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Portugese Patterns

portuguese tiles

ceramic tile

Portugal has been one of those few European countries to which for some reason both my husband and myself never had been to. We had often been very close by, in Spain, we had seen pictures, heard recounts and read articles though. According to them, every pore and place of this history laden little country sounded fantastic, and a few weeks back we finally decided to go see for ourselves and travel to Portugal.

What a great decision this was! Even though our expectations were high, we did not get disappointed in any way. The cities are charmful and pictuesque, full of art and beauty stories, the villages and landscapes ever changing, rural and genuine. There’s colors and gardens and architectural styles, orchards and green spaces and traditions. The people act calm, friendly and helpful towards strangers, and seem like a happy and serene bunch between themselves.


vineyards in the duoro

And the food, oh the glorious food, is an entire story on its own. Portugese food is down to earth and does, what food first and foremost used to be and (at least there, how refreshing to witness) still is intended to do: It nourishes. Both the body and the soul, and abundantly so. There is little Froufrou in Portugese food, and much honesty. Animals and plants are used in their entiety. So one will get served pig ears instead of just the loin, turnip greens instead of just turnip, or tiny, whole fishes, eyes, fins and all. Continue reading “Portugese Patterns” »

Swiss Kiss #7 – Älpler-Maggronen (alpine style Pasta)

mac n' cheese on steroids

Älpler the people who, seasonally, work high up in the Alps. Farmers, shepherds, folks that during about 100 days in the summer move accept to leave civilization behind them – often also their families – and go tend to the rough and steep land on 5000 feet elevation or higher, and to the animals they bring, to keep the meadows healthy and profitable. They milk, fix huts, make cheese, repair fences, jump in as vets if an animal needs one. They are all rounders, every single day, all summer long. There’s less romance involved in the life of an Älpler than most outsiders imagine. But much more hunger.

Älpler-Maggronen – “the alpine farmer’s Maccaroni” – are Mac n’ Cheese on steroids. Besides the pasta and (true, real, high quality) cheese they also contain potato, onion and cream. They are traditional to the inner Switzerland region – mainly the Uri, Nidwalden and Schwyz cantons. While transhumance – the seasonal move of people and animals to different areas – has been done in many, many centuries, the Älpler-Maggronen came to life less than 150 years ago.

Around 1882, to be exact, when the massive tunnel underneath the Gotthard mountain was built, in order to connect central Switzerland with the southern part, Ticino, and Italy. The Swiss liked the pasta the Italian construction workers brought along, and they quickly realized that they not only were nutritious, but light and robust enough to be easily transported up to the mountains, and that they had an excellent shelf life. The farmers combined the pasta with what was readily available and would keep them full for a good while.

mise for swiss version of mac and cheese

Nowadays the dish is served in all German speaking regions of Switzerland (so mostly in the north and north eastern part of the country). Some people like to add bacon or ham cubes, some serve apple compote with it, others top the robust mixture with caramelized onions. And some even put the mix in the oven until the top forms a crust. (That is Swiss democracy in food, I guess.)

The chives, although quantity wise the most minuscule of all ingredients, play an interesting role in this dish. While most people tend to consider them as garnish or momentary trend – comparable to the leaf of parsley that for decades adorned every daily special of each Swiss train station restaurant – the chive in Älper-Maggronen has its exact reason. Wild chive is a very common alpine herb and therefore used when ever possible. It adds freshness, color, nutrients and zing to any dish. And makes Älpler-Maggronen a perfectly complete meal. What else would one want?

aelpler maggronen, in bowl, ready

Continue reading “Swiss Kiss #7 – Älpler-Maggronen (alpine style Pasta)” »