We all know I'm a total French food dork, especially of the rustic variety. Over the years I've found that in Minnesota it's quite easy to replicate a lot of the classics with ingredients produced close to home. This is particularly true with the hearty dishes of northern/eastern France, such as Alsace-Lorraine and Savoie (as opposed to Mediterranean climes, of which MN is not).
Tartiflette, a simple, mountain-style casserole of potatoes, bacon, and cheese, hails from eastern France, mainly the Haute-Savoie. The ingredient list appears rather plain, but the results are life affirming. Dare I say gestalt?
I first ate tartiflette while living in a broom closet of an apartment in Paris. One of my neighbors, a young, wily savoyard named Sébastien, was attempting to work in Paris as a baker but he also liked to socialize. His favorite apéritif was vodka with tabasco. Our apartment building was a government subsidized community for students and young workers, and it offered very basic accommodations - most of the apartments resembled single occupant dorm rooms, with shared kitchens and bathrooms. Lucky for me, a shared kitchen meant a lot of time chatting with Sébastien about cooking, eating, and drinking while cooking, eating, and drinking. He first mentioned this dish during an animated conversation about the food of Savoie. Several days later he surprised a few friends by cooking a heroic, multi-course meal of hometown favorites, which included Chartreuse (herbaceous, jet fuel-like booze with a great story), a wild mushroom omelette, tartiflette, ham, and some sort of syrupy cake. It was an education in cold mountain culture.
I neglected to ask Sébastien to write down his recipe, but it just so happens that Anthony Bourdain has a burly, authentic rendition of tartiflette in his Les Halles cookbook. I know, I just posted a recipe based on that book, but each winter I can't keep my oven mitts off his book. It's indispensable during the dark depths of winter, when you need some epic, kill-the-pig-yourself French comfort food. In fact, his description for this recipe consists of only one sentence: "Here's more evidence that you can never have too much cheese, bacon, or starch."
- 2.5 lbs potatoes, peeled
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 lb slab bacon (or strips), diced
- 3/4 cup dry white wine (an Alsatian Riesling would work well here)
- salt and pepper
- 1 lb wheel of Reblochon cheese*
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the potatoes in a large pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are easily pierced with a paring knife. Remove from the heat, drain, and let sit until they are cool enough to handle. Dice the potatoes and set aside.
- In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over high heat and add the onion. Cook over high heat for about 5 minutes, until golden brown, then add the bacon and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the potatoes and wine and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
- Remove the mixture from heat and place in an ovenproof dish. Place the entire wheel of cheese on top and bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until golden brown on top and bubbling. Serve hot with buckets of white wine or beer.