If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you like macaroni and cheese. But maybe you’re tired of the same old recipe you’ve been making for years. Or maybe you’ve finally grown weary of the sad and predictable world of boxed mac and cheese and that powdery orange substance that most definitely isn’t cheese.
If so, you’re in luck. Today, I’m going to show you how to make Älplermagronen, a rich and creamy version of macaroni and cheese that hails from the mountains of Switzerland.
What sets Älplermagronen apart from your standard macaroni and cheese recipe is the inclusion of potatoes, which are boiled along with the pasta. But that’s only the beginning. What also elevates this macaroni and cheese to a whole other level are the onions, apples and bacon or ham, which are fried in butter right before adding the milk and cheese to the pan. There’s no flour needed in this mac and cheese; the milk and cheese are enough to create a rich creamy sauce.
Once you taste this mac and cheese, your taste buds will go into shock. The creaminess of the sauce, the silkiness of the potatoes, the sweetness of the onions and apples and the wonderful smokiness of the meat. This is macaroni and cheese like you’ve never tasted before.
And if you think Älplermagronen tastes good warm, you’re in for a surprise. It also makes a sweet, creamy and luscious potato salad when served cold.
Try this recipe. You may never want to go back to ordinary mac and cheese again.
10 oz. (283 g) yellow potatoes, sliced in half, then half again, then 1/2 inch (12 mm) wedges (see footnote 1)
1/2 lb. (227 g) ziti or other tube shaped pasta (see footnote 2)
2 Tbsp. (28 g) butter or vegan butter substitute
1 medium onion (about 7 oz, or 200 g), cut into 1/4 inch (6 mm) rings, then quartered, and separated into strips
2 oz. (56 g) bacon or ham, cut into thin strips, then cut in half (see footnote 3)
10 oz. (283 g) apples, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch (12 mm) cubes (see footnote 4)
2 cups (480 ml) milk or plant based milk (I like to use cashew milk)
salt and pepper
5 oz. (140 g) Swiss cheese or vegan Swiss-style cheese, cut into thin strips
Toasted breadcrumbs (optional) (see footnote 5)
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a rolling boil.
While you’re waiting for the pot to boil, melt the butter on medium high heat in a large deep frying pan. Once the butter is melted and begins to bubble, add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes. Make sure to stir the onions about every minute.
Add the bacon or ham and cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until lightly browned but not crispy. Be sure to stir the onions and bacon once per minute.
Add the apples to the bacon and onion mixture. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the apples are tender, stirring once per minute.
Once the water has come to a rolling boil, add salt along with the potatoes and pasta. You will want to cook the ziti for 9 – 10 minutes; this will be long enough to guarantee that both the pasta and potatoes will be fairly tender.
While you’re waiting for the potatoes and pasta to cook, add the milk, salt and pepper to the frying pan and cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the chopped cheese and reduce heat to medium. Stir the sauce until the cheese is completely melted and the sauce has thickened. Remove from heat.
Once the pasta and potatoes are tender, drain them and add to sauce. Stir until well combined. Serve immediately. If desired, garnish with toasted breadcrumbs. Also tastes great as a cold potato salad.
According to the popular origin story, Älplermagronen came to be around 1882 following the construction of the Gotthard tunnel in southern Switzerland. The story goes that Italian immigrants who were working on the railway introduced pasta to the Swiss, who combined it with local ingredients. According to some, Älplermagronen began as a simple dish of pasta mixed with onions, milk and cream. Potatoes and meat, the former being a common ingredient in Swiss cooking, were added later to make the dish more filling.
However, as is usually the case with these kinds of stories, the amount of fiction usually outweighs the amount of fact. Pasta was in use in Switzerland before the 1880s, as the first pasta factories in that country were built in the 1840s. It was considered a luxury food, more commonly eaten among the wealthy then the working class. It wasn’t until the 1930s that pasta became more readily available and affordable in Switzerland. In fact, the workers who helped build the Gotthard tunnel were men of lower income from the alpine regions of Italy, where rice and polenta are more commonly eaten than pasta. Also, since Italy and Switzerland are in such close proximity to one another, trade between the two countries had been going on long before 1882. So, the idea that pasta did not exist in Switzerland until the 1880s, much less that it was brought there by people who may have not regularly consumed it, should be considered one among many tall tales in the culinary world.
Despite its dubious origins, Älplermagronen is now a classic dish in Swiss cooking. It is commonly served at restaurants and resorts throughout Switzerland year round. It also has made regular appearances in official Swiss military cookbooks since 1986, but had been prepared by military cooks years before.
As with most recipes in the world, there exist numerous variations of Älplermagronen. Some versions contain potatoes only and omit onions and meat; others substitute various kinds of sausage in place of ham or bacon. There are even some versions that only have onions added. Almost all versions (unlike this one) feature applesauce or alternatively apple or plum compote served as a side dish. Very few versions I’ve come across feature fried apples.
The method for preparing the sauce also varies. In some versions, the potatoes and pasta are boiled in milk and then the cheese is added; others have you adding the milk and cheese to the frying pan when you add the pasta and potatoes. I can’t remember if I’ve seen any quite like the one presented here, where the sauce is made just before the pasta is done.
I originally learned about Älplermagronen while looking for some kind of pasta recipe featuring cream and apples. I stumbled across Crawfish & Caramel’s recipe for Älplermagronen and I immediately began combing through as many recipes for Älplermagronen that I could. The idea of a pasta with onions, potatoes and applesauce intrigued me.
However, as I started thinking more about the recipe, I reasoned to myself that maybe it would be better to actually have fresh apples incorporated into the dish rather than having them as a sauce served on the side. I’m not sure if this idea came to me before I found this recipe from Lieberlecker, but it certainly was influential in helping me craft this recipe.
The amount of liquid used in this recipe, as well as the amount of cheese, has changed over the past couple months. Originally, I was using 1 1/4 cup, (300 ml) of milk and nearly 2 ounces (50 g) of cheese. I also would add the pasta to the fried stuff along with the potatoes and milk. I heated the milk a little bit, then added the cheese and cooked for a while on medium heat until it was well incorporated.
While the end result was creamy and delicious, I figured it would be better to add a little bit more liquid and cheese to make it even more creamy. I’m very happy with the way this recipe turned out, just as I’m sure you’ll be once you taste it.
1. I like to use Yukon gold for this recipe, but you can use any type of potato you wish. However, if you decide to use russet potatoes, I recommend that you peel them before cutting them. The skin of those potatoes can be a bit bitter at times.
2. You can use any kind of tube shaped pasta that you wish for this recipe. I use ziti because it is very easy to cook both potatoes and pasta together and both are done cooking around the same time. Just keep in mind that if you do decide to use a different type of tube shaped pasta (such as penne or rigatoni) you may need to cook the pasta a little bit first before adding your potatoes.
3. Feel free to substitute the bacon in this recipe with turkey bacon. It’s usually my go-to choice when making Älplermagronen for myself.
4. For this dish, I recommend you use a sweet variety of apples such as gala, Fuji, honeycrisp or golden delicious. Feel free to use a mixture of apples if you wish.
5. I know, I know; bread crumbs may or may not be a traditional topping for this dish, but the Sicilian in me just can’t resist putting toasted bread crumbs on pasta.