available from the tourist office.

Here are 3 of the recipes from the leaflet which appealed to me, including one featuring comfrey. Normally all my recipes are tried and tested but these are new to me. I shall be giving them a go as soon as I’m back in my own kitchen and can forage for the ingredients.

A photo of the planter containing comfrey (Symphytum officinale or consoude in French) appears at the bottom of the post.

Recipe for comfrey tzatziki

For 4 people. This recipe makes sense as tzatiki is usually made with cucumber and both comfrey and it’s cousin borage are said to have a cucumber-like taste. Rather worryingly, the original recipe states that comfrey should be consumed in moderation because of the potentially liver damaging compounds it contains. You have been warned!

Ingredients

300g natural yoghurt, ideally Greek style
6-7 young comfrey leaves
1 clove of garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
5 mint leaves, ideally wild mint
salt and pepper

Chop the comfrey and mint finely and mix with the yoghurt and olive oil. Season to taste. Leave for 1 hour in the fridge and mix again before serving.

Recipe for little elderberry cakes

Makes about 25 little cakes. These sound as if they’ll turn out like madeleines – I hope so as madeleines are just about my favourite small cakes.

Ingredients

150g flour
150g caster sugar
40g ground almonds (ideally bitter almonds)
2 teaspoons baking powder
The grated rind and juice of half a lemon
150-200g ripe elderberries removed from the stalk
3 eggs lightly beaten with a fork
150g melted butter
125g natural yoghurt
2 tbsp orange flower water

In a large bowl mix the flour, sugar, ground almonds, baking powder, grated lemon rind and elderberries. Take care not to crush the berries. In a second smaller bowl, mix the eggs, melted butter, yoghurt, lemon juice and orange flower water. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, mix and allow to rest in the fridge for 1 hour. Drop teaspoons of the mixture into prepared silicone moulds (I plan to use my silicone madeleine moulds, otherwise use patty tins). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in an oven preheated to 220 degrees C. Leave for a few minutes before unmoulding.

Recipe for Charentais melon and wild mint salsa with melon and muscat sorbet and raw ham from the Val d’Illiez

Serves 4 I would guess. This is one of the sketchier recipes in the leaflet so please alter it as you see fit. No ingredients or method are given for the sorbet syrup so please consult your usual cookbook to see how to make this.

Ingredients

2 Charentais melons
1/2 cucumber
1 dessertspoon icing sugar
125 ml sugar syrup
Small glass Pineau de Charentes or other sweet muscat wine
4 handfuls salad leaves
4 to 8 slices Val d’Illiez or other raw thinly ham

Peel and deseed the melon and cucumber, cut into small cubes and marinate overnight in the fridge with the chopped mint and the spoonful of icing sugar. Liquidise and set aside.

To make the sorbet, peel and deseed the second melon, cube and liquids then mix with the 125 ml chilled sugar syrup and the small glass of muscat wine. Churn in an ice cream maker or freeze in a shallow plastic container stirring the mix from time to time.

Serve the smoothy and the sorbet with a few dressed salad leaves (use a vinaigrette flavoured with chopped wild mint) and scatter over the strips of raw ham.

More rhubarb puddings

June 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

English strawberries have been late this year so rhubarb has been the home-grown fruit (yes I know it’s technically not a fruit) of choice for late spring/early summer puddings lately.

I made a fabulous rhubarb cornmeal cake for a big family gathering over the half term holidays – easy to make and just a little more celebratory than the usual rhubarb crumble that usually figures in big family meals. This is a recipe from Nigella Lawson’s Domestic Goddess book.

My second rhubarb recipe, a simple tart, comes from French-speaking Switzerland, in fact from the tiny wine village of Chardonne which was my second home for 4 consecutive winters back in the 1980s. I found this recipe in Marianne Kaltenbach’s “Aus Schweizer Küchen” (from the Swiss kitchen). The recipe comprises a sweet pastry enriched with ground almonds and egg and a simple filling of rhubarb, sugar and local white wine. We most often pair rhubarb with orange or ginger in English recipes so it was a refreshing change to try something a little different which lets the rhubarb flavour shine through.

We’re well and truly into outdoor field-grown rhubarb season now (rather than the candy-pink tender forced rhubarb from Yorkshire that begins the season in February). The rhubarb variety I’ve used for both recipes is rather pleasingly called Timperley. Pleasingly because Timperley village is just a couple of miles from our front door and presumably this variety was bred by a local market gardener a hundred or so years ago.

Although I think of rhubarb as typically English, it originates from central Europe/Asia on the banks of the Volga so it is not surprising to find it appearing in different countries’ cuisines. The Scandinavians turn it into a tart sauce to serve with meat, the Persians incorporate it into a slow-cooked stew and there are a whole host of homely pudding recipes based on rhubarb like the two I give here. I’ve yet to discover whether the Italians cook with rhubarb though…That’s another train of thought altogether which I don’t have time to follow up just now… Here are the recipes:

Recipe for Rhubarb Cornmeal Cake

From Nigella Lawson’s “How to be a Domestic Goddess”. Like she says it’s very versatile – you can eat it with a cup of tea or serve it with some proper custard as a pudding.

Serves 8-10

Ingredients

500g rhubarb
300g golden caster sugar
150g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
155g fine polenta/cornmeal (the quick cook stuff is fine)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
125g butter, softened at room temperature
250g thick natural yoghurt

Prepare a 23cm (9 inch) round cake tin by lining with a double thickness of baking paper. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/gas mark 4. Wash and trim the rhubarb and cut into 1/2 cm slices. Put into a bowl and add 100g of the sugar. Don’t let the rhubarb stand for more than 1 hour otherwise it will produce too much juice and make the cake wet.

Mix together the flour, bicarb, salt, cinnamon and polenta. Do not, as I did on one occasion, be tempted to use self raising flour as it makes the cake rise too quickly leaving the rhubarb at the bottom of the tin. With a fork, beat the eggs with the vanilla in a measuring jug or small bowl. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and the remaining sugar and gradually add the egg and vanilla mixture, beating while you do so. Then add the flour/polenta mixture alternately with the yoghurt. They just need to be combined: don’t overmix.

Finally, add the rhubarb together with its sugary juices, folding in to mix, and then spoon the batter into the prepared cake tin. Bake in the preheated oven for about 1 hour until the cake surface springs back when pressed gently with a (clean!) forefinger. Check the cake after 30 minutes’ cooking time as you will almost certainly need to turn the oven down a notch and/or cover the top of the cake with foil to prevent it browning too much.

Leave the cake to cool in the tin for at least 30 minutes before attempting to turn out.

Recipe for Chardonne Rhubarb Tart

From Marianne Kaltenbach’s “Aus Schweizer Küchen” where the recipe is titled Gâteau à la rhubarbe à la mode de Chardonne/Rhabarbekuchen. It is most definitely a tart rather than a cake. This is Swiss-German language cookbook but the recipe is from French-speaking West Switzerland, specifically the tiny wine village of Chardonne in the canton of Vaud. Ms Kaltenbach suggests drinking a glass of Chardonne wine with the tart – an excellent idea if you can get hold of some (Nick Dobson wines in the UK currently stocks several www.nickdobsonwines.co.uk). If not, any light white wine with a good balance of acidity and sweetness would be good – perhaps a Dr Loosen Riesling or similar.

Ingredients

120g plain flour
60g butter, softened at room temperature
30g golden caster sugar
pinch of salt
25g ground almonds
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 kg rhubarb
5 dessertspoons golden caster sugar
2 dessertspoons white wine
a little butter for dotting

Sift the flour together with the salt onto a clean work-surface or pastry board. Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the flour. Add the sugar and ground almonds to the pile and mix it all together loosely with your fingers. Don’t attempt to rub in the butter yet. Make a well in the centre of the mix, add the egg yolk and vanilla extract to the well and bring all the mixture together with your fingers to make a dough. Incorporate the butter into the dough using a smearing rather than rubbing-in action. If necessary, add just a little water to bring the dough together. Knead lightly then wrap in clingfilm and rest for 3 hours or so in the fridge. The original recipe suggests resting the dough for 12 hours but I found it was workable after a shorter resting period and produced a good result when baked. During the resting period, line a round cake tin 26cm (10 inches) in diameter with baking paper (the German word is Backblech – baking tin – I found that an ordinary cake tin worked well).

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C.

Take the rested dough from the fridge and place it on a work surface. Begin to flatten the dough a little by giving it a few firm whacks with a rolling pin but don’t attempt to roll out. Place the flattened dough in the centre of the prepared tin and with your hands press the dough to the edges of the tin and up the sides to form an edge about 2cm high. This is a little fiddly but be patient, you will get there. Prick the base of the dough all over with a fork and return the tin to the fridge to rest further while you prepare the rhubarb.

Wash, dry, trim and slice the rhubarb into small chunks – about 2cm (3/4 inch) in length. The specified recipe quantity of 1kg rhubarb means unprepared weight from the garden. If buying partly trimmed stalks from a supermarket, start with 800g rhubarb which when trimmed will result in a prepared weight of about 700g.

Remove the pastry-lined tin from the fridge and spread the prepared rhubarb over the base. Sprinkle over 3 dessertspoons caster sugar, maybe a little more depending on your personal taste. Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven. Keep a close eye on the tart to make sure that the pastry doesn’t become too brown. After half an hour, remove the tart from the oven and sprinkle over the white wine, a further 2 dessertspoons caster sugar and a few dots of butter and return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes to complete the baking.

Allow to cool in the tin for 30 minutes before attempting to turn out. Best served warm and needs no accompaniment other than the recommended glass of white wine.

If anyone knows the origins of Timperley rhubarb or has any Italian rhubarb recipes I would love to hear from you. Please send me a comment.

Swiss food in London

January 18, 2010 § 1 Comment

After the New Year’s Eve feast (see previous post) it was our turn to rustle up a meal for 14 (6 adults, 8 children) on New Year’s Day. We’d prepared in advance by doing all the shopping, except for the salad ingredients, in Switzerland. Even the bread came from a lovely bakery in Zürich airport terminal. Swiss wine, an essential component of the meal, would have been too heavy to carry so we’d arranged an advance delivery to our hosts’ address by UK wine merchant Nick Dobson Wines. Nick is a man after my own heart who specialises in wines from Austria, Switzerland and Beaujolais. I’ve bought a number of items from him over the years both for home consumption and as gifts and he’s been really efficient, helpful and knowledgeable every time, plus supplied some really enjoyable wines so I would definitely recommend him if you are looking for something unusual. I give his contact details below at the end of this post.

Our Swiss themed menu was:

Bündnerfleisch (dried cured meat from Graubünden) – a mixture of beef and venison

Mixed salad

Cheese fondue

Bündner Nusstorte (caramel walnut pie from Graubünden)

We indulged in a bit of judicious cheating (or careful purchasing depending on your point of view!) and brought back from Klosters a bag of ready grated weighed and blended cheese for the fondue and the Nusstorte too.  I give recipes both for cheese fondue and Nusstorte below if you want to have a go at home. Both recipes have been tried and tested more than once back home in the UK.

Our Bündnerfleisch came from an artisanal manufacturer in Klosters, a little shop on the main Landstrasse road close to the Heid ski lift.  Bündnerfleisch is salted and cured meat, usually beef but we bought the venison version as well – similar but darker red with a background gamey flavour.  The raw meat is first salted and mixed with a secret recipe of herbs and spices before being hung up to dry for several weeks.  The meat is then pressed into a distinctive rectangular shape before being very thinly sliced and served.  Bündernerfleisch is similar to the better known Italian bresaola which itself comes from the nearby Valtellina.

The people who run the Klosters business very kindly showed me round their processing and drying rooms where I was able to sea the beef pieces maturing slowly in the rafters:

You can read more about Bündnerflesich by following this link: http://www.grischuna.ch/productsE.html. I just wish we could get hold of it more readily over here as it’s delicious.

This was a really easy meal to feed a crowd of people, fun for both grown-ups an children.  Neither the truly authentic Bündnerfleisch nor a pre-prepared Nusstorte are readily available here but you could easily substitute a platter of  other cured meats and procure a tart from your local bakery to recreate the idea.  Here is the grown-ups’ table (the riotous childrens’ table is just next door).

And here’s the beautiful Nusstorte fresh (well almost) from Charly’s in Klosters:

Recipe for cheese fondue “moitié-moitié” (half and half)

This recipe comes from my trusty little Betty Bossi Swiss Specialities cook book, a little ringbound volume with one recipe per page, clear simple and instructions and a photo of every dish.  The half and half in the recipe title refers to the mixture of 2 cheeses used in this fondue.  This recipe serves 4 people generously.

Ingredients

600g day-old bread from a cob or chunky baguette type of loaf (you need the right ratio of crust to crumb – a tin loaf would give too much crumb) cut into cubes
300g mature gruyère cheese
300g vacherin fribourgeois cheese (substitute emmental if vacherin fribourgeois is not available)
300 ml white wine, ideally a Swiss chasselas, otherwise whatever dry white wine you have to hand
1 peeled clove of garlic left whole
1 small glass (liqueur glass) of kirsch
1 tablespoon cornflour
a pinch each of freshly ground black pepper, paprika, freshly grated nutmeg

Grate the cheese using a coarse grater and place into the fondue pan. A traditional fondue pan is referred to as a caquelon.  If, like me you bought a ready grated fondue mix of cheeses, simply tip the contents of the packet into the fondue pan. In a separate bowl, mix together the cornflour and white wine.  Pour the mixture over the cheese in the fondue pan.  Place the pan over a low heat and slowly bring the mixture up to boiling point, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  Add the whole garlic clove, kirsch and seasoning to the mix.  Once the mixture is smooth, creamy and bubbling, bring the fondue pan to the table and set your table burner on low.  You are now ready to serve.  Give the bottom of the pan a stir every so often with a bread cube on the end of your skewer to stop the cheese crust which forms on the base (known as la religieuse) from burning.

Recipe for Bündner Nusstorte

This recipe comes from a little ringbound paperback “Bündner Landfrauen Kochen” (Graubünden farmers’ wives cookbook) and was submitted both by Mrs Annina Mengiardi of Ardez (Swiss German version) and by Mrs Marta Padrun of Lavin (Romansch version) so it is certainly authentic.  My Romansch is limited but as far as I can tell, the recipes are identical. The translation from Swiss German is mine as are one or two additions. I’ve made the recipe twice now so can confirm that it works.  The sweet pastry dough is a little difficult to handle so be gentle with it. Caramelising the sugar for the filling has to be done carefully as well. The key thing is to seal in the filling thoroughly otherwise it bubbles out when baked.  A small slice of the pie is enough so on that basis the recipe would serve 12 people. It’s usually served on its own without cream or ice-cream and is just as good with a cup of tea or coffee as it is for pudding. I wonder if this is the European precursor to the American pecan pie?

Ingredients

300g plain flour
150g caster sugar
150g butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
pinch of salt

Filling

300g caster sugar
50 ml water
250g roughly chopped walnuts
200 ml double cream
1 dessertspoon of honey

Rub the butter into the flour to which you have added the pinch of salt until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar then the beaten egg and work into a dough handling as lightly as you can. Wrap and chill the dough for half an hour.  Roll out 2/3 of the dough and use it to line a loose bottomed flan tin 24-26cm in diameter. Do not trim the excess pastry as you should aim to leave an overlap of 3 cm. Wrap and return the remaining pastry dough to the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

For the filling, melt together the sugar and water in a heavy based saucepan and allow to caramelise to a brown colour. Add the chopped walnuts, cream and honey, stir well and allow to cool to room temperature.

Fill the pie base, then roll out a lid and place it over the tart.  Seal the edges well.  I recommend leaving the pie edges untrimmed at this stage as you can neaten up the edges after baking.  Prick the surface with a fork all over decoratively if you like (see picture above) but don’t overdo it as the filling will leak out.

Bake at 220 degrees C for the first 10 minutes then reduce the heat to 180 degrees C and bake until the tart is a light golden brown (approx another 30 minutes.

Contact details for Nick Dobson Wines

Telephone 0800 849 3078

http://www.nickdobsonwines.co.uk/

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