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Hunting season starts in September in Switzerland and the locals look forward to the hunt (Jagd). Switzerland strictly controls the hunt by setting limits to each species. The season lasts only about 3 weeks. Hunters bring their catch of mountain goat, wild boar, elk or deer to local butchers (Metzgerei). He prepares the animals into steaks, roasts, racks, bunderfliesh and hirschpfeffer, venison meat marinated in wine and a specialty here. It is not unusual to see a deer sitting in front of the butchers’ door waiting for him to arrive in the morning. After the hunter takes what he wants, the rest is sold by the butcher. If you are a good friend of the butcher, you can make your selection early in the season and have him store it for you in his freezer for the rest of the winter. When you want it, just give him a call and he will have your selection ready and waiting for you.
This is the start of Fall and the Alps are amazingly beautiful with the trees turning yellow and rust tones and light dusting of snow on the mountaintops. The anticipation of winter on its way moves people here. Winter is the bread and butter season in the Alps. The excitement begins with the hunting season, when the slow summer goes back to sleep and the cool air means getting the hay cut and into the barns, grapes harvested and the hotels and ski operations start preparations for the winter tourists.
Venison is traditionally served with spätzli and caramelized chestnuts. Spätzli is a thick batter that is scraped off a wet board into boiling water. It is similar to dumplings except looks more like pasta. Spätzli is a Swiss specialty and I can’t imagine venison without it. It also goes well with other meats and once you have learned to prepare it, you will find that when you are looking for something different to take the place of pasta or potatoes, spätzli is a very good substitute. The Austrians, Germans and Italian have their version of spätzli, but they are all pretty much the same except maybe for the size.
There is a gadget that is available to make spätzli but it is so simple by hand that I think it is a waste of money and effort to use it. I like the old fashion way.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: In boiling water approximately 2 minutes per späzli batch
Yield: 4 Servings
2 cups flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons butter
Prepare a large pasta pan of boiling salted water. Mix the flour, egg, and water, milk and salt. The batter should have the consistency of thick pancake batter.
Dunk the board into the boiling water so that the board is wet.
Place a ladle full of the batter on the wet cutting board.
Holding the board over the boiling water, scrap small amounts of batter about the size of ziti macaroni into the boiling water. When they float to the top, which takes about 2 minutes, remove them to a dish. Toss them immediately with some butter to prevent them from sticking and continue finishing each batch.
When you are ready to serve, put a tablespoon or two of butter into a frying pan and toss the spätzli with the butter until they are warm.
Note: You can mix mashed beats, spinach or carrots etc. into the batter to make different colors and flavors. Broth can be substituted for the cooking water.
Hunting season has arrived and hunters head for the mountains in search for deer, elk and mountain goat. The hunting season is only about 3 weeks or the time that is needed to meet the culling goals of the herds. Hunters deliver their game to the local butchers who prepare them and sell the meat. Hirsch, Reh (venison and elk) are prepared into steaks, racks, sausage, Hirsch Peffer (marinated venison in wine) and Hirsch Bündner Fleisch (air dried meat a Graubünden speciality. The meat is rubbed with a mixture of pepper, juniper berries, herbs and salt and hung to dry in small barns in the mountains about 5,500 ft. for several month. During this time the meat loses about 50% of the water content. The Bündner Fleisch is then sliced into razor thin slices and served with cornichons (sour pickles), rye bread, small pickled onions and tomatoes. It is a Bündner specialty, although it is also made in the Ticino (Italian part of Switzerland). Veltliner wine is often consumed with Bündner Fleisch. Veltliner is a blend of Ciavennasca, Pinot Noir and Merlot grapes, produced in Graubünden and Lombardy, Italy. Veltliner is mostly sold in Switzerland and Northern Italy.
Today some factories reduce the drying process using air blowers. The product made internationally does not compare to the one made in Switzerland. In Graubünden it is offered in every restaurant and served on rustic wooden pallets.
We put our order in for Reh and Hirsch medallions, racks and steaks with our local butcher and have it frozen so that we can have local venison during the winter months. Grilling it over an open wood fire adds a slightly smoky rustic flavor. Traditionally Spätzli (a dumpling made by making a batter and scraping small pieces off into boiling water), wine poached pears with cranberry sauce and glazed chestnuts are served with venison. But I have created a chestnut fettuccine that I think compliments grilled venison.
Cervo alla Griglia
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 2-3 minutes on each size depending on the weight
Yield: 2 servings
2-6 oz. venison medallions
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
Bring the venison to room temperature. Rub each one with olive oil, salt and pepper on both sides.
Allow the fire to burn down to red coals, but it should be just a little smokey. Place the medallions on the grill and cook them on the wood fire until the meat slightly springs back to your touch. If it is resistant it is over done. This usually takes a few minutes on each side. The venison should be a deep rose color in the middle.
Venison can be grilled on an electric or coal grill, but the woody, smoky flavor when grilled over a wood fire gives the venison a wonderful rustic flavor.
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 7 minutes for the sauce and 3 minutes for the fettuccine
Yield: 4 Servings
1 1/2 cups flour 00, (if you can’t find 00 use all purpose flour)
1/2 cup chestnut flour
Pinch of salt
2 medium sized eggs
2 tablespoons tepid water
In a food processor, place all the dry ingredients except for the water. Add the eggs. Start the mixer allowing the ingredients to blend for 30 seconds, then add the water. As soon as it starts to look like it is a heavy corn meal, stop the processor and feel the dough. It should be very dry, but when pinched between your fingers, it should stick together. Don’t add additional water unless the dough is not sticking together. Remove the mixture and knead for 10-15 minutes by hand. The amount of water may be needed.
If you are making the dough by hand, place the flour on a board and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs in the well and mix the wet ingredients into the flour with a fork. Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes. Form the dough into a ball, cover it with a clean kitchen towel to prevent it from drying out.
Using a pasta machine, roll a piece of the dough through each level. Once you have rolled it through the last level the dough will be ready to roll through the noodle cutter of the pasta machine. Rolling the dough through these levels also kneads it. Using the noodle cutter, roll a piece of dough through and take half the noodles and roll them around your hand to form a little nest. Put them on a kitchen towel and let them dry. If you have a pasta hanger, don’t make nests, but hang them to dry. You can also roll the dough into a cylinder and cut it with a knife about 1/4″. Toss with a little flour.
Drop the fettuccine in a large amount of lightly boiling salted water and test after a few minutes. They should take only about 3 minutes to cook.
Note:. Chestnut flour may be found in specialty stores
Sage & Pine Nut Sauce
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Cook Time: 6-7 minutes
Yield: 4 Servings
1 lb pasta
12 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup pine nuts
Several leaves of fresh sage
Salt to taste
In a deep pan, boil salted water and cook the fettuccini. If the pasta is boxed, cook according to directions. If the pasta is fresh, it will take less than 3 minutes to cook.
While the water is heating up, prepare the sauce. In a saucepan, melt the butter and the oil. Cut the sage leaves lengthwise and place them in the saucepan along with the pine nuts. Sauté it in the butter and oil, watch the pine nuts very carefully as they will brown very quickly. Remove from the stove as soon as they start to turn golden brown and allow them to finish browning in the hot butter. If the sauce needs more liquid, add a little boiling water from the pasta.