Tartiflette is not a dish for the faint of heart. Potatoes, cheese, bacon, cheese, cream, cheese. You get it. That’s why I think it is perfect for a decadent celebratory meal. I had a grocery store recipe card from England with a tartiflette recipe that I made for years before I ever had it in a restaurant, that being a bistro in Paris that had all the great potato dishes (aligot, duchesse, boulangere) on the menu. I will admit I ordered more than one to go with my bavette steak. I later tracked down the origins of the dish and found out a that it is a classic dish served as an apres ski meal in the alpine Savoy region of France. And it is perfect for that for its warming and hearty nature (not that I have ever been on skis). Traditionally, it is made with reblochon cheese, a soft rind cheese from the region. In fact, somewhere along the way I read that tartiflette became so popular after the recipe was published by makers of reblochon cheese to boost sales. My family took a barge trip in Burgundy years ago and were served a lunch of tartiflette and salad. It had never occurred to me to consider tartiflette as a main dish, as I think we are more used to potatoes on the side. It is perfect served that way, and one of the English staff of the barge told me she worked at ski chalets in the winter where tartiflette was always a meal on its own.
Reblochon is a little tricky to find around here, though not impossible, so I substitute pungent Italian taleggio and soft creamy camembert to mimic the nutty characteristic of reblochon. In a pinch, I use a mix of camembert and brie, or all of one.
Decadent, rich tartiflette is a perfect accompaniment to a the Lamb Guards of Honor I posted last week or any other elegant meat dish for an intimate holiday celebration.
Start the meal with a bottle of bubbles and some Gorgonzola and Rosemary Gougeres or Parmesan Thyme Cocktail Biscuits. For an elegant first course, might I suggest Roasted Chestnut Bisque, Pear and Stilton Soup, Cauliflower, Hazelnut and Brown Butter Soup or Twice Baked Leek and Stilton Souffle. For something green on the plate, Cacio e Pepe Brussels Sprout Salad, Roasted Asparagus Mimosa, Asparagus with Sauce Maltaise, Roasted Green Beans with Peppers and Garlic or Cherry Tomatoes and Cream. Celery Popovers or Ricotta Rosemary Rolls would be lovely passed in a basket. And don’t worry, next week I’ll be back with a brilliant dessert!
Tartiflette (Potato, Onion and Bacon Gratin)
3 pounds (about 4 large) Yukon gold potatoes
6 strips thick cut bacon
1 large yellow onion
6 ounces taleggio cheese
7 ounces camembert or brie cheese
8 ounces crème fraiche
Salt and pepper
- Put the potatoes in a large pot and just cover with water. Add a generous dose of salt and bring to a boil. Boil for 15 – 20 minutes, until a knife slips easily into a potato. Drain and cool until comfortable to handle.
- Cut the bacon in to small strips (called lardons) and place in a skillet and cook over medium high heat just until they have rendered the fat and are beginning to crisp. While the bacon is cooking, peel and half the onion, then cut into thin half-moons. Before the bacon turns crispy, add the onions and stir to coat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are very soft and browned, but not crisp, and the bacon is cooked through. Drain through a wire mesh colander, shaking out as much grease as possible. Leave to cool.
- Scrape the rind off the cheeses. You do not have to be too precious here, just remove some of the rind for smoother melting. Cut three long slices from the taleggio and set aside. Cut the remaining cheese into small cubes.
- When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them into slices about ¼ inch thick. As you slice, the skin will start to peel off. Pinch off any skin that comes away freely, but again, don’t be too precious.
- Coat the inside of a 9 by 13-inch baking dish with softened butter, then spread a thin layer of crème fraiche across the bottom (about 2 tablespoons). Layer half the potatoes, slightly overlapping, over the crème fraiche, fully covering the bottom of the dish. Pat the bacon and onion mix with paper towels to remove excess grease, then distribute it evenly atop the potatoes, using your fingers to separate it and spread it out as best you can. It won’t be a full even layer, but you want to make sure that every bite of tartiflette has some onion and bacon in it. Spread half of the remaining crème fraiche over the onions as best you can, then sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Distribute half the cheese cubes evenly over the top, pulling apart any large pieces. Again, you want cheese in every bite. Layer over the remaining potatoes, spread over the last of the crème fraiche and season with more salt and pepper. Distribute the remaining cheese cubes, then drape the three thin taleggio slices over the center of the dish. Bake immediately or cool, cover and refrigerate for up to one day. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and bake for 30 – 45 minutes until cooked through and bubbling.
- If you do find Reblochon cheese, use it alone or in combination with milder Brie.