Ms Marmite Lover: This cheesy Tartiflette is a taste of Alpine living

13:00 08 January 2016

Tartiflette. Picture: Kerstin Rodgers

Tartiflette. Picture: Kerstin Rodgers

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Faced with little snow and fear at even a blue run, Kerstin Rodgers, aka MsMarmiteLover, found solace in potatoes, cream and local Reblochon cheese on her recent Alpine holiday.

The Alps, Europe’s largest mountain range, passes through France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Italy and Slovenia and boasts a distinctive culinary culture. Alpine food is unashamedly heavy fare - stuff you can bolt down after a wintery day. Guilt-free carbs are one of the pleasures of skiing holidays, along with hot chocolate, gluwein and vats of bubbling cheese.

It seems strange to be advocating Alpine dishes when we are experiencing the mildest winter for decades but I’ve just returned from the French Alps, where I stayed at the delightful hotel Villa Rose (@villarosesamoens on instagram) in the pretty Christmassy village of Samoëns near to the slopes of the Grand Massif. While so many French ski resorts embrace ugly cheap tower blocks, Samoëns is an exception. It is a traditional village with wooden chalet-style buildings akin to gingerbread houses.

But there is little snow. As I haven’t been skiing for ten years, my body was reluctant. Gazing down a blue run, I felt fear that I never used to, and the icy snow was thin on the ground - you could actually see the grass poking through. I’d forgotten how to use a button lift too, where you implausibly thread a small metal disk between your legs and let it drag you up a mountain. It ground to a halt. I looked anxiously at the lift operator who solemnly joked ’Yes, you’ve broken it’. Decent amounts of snow aren’t expected until mid-January, losing a chunk of the ski season.

The French Alps feature an unending array of dishes fit for the ski season mostly comprising of a divine combination of spuds and/or cheese, for example: Gratin Dauphinois, transparent leaves of potato swaddled in cream; Raclette, a blonde wheel of melty goo; Fondue Savoyarde, where dropping a cube of bread means you pay a ‘forfait’ of a bottle of wine for the table. These recipes originate from nutty dense Alpine cheeses such as Beaufort, Raclette, Vacherin, Gruyere, Emmental, Tomme or Reblochon, a versatile but little known cheese in the UK.

Reblochonnade or Tartiflette started life as a 1980s marketing campaign from the makers of Reblochon cheese, but seems to have been absorbed into the traditional foodie lore of the Alps. Its family history stems from a Savoyard dish called ‘pela’, featuring fried potatoes.

Reblochon, a washed rind cheese (you can eat the rind), is available in many British supermarkets. Sometimes I just dump it whole in a tomato, garlic and red pepper casserole for a lighter dish.

Similarly, you can pretty much turn any vegetable into luxurious winter grub by cooking it as a gratin with cream and cheese and topping it with breadcrumbs. At the Samoëns market, I bought a kilo of cardoons, a local speciality, which look like a spiky celery but taste of artichokes. These will be used to create a silky, delicate gratin.

Chef Dan from Villa Rose cooked me a tartiflette and here is my take on it. Usually it has lardons (bacon bits), which I have replaced with smoked salmon.

Tartiflette

Serves 6

1 kilo of potatoes, waxy, unpeeled, cut in quarters

50g butter

3 or 4 shallots, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

4 fresh bay leaves

A pinch of mace

600ml of single cream

1/2 tsp salt (truffle salt if you have it)

150g smoked salmon, turn into strips

1 reblochon cheese, slit horizontally in half

Prepare the potatoes and parboil them in boiling salty water for about five minutes. Drain.

Take a large deep frying pan or wide shallow casserole that you can also use in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC.

Melt the butter in the frying pan and add the shallots, sweating them down until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, the bay leaves and a pinch of mace. Then add the drained potatoes, tossing them in the butter and aromatics for a few minutes.

Add the cream and salt, warming it up, adding the smoked salmon at the last minute.

Finally, add the two halves of the reblochon cheese, rind side up, and put the pan into the oven to bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until bubbling. Place a metal prong into the potatoes to check that they are cooked.

Serve hot accompanied by a green salad dressed with a Dijon mustard vinaigrette and a crisp white wine, preferably from the Savoie region.

Read Kerstin’s award winning blog at msmarmitelover.com.

She has also written four books: Supper club, recipes and notes from the underground restaurant (Harper Collins), MsMarmitelover’s Secret Tea Party (Square Peg), V is for Vegan (Quadrille), and Get Started in Food Writing (Hodder).

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