When the weather turns cold, my thoughts turn to tummy-warming recipes. These are usually things I don't make often as they're rich and filling, but once in a while I reckon they're okay and they make the long, cold, dark days of winter bearable. Take tartiflette for example.
Recently I found myself in the Atwater Market, a farmer's market housed in a beautiful Art Deco building next to the Lachine Canal and close to where I live. It has butchers, bakeries and cheese shops, and all kinds of fruit, veggies, fresh flowers even local wine. It's a glorious place to visit.
I wandered in to my favourite cheese shop and since they have over 750 kinds of cheese, I asked my cheesemonger what would be a good cheese for scalloped potatoes besides the usual Gruyere. There happened to be a chef standing beside me, waiting for his cheese order (which confirmed I picked the right shop) and he suggested I try a dish called tartiflette. "But you need to get a reblochon cheese. It must have this cheese because it makes the dish."
Reblochon comes from Savoie, France. It's a soft, creamy, rich cheese with a yellow crust covered with a fine white powder. It's a bit like a wheel of brie, but has more of a nutty flavour.
Reblochon, according to legend, was first made in the 13th century in the Thones Valley of France. Farmers at that time would rent pastures from the wealthy landowners, and they gave them some of their milk as payment. When they were calculating exactly how much rent was to be paid, the farmers would not milk their cows completely in order to rig the quantity produced (which would therefore lower their rent, the crafty buggers.) Of course, once the landowners took off, the farmers would do a second milking which produced a milk very rich in butterfat. This was the milk they used for the reblochon cheese, which literally means "to milk again." This story pretty much sums up Quebecers and their views on the taxman. We even have commercials that urge us not to pay "under the table" which everyone ignores owing to the fact that we all are in agreement we pay too much tax. Because we do.
But I digress. We're talking about cheese.
I agreed to take a wheel of reblochon cheese, and only then found out it was $32. For CHEESE. I couldn't lose face in front of the chef so I took it. Begrudgingly, I have to admit.
Well, I made my tartiflette, and luckily for that chef, it was amazing. You can find various recipes on the web, but basically it's potatoes, bacon, onion and the halved reblochon on top, baked in the oven so the cheese melts and melds on to the layers below. Oh My. Now if you can't get reblochon cheese, or you don't want to spend that much, you could I suppose substitute brie and add a bit of Gruyere or cheddar or something else. But if you can, you should try it with the reblochon at least once. So worth it.
3 pounds or so waxy potatoes, like red or Yukon Gold
1 large onion, minced (I used a Vidalia)
1/2 pound bacon, about 6 slices, cut in pieces
2 TBSP butter
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup cream
salt and pepper
1 Reblochon cheese, 500 ml (about 1.1 pounds) nice and ripe
Preheat the oven to 400F. Bring water to a boil. Halve the potatoes, and boil them for 15 minutes or just until barely cooked. You can slip them out of their skins at this point, or leave them on, as I did. Cool slightly, then cut them in thick slices. While the potatoes are boiling, cook the onion and bacon in butter until they're soft but not brown.
In an ovenproof, earthenware dish (I used my Le Creuset oval dish, which I lurve) rub the bottom and sides with the cut garlic clove. Place half the potatoes on the bottom, spoon on half the onions/bacon mixture and season with salt and pepper. Repeat with the rest of the potatoes and onion/bacon. Pour the cream on top. Then halve the reblochon cheese through the middle and place both halves, crust side facing up, on the potatoes. (You don't have to use cream, but it looked a bit dry to me and it worked out just fine, so do as you wish.)
Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F, and bake for another 25-30 minutes or until it's brown around the edges. The cheese will melt and bubble all around the potatoes. Do not think how many calories are in it. Just plan on a long walk in the snow knowing this dish will keep you warm. For days. Maybe weeks.