The burning question in the European history of pasta is, did Italy invent the spaghetti or did Marco Polo bring them from his travels in China? For Switzerland, there’s the wrong but persistent rumour that it was the Italian foreign workers who introduced pasta to Switzerland in the 1870s when they came to work on the Gotthard Tunnel, a 15km tunnel that goes straight through the Swiss Alps, which marked a huge milestone for the traffic of the entire continent. The truth is, there were pasta factories in Switzerland decades before that already, but nevertheless it was probably the Italian workers who helped make them popular over here. In Switzerland, pasta was considered a luxury item back then. Despite this, for the farmers in the Alps it was a very valuable food item because dried pasta can be kept in the pantry for a long time. To make the expensive pasta last longer they added potatoes and also cheese and fried onions and garlic, which people started to call Älplermagronen (Alpine farmers’ macaroni). The dish was only invented in the 1930s though, so not that long ago.
For me it’s a comfort food I have many happies memories of; there’s nothing better than tucking into a dish of Älplermagronen in one of the little restaurants up on a mountain after a strenuous morning on the skis or on the mountainbike. And it’s easy to prepare, no matter where in the world you are, as long as you have access to some decent cheese. Traditionally it’s eaten accompanied by applesauce. I’ve never been into mixing fruit with salty dishes, but I do like applesauce and I’m happy to have mine as a dessert afterwards and watch the others mixing theirs up with the pasta.
Recipe (for 4 people)
- 500g potatoes (the kind that stays firm when cooked)
- 200g pasta (macaroni, Hörnli, or any other smallish tube-like pasta)
- 200g mature cheese, grated (in Switzerland this would be mature mountain cheese or Appenzeller, in fact you can find Appenzeller cheese in many countries around the world. If you can’t, just use any firm, mature cheese)
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 onions, thinly sliced
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 3 tbsp cream
- 3 tbsp milk
- Applesauce or salad as a side dish
Pre-heat the oven to 120 C.
Peel potatoes and cut them into small-ish cubes. Put cold water and the potatoes into a pan and heat it up together. When water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until soft.
Put the pasta, potatoes and the grated cheese into an ovenproof dish in layers with some cheese on top, and put it into the oven at 120 C so the cheese melts.
Melt the butter in a frying pan and roast the onions and garlic until golden brown. Put on top of the pasta dish.
In a saucepan, heat up the cream and milk with a little salt and pour it over the pasta.
Keep it in the oven until the cheese has melted – this will take about 10 minutes.
Serve as soon as ready, either with applesauce or with a salad.