Tuesday, September 12, 2006

FACE STUFFIN': First time lucky with Rösti

Swiss cuisine is as oxymoronic as Novaya Zemlya cuisine. Cheese fondues glistening with the sickly sheen of fairground candy, but crucially that bit sweeter; detumescent imitations of Bavarian sausages; beginners' Piedmontese. Switzerland's palate has even forgotten its greatest creation after Gruyere; that is of course absinthe, in the stills in the hills above Romont and Lausanne.

The origins of the one genuinely enjoyable Swiss staple, the roast potato cake Rösti, are obscure. Allegedly a farmer's breakfast dish from the Bernese Oberland, it must have originated from the arable plains around the River Aare and the Swiss capital; tubers don't like mountain slopes. It has suspicious overtones of the Bavarian artery-fattener Bratkartoffeln.

But here the Swiss outdo the Bavarians in restraint. Bratkartoffeln has egg added to its pan of glassy onions, grilled streaky bacon and puffy mound of coarsely-grated spuds. That's too much; that's collaborating more than was necessary.

Here's the schtick; parboil large peeled potatoes - Maris Pipers will do although Bintjes would be an interestingly toothsome contrast to the salt to come. Drain and leave to cool. Quality, as with the bacon and onions, is everything. Slice the bacon into even chunks and finely chop a Spanish onion (this is for 4). Heat butter and oil in a frying pan and gently cook bacon and onions until well done (the onions should be coloured just a little). In the meantime, coarsely grate your cooled spuds and fold the whole lot together in a pan with more butter and oil. The Swiss are animated as to raw or cooked spuds; it's your call. Quickly shape with whatever comes to hand the resultant mess into a coherent cake, not too deep. Season with a little salt and some freshly ground pepper. Above all keep whizzing the cake round the pan to stop sticking or burning; the heat should be low. 15 minutes should do it. Keep checking that the underside doesn't burn - use a flat spoon.

Great for brekkers? Nah. One for coming home, especially if you've prepared the night before. Total time - 15 mins prep, 15 mins cooking.

Basse cuisine, yes. But when you've just got your first Rösti just as crisp and browned as induces a growling Homeric feeding frenzy, then you know you're there.

Herbs, spices, cinnamon, apples, mushrooms - regional specialities, mostly less traditional - consult relevant sources. But if you HAVE to include cheese, make sure it's Gruyere or Appenzeller.

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