25 August 2011

Gypsy Kitchens: Rösti In The Mountains

There’s nothing like cooking out on a warm August evening, when the light lingers just long enough to finish eating and the air cools to a neutral, delicious temperature. On one recent summer night, we made a feast that was probably twice as big as it should have been. The meal centered around a dish that we’ve been meaning to make, but have dreaded consuming. It’s called “rösti,” and it’s an essentially Liechtensteinische food.
Really, rösti is an alpine food, and it goes by as many names as there are mountain valleys, it seems. Some places call the stuff "deruny", others spell it "röschti" - in America, we might refer to it as “cheesy hashbrowns,” or something like that. Basically, rösti is fried potato with seasonings, often glued together with melted cheese. We decided to make the recipe more interesting and colorful with some other ingredients. At a public park in Triesen, Liechtenstein, we fried it over an open fire as part of a big cookout. To arrange around our potatoes on the plate, we grilled up some mushrooms, a trout, and a selection of wursts. Rebecca seasoned her fish simply with salt, pepper and a few chives and slices of lemon inside it’s chest. I just put the wurst over the coals and let it sit.
The park is nearby our campsite and is usually occupied at dinnertime by a few families and their grilling sausages. There’s a short zipline, a few swings, a little splashpool and an assortment of picnic tables and grills. A pile of firewood is provided by the town, and the fireplaces are open to any and everyone. We had a good time watching the kids play around us, and feeling as though we were part of a community.To make the rösti, we started with packaged rösti potatoes. They are conveniently stocked in every grocery store in Switzerland and Liechtenstien, and are little more than boiled and grated potatoes. We would have done the extra work in a kitchen, but decided against it given that we were cooking in the field. Some packaged rösti is pre-seasoned and oiled, but your home-cooked potatoes wont be. To one pound of boiled and grated potatoes, add about three tablespoons of olive oil, some salt, a teaspoon of sugar (or honey, our choice) and a bit of fresh pepper. It would be great to throw in some dill, parsley or paprika.The mixture could be complete here, but it can also be better. We added some carrots – a combined half pound of regular orange ones, a yellow variety and a purple type. Also, one red jalapeno pepper, two cloves of garlic and one julienned, medium-sized apple. The apple was inspired by another alpine region dish called “Älplermagronen”, which is basically pasta, potato and cheese. It’s often served with apple sauce, which we thought might go well with our dish. Not wanting to take the time to stew apples, we just added the fruit into our mix.
I should add that this isn't so much a recipe as it is a suggestion. The idea: don't stop at potatoes when frying up root vegetables. Turnip, fennel root or beets could also make a rösti-like dish better by providing some different flavor note. Our version turned out sweeter than traditional recipes. Beets would be sweeter still; fennel could transform it with a little bitterness.
It’s pretty easy once everything is grated – just sauté an onion in a large pan, then add the grated mess of roots and fruit. Cook it until the carrots (or other raw vegetables) are done, stirring occasionally. It helps to add a bit more oil to the pan in the beginning. Stir enough to allow everything to cook, but not too much that the potatoes can’t brown. After about twenty minutes, or when everything seems well cooked through, mash and smush everything into a large cake. Sprinkle a large handful of chives over the whole thing, then grate a hard, pungent cheese over the top. We used Appenzeller, which is a local specialty (though Swiss, not Liechtensteinische), but Gruyere works well and sharp cheddar would do in a pinch. Let your rösti cook for a few minutes more, until the cheese has melted down into the cracks.
Rösti is a dish that’s best appreciated at altitude after a long hike – we first had it in a Berggasthaus in Switzerland. Though Liechtenstein isn’t a particularly high country, it is steep, and this meal followed a long day of strenuous walking. The size (if not the density) of the meal probably has more to do with the allure of grilling, though. It's hard not to want to cook dozens of things when there's real fire involved.


  1. now THAT'S the way to enjoy a summer's day!!! and your photos make everything, and probably anything, look mouthwatering!

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