April 16, 2006

Tartiflette or How I'd Go Skiing Just to Eat This.

I just love how my tastes have changed since living in France. It's not just the superficial differences between the USA and France, and all the sentimental jazz that visitors to this country walk away with. Yes, they appreciate wine, food, family and relationships. Their 35 hour work week combined with a reasonably productive economy is the envy of many other cultures. They live the good life in many respects. I thought I lived the good life before I moved here, but sometimes I just get the giggles about how far we've come. On a particularly good day, we're known to walk around with the most annoyingly broad smiles on our faces, feeling as though we alone have been entrusted with the greatest secret in the world. Dare I say? Almost as though we've discovered the secret of life. Why are we here? To live in Paris and be insufferably happy.

I think that most people who know us would categorize my husband and I as people who enjoy life. We probably drink too much, eat too much, care too much and generally make being good at life (a simultaneously ignorant and ingenious proposal) our main goal. I hope, at least, that this generosity of spirit is one reason we feel so loved, in return, by our friends.

So, what is the change within? It's not just that I now love crazy cheeses or would walk to the ends of the earth for a good baguette. The things I now consider normal sometimes strike my funny bone when I take a step back and think about my former perspective.

For one, I must have been French in a former life because I absolutely love what the French have done for cheese, bacon and starch. I mean, is there anything they haven't thought of in this arena? Since when would a meal in the States ever consist of just those 3 ingredients? I actually had to laugh when I recently saw a sandwich at our boulangerie filled with sliced potatoes and what looked like bacon. I don't know what else it had on it, but it made me think how completely unacceptable that would be in the US. A potato sandwich! Or how about those luscious looking baguettes that have the bits of bacon baked into them? or simply an onion quiche? When do onions take the staring role in American main courses? I have definitely felt a freedom with food here and recalling how wrecked everything seemed when we moved here makes me feel like I've changed my entire perspective. I can slightly recall how bizarre everything seemed when we were here just for vacation. The sandwiches were weird; the plat du jour was some unheard-of part of a chicken covered in sauce. They have appetizers like a hard boiled egg served with a side of mayo, and who knew fois gras could creep up in so many dishes?

The point is that my boundaries have been pushed and now I just like it that way. My palate was kidnapped, brainwashed and put back into society to forever wreak havoc on uptight trendy food. Bring on the bread, cheese and starch. Bring on the gigantic salads covered in fried potatoes. Bring on the steak frites, house wine and roast chicken, not to mention perhaps 30 lbs. But, regardless, bring on perhaps the most insulting dish to the American sensibility...Tartiflette.

Tartiflette is a recipe from Savoie for a gratin of potatoes, lardons, onions and reblochon cheese. The secret is in the Reblochon, which is absolutely heavenly. The texture is close to a Brie or Camembert, and although the Reblochon is stronger smelling, the taste is milder than those two. Reblochon is Paul's new favorite cheese. This being a heavy, après-ski sort of dish, it is best consumed after some heavy lifting, which is why I always like to do some extreme raking, jazzercise, or shoveling of snow while it's in the oven. Serve it with a green salad and promise not to eat cheese or potatoes for at least a few days.

1 kg (2.2 lb) waxy white potatoes (so, no russets)
250 g (about 1/2 cup chopped) lardons or chopped bacon
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp crème fraîche
1 wheel (250-350 g) Reblochon cheese
1/3 - 1/2 cup dry white wine (from Savoy, traditionally)
salt and pepper
ground nutmeg

Clean the potatoes and peel them if you like, but you don't need to. Boil the whole potatoes in a large pot of water just until tender but slightly undercooked, about 25 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Slice the onion and sauté in a bit of butter until translucent but not colored. Add the bacon to the pan and fry until crisp. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Slice the potatoes very thinly and layer 1/3 of them in a buttered casserole dish. (not quite a 9x13, but a large pan, depending on how many potatoes you have) Layer on half the bacon and onions, another layer of potatoes, and the rest of the bacon and onions. Sprinkle each layer with a little salt, pepper and nutmeg, too. Top with the remaining potatoes. Spread the crème fraîche evenly over the top and pour the white wine evenly over the gratin. Use the wine at your discretion, you don't want too much.

Cut the wheel of Reblochon in half to make two thinner wheels of cheese. Place each wheel cut side down on top of the potato gratin (the rind will be visible). You may have to cut the cheese to fit evenly in the dish, just cover as much surface area as possible. Bake in a hot oven, at least 400, maybe 425 degrees F (200-215 degrees C) for about 30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and browned on top.

Here is where there is some discrepancy. Personally, I don't enjoy eating the rind of the Reblochon, although it's perfectly safe and many people love it as it adds extra flavor, my husband being one of them. So, I left the rind on one half of the cheese and cut it off the other half. Being a sort of soft sticky cheese, I just ended up cutting it the best I could into chunks and scattering it over the gratin so it would melt evenly.

So, this was pretty much divine. I was a little ashamed of myself while I was making it, you know, thinking...this is so bad for me, so unhealthy; this is WAY too much cheese, but I was really surprised. It wasn't too much cheese and the flavor wasn't as over the top as I thought it would be. Plus, I didn't feel any guilt at all. See how France has changed me?


The Old Foodie said...

Can your favourite cheese person in Paris tell me if this story is true? I know that ‘reblocher’ means ‘to milk a second time’, so the cheese is made from a second milking a short time after the first, and that this second milk is even richer. I read somewhere that the cheese dates to a time when farmers had to pay some sort of tax to the owners of mountain pastures, the amount being based on the amount of milk the cows produced, so they didn’t quite finish the milking, then when the ‘tax man’ had gone, they re-milked the cows to make their own cheese supply. So Reblochon is ‘tax-avoidance’ cheese! Makes you love it even more, Yes?

Oob said...

Gimme. Now. Cheesy bacon potato goodness... never too much.

And now, to officially sound like a dumb American:

Chez Megane, can you pleeeeease explain to me the marvel that is Creme Fraiche? I've purchased the Alouette version, and couldn't get past the dairy-that's-almost-bad vibe that it was sending off. What am I missing? What are its best purposes? What is its closest sibling?

Educate me!

Megan said...

Old Foodie- Reblochon is indeed amazing stuff! If you click on the link I provided in the text, you can see a description of it's history, which is just as you have heard! It was their crafty way of getting around their landowners. I love to discover the history behind French cheeses...you can basically craft a history of France based on the history of their foods. I will have to ask at my local fromagerie if the story is true. Thanks for stopping by!

Oob- Creme fraiche is closest to sour cream. Sour cream is really just the pasteurized version, therefore it lacks some of creme fraiche's awesomeness. For example, you can heat creme fraiche to boiling and it won't curdle and you can also whip it like heavy cream. You can mostly substitute sour cream for creme fraiche.
In this Tartiflette, I would use heavy cream instead of sour cream because it would probably break with the high heat. Also, see this link for more.
Frankly, I adore it in mashed potatoes and I know in France they put it on desserts, like a berry crumble with a dollop of creme fraiche instead of our usual whipped cream. They basically substitute it a lot for heavy cream. Stir a few Tbsp in your quiche filling. It thickens beautifully. I could go on but I'll spare you!

s'kat said...

Megan, thanks for visiting my blog, and in turn, providing me the path back to yours! Love it, love it, love it! And this post, well, you could very well be describing my husband and I. Really, it's amazing!

My knees are down, and I'm on doc's orders for no exercise for at least another week (groan), so it looks like I will have to wait to try this intense-sounding tartiflette.

Oh, and my favourite thing to do with creme fraiche is to make flammenkeuche. Yum!

s'kat said...

Megan, I can't seem to find my recipe!! I'll keep looking. I seem to recall picking it up somewhere from Fine Cooking...

Meg said...

I completely agree with your title! So glad I found this treasure while writing " Tartiflette Recipe ". I am so in love with making this. Going to share this!

Chez Megane said...

Thanks, Meg! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Your blog is beautiful; I hope you're enjoying Paris. I miss it so much! Thanks again for stopping by!