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COOKING

The Swiss regional comfort foods you just have to try

Swiss chef Ulrich Koepf has worked all over the world but his favourite dessert remains a cake from his home canton of Aargau. Here, he takes us on a culinary tour of Switzerland, picking out the local dishes you should look out for.

The Swiss regional comfort foods you just have to try
The Aargauer Rüeblitorte. Photo: Ulrich Koepf
Switzerland’s food is heavily influenced by the fact that this small country is surrounded by five other nations, all of whom have their own signature dishes. These specialities show how influences from France, Germany, Italy, Austria and Lichtenstein crossed the border into Switzerland. 
 
Uri: Ryys und Boor 
 
Photo: Ulrich Koepf
 
One of the most significant culinary influences is from Italy. During the building of the Gotthard tunnel from 1871 to 1882, Italian workers used to share their risotto with the Swiss workers. The Swiss then added potatoes and leeks to it in order to create a more substantial, heavier meal to get them through the day working in the tunnel. 
 
That is how the dish  Ryys und Boor  (rice and leeks) was created which is still today a specialty in the canton of Uri where you find the northern entrance of the Gotthard tunnel.
 
Zurich: Schnitzel
 
Photo: Ulrich Koepf
 
In the German speaking regions of Switzerland, popular items such as pork Schnitzel with French fries, veal Julienne with mushrooms in a cream sauce served with potato hash browns (Rösti) are likely influences from Germany and Austria, according to cookbook author Alice Vollenweider, who discovered old recipes from the 19th century which described Geschnetzeltes (Schnitzel). But it was not until 1947 when today’s version of Zürcher Geschnetzeltes (Zurich-style Schnitzel) appeared in a cookbook by Rosa Graf.
 
Aargau: Schnitz und Drunder and Rüeblitorte
 
Photo: Ulrich Koepf
 
I was born in the northern Swiss canton of Aargau, and one of the food items I grew up with is a dish called Schnitz und Drunder, a one-pot dish consisting of potatoes, bacon, dehydrated pear and apple sections. A rough translation would be ‘sections and stuff’. 
 
During my childhood when times were rough and we couldn’t afford to buy meat my mother came up  with a shortcut of this dish by using leftover bread slices toasted in butter and then she added steamed apple sections to it and mixed it all up.  It always did the job by filling our bellies! 
 
For dessert there was Aargauer Rüeblitorte, a local carrot cake  which derives from the name Rüebliland (‘root’ land) since in the 19th century the people living in the region around the capital of Aargau mainly cultivated root vegetables, especially turnips.
 
My favourite dessert in the world also originated in Aargau. It’s called Bundesrat Schaffner Torte and was created for a newly elected federal councillor by the name of Schaffner back in 1961 when the small community of Graenichen organized a reception for him and the baker/confectioner Ernst Wolleb created this special cake consisting of multiple layers of meringue, cream and sponge. 
 
When I tasted this cake the first time it almost blew my mind, the texture was absolutely amazing, light, fluffy and not too sweet, it was like having angels dancing on your tongue! It is still a popular dessert in most parts of Switzerland but sold under a different name  and in my opinion not quite like the original.
 
Vaud: Ramequin and saucisson en croûte
 
Photo: Ulrich Koepf
 
Should you  be travelling through the French speaking regions of Switzerland you will note the influence of neighbouring France, especially the Alsace region.
 
My friend Patrick Calvetti and his family own a restaurant in the village of  Orbe in the canton of Vaud where he cooks many specialties with French influences. One is Ramequin, which consists of slices of white bread baked with regional cheeses, covered with a tasty seasoned egg and milk mixture poured over the whole dish before baking. 
 
Another is saucisson en croûte, a well seasoned pork sausage, poached in a broth with seasoning, leeks and white wine, then wrapped in a pizza or pastry dough and baked for about 30 minutes. Mustard is then added to the broth and thickened with egg yolks to be served as a sauce with the sausage.
 
Neuchâtel: Jacquerie Neuchateloise 
 
From the canton of Neuchâtel comes Jacquerie Neuchâteloise, a one-pot dish consisting of Sauerkraut (choucroute), bacon, seasonings and white wine from the Neuchâtel vineyards served with chicken breast. The sauerkraut is slowly cooked with the bacon and white wine, thickened by adding a grated fresh potato, and then served with chicken breast braised in white wine. A sauce is made by adding garlic, butter, anchovies cream and parsley.
 
Lac Léman (and elsewhere): Filet de perch
 
Photo: Ulrich Koepf
 
Personally one of  my favourite foods in Switzerland is a  local fish from the lakes all across Switzerland such as Egli filet (perch), sautéed in butter with toasted almonds, lemon and parsley served with steamed potatoes and wilted garlicky spinach. Yum yum!
 
Bon Appetite, Buen Provecho, Guten Appetite, Buon Appetito!
 
A version of this article was previously published on Ulrich Koepf’s blog.
 

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FOOD & DRINK

What is Swiss rösti and how do you make it?

If you thought Swiss food is just about cheese and chocolate, think again: rösti is no small potatoes.

What is Swiss rösti and how do you make it?

You can’t live in Switzerland for more than five minutes without realising what an important role rösti potatoes play not only in the country’s culinary traditions, but also in its culture in general.

It is such an integral part of local customs that the Swiss Farmers’ Association has set a new world record when its members prepared a giant rösti in front of the parliament building in Bern on Monday.

The approximately 1,300 kg of potatoes were used for the event, where potatoes were fried in a 13.7-square metre pan shaped like a Swiss cross.

This year’s record beat the previous one from 1994 by three square metres.

And it was no small feat, given the logistics involved in the project. “The potatoes needed for this had grown over the summer in all the cantons before being brought to Bern for this culinary event”, the Association said in a press release. “In a solemn ceremony opened by bell ringers from the region and alphorn players, 27 delegations from all the cantons as well as the Principality of Liechtenstein handed over the potatoes in wicker baskets”.

This event was held to celebrate the association’s 125th anniversary, which is very fitting since in centuries past the stir-fried potatoes served as inexpensive, simple dish for farmers working in the fields.

Recipe:

The main appeal of rösti in those days was that potatoes were plentiful in rural areas and the dish itself required only a very basic mastery:

  • Peel and grate the raw potatoes using a standard grater. You can grate them lengthwise if you like long strands.
  • Add salt and pepper into the mixture — season lightly or a lot, depending on your taste.
  • Melt butter (rather than oil or margarine) in a frying pot.
  • When hot, pour the potato mixture and stir-fry for around 10 to 12 minutes on each side. The end product should be crispy and golden-brown, never soggy.

With time, the dish has evolved somewhat, but not too much; as many foreign residents have observed, the Swiss like their food plain and made from locally sourced ingredients.

While various ingredients like ham, bacon, and cheese can be added to the mixture, and a fried egg sometimes tops it, the recipe is still true to its origins.

READ MORE: You are not Swiss until you try these seven weird foods

Cultural impact

Whether in its original or ‘modernised’ form, rösti can hardly be called trendy.

Yet, for such a simple dish, rösti has made quite a cultural impact in Switzerland.

While it is more associated with the German-speaking part, where it originated, it is sometimes served in other regions as well, mostly as accompaniment to meat or sausages.

But beyond the mere food, this potato dish came to represent the cultural (rather than geographical) divide between the German and French-speaking regions, called the Röstigraben

In German, “Graben” means border, gap or rift – and therefore Röstigraben symbolises the cultural rift between the two largest linguistic groups in Switzerland. 

Whether such a rift actually exists in reality or just in people’s imagination is another matter. Much of this idea has to do with stereotypes of each linguistic group, but beyond the language and local customs, they are all…Swiss.

And it is not excluded that they sometimes cross the invisible Graben to share a meal of rösti together.

READ MORE: Röstigraben: The invisible barrier separating Switzerland

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