GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Here’s my version of our family recipe for the classic American 1950′s dish that we, as Catholics who didn’t eat meat on Friday, often had that night of the week. When you watch Mad Men, remember that in Iowa we were sitting around the table eating this. We bought our first TV in 1956 and those ads created on Madison Avenue hadn’t yet started to reach us.
The main recipe change is that I use better noodles than the ones my mother, in Iowa, had access to. And since I live in Switzerland I’ve added Gruyere cheese, but any hard cheese will do.
First, a word on peas and freezers.
A word on peas
Florence Lonergan Wallace, my mother, liked canned peas, which I never have. We had fresh peas on occasion, when we would visit my grandmother in Reinbeck, Iowa, but I was never fond of them because we had to sit on her back steps and shell them first.
I’ve just been reading the history of frozen food and discovered that Clarence Birdseye brought the first quick frozen products to the US market in 1930.
My mother bought food once a week when I was a child, and our refrigerator had a freezer compartment just large enough to hold ice cubes, so while frozen foods were available, we didn’t buy them for storage until the 1960s. I immediately became a fan of frozen peas, a lifetime food love affair, as long as they are really good quality (the smaller the better).
When I moved to Ireland in 1981 for a few months I was astonished to discover dried peas and to learn that for many Irish and British families, this was a staple vegetable. I’ve never learned to appreciate them, except in soup.
Here is what we ate two nights ago at my house, in celebration of the centenary of my mother’s birthday, 26 January. It’s a one-dish meal, not costly, can be increased or decreased for the size of the crowd, and if it’s made well, with good ingredients, you can’t go wrong, especially with kids. A key to success it to make sure it doesn’t dry out; I know too many Americans who has memories of flannel-flavoured tuna noodle casseroles!
Florence’s tuna noodle casserole, circa 1950
Preheat oven to 190C / 350F
Ingredients, sauce: milk, butter, flour
canned tuna, “natural” (packed in water, not oil), 200g
noodles / tagliatelle, 500g
green olives with pimiento stuffing, 10-20, quartered
medium green pickles, gurkens and not cornichons, 2 diced
pepper, green and/or red, 1/2, diced
onion, 1 medium, diced
celery, 2 stalks (peel, if slightly bitter European celery), diced
cheese, 100g of Gruyere (I used the sharper salé), grated using large holes
frozen peas, small, 250g
Seasoning: salt and pepper, paprika, mustard (optional)
1. Chop as indicated the main ingredients, except for the noodles (tagliatelle), crumbling the tuna, and mix in a large casserole baking dish. Salt and pepper very lightly.
2. Cook the noodles (tagliatelle) according to instructions, usually about 8 minutes, run cold water over them to stop the cooking and drain. Set aside.
3. While the noodles cook, make a white sauce:
- melt over very low heat 2 T (tablespoon) of butter, then take it off the heat and add 2 T of white flour, stir to blend
- add in, all at once, 1 cup of milk, return to medium-low heat
- stir very frequently (to avoid lumps forming) until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes, noting that towards the end it can thicken very quickly and stick to the bottom of the pan.
3. As soon as the sauce is ready, add the drained and slightly cooled noodles to the other main ingredients, toss gently to mix, then pour the sauce over, making sure the ingredients are covered evenly with sauce. Use a knife tip to add a touch of mustard here and there. Sprinkle with paprika.
4. Bake uncovered just long enough to blend flavours and heat through, 20-25 minutes uncovered, checking to make sure the noodles don’t dry out. If it looks too dry, place a piece of foil loosely over the top.
Tip: if it doesn’t look like it’s moist enough before baking, add a few drops of milk. Better: if you think you don’t have enough sauce you can increase it (but it will be a bit thinner) by taking some of the finished sauce, adding it to 1/2 cup milk off the heat, blending well, then adding this back into the prepared sauce, over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, for another 2-3 minutes.
This is for anyone who is trying to forget about the stresses of daily life, such as living outside the US and dealing with the IRS, the long arm of the US tax service for those without green cards, US passports or distant relatives who left them a small American inheritance.
It’s instructions for scrambling eggs in the shell. You have to read it. And don’t give up halfway through: this is about persevering and how it pays off. It’s about how every kitchen question has an answer, and we can probably apply what we learn here to life outside the kitchen.
An eggy alternative is Elisabeth David‘s more traditional omelette recipes, which I love on normal, non-IRA battle days. She is so logical, a virtue I can’t ascribe to the IRS. Her classic book “An Omelette and a Glass of Wine”, written in 1952, remains one of my all-time favourite food books, far more than a cookbook.
But if, like the Evil Mad Scientists, you think a real omelette should be a tad more complicated, check out the source of Elisabeth David’s omelette recipe.
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There is nothing that beats just-warm brownies and a little glass of cold milk when it is snowing. The first snowfall of the season is exciting and everyone heads outdoors. By the second or third, snow starts looking like work, people get cold, and the kitchen beckons. A good way to keep family and friends busy and happy is to put them to work making brownies.
This is my adaptation for Switzerland of an old James Beard brownie recipe, which I consider one of the best. Susan Mosse in Ireland, a wonderful cook and baker, introduced me to it 30 years ago, and it wasn’t new then.
Notes: some ingredients have varying amounts as a matter of taste only. This recipe is from the bad old days of calories, sugar, fats, and it simply isn’t the same if you use substitutes, so don’t. Invite a crowd to avoid eating them all yourself if the calories worry you.
Swiss cooking chocolate has some sugar in it, so US recipes calling for unsweetened chocolate have to be adjusted, as has been done here.
1/2 cup (115 grams) softened butter – no substitutes!
180-200 grams Swiss baking chocolate (menage)
1-1/2 cup (340 grams) granulated sugar
2 eggs, 50-60 grams
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup (250 ml) white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-2 to 1 cup broken walnuts
Melt butter and chocolate over low heat. Remove from heat, stir well.
Stir in sugar.
Beat in eggs and vanila.
Quickly stir in flour, salt and nuts, just enough to lightly mix.
Spread into non-stick or buttered pan, 8 x 10 inches, or 9 x 12 inches (21 x 26 cm or the equivalent volume).
Bake at 180C or 170 in a fan oven, 35 minutes for the smaller pan size, 30 minutes for the larger, and five minutes less if you have a fan oven. Do not overbake!
To test for doneness: the top will not spring back like a cake when you touch it, but it should resist a bit. Use a sharp knife or baking tester stick, which should come out clean when put into the center.
IMPORTANT: Cut into squares with a lightly buttered or greased knife (I use a plastic salad knife) while still slightly warm, but let cool for two hours, to set, before eating.
We harvest 20-40 pumpkins from our Alpine garden every October, dry them for a month on the warm stones of the veranda to harden them off, then store them in a cool dark area for winter eating. We grow them at 1,100 metres altitude, on dirt mixed with a good dose of the neighboring farmer’s cow dung. These are happy pumpkins!
They are always lovely, lasting about three to four months, but the best is always the first one we cut and use in pumpkin pie. I made one for Scottish friends David and Evelyn from Geneva last weekend, and promised that rather than just sharing the instructions/recipe, I would post them here.
My recipe is an adaptation of my old recipes from the US, for Thanksgiving, but with Swiss ingredients and fresh pumpkin, something I never had access to when I lived in the States.
One small or half of a medium-sized pumpkin like those in the photo is needed for a pie. I use a cleaver to cut them into quarters and cook them in the pressure cooker, usually a couple hours before I need them. If you’re buying at the supermarket, you”ll need a couple good slices. Better: buy whole or slice pumpkin from a farmers market.
One of the secrets of a great pie is a perfect crust, which takes practice. This is why I try to bake pies regularly, to stay in practice. And because they are so delicious!
Pumpkin pie, using fresh or stored pumpkin
1 cup white flour (farine fleur)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening with some butter, Astra 10 is good as it is 10% butter
(note: this hardens in the refrigerator, where it should be stored once opened, so take it out 15 minutes before you need it. The Migros equivalent stays soft)
4-6 tablespoons cold water
If you’re already a dough pro, just read the words in bold. If you’re a novice, the details should help.
Stir salt into flour. Use a fork or pastry cutter to cut in the shortening until half the dough is the size of peas and the rest is larger balls.
Using a fork to toss the dough from underneath, sprinkle the water one tablespoon at a time to dampen the dough. It should be sticky enough to hold together without crumbling, but if you add too much water it becomes gooey.
Using your hands, form into a ball.
Sprinkle 1/4 cup of flour on the working surface, flatten the ball using the palm of your hands, not your fingers, until it is 1/2 inch or a couple centimetres thick. Roll out with a rolling pin, from the center, until the dough is about an inch or 2-3 cm larger than your pie pan. I run a large plastic spatula under the dough once or twice while rolling it out, to make sure it’s not sticking to the surface. Sprinkle flour on the work surface as needed to keep the dough from sticking.
Pick up the dough by draping half of it over the rolling pin, which makes it easier to transfer into the pie pan: place the rolling pin over the middle of the pan and your dough will be in the right place.
Mix, in order given:
- 2 eggs, slightly beaten
- 110 grams sugar, preferably light brown sugar but Muscado from Swiss supermarkets works
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon powdered ginger, or very finely slivered fresh ginger
- 340 grams freshly cooked pumpkin: 20 minutes in a pressure cooker or 30 minutes boiled in small amount of water
- 1-2/3 cups condensed milk: 2 tubes, available in Swiss supermarkets
Pour into pastry shell. Bake 15 minutes at 210C/425F. Reduce heat to 190C/350F and bake 25-30 minutes more. If the top or crust brown too quickly, lay a sheet of cooking foil loosely over the top.
Check for doneness by inserting a sharp knife into the center. It should come out clean.
Cool on a rack. Best served cold, accompanied by a light drizzle of cream or a spoonful of good quality plain yogurt.
A great dish to prepare in advance
Two friend of ours were helping us take care of our handicapped daughter and my post-operative husband this weekend by doing some of the cooking. This is more than help: David in particular is a wonderful cook and even his simplest dishes are always delicious. When he heard we had a vegetarian friend visiting the next evening he offered to prepare lentils with cumin, which could be cooked ahead and reheated gently or eaten cold. We had enough to try it both ways and while I preferred them warm, they were very good cold.
There are many variations on this dish, but the recipe below has the virtue of simplicity.
Cumin with dried green lentils
- 1 cup dried green lentils, available in Swiss supermarkets (do not soak)
- 1-1/2 cups broth, chicken or vegetable
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/2 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp salt (if you are using salted broth or cubes, reduce this to taste)
Sauté the onion slowly over low heat, using Colza oil, for 10 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic towards the end and stir, taking care not to let the garlic brown. Add the lentils and liquid, plus the cumin and salt and simmer very gently for 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently, until the lentils are tender but not mushy.
Geneva, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) – (Video link included) Some dishes are simply delicious; others we love because of the memories they evoke. It’s not always easy to fall in love with the specialties in a country where you didn’t grow up. I’ve always loved American apple pie and I have a certain amount of fame in small circles for making an excellent one, with garden apples, so I was astonished when an elderly Swiss neighbor told me it was a lovely pie “but it would certainly be better if you didn’t add a top crust – that’s just too much crust.”
She’s probably right, but this is my traditional, grew-up-with-it USA apple pie and I won’t change it, thanks.
I know a lot of Genevans feel the same about plum pie, which I find pleasant most of the time and really good in the hands of a grandma who knows what she’s doing, out in the countryside. Today is Geneva’s “Jeûne genevois” cantonal holiday and plum pie was once the only thing you were allowed to eat on this day of religious fasting. For the past several years it’s simply been the dessert of choice, and all the shops in the region sell these. But the best, of course, will be the one you make yourself, and it must be one of the easiest pies to prepare. A classic recipe is offered by Pique-Assiette, whose video‘s make cooking easy and fun. Better yet, if you’re struggling to improve your French, this is a great way to learn!
Starting point: buy fresh fruit. Here’s a list of 35 farmers who sell fruit directly, from the cantonal agricultural department. You can also search the database by locality.
Pique-Assiette has a summer cooking programme on TSR public television. She’s not a famous chef but rather a popular cook with uncomplicated recipes. Her plum pie recipe calls for a prepared pastry that you can buy at any supermarket in Switzerland with a layer of crushed dry Amaretti biscuits for the crust. She uses 40 grams. Prick it with a fork in several places. The dark plums (she uses 750 grams) that you find everywhere in Switzerland this time of year are sliced lengthwise and placed neatly, skins down, on the crust. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar. Bake at 200C for 35 minutes.
Now here is a curious coincidence. When I was googling Geneva and plums I came across an article written in 2007 about how Geneva “leads the nation in producing new varieties of European plums”, which sounded odd. It’s about Geneva, New York, written by researchers at the University of Cornell, and the gorgeous photos of deep purple plums look just like the ones growing on our trees in Geneva, Switzerland. The article carries interesting information about the health benefits of plums, the wealth of varieties and more. It is New York-oriented but this tip holds here in Geneva, Switzerland, too: “Remember that any fruit purchased locally will be superior in flavor, aroma and nutrition because it is picked at a peak of ripeness.”
Happy holiday! Mmmmm.
Three great ways to cool down with fresh mint
By Gillian Rogers
Known in Greek mythology as the herb of hospitality, nothing cools and refreshes quite like fresh mint. Mojitos, lemonade, and granitas anyone?
Fresh mint granita
2 cups of water
1 cup chopped mint leaves (spearmint works well)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
fresh mint leaves for garnish
Combine the water, mint and sugar in a sauce pan, bringing the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for a few minutes, then stir in the lemon juice. Pour the mixture through a strainer into a shallow glass dish. Freeze for approximately three hours, periodically running a fork through the mixture to break up any chunks of ice that form. The end result is a sweet, cool, slushy, delicious summer treat that both adults and kids will love. Spoon the mixture into small glasses or bowls and garnish with fresh mint leaves.
Fresh squeezed lemonade with mint
Sure, there are mixes out there, but what really tastes like summer more than a tall glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade with mint? Simple and delicious—only four ingredients:
3 cups of water
1 cup of fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
fresh mint (I’m partial to spearmint)
Combine the ingredients in a glass pitcher and stir, add ice if desired, and fresh mint leaves. Make it the night before and keep it overnight in the fridge, so the mint infuses with the lemonade…mmmmmm.
Authentic Cuban version!
2 teaspoons sugar
Juice from one lime
About six mint leaves
1 sprig of mint for garnish
2 ounces of white rum
2 ounces of club soda
Crush the sugar, lime and mint leaves in a glass. Add the rum, club soda and ice. Stir and add a sprig of mint.
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By Ellen Wallace
Independence Day celebrations for Americans are upon us but I’ve now lived outside the US almost as long as I lived there, so the party is not quite as festive or important as it once was.
The day has taken on another significance for me: it’s the time when our Alpine garden onions are finally ready to eat, and they are exquisite! I rank them right up there with garden-fresh salads and potatoes as some of the World’s Best Simple Foods.
We had our first ones last night, one red, one white, and we prepared them very simply:
Recipe for lightly stewed garden onions with herbs
Slice them paper thin.
Warm 2 T olive oil in a deep frypan, add the onions. Add a pinch of Camargue fleur de sel (best sea salt, to my mind), several sprigs of fresh lemon thyme and two small sprigs of fresh rosemary.
Cover the pan and leave on low to medium low heat for 20 minutes, stirring gently once or twice. The moisture in the onions creates the steam.
We had these served on the side with barbecued steaks, mashed potatoes, fresh garden salad and a beautiful bottle of red wine from St Pierre de Clage in canton Valais, Baton Rouge 2004 (Vidomne winery) which is a surprising blend of two grape varieties better known in Italy, Barbera and Sangiovese.
The case of the Lausanne cake
By Ellen Wallace
Swiss cheese, Swiss rolls and today I discover gateau Lausanne: foods that don’t seem to be part of the panoply of what we eat in Switzerland, but the world knows them as Swiss foods. This happens elsewhere, of course, with the classic example of Belgium’s fried stick potatoes known as french fries. And Swiss cheese is a spinoff of Emmentaler, the famously holey stuff from canton Bern.
But Switzerland seems to have more than its fair share of foods blessed with Swiss names, and it’s unclear why.
To add to the confusion, if you live in Switzerland the language and cultural divide between regions is very marked, so that a torte in German-speaking Zurich is a foreign object in French-speaking Geneva, and German-speaking Basel’s leckerli is alien food to the Italian-speaking population in Ticino.
Benedikt, a German PhD student in the US who writes a blog that records his efforts to work his way through Bo Friberg’s tome, The Professional Pastry Chef, posted a beautiful series of photos and details of a “Gâteau Lausanne”. I was intrigued, read it through to the end and was charmed by the final product. Benedikt can definitely bake! It looks vaguely familiar to me, but I’ll have to make a visit to a bakery in Lausanne to see what they would call this, if they even bake it.
Maybe it is a bit like giving a name to your child that recalls a place you remember and admire or love, or a virtue, or something else positive with which to bless your offspring. My favourite in that line is the first name of Nigeria’s President Jonathan: Goodluck Jonathan.
My son just graduated from college, from UBC in Vancouver. What better way to celebrate his homecoming than with yet another pie, our standard way for the past four years of welcoming him home to Switzerland from abroad. The rhubarb in the garden turned out to be exactly right, and when I asked if that would be acceptable for a pie I had an enthusiastic yes!
Pie in our house means the slightly salty American variety, a crust made from scratch, rolled out by hand.
Notes on ingredients: I keep my shortning in the refrigerator. Migros brand shortning is softer and easier to use, but Astra 10, which I buy at the Coop, is 10% butter, which I prefer. I take it out to warm up slightly, 15-20 minutes before I need it. My brown sugar is the soft variety from the US or UK, which you can find in several specialty food shops. Cooking butter or beurre cuisine is clarified butter, easy to find in supermarkets.
Rhubarb straight from the garden
- cut it just before you use it, to avoid woodiness developing
- make sure the stalks you cut are all about the same thickness and choose the reddest ones
- cut them off at the base of the plant and lop off that giant leaf at the top, leaving it on the ground if your clump is in a hidden corner of the garden, as the leaves are rich in nutrients
- try to select stalks from different parts of the rhubarb clump so it gets more light and air
- if you see any stalks about to flower or that are flowering, cut them off – the plant will give you rhubarb all summer if you keep it from putting its energy into flowers.
Wash the rhubarb but don’t scrape off the strings if you’ve just picked it.
Cut into pieces about 1/2 inch or 1cm long.