Sometimes, inspiration comes from the most surprising sources. I was wandering the halls of O’Gourmet recently, wondering what I could make for a tantalising, delectable meal. I saw M. Seb (the cheese and wine maestro) … and stopped to have a chat. We walked into the cheese cave, and I started asking him to tell me about his favourite dishes – something that I (as a vegetarian) could make and enjoy. “Tartiflette!” he said, with great enthusiasm and excitement. This traditional Savoie dish is a layered potato gratin, given unctuousness and warmth from Reblochon cheese, cream, onions and lardons. Hmmmm. Lardons are pork fat, fried until crisp on the outside and melting on the inside .. and decidedly un-vegetarian! (But M. Seb is French, so I forgive him for being confused!) … However, Reblochon is a gorgeous, creamy raw-milk soft cheese made from the day’s second milking (when the milk is said to be creamier and richer). It is nutty and velvety, and has a soft lusciousness that is hauntingly beautiful.
So, I was definitely interested, and I decided to try and think of a new take on tartiflette that would keep all that rich depth of flavour, and at the same time elevate it to new heights. I had some black truffles (also from O’Gourmet) that I decided to use in place of the lardons, and instead of onions (which would overwhelm the truffles), I used delicate and yet sturdy leeks. This is not a vegan dish – it just cannot be – but it is warming, full of love, easy to make, and joyous. You should serve it with a sharp green salad – arugula or young spinach – simply dressed with a lemon vinaigrette. You need the balance of something clean and bright to offset the richness of this meal. But oh, its worth it. Smooth and comforting, imbued with the scent of truffles, this vegetarian tartiflette is an instant classic.
Its as good cold as it is warm, and can easily be assembled the day before, covered, refrigerated and baked a few hours before you want to serve it. Do try and let it sit for at least 20 minutes before serving – this allows the bubbling cream and cheese to solidify a bit and sink into the potatoes. Bake in a large ceramic ramekin or pot, and enjoy. It soothes the soul while pleasuring the senses. Such a wonderful combination!
Serves 6 – 8 (and wonderful as leftovers!)
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 leeks, sliced thinly (white and light green stalk only)
- 1/4 cup white wine (I used a Sauvignon Blanc)
- 4 – 6 large waxy potatoes
- 1 Reblochon cheese, refrigerated (or even frozen for a few minutes), rind removed
- 2 – 3 black truffles, sliced thinly
- 1 cup creme fraiche
- 1/2 cup cream
- Salt and pepper
You can prepare the leeks up to two days in advance. In a large frying pan, melt the butter and olive oil together over medium heat. Slice the leeks thinly, and rinse them under running water to remove any grit. Saute the leeks in the melted butter until they just begin to sweat and soften. Pour over the 1/4 cup white wine, and season with a bit of salt and pepper. Allow the leeks to simmer / saute, stirring every so often, until they just begin to colour. Raise the heat to medium high, and brown the leeks for a few minutes. Transfer the leeks to a small bowl, and allow to come to room temperature. You can refrigerate the leeks, covered for up to two days.
Peel the potatoes, and slice thinly. Submerge in water as you work so the potatoes do not brown. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, and quickly drain the potatoes from their water bath, and tip into the boiling water. Allow the potatoes to soften (but not fully cook) – about 10 – 15 minutes. Drain, and let cool for a few minutes.
If you are baking the tartiflette immediately, preheat the oven to 200 C / 400 F, and prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper. Place your large ceramic ramekin or pot on top of the baking sheet (this will protect your oven should the cheese/cream bubble over – and it will!). Whisk the creme fraiche and cream together, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Ladle about a tablespoon or two of the cream mixture into the bottom of the ramekin. Place a layer of potatoes over this, a scattering of sliced truffles, a few thin slices of Reblochon cheese, and a sprinkling of leeks. Over all, spoon about 2 tablespoons of cream. Repeat these layers until you run out of ingredients – or reach the top of the ramekin – whichever comes first! Reserve about 5 – 6 thin slices of Reblochon to scatter over the top of the dish.
Do note that you can cover the ramekin at this point and refrigerate up to 24 hours. I would highly suggest that you bake the tartiflette at least 2 hours before serving. This will give it sufficient time to set up.
Bake the tartiflette in the hot oven for at least 1 hour, and up to 1 1/2 hours. The tartiflette is ready when the top is bronzed and bubbling, and the potatoes are soft and yielding to a knife. Do not be alarmed if there seems to be an inordinate amount of liquid and cream bubbling up. Remove the tartiflette from the oven, and allow to rest for about 20 minutes (and even up to an hour) before serving. The cream and cheese will settle, and you will have a wonderfully solid potato gratin.
Serve with a bright, sharp salad for a wonderful and loving meal.