I love it that in Europe, food varies greatly by country, but the borders are porous. In France, hang out in Nice and you’ll find a French/Italian fusion. Spanish dishes creep over into the Southwest, and vice versa.
And so it is in the Alsace region that the German and Swiss influence are strongly felt. Or is it the other way around? Anyway, in the Alps of France or Switzerland you will find hearty mountain food, perfect for beefing up for a day of rigorous winter sports. And fine fare for our last gasp of winter, before we start dreaming of light salads and such.
In France it’s unseasonably warm at the moment, but there will no doubt be one last blast of chilly weather before the real spring arrives. Which has us thinking of the classic Alsatian dish which reader and friend Dee mentioned in the comments recently: Tartiflette.
If you want to please a man, by the way (or warm him up), serve him this rich combo of potatoes, cheese, and bacon, all hot and gooey. Is that guy food or what? It’s not a pretty dish (see photo), but it’s a tasty one. Easy, too. It’s basically a gratin, but it’s made with a particular cheese (there are rules about such things in France), called Reblochon. Which you may have trouble tracking down if you’re not in France, but we shall deal with that later.
It is acceptable in the Alsace to make Tartiflette with smoked salmon instead of bacon, a variation which I prefer. The salmon has a strong, salty flavor as bacon does, so it gives the same sort of kick to this dish. It also makes it a tad healthier, though this dinner still might not be at the top of your lowfat/heart-smart list. But hey, we’re in France, where we don’t worry about such things.
French traditionalists, stop reading HERE. I confess that even after 11 years in France I have not developed a taste for strong smelly cheeses, of which Reblochon is one. Instead, in my recipe I used an Italian blend and I will try a mixture of Gruyère and Cheddar next time. Your casserole will still be delicious, and will have the advantage of not smelling like baked cowpies.
RECIPE: Tartiflette, Southern Style
If you want to try the traditional version by a chef with some French credentials, you are in the wrong neighborhood, and you should proceed immediately to Anthony Bourdain’s excellent version. For my loose interpretation, see below.
I confess I didn’t even measure ingredients for this recipe. For four servings I used about a dozen small red potatoes, 2 large diced sweet onions, about a cup and a half of grated cheese (Reblochon, or your favorite mix of cheeses that melt well), and less than half a cup of sour cream. I used a package of smoked salmon with 4 small slices, diced; you really don’t need a lot.
To make it, cook some yukon gold, red, or waxy potatoes (another French heresy: I don’t peel them) in simmering water to cover, then drain and slice them when they’re done. Meanwhile, sauté a mess of onions in olive oil on lowish heat, for 15 minutes or so. When done, throw in a half cup of white wine and reduce it a bit. Purists will use a dry white wine from the Alsace region.
In a big bowl, toss the hot potatoes, with a bit of butter if you like, and mix in salt and pepper, the onion mixture, the sour cream, and the salmon. If it seems dry, add a bit more wine. Peel a garlic clove, smash it with the flat blade of your knife, then rub the inside of your baking dish with it. Put half the potato mixture in the dish, top with half the cheese. Add remaining potatoes and top with remaining cheese. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Serve with a green salad and the rest of that delicious wine.
In the COMMENTS: Julie, I think you must do as Barbara suggests, and fit in both Venice and the Cinque Terra! Jacki knows a good mask shop in Paris. Thanks, as always, for the many lovely comments.
Favorite Reads: Two readers recommended books about Venice this week that I can't wait to read. Dottie liked A Venetian Affair: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in the 18th Century a real life romance about a secret affair. Then there is The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story, which Jetagain recommends.