In Nani’s Kitchen – Swiss Mac and Cheese

I’m working on a little something for you, and this dish absolutely fits with its theme: the Swiss Weeks! Throughout the month of March I will post daily treats and musings on my Instagram account @lespoissonchats, all related to where I come from at the Eastern border of Switzerland. There’s going to be many sumptuous meals with unpronounceable names and glimpses at the landscapes of my childhood. 

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The dish I present you with today, as a sort of a pre-announcement, is called Chäsmagrone mit Öpfelmues. It’s a regular in Swiss farmhouse cuisine, and was the absolute favourite dish of my grandfather Neni and me. We would have easily lived on this weren’t it for mother and grandmother Nani who imposed variety upon our modest palates. 

It basically comprises pasta and cheese, but the secret lies in copious butter, eggs and cream. And the little side treats. We always ate it with apple compote, the acidity of the apples balancing the round taste of the buttery dish and Bölleschweissi, glazed onion slices that add the right dose of temperament. 

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What you’ll need for Chäsmagrone for about four persons 

Four medium sized potatoes, 250g of Hörnli pasta, four apples, 2 onions, one egg, 250g of cheese, 1dl of cream, muscat, cinnamon, butter, salt and a little sugar

We start with the Öpfelmues

Halve the apples and remove the cores, cut into wedges and transfer to sauce pan. Gently heat and reduce to low temperature as soon as it cooks. Add a teaspoon of sugar and let simmer. It shall be cooked by the time the Chäsmagrone are finished. Before serving, add a nut of butter and a whiff of cinnamon. Oh, and I may or may not have added a sip of calvados but don’t tell the Swiss. 

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How to make the Chäsmagrone

Peel and quarter the potatoes and cook in salted water for about 15 minutes. Add the pasta and cook until soft. You may have to adjust the cooking time so that both potatoes and pasta are done at the same time. Alternatively, you may cook them in separate pans in order to avoid under/over cooking. 

Preheat the oven to 100°C. 

Take a large terrine and butter well. Scoop a layer of pasta, some potato quarters and a whiff of muscat into the terrine. Generously cover the layer with grated cheese. Of course it tastes best with Swiss alp cheese, but for some of us that’s rather hard to get. In the end, any yellow cheese will work, as long as the cheese isn’t too old yet strong and tangy, so as to make you sit straight. Continue layering the terrine and finish with another layer of cheese. Pour the cream over the mass and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, start on the Bölleschweissi. Peel the onions and halve them. Cut into half circles about 2mm thick. In a cast iron pan, melt a generous nut of butter and slowly caramelise the onion half circles until golden. Be careful not to burn them if you want them to taste sweet and savvy. 

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Take the Chäsmagrone from the oven when cooked, add the egg and gently mix. Put the Bölleschweissi on top and serve the apple compote in a separate bowl. 

Enjoy with a glass of rustic apple cider. 

Be careful not to overeat yourself. 

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Orange Peel on Green Tiles – A Fish Recipe

An orange to me is a luxury, it doesn’t matter that they are to be had everywhere and at the most ridiculous prices, an orange to me has an aura of exquisiteness. Perhaps it’s my mother’s stories, when they shared one orange for the entire family come Saint Nicholas Day, one orange for eight heads plus farmhands, one orange, or two maybe if it was a good year. And how grandmother would put the orange peel on the oven to dry and weave its succulent southern flavour into the rustic air of woodsmoke and roasted apples. Orange peel on a green tiled oven. Scraps of sun on emerald moss in midwinter. 

But then I seldom buy oranges, those heaps of cheap oranges, picked before they had a chance to thoroughly soak up the sun, frostbitten fruit traveled for hundreds of miles in morgues on wheels, disturb my sense of propriety. 

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Now fortunately, I’m in France. Where my apple man who went into fruit and groceries as of late has a friend down South who grows citrus fruit, citrus fruit with a taste, and this friend sends an occasional box up North to our forgotten land, where thick fog covers the fields for months on end in winter, so that by January, we all looked rather grey and dull, wouldn’t it be for his oranges. Recently there was a basket full of bitter oranges, very interesting for food experimenting. And this is the January dreariness dinner I have cooked with a couple of beautiful shiny oranges: Pike Façon Poissonchat. 

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For the fish: 

Take a big white fish, gutted and scaled but head on. I took a pike this time, but a sea bass or a big trout for example work well too. Orange flavour is delicate, thus for the flesh to imbibe the full aroma, the fish is cured overnight. Please click here to read the how to on curing fish. I changed the recipe slightly for the cure to contain the following ingredients: 

  • 50g of sea salt
  • 100g of honey
  • 0.5dl of freshly pressed bitter orange juice 
  • 0.5dl of triple sec (I still had some homemade, but Cointreau or Grand Marnier do as well)
  • Peel of one bitter orange
  • A couple of pink pepper berries

The next day rinse the fish well and put the residue liquid from the cure through a strainer and set aside. Fill the fish it with orange slices and fennel leaves and put some orange slices on top. Bake in the oven at 190°C (no fan). The pike was about 1kg and needed 18 minutes of cooking time. After half of the cooking time, pour some of the residue liquid over the fish, repeat when the fish is done and keep it covered for 10 minutes in a warm spot. 

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For the orange sauce:

Bring 1dl of freshly pressed orange juice and 1/2dl of broth to boil (fish broth is perfect, vegetable broth will do as well), add the peel of a quarter of an orange and five pink peppercorns (be careful to remove the white parts in case you are using bitter oranges because they might taste too bitter). Let it simmer until it’s reduced by 1/3. Take off the heat, strain, put back into the pan and add a sip of triple sec. Season with salt if needed. Vigourously whisk about 75g of icy cold butter into the sauce until it’s creamy and thick, keep the sauce warm but not hot. 

Debone the fish and serve the fillets with the orange sauce. I made a mousseline of potatoes and horseraddish and some honey glazed root vegetable as sides. Fennel would be lovely, but I’ll have to be patient until it’s in season again. Enjoy with a glass of pinot gris. 

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