They call it the Rosti ditch, ‘Röstigraben’. It’s sort of like the Swiss Mason-Dixon line – a mostly artificial boundary to seperate differing cultural tendancies. In the US, north from south. In the Helvetic Confederation, German-ish, them thar’ German speakin’ Swiss hicks, (from Germany’s persepective,) from them thar’ latin-ish Swiss hicks, the French, Italian and Romansh language speakers (from a German-speaking Swiss perspective. Well, almost. They, the Swiss-Germans, seperate the Italians in Ticino as even more hicked-Swiss hicks by the term ‘polentagraben’, the polenta ditch.) (Secretly, well, not so secretly, the Italian speakers on the polenta side of the ditch are quite happy about it. If you want to taste why, just hop to those parts once and have lunch on one side of the ditch, dinner on the other.) The Romansh are, well, the Swiss equivalent of… West Virginians, or Alabamans. Or something like a cross between the Amish and the banjo tribe in Deliverance. I suppose… a bit like the Welsh are considered in the UK, or southern Italians by northern ones, or northern French by Parisan French, or …. anyway.
Rosti is considered a Swiss-German dish even though, well… it’s basically another form of hash-browns: potatos cooked and browned in a heavy metal pan. That’s all they are. Probably any place that has a tradition of growing ‘taters will have an equivilant dish. But that doesn’t take away from the.. artistry involved in making them well. And there are differences, classically, in the way it’s made on each side of the rift. The German-ish (oh, I should say use the -ish because they speak a language, officially a group of dialects, that’s sort of German but sounds a lot cuter, even to someone with an English mother tongue, almost muppet-like. You don’t get an inclination when you hear it that the speaker is about to, I dunno’, invade Poland. More like… they’re about to go milk a gentle-eyed cow named Heidi stalled in a barn nearby and bring you a glass full. It’ll cost you a couple francs, maybe ten ninety-nine, but hey, any tip are optional. You know, ‘the hills are are alive, with the sound of… cow bells. With milk they export, for a thousand… euros….) The further south you go, the more cow-y the language sounds.
…alas I must admit there are differences in the usual way Rosti itself is prepped. On the German side of the line, the potatos are often unboiled beforehand and cooked, somewhat at that point by default, in more oil (usually rendered lard, sometimes butter.) On the French side they often par-boil the potatoes the day before, of the day of but if the later immedetiatly placed into an ice-bath to cool off. I do it the French way, I’m afraid, because… it simply tastes better as a dish, usually, to me. Creamy but not too much inside, uneven cruchy-sweet-salty on the out. But both ways are fine.
Basically, on that side of the Rosti border – which includes the German speaking part of Italy in the north, by the way – it’s simply peeled raw potato then grated as long-stripped as you can, salt and oil (some kind of fat to fry in, olive, butter, ghee. With each you use a slightly different frying technique but the idea is the same, and result very similar.) On this side, so to speak: parboil instead the unpeeled potatos first. If you can do something radical like plan ahead, a rarity nowaday regarding dinner I realize but still, the best results come from boiling the tubers a bit the day before and simply letting them cool and dry to the next day. Time of boiling and kind of potato is a personnal matter: some like it starchy, some creamy, etc. I usually boil a mix of red and yellow pulped potato for about 10min. or so – that’s after the salted water has begun to boil – before removing. I also take the step of rinsing the grated potato and then drying it first by pressing it onto a sieve then letting them rest on some kitchen paper to absorb any excess. It’s not necessary of course, that step – you’re only removing a bit of starch but it does work fairly well depending on the variety you’re using.
If you decide to prep it the German-language way – none of that’s necessary. Grate, ruffle the slices a bit to air dry, squeeze some excess water out by hand crumping them then shove it in a pan, pancake-size. (Even in Italy the rosti line seperates ways of making it: on the Italian-French Alpine dialect side by contrast they let the potato crispen-carmalized unevenly in wrought iron pans and scape off then fold the crispy bits in with a wooden spoon as they cook.)
Anyway, it’s a great, very cheap side dish for almost anything – meats, egg, some fishes even or as part of a single plate. Of course you can add onions or cheese – carefully – or flavor it with herbs to tatse but by and large the simpler, the better. Make sure you get good potatoes though, whatever variety and from whichever side of the Rosti Ditch you use….
- 4-5 medium sized potatoes
- enough oil to fry the potatoes (butter, vegetable oil, olive oil, etc.)
- salt to taste
- parboil the potatoes the day before in salted water, 1 or 2 per person, about 10 minutes after the water has begun to boil. Remove and let them rest and dry a little overnight.
- grate them as if carrots, making the longest potato strips you can. Having been left out overnight, they should have lost enough of their moisture but take a fistful and lightly squeeze in your hands to be sure. Salt to taste.
- in oil or butter or ghee, fry them. If you want the crunchy-pancake type, as smaller pancakes in abundant medium hot oil (even in a non-stick pan.) If you want the crunch outside but creamier within, use a single large rosti evenly spread once in a pan on medium low heat. Remember of course: non-clarified butter will burn if the heat is too high so keep it in check unless you clarify (or use the ghee.) You'll see the pulp begin to brown around its edges after 4-6 minutes or so as a sign they're almost ready to flip. Do the same on the other side.
- that's it. Works well with anything from fried eggs to cheeses to ham or lamb chops to grilled trout to…