Sunday, January 19, 2014

Time-Life Quintet of Cuisines: Switzerland

The Quintet of Cuisines volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series has got to be the weirdest assortment of kitchens, ranging from Northern Europe to North Africa: Switzerland, the Low Countries (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg), Poland, Bulgaria and Romania, and North Africa (Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria).

I haven't read the whole book yet so I think I'll defer the big review in hopes that the last three chapters will be better than the first two. This has less to do with the recipes than with the nature of these chapters. They concentrate on meals eaten with friends in restaurants, hotels, or at home, and seem much more about the writer and his wife than about the culture of the countries. And the sense of a whirlwind, breathless visit to each of the countries gives such a sense of afterthought to this volume.

The recipes are much more appealing. Tonight, I tackled two classics of the Swiss kitchen: Emincé de veau (Veal strips in wine and cream sauce) and rösti (Fried shredded potato cake).

Update 2014-03-15: I've also made the Zwiebelewähe, a rich cheese and onion tart made with Gruyere and Emmental. If anyone wants the recipe, I can post it.

I confess that meat in cream sauce never appeals to me very much, but this was an accessible recipe that I could scale down easily to one or two portions. And what's not to like about fried potatoes? To balance out the richness of the émincé de veau, I served steamed green beans accented with freshly-grated nutmeg, without even a lashing of butter. It turned out to be enough for two (very tasty!) meals.

Unusually for me, I decided to follow the recipes almost to the letter, except for scaling down the quantities. This included the, to my mind, excessive amount of butter. Perhaps this just reflects the way times and palettes have changed, but I found it made these dishes too rich and cloying. The sober green beans were a welcome contrast. From now on, I will not hesitate to adapt the fat content in these 45 year old recipes. In fact, the recipes that follow already have the fat lowered. This is the way I'll make them the next time.

Rösti with Onions
Adapted from Quintet of Cuisines
Serves 2 generously

4 medium baking potatoes
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
2 teaspoons oil
1 tablespoon butter

  1. Bring a pot of water to the boil and parboil the unpeeled potatoes for 10 minutes.  Drain and cool under cold running water. When cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes, then refrigerate them in a covered container for an hour (or longer).
  2. In a non-stick frying pan, sauté the chopped onion in a teaspoon of oil until translucent. Set the onions aside in a bowl.
  3. Just before starting to fry the potatoes, coarsely grate them using the largest wholes on a box grater, and mix in the salt and pepper. (The pepper is not part of the original recipe, but I think it's essential ;>)
  4. Heat a small non-stick frying pan and melt half the butter and one teaspoon of oil over high heat. Add half the grated potato and press down with a spatula. Spread the fried onions over the top, and then the rest of the grated potatoes over the top of that. Press down again. Fry the potato cake for 8-10 minutes until the bottom is golden brown.
  5. Place a plate over the pan and flip the cake onto the plate. Melt the rest of the butter in the frying pan, then slip the potato cake, uncooked side down into the frying pan. Cook for another 8 minutes or so, before slipping onto a warmed plate and serving it.

Emincé de veau
Adapted to serve 1-2

170 grams lean veal
3 teaspoons butter
1 teaspoon oil
1 small shallot, minced
2 tablespoons dry white wine
3 tablespoons single cream
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Cut the veal against the grain into strips about 5 cm long and .5 cm wide.
  2. Heat 2 teaspoons of butter and the oil in a heavy skillet over high heat until the butter stops foaming.
  3. Sauté the veal strips for 2-3 minutes until they turn color and cook through. They probably won't really brown, but it's more important that the remain tender than that they brown.
  4. Drain the veal an juices into a bowl and set aside.
  5. Add the remaining butter to the pan and sauté the shallots for a minute or two, then deglaze with the white wine. As soon as it boils, add the cream and the juices from the veal.
  6. Simmer for 3-5 minutes to reduce the liquid by half, before returning the veal strips to the pan. Stir for a minute or two to reheat the veal. Season and serve. 
Notes: The original recipe calls for:
  • 1.5 pounds of veal to serve 4 people. This is about 170 grams per person, which given the richness of the dish, plus rösti and vegetables, was enough for two meals for me.
  • 75 grams of butter and 2.5 tablespoons of oil. You can get away with less.
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots. Get a life! that could be quadrupled, so I did.
  • 1/4 cup of white wine. When scaling this recipe, this becomes 1 tablespoon which evaporates almost as quickly as it's added, so I added some more
  • 3/4 cup double cream. I found this very rich and would suggest using single cream or thinning the double cream a bit.
  • Simmering the cream sauce for 10 minutes to reduce by half. This took much less time in my smaller quantity.
Cheese and onion tart is very rich. Less custard-like than a quiche. 

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