This week’s foodie overview
I spend a lot of time reading, researching and tweeting about food and restaurants these days, so I thought I’d jot down my tweets from the last few days. These are from both The Rambling Epicure and Swiss Foodies and should give you an overview of what’s going on in the foodie world this week, in Switzerland and around the world.
Sometimes I couldn’t resist writing about the snow and skiing conditions, because that determines how a lot of us in Switzerland plan our weekends, and therefore what restaurants we go to or what recipes we cook up. And of course occasionally, watches and wine . . . and this week, the Vancouver Winter Olympics and those cute wooly pigs you see in the photo.
Anyone living in Geneva really should know how to prepare cardoons, since it is Geneva’s favorite winter vegetable. The problem is it is time-consuming and tedious, not to speak of the prickly thistles.
Cardoon gratin is one of Geneva’s favorite Christmas dishes, so now’s the time to learn!
Christmas traditions in Switzerland
One should never think that everybody in Switzerland eats the same thing for Christmas dinner. With four languages and a multitude of “mini-cultures” tucked away its various mountain niches, and with a huge international population, Switzerland may well have more Christmas menus than any other country in the world.
In the French-speaking part of Switzerland, Geneva’s traditions are quite apart from the Vaud, for example, due to the late date Geneva finally decided to become part of Switzerland. Geneva traditions are often more influenced by their Savoyard and French neighbors, since they share about 100 km of border with them and only 5 km with canton Vaud.
What’s so special about a longeole?
Many Genevois eat a sausage specific to Geneva called longeole. Every region and many villages have their own sausage recipes, but the longeole is quite apart from the others for several reasons.
The age-old Geneva and Savoyard specialty called rzulé in the local dialect, better known today as rissole aux poires, was nearly extinct not so very long ago. The dish consists basically of pears braised until they caramelize, which are then used to fill a pastry. The result resembles a fried apple turnover or chausson, even though it is baked.
The nearly extinct Marlioz pear saved by Geneva woman
You don’t just use any old pear to make rissoles. You use a variety specific to the region: the Marlioz pear, which was saved by none other than Eliane Pottu, says La Tribune de Genéve. Jérôme Estèbe wrote a delightful feature, in French, on the fortunate revival of this dish. Traditionally, every family in canton Geneva and the Savoy had a couple of Marlioz pear trees in the garden, but this tradition has slowly dwindled away.
Vercors-style chestnut velouté: perfect for this chilly weather
Emmanuel de Careil wears a coat of many colors. He writes books about everything from psychology to history, and is also a foodie who has collected stacks of good recipes over the years. He just published this very wintry recipe, inspired by the great French chef Guy Savoy, and I thought it the perfect time of the year to make it.
Just for information, Vercors is a wild region in southeast France, which includes the Drôme with its low mountainous terrain, known for its chestnuts.
This is my take on the recipe.
Recipe for chestnut velouté, based on Guy Savoy’s recipe
This recipe should feed about four people.
Ingredients for soup
300 grams of chestnuts (cooked at home, frozen, vacuum-packed or tinned)
40 grams of butter
10 centiliters of Chartreuse, an herbal-flavored liqueur found in France
1 bouquet garni
1.5 liters of chicken broth
50 centiliters of liquid cream
2 fresh chestnuts, shelled
2 pinches of cardamom
Salt and pepper to taste
Barbie’s secret to weight loss was “don’t eat”: Is that your teen’s philosophy?
The 1965 Slumber Party Barbie came with her very own “How to Lose Weight” book. The main message was “don’t eat.” Along with this book came a bathroom scale always set at 110 pounds/49.9 kilograms, says Teen Beauty Tips. According to Malisa Morsman, “Barbie is the plastic equivalent of a 5-foot, 9-inch (1.75 m) woman with a 36-inch (91.5 cm) bust, 33-inch (83.8 cm) hips, and an impossibly small 18-inch waist (45.7 cm).”
Ken, on the other hand, came with his own milk and cookies, and no scales.
Unhealthy message to teenage girls that has persisted
Unfortunately, women of all ages gradually started to perceive Barbie’s body as ideal, and teenagers often follow, even now, Barbie’s 1965 instructions on how to lose weight. Some purport that Barbie is even responsible for the increase in eating disorders.
In Europe, a correlation has also been made between women of all ages who smoke and have eating disorders. Smoking cuts the appetite, and is used as a way to keep from eating.
Ironically, the problem often becomes not only of a problem of getting your teenage girl to eat properly, but also a problem of eating at all.
As for the boys, is the message still that he can eat milk and cookies to his heart’s delight?
Pumpkins love our garden and we love pumpkins: this weekend the season for cooking pumpkin kicked in seriously. We have some 60 small ones. The larger ones are fun when kids are little, but the small varieties tend to have more flavour and they are more manageable in the kitchen. I brought one in from the veranda, where they are drying: the shells harden, to protect them during 3-4 months storage.
We take a cleaver and chop them in half or quarters, scrape out the stringy bits, quite a lot of it, then give them 20 minutes in the pressure cooker, with the pumpkin left in the pot another 15 minutes. This gives me a wonderfully textured and delicious vegetable. I scrape the insides into a bowl and the outer bits go into the compost.
The easier solution is, of course, to buy it pre-sliced at the supermarket, but the taste is a pale shadow of what our garden pumpkins give us. Farmers markets sell whole pumpkins and the extra flavour makes them worth the trouble.
We bake them as open halves (often with a spoonful of homemade jam in the centre) or eat the pulp warmed with a little butter and salt and pepper, sometimes with a bit of creamy goat cheese added. The family favourite is pumpkin pie. A close second to pie is pumpkin bread, in this family.
Here’s the recipe, an American one for zucchini nut bread, adapted and with less sugar for European tastes, but with US measures. It’s quick and easy.
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar, 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup oil – I use colza/canola
- 3 eggs, but I sometimes use 2 and get a slightly denser loaf
- 1 tsp orange peel or candied orange (if the latter, I reduce the sugar slightly)
- 1-1/2 cups flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg; I love freshly grated nutmeg which has a stronger flavour so use a bit less
- 1 generous cup cooked and cooled pumpkin
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts, pecans or toasted almonds
Beat sugar and oil until blended. Add eggs, orange, mix well. Sift dry ingredients into a bowl into a bowl. Alternately add sifted mixture and pumpkin to sugar mixture. Mix well. Add nuts. Pour into 2 small greased loaf pans.
Bake at 195C in traditional oven for 40-45 minutes, testing that toothpick in centre comes clean. Cool 15 minutes in pan, then loosen around the edges and gently remove from pan.
Stores well, freezes well.
More pumpkin photos in GenevaLunch album: October 2009 pumpkin bonanza
After my lengthy post Potatoes: endless varieties in Switzerland of 14 September 2009, it is only logical that I give you a few ideas about how to use all those varieties of potatoes.
I’ll start by the thoroughly Swiss dish, rösti.
Rösti is definitely a Swiss dish, but there as many variations as there are cantons in Switzerland. The Restaurant Anker Bern in Bern lists nearly 30 different versions on its menu. The main difference lies in whether to use raw or cooked potatoes, as well as in what is added to the potatoes.
Historically, rösti was breakfast food
At the beginning of the 19th century, rösti was the main breakfast fare in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, and probably started in the rural areas around Zurich. They ate it with café au lait. Gradually it moved south towards the Alps, then to Bern where it was given the name it now bears, “rösti”. From Bern it moved towards the French-speaking areas, toward canton Vaud, where it eventually replaced their traditional morning soup.
Recipe for Bern-style rösti
Rösti à la Bernoise, or Bern-style rösti, is made with potatoes cooked in their skins; the potatoes are cooked the day before, so that they are cold and can be easily grated.
The first thing you need to purchase is a special rösti potato grater, called a kartofell in German and râpe à rösti in French. What differentiates it from other graters is its big holes. Smaller holes will give you an effect more like American-style hashbrowns.
This recipe is inspired by the Restaurant Anker Bern’s recipe.
Cook 1 kg of potatoes the day before. I would suggest steaming them in a double-walled Kuhn Rikon Durotherm pan, with as little water as possible, so that they don’t absorb too much water and maintain a maximum of their vitamins. Cook them until they are done, but still quite quite firm. Put in refrigerator overnight.
The next day, peel the potatoes, by hand if possible. Use a rösti grater to grate into large strips, as long as possible. Mix with 1 tsp salt.
Over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of lard (saindoux) (the pork butcher or regular butcher can sell this in small quantities) in a cast iron or aluminum frying pan, such as a Swiss Diamond.
Buy a thick slab of bacon (lard) from the pork butcher, around 50 g. Chop into small bits, removing any hard rind.
Add bacon and potatoes to frying pan. Mix slowly, turning gently from time to time with a rubber spatula (metal will scratch a non-stick surface).
After it has started to cook, mash it down with the spatula, so that it forms a large “pancake”. Lower to medium low heat and cover. If it starts to burn, lower heat even further.
After 10 minutes, cover pan with a serving dish of the appropriate size and turn rösti onto a plate, upside down. Carefully slide back into frying pan, with the unbrowned side down, and cover.
The rösti should be golden brown on both sides.
After 10 minutes, pour 2 tablespoons of milk over the rösti. Cook for 10 more minutes. Gently slide it onto a plate and serve.
Firm (but not extra-firm), type B potatoes, such as the Sirtema, Christa, Ostara, Agria, Urgenta, Bintje and Désirée varieties, are ideal for this dish.
Restaurant Anker Bern
B. and S. Bill
T. +41 (0)31 311 11 13
F. +41 (0)31 311 11 71
Monday-Thursday: 7:30-23:30 H
Friday-Saturday: 7:30-0:30 H
Sunday: 9:30-18 H
<a href=”http://www.changedetection.com/log/genevalunch/the-rambling-epicure_log.html”>change log</a>
Take 4 thick dry or toasted slices of hearty whole grain bread and tear it into bite-size pieces. Drizzle olive oil over it and add 2 to 4 cloves of crushed garlic, depending on how much you like garlic.
Mix and let it sit for a few minutes.
Take 8 large, extra-ripe red tomatoes. Cut into large chunks, and save all the juice. Mix into the bread and garlic.
Put into blender, with salt and pepper. Refrigerate and let it sit for a half hour or so, or several hours or overnight if possible.
Before serving, taste and then season with more salt, pepper and olive oil if necessary. Add ice cubes if you want it to be colder or thinner.
If you want to give the dish a bit of color or enhance it, add fresh coriander or basil, or a dollop of cream.
This batch will easily feed 4 or 5, and is better the second day, once it has marinated in the refrigerator.
This recipe is my version of a friend’s recipe for Seville-style gazpacho. The friend has chosen to remain incognito for reasons unknown to this writer.
Potatoes: an essential part of the traditional Swiss diet
If there’s one thing we have plenty of in Switzerland, it’s potatoes. I didn’t even like potatoes before I came here and discovered all the subtle differences of texture, taste and all the ways of using them in cooking.
Potatoes are an essential ingredient in almost any traditional Swiss meal. This year’s crop is already starting to show up in local markets.
Large number of varieties in Switzerland
The official 2007 Swisspatat list (provided by Agridea, the Swiss agricultural research station) includes 31 different varieties, along with lists for various seasons and types of potatoes, as well as recipes for everyday use as well as for special occasions.
You can take a look at the 31 varieties in the table at the bottom right on the last page of the Swisspatat article to get an idea of which potatoes to look for at what time of the year.
Different types of potatoes for different uses
There are basically 4 types of potatoes, according to Swisspatat:
1. Firm or “salad” potatoes. These potatoes do not burst open when cooking. They are moist, fine-grained and not mealy, and can be used in most dishes, with the exception of mashed potatoes and purées.
2. All-purpose medium-firm potatoes. The skin on these potatoes opens only slightly on cooking. They are somewhat mealy, on the dry side, and have a fine, grainy texture. They are tasty and can be used for most all purposes.
3. Mealy potatoes. These potatoes burst when cooked, but they are tender, mealy and rather dry. They have a large grain and strong taste and are used mostly for industrial purposes.
4. Extra-mealy potatoes. These are basically not for cooking and are used for feeding livestock or to make starch, due to their dryness and hard texture.
NOTE: We are assuming that you scrub your potatoes and cook them with their skin on.
Your vegetable seller can advise on which potatoes are suitable for your specific purposes. In supermarkets, their usage or a description of their type is often marked on the label.
I always keep several kinds on hand, since they are a vegetable that keeps well under the right storage conditions.
Major varieties of potatoes and how to use them
Agria, the ugly Quenelles, Amandines and Charlotte are already on the market in the Lake Geneva region.
IP-Suisse lists the Sirtema, Christa and Ostara as being the earliest of the “new potatoes”. They are firm, so they can be boiled, grilled or used for fried potatoes.
They refer to the Agria, Charlotte, Urgenta, Bintje, Nicola, Désirée, and Stella varieties as multi-purpose potatoes, available in the fall and all through the winter. Charlotte, Nicola and Stella remain firm when cooked, so they are perfect for salads, boiled potatoes or steamed with the skin on, while Agria, Urgenta, Bintje and Désirée are multi-usage.
In 2007, a French variety, Gourmandine, was launched in Switzerland. This variety is yellowish and medium-firm and suitable for boiled or salad potatoes, as well as for baked potatoes, röstis, and homemade chips or French fries.
Another French variety, Eden, also appeared. They are rather mealy and have a high starch content, making them suitable for mashed potatoes, salads and boiled potatoes. They are not suitable for French fries and chips however.
In 2009, we should see still more varieties: Annabelle, Pirol (for chips), and Mustang.
Suisse Garantie gives a good overview about exactly how to use each of the main varieties of Swiss potatoes and the period during which they are available. You can basically follow the recommendations for use under points 1 and 2 under Different types of potatoes for different uses and Major varieties of potatoes and how to use them above.
The basic terms are summarized below:
chair plutôt ferme/medium-firm
chair farineuse/mealy or starchy (good for mashed or baked potatoes)
se conserve bien/keeps well
ne se conserve bien/does not keep well
humide/moist (good for boiling and gratin)
variété précoce/early variety
utilisations multiples/multiple uses
The selection seems to get wider every year, and even with all the anti-carb campaigns, the Swiss still love their potatoes!