Burnt Flour Soup

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While growing up, my mother would occasionally make a simple soup, made by browning butter and adding flour that burned in the butter. I didn’t know this was how the soup was made as a youngster, I just knew I loved it. She’d always told me it was her mother’s recipe.

Many years ago I asked my mother for the recipe, and she wrote it down. It began like this:

My mother was born and raised in the city of Nancy, in the Provence of Lorraine in northeastern France. Unfortunately, because of the proximity to Germany, my mother experienced WWII first hand as an adolescent, even to the extreme of her family’s home overtaken by Nazi officers.

It was this reason that, after hearing my mother’s literal war stories, especially when it came to the lack of food, I always presumed that her mother’s burnt soup recipe was a classic “peasant” recipe, made with what little butter and flour could be purchased or bartered for at the black market.

Recently I was looking at cookbook called Savoie – The Land, People, and Food of the French Alps, which was published in 1989. (I bought the book after visiting the Savoie and Haute-Savoie regions of France, where I first discovered some of my favorite stinky cheeses, like Reblochon and Raclette.)

But there it was in the cookbook – Burned Flour Soup.

The author, Madeleine Kamman, wrote that the “soup is probably of Germanic origin since it is also a specialty of the southern Alsace and the area of Basel and several other cantons of Switzerland.”

Because Eastern France borders Germany, Switzerland, as well as Italy, it’s probably impossible to pinpoint the exact origin of burned flour soup. It’s a given that it was a peasant recipe, but obviously had a wider range than my mother’s home kitchen in Nancy.

The photo on the left shows the province of Lorraine, the one on the right, Savoie.

I recently asked my mother about the soup, and all that she could remember is that her mother made it.

The cookbook recipe is more involved than what my mother made when I was growing up; I don’t mind the upgrade of bacon and cheese! Here is the recipe from the cookbook.

Soupe À La Farine Brûlée
Or Burned Flour Soup

5 ounce slab bacon, cut into 1/4″ cubes
1 1/2 pounds onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 quarts hot water or broth
1 teaspoon Maggi seasoning
Salt
Pepper
1 cup light cream
1/2 pound Tomme, or Gruyère

In a large sauté pan, render the bacon cubes slowly; let them color to a nice golden without crisping. When the bacon is ready, remove it to a plate.

In the bacon fat, slowly sauté the chopped onions until mellow and brown. Mix the bacon into the onions.


In another saucepan, heat the butter well. Add the flour and cook slowly – at least 20 minutes – until nice and dark brown (two shades deeper than a hazelnut shell).


Whisk in the hot water or broth, bring to a boil, and pour over the onions and bacon.


Add Maggi seasoning, salt, and pepper. Simmer approximately 45 minutes, or until tasty and reduced to 5 cups.


Add the cream and mix well.


Serve in hot plates or bowls with a dish of cheese slices “for your guests to help themselves.”


The tomme is to be slivered into the soup.

The Tomme really adds something to the soup. I think I prefer it over Gruyere.

Sadly, though, this is not my mother’s soup. It’s quite different, even though it’s “better” with the upgrades.

The recipe could easily be made with fewer steps, but it was fun to make.

Fresh and dried mushrooms would be an incredible addition, sautéed along with the onions.

 

 

Tartiflette

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Years ago our family was travelling through Eastern France, and we stopped in the beautiful town of Annecy for lunch and a stroll. We were in Annecy-le-Vieux, the old part of town and we randomly chose a restaurant at which to have lunch. Our restaurant was one of the ones on the right side of the canal in the photo below. The canal encircles the ancient prison.
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We sat outside, the sun was out, it was about 70 degrees – we didn’t think it could get much better than this. But we were wrong.

My husband and I chose the local specialty Tartiflette for lunch. Tartiflette is a potato dish baked with a cheese called Reblochon, one of the cheeses of the Savoie province of France which we were in. The Tartiflette was extremely memorable, but Reblochon is now one of my favorite all-time stinky French cheeses.
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Reblochon is a cows’ milk cheese with a washed rind. It smells like, well, you’re in a cow paddy. But cheeses never taste as bad as they smell, do they?


Within the rind, Reblochon is a rich, velvet-like cheese that is perfect as is, served with my fruit and nut bread, or baked into tarts, or with potatoes, like this Tartiflette recipe.

When we got back to the states, I was so thrilled to discover that I could order Reblochon from fromages.com. Fromages.com has a recipe for Tartiflette, as well as an interesting history on Reblochon. (I learned that it’s actually made from a mix of milk from three different cow breeds!)

Then I happened upon a Tartiflette recipe in Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook. I have to quote him on what he states about Reblochon:

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Here’s more evidence that you can never have too much cheese, bacon, or starch.”

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So here’s the recipe from Mr. Bourdain’s cookbook:
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Tartiflette

INGREDIENTS
2 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled (I use russet)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 pound slab bacon, cut into small dice
3/4 cup white wine
salt and pepper
1 pound Reblochon cheese

EQUIPMENT
large pot
paring knife
strainer
large sauté pan
wooden spoon
round, ovenproof dish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the potatoes in the large pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are easily pierced with the paring knife. Remove from the heat, drain, and let sit until they are cool enough to handle. Cut the potatoes into a small dice and set aside.
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In the 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.
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Remove the mixture from the heat and place half of it in the round, ovenproof dish. Spread half the Reblochon atop the potato mixture.

Cover this with the other half of the potato mixture. Top with the remainder of the cheese.


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Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling. Serve hot.
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As you can tell, I used four ramekins for the tartiflette.

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You can prepare the tartiflette as one large casserole, like this one I made last year, but I wouldn’t make it in a deep dish pan because the cheese to potato ratio is critical!
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Also, when searching online for how tartiflette is presented, because I find it challenging to photograph, I came across other ways to prepare tartiflette. You can place the whole wheel of cheese over the potatoes, or slice it horizontally first.

note: You can make Tartiflette with a different cheese, but please don’t. You’re missing the whole point. This dish really requires this stinky cheese, and you’ll be amazed at how smooth and mild Reblochon is with the potatoes. I personally love the rind, but my husband doesn’t, so I trimmed it.

photo from Annecy

Sweet Potato Gratin

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I wrote a post a couple of years ago when I started this blog, called “Please – No Marshmallows!” Of course, I was referring to the rampant use of marshmallows on sweet potatoes in the U.S. Now, if you love this combination – great! What I have to say will not deter you. But I’ve just never understood putting something so sweet on something sweet. I mean, for god’s sake, they’re called sweet potatoes for a reason. Do you put sugar on a slice of cake?

I remember the first time I had sweet potatoes with marshmallows. It was my second year of college and I wasn’t able to fly home just for Thanksgiving, so I went with a roommate to her parents’ home in Los Angeles. I was so excited about having a “normal” Thanksgiving meal because I’d always been so deprived of traditional dishes.

My mother was a chef in her own right. She’s French, and I think all French people must be fabulous cooks. We never knew how spoiled we were with her cooking. She only used fresh ingredients, and I don’t remember her ever opening a can. We certainly never ever ate fast food.

Being French, however, and the fact that she always disliked turkey, which I think a lot of French people do, she never embraced the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. The last Thanksgiving meal I had at her home was duck a l’orange. Okay, it’s good. But I yearned for turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes with those darn marshmallows.

So then I got my chance, in 1974. My friend’s family was very sweet and embraced me like one of their own. In fact, there was no yelling or throwing of pots, which was something else I wasn’t used to.

Then came dinner. Oh my. I guess my taste buds were quite sophisticated at my young age, and hopefully I didn’t show my reaction to the various dishes, but I was horrified. The turkey was dry, the stuffing was stove-top, which is a very popular American boxed brand, and the sweet potatoes were smothered in melted marshmallows. To make things even worse, the pumpkin pie was purchased and came in a litle foil pan. And then cool whip… I can’t go on.

Sweet potatoes are a fabulous vegetable, and to me, they shine with the addition of garlic. And butter and cream. And cheese. They’re also fabulous mashed, but today I’m making them into a gratin. And I’m using Reblochon, one of my favorite stinky cow cheeses.
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There are so many ways to make a potato gratin from scratch, but I’m par-boiling the sweet potato slices in order to speed up the baking process. It’s an extra step, but sometimes it seems like it takes forever for sliced potatoes to bake in cream. And you end up with dish of milky, uncooked potatoes. So I’m just helping their cooking along, and that way less cream is required as well. So here’s what I did.

Sweet Potato and Reblochon Gratin

4 medium-sized sweet potatoes
2 ounces butter
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup 1/2 & 1/2 or heavy cream
16 ounces Reblochon, or Gruyere, or Fontina
Butter

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
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Peel the potatoes and slice them using a mandoline or a food processor.
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Bring pasta pot filled with salted water to a boil on the stove over high heat.

Add the sweet potatoes and cook them for 5 minutes. The cooking time will depend on how thinly you sliced them. Mine are approximately 1/8″ thick.
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Remove the potatoes and let them drain in the sink. I prefer to use a pasta pot with the insert, so the slices don’t break apart when they’re poured into a colander. Let them cool.
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In a small pot, melt the butter and add the garlic. Stir for just a few seconds, then pour in the cream.


Reduce the mixture to approximately 1/3 cup.

Slice the cheese however way you can. I kept the cheese chilled to facilitate slicing, but soft cheeses are always a little more challenging.
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Using an appropriately sized oven-proof baking dish, well buttered, place one layer of sweet potatoes into the dish. Add cheese, then continue, alternating sweet potatoes and cheese.

Make sure to season the sweet potatoes with salt and pepper.
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Then carefully pour the cream mixture over the top.


Bake until the cheese has melted and is golden brown, approximately 25 minutes.
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Let the gratin cool slightly and set. It’s easier to slice that way.
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Because of the Reblochon in this gratin, it takes a pretty strong protein like a filet mignon or lamb chop to pair well with this gratin. Tomorrow I’m serving it with ham.
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It will also keep well in the refrigerator, and can be heated in the oven or microwave.
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So try sweet potatoes once without the marshmallows. Only that way you can truly taste their sweet goodness.
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And by the way, I deleted my post called, “Please – No Marshmallows!” I wrote the post before I realized that posts should contain decent photos! Now, white balance is my friend!