Paul Flynn: how to cook the perfect potato rosti
A ski trip to Switzerland pre-coronavirus restrictions yielded lots of inspiration for hearty, warming comfort food
Rosti potatoes, crisp bacon, honey, soft goat’s cheese. Photograph: Harry Weir
A blissful fondue. Photograph: Harry Weir
Bircher muesli with hot blueberries. Photograph: Harry Weir
Before coronavirus was unleashed, I was on holidays in Switzerland, where we have family. It is scary to think how much has changed in such a short time. The gang skied into blissful exhaustion. I ate cheese. The alpine beauty was expected, but still took my breath away.
I took the Bernina express from Davos through chiselled mountain passes. I felt like I was in a Fellini film. The maroon livery of the train set against the snow like a little boy’s dream. It wound its way up to the sky, stopping by a glacier where we got off at a chocolate-box station. I was in the middle of my very own snow globe.
Our descent trundled towards Italy. A whisper over the border in Tirano we stopped for lunch in a sunny square, delighting in the cheaper wine and looked back at the mountains. At last, I was Paul Theroux.
It wasn’t long before we boarded again, and the sky had opened up to a yet more magnificent blue. It was as if the train was only teasing us on the outbound journey.
Everything works in Switzerland. There is commitment and a confidence that I’ve haven’t seen before. Perhaps there is an aloofness, only because they simply don’t need anyone else. There are also lots and lots of rules.
We ate wonderful food, designed for people who have spent all day skiing or hiking. I have never witnessed a more outdoorsy bunch.
Rostis are ubiquitous in Switzerland and very satisfying too. I’m combining mine with the breakfast I had every morning in the hotel, shards of crisp bacon, honeycomb (use any honey, that’s okay) and young creamy goat’s cheese. Don’t judge me, I was front loading.
Fondue is the ultimate comfort food. It’s easy and a bit theatrical. I was blown away one evening in a special cheese bubble on the terrace of our hotel. It was like eating your dinner in a deliciously stinky glasshouse. As we ate, we watched the snowploughs clinging perilously to the slopes, their lights twinkling in the darkness. The most memorable meals are often about time and place.
To alleviate the guilt, I had Bircher muesli one day. It’s as close as I’ll ever get to being a hunky Swiss ski instructor.
ROSTI POTATOES, CRISP BACON, HONEY, SOFT GOAT’S CHEESE
3 large Maris Piper potatoes (400g), peeled and coarsely grated
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp plain flour
¼ tsp baking powder
A few leaves of picked thyme
Salt and pepper
50ml sunflower oil
12 rashers smoked streaky bacon
4 tbsp comb honey (runny honey will do)
100g mild creamy goat’s cheese (for example St Tola)
1 Squeeze any excess water out of the grated potatoes and add the egg, flour, baking powder, thyme, salt and pepper.
2 Cook the bacon on a tray until very crisp, then set aside, keeping any bacon fat to cook the rostis in.
3 Divide the potatoes into four and flatten into circular shapes.
4 Fry over a medium heat in a non-stick pan with the oil and bacon fat. They will take about five minutes each side. You may have to do them in batches. Just keep the cooked ones hot in the oven.
5 To serve, smear the goat’s cheese over the top of the rosti, add the honey and top with the bacon.
AN IRISH FONDUE
2 bunches asparagus
225g Crozier Blue cheese – or another soft blue cheese
75ml good quality apple juice
1 small ciabatta loaf, torn into chunks, drizzled with a little olive oil and roasted until golden and crunchy
1 Trim one third from the base of the asparagus, the woody bit.
2 Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the asparagus to the water and cook for about two minutes – but this entirely depends on the thickness of the asparagus. It needs to be still slightly crisp.
3 When cooked, plunge the asparagus into iced water. This keeps the colour and stops the cooking. Dry on a clean kitchen cloth.
4 Take a handsome little pot (you will be eating from this), or if you have a fondue pot use that.
5 Crumble in the cheese, then add the cream and apple juice.
6 Warm through until gently bubbling, stirring now and again.
7 Serve in the centre of a platter with the asparagus and roasted bread arranged around. Dip and dredge to your heart’s content.
BIRCHER MUESLI WITH HOT BLUEBERRIES
200g Flahavan’s porridge oats
375ml good quality apple juice
2 apples, peeled and grated
125g plain yoghurt
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp of your favourite nuts, roughly chopped
1 small punnet blueberries
1 Mix all of the ingredients except the blueberries in a bowl and leave covered overnight in the fridge.
2 When ready to serve, heat the blueberries in a microwave for one minute, until they burst and release their juices.
3 Serve the muesli in bowls and pour the hot blueberries over the top.