Blog - Vegetables
Since changing my diet about three years ago to a whole food, plant-based diet – including fish (I call this a pesca-vegan diet), I have really enjoyed creating dishes which replace some of my old favorites. To my utter surprise, these new creations are often far tastier than the older versions which were usually loaded with butter, cream and probably some kind of meat product. I have come up with ways to cook with less fat, or replace the meat-based fats with excellent quality olive oil.
This dish replaces one of my old standby favorites of green beans, onions and bacon. I wanted to create something similar when I came up with this idea, and the thought of using roasted sweet onions to increase the sweetness lost from the butter was obvious to me. Replacing the smoky flavor and crunchy texture of the bacon was less obvious. Almost by accident one The notion of using hot smoked salmon to provide the smoky flavor just came to me one day as I peered into the refrigerator. It was an excellent choice and worked perfectly in combination with the sweet onions and green beans…except the textural thing of course, which I continue to work on!
1 large Spanish onion
ground fennel flowers
300 gr. fresh green beans
250 gr. hot-smoked salmon
Slice the onion in half, remove the root attachment, then slice the onion into thick slices. Season with salt and coat well with olive oil. Add the ground fennel flowers (you can also use ground fennel seeds or ground cumin if you can’t find the fennel flowers) and mix well. Place on a large baking tray and put into the top part of a pre-heated 230°C oven with top heat. Grill the onions for 15 minutes…remove and toss about a bit, then put back into the oven for another 10 minutes. The onions should be a bit black around the edges and most of the water will have evaporated.
Prepare the green beans by snipping off the ends and washing well. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add a good portion of sea salt to the water after it reaches a boil, then plunge the beans into the water. Boil for about 3-5 minutes – the beans should remain slightly crunchy. Remove the beans and place on a plate to cool.
To put everything together, heat 1 dl. of water in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the beans and onions and toss well. Once the water has evaporated, season with a bit of sea salt and about 1-2 Tbl. of olive oil. Break apart the smoked salmon into large chunks and add to the pan. Heat just long enough to take the chill out of the salmon. Serve right away.
My teen years were spent in the farm country of southeastern Washington state in Walla Walla – home to the famous sweet onion of the same name. And like most kids in the area, I worked a summer packing these large onions into 50 pound sacks to be loaded onto large trucks to be shipped throughout the state and country. These onions were clearly a source of huge pride to the locals. Today, of course, that pride remains but it has been somewhat replaced by the increasing number of vineyards and wine producers in the area.
Back to the onions…
The sweetness in these onions are intense because of their relative low levels of sulfur and higher levels of sugar. I remember enjoying them in salads or donning a grilled hamburger. Some people even ate them raw like an apple, but I thought this was just showing off.
Fast forwarding to Zürich…
Several years ago during one of my regular trips to the market, I finally got enough nerve to inquire about the really large onions I always spotted from July through September. They never had a skin to them…and they were indeed very large. Just as I asked, a lovely elderly lady next to me jumped in (very rare in Switzerland) and told me all about these monster onions. She explained to me how sweet they were and what the Swiss normally do with them…which is boil them, slice them in half, scoop out the middle and fill them with ground meat. They are then topped with cheese and finished in the oven. I was intrigued, but since I don’t eat meat or cheese, the actual recipe didn’t appeal to me. I did buy one though and decided to slice it and roast it in the oven.
I am pretty certain most people have never heard of schupfnudeln before…and I am equally confident my new pumpkin version is even more anonymous!
This lack of attention does not bother me…in fact, I rather enjoyed serving this unknown entity recently to curious friends, and I really enjoyed making them in our monthly what’s in season cooking class and watching the happy participants devour the little pumpkin dumplings. These recent food experiences were a refreshing reminder of my first encounter with schupfnudeln while working in Kaiser’s Reblaube about ten years ago, and why they remain one of my favorite recipes.
I was working the entremetier station and in charge of all vegetables and starches. I was not terribly experienced in European products at that time and I didn’t feel too confident as I checked the new menu the chef had recently posted on the kitchen white board. Schupfnudeln? What were these, I asked myself…and furthermore, how do you pronounce it? One of the other cooks told me they were a lot like potato gnocchi…just shaped differently. I was relieved to hear this news because I just finished working several months in Italy and I was quite sure I could make some dazzling gnocchi.
I quickly found out schupfnudeln were not the same as gnocchi…they were much more difficult to master. They were also incredibly popular and irresistible with the guests and kitchen staff, which meant I needed to make them every single day for a couple of months.
Making pumpkin rösti in Switzerland just seems like a good idea.
There are plenty of fresh pumpkins to find nearly everywhere you look – especially those starchy kabocha varieties which combine the nutty pastiness of chestnuts with the sweet earthiness of sweet potatoes…oh, and with a little pumpkin thrown in as well.
Then, there are those incredible October potatoes to experiment with – and not just any potato will do! In Switzerland, a proper rösti is only made with…eh, a rösti potato of course. You can follow my lead and look for the Urgenta or Victoria varieties if you are in Switzerland, otherwise select a potato that is more on the waxy side with less starch.
Another consideration is everyone in Switzerland seems a bit pumpkin-crazed during the month of October…and always rösti-crazed. So, as you can see, the idea to make a pumpkin rösti just works…and I have received quite a lot of requests for this recipe.
So here’s how I make enough for about two rösti:
makes enough for about 2 Rösti
Place about 300 grams of mostly waxy potatoes (Urgenta or Victoria in Switzerland) in a pot and cover with cold water. Cover the pot and bring the water slowly to a boil over medium heat. Boil the potatoes for 8 minutes, then immediately remove them from the pot an allow them to completely cool. I actually like to refrigerate the cooked potatoes for one night, which makes peeling and grating the next day considerably easier. So when you are ready to prepare the rösti, go ahead and peel and grate the potatoes using the large holes of a grater (or box grater). Place all of the grated potatoes in a bowl.
Now, you will need to grate 300 grams of raw pumpkin into the bowl using the same grater. I like to use a very starchy kabocha variety for making these rösti, but beware…they are not easy to grate. Take your time with this and guard your knuckles a bit. Toss the pumpkin and potato together, and season with about one tablespoon of sea salt and some roughly chopped fresh lemon thyme. That’s it on the preparation…here’s how to make the rösti.
Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small non-stick pan (about 15-cm) over medium heat. Add about half of the pumpkin-potato mixture to the pan and shake it a bit, then gently press the rösti down to fit the mold of the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the edges are golden. Add a bit of olive oil around the sides of the pan as needed to prevent the rösti from sticking in any way…it should gently slide around as you swirl the pan a bit. Flip the rösti by covering the pan with an inverted plate, turning the rösti over onto the plate. Don’t hesitate…just flip it confidently. Slide the rösti back into the pan – cooked side now facing up. Add some more olive oil and cook gently for another 5-10 minutes. Flip the finished rösti onto a cutting board and cut into wedges. Enjoy the rösti warm.
Also check out our friend Kerrin’s wonderful MyKugelhopf blog report on buying pumpkins near Zürich: A Gaggle of Gourds
I am faced with the same question every summer, ‘I wish I could find some decent tomatoes here, where do you buy yours?’ To which I answer…and this predictably creates a confused, often contorted facial reaction, ‘The best tomatoes in Switzerland are between March and May!’
Ok, I will admit summer time is the best time for tomatoes – but only if you’re growing your own and live in an area blessed with a lot of summer sunshine. I will also admit the tomatoes I am referring to are not Swiss at all, but in fact they are Italian – and mostly from Sicily or Sardegna where the people know a thing or two about growing (and eating) tasty tomatoes.
Tomatoes need plenty of sunshine to develop their full flavor potential …and I’m not talking about the sugars which usually only account for about 3% of the total weight. No, what makes tomatoes so appealing to many are their high levels of glutamic acid – a savory acid more common to meat than plants. It is precisely this acid which creates the necessary balance of sugars and aromatic compounds. Without glutamic acid tomatoes taste…well, really bland and almost starchy.
Early season Italian tomatoes thrive under a warm winter sun – especially on the islands of Sicily and Sardegna, where the mineral-rich sandy soil, warm winds and rare early frosts help tomatoes mature very early in the year. These tomatoes are planted in August and ready for harvest from February through May – perfect timing to fill an obvious void and meet a large demand from discerning Italians. Contrast these growing conditions with Swiss tomatoes: planted in the Spring, lots of early-season frost, limited sunshine with rapid maturation during the hot summer and a harvest in July and August. The Swiss tomatoes generally do not have enough time to fully develop their acids and instead burst forth with sugar and water in June and July. This is the main reason many Swiss tomatoes may taste…well, rather neutral.
I will be one of the first to admit the most succulent and flavorful tomatoes are vine-ripened. Unfortunately, vine-ripened tomatoes are also highly perishable, which is why supermarkets almost always carry tomatoes which have been picked immature, then artificially ripened from a blast of ethylene gas in special warming rooms. Artificially ripened tomatoes never have the texture, aroma and taste of vine-ripened fruits…and they never have a chance to develop that important glutamic acid.
When buying tomatoes at the market, always chose firm, well-shaped tomatoes with fragrant aromas and bright colors. They should always be free of blemishes, heavy for their size and give ever so slightly to a bit of pressure. When you get your tomatoes home, always store them at room temperature…they should never be refrigerated because the cold temperatures will make the flesh pulpy and the flavor will noticeably diminish. Tomatoes keep just fine at room temperature for 3-7 days depending on the maturity of the tomato and the warmth and humidity of your environment.
There are many varieties to look for throughout the year in Switzerland. Here are some of my favorites beginning with those which are available early in the year:
Pachino Marmande or Costoloto
These are perhaps the tastiest of all tomatoes. The name Pachino comes from a small town in the Syracuse region of Sicily. The Marmande and Costoloto varieties are ribbed and often best purchased when the tops are green and the bottoms red; they will turn completely red after a day or two at room temperature. They have a sweet flavor with noticeable acids, and a very long shelf life – especially the early-season ones. These tomatoes are not cooking tomatoes. Enjoy them raw for maximum flavor, and to benefit from their high vitamin C content and rich antioxidant properties.
These little sweet gems also come from the Pachino region…and are one of the few Italian varieties with an AOC declaration. They are grown and harvested the entire year, but the ones reaching Switzerland from April through May are the best. I consider these little delights as the perfect salad tomato, although they are also excellent when quickly sautéed and added to a pasta dish or served alongside fish.
As the name may imply, these tomatoes come from Sardegna. They are small- to medium-sized round tomatoes. They are best from March through June. Like the Marmande and Costoloto varieties, these tomatoes are best purchased with a bit of green on the top, then allowed to mature to a completely red color. They have a thick skin – which can be annoying to some, and a high amount of acid, which pairs very well when enjoyed with a fat (cheese, oil, etc.).
A special Swiss variety available for only a month or so from July through mid-August. They are large, pinkish-red round tomatoes with incredible sweetness and little acid. They are pleasant and refreshing to eat raw.
These large meaty tomatoes are quite flavorful…they also have quite a lot of acid which is surprising to find in a Swiss tomato. They are available from July through September.
These tomatoes are large – I’ve actually seen one weighing-in over 1 kg. – bright red and slightly elliptical. They are quite useful in making tomato sauces. The optimal time to buy them is from July to September.
Plum Tomatoes (Peretti or Pelati)
These egg-shaped red or yellow tomatoes are the ones typically used when canning tomatoes or making sun-dried tomatoes. They can have a nice pleasant taste, but too often, they are mass produced in large greenhouses and turn out rather tasteless. The Italian version is called San Marzano, which will occasionally make it to Swiss markets. They are best later in the year – from July until September.
There are always plenty of small tomatoes on hand…and many different varieties as well. They can come in various shapes and colors and often differ quite a lot in their flavor. If shopping at the market, always ask to try one before buying…your taste buds will guide you in your ultimate buying decision.
If you have the room and want to try your hand in growing your own tomatoes, then perhaps you may want to consider a different variety. One place to look for seeds is the wonderful Tomandi.ch website, which sells several hundred types of tomatoes…My favorite (although I’ve never tried one) is the Viagra tomato found under the Fleischtomaten section…but it already sold out this year.