Breakfast, especially on long weekends is, or should be, leisurely, full of yummy things to eat and bathed in sunshine. Or that’s what cookery magazines would have us believe. But as rain, wind and autumnal weather has battered most of south-east England on this August (yes, August…) bank holiday weekend, the sunshine has been sadly absent. But breakfast, well I never miss that. On Saturday I went with my neighbours to Tina’s, this morning I had my regulation granola with yogurt and strawberries and tomorrow I’m planning a rösti or two.
Mark Crick, photographer and author of Kafka’s Soup, inspired me to make these for the first time after I saw him do a reading/cookery demo about them at the Port Eliot festival. His book, subtitled ‘A Complete History of Literature in 17 Recipes’ is a brilliant parody of both famous writers (Woolf, Pinter and Proust amongst others) and, I like to think, of celebrity chefs. He writes the recipes in the style of, or rather ‘à la‘, each one so that Irvine Welsh‘s chocolate cake is littered with f-words and giro cheques, Chaucer’s onion tart is ‘A receipt that will nourishe us, every man’ and Italo Calvino begins his recipe by saying ‘I write this recipe without knowledge of when or where it will find an audience, but now, reader, you are here’. It’s genius, not only because the parodies are hilarious but also because the recipes, whether in sparse prose or Chaucerian verse, work.
His, or rather Mann’s rösti, are embedded in a short melancholy tale about an artist called Von Rohrbach whose love of the dish is heightened by the presence of another sort of dish (sorry…), a handsome young boy eating out with his family. I’ve never read any Thomas Mann before and, if Crick’s parody of him is as accurate as the others, I won’t be any time soon but, if he could just take his eyes off that handsome Polish boy he’d learn how to make a mean rösti…
Rösti à la Thomas Mann (adapted à la moi, to make sense)
You will need (makes around 4 small palm-of-the-hand size rösti)
2 potatoes (peeled and grated weight around 150g)
onion (peeled and chopped weight around 75g)
Gruyère or Emmental cheese (grated, about 75g)
salt and pepper
butter, for frying
Crick/Mann’s recipe says: ‘These potato shavings, natural yet incredible and uncanny, had been grated raw and seasoned to taste. Now, inextricably bound with the shredded onion and cheese, they had made the ascension from the subterranean to the extraterrestrial. This holy trinity had faced the fires of the pan together, cooked on a low heat in butter in a lidded pan for fifteen minutes on each side.’
Cut out all the (very funny) bumf from that and it means, in much more practical terms:
1. If not already done, peel and grate your potatoes, peel and chop your onions, grate your cheese and mix the three ingredients together in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Heat some butter in a frying pan, then take small handfuls of the mixture, squeeze excess water out of the mix then, when the butter is hot, put the mixture in the frying pan, flatten slightly and fry a few minutes on each side until crisp and golden.
3. Devour just as they are, or with fried bacon. Mann would say they represent ‘the sacred mingled with the profane’ but delicious is good enough for me.