Wintertime is the season for heartier foods, ones that are thick and rich. Outdoor enthusiasts brave all sorts of weather but as much fun as it is to be outdoors, it’s always wonderful to come back inside and warm up with a substantial meal. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Savoy (Savoie) region of France, where after a day of hiking or skiing in the Alps, locals and tourists enjoy Tartiflette for dinner.
This Alpine dish is said to be derived from a traditional potato-onion gratin called la péla. The recipe is incredibly simple. Sliced cooked potatoes are layered with lardons (chopped bacon) and onions, then topped with a rich layer of Reblochon cheese. As it bakes, the unctuous melting cheese permeates the layers and results in a nice brown top crust. The dish is so rich that it makes a full meal when accompanied by a simple green salad.
Reblochon is sold in 1-pound rounds that look similar to camembert. Since authentic Reblochon cheese is made from unpasteurized cow’s milk it is difficult, if not impossible, to find in the United States. Nonetheless, some good substitutes are available. To make the best tartiflette, you’ll want to use a soft, creamy, (dare I say) “smelly” cheese. Some of my favorite substitutes for Reblochon are either Petit Préféré de Nos Montagnes or Raclette cheese (available online from Murray’s Cheese) or Le Délice du Jura Fermier (from igourmet.com). If you don’t want to be that exotic, you can often find Gruyère, Taleggio, or Époisses in local stores. In a pinch, a nice ripe round of Camembert would also work well.
Some French recipes say the cheese should be cut in half across the equator, which can be a bit difficult to handle. But I simply slice it into two half “moons” and then slice each moon into thin slices. Do not remove the rind, as it adds extra flavor and texture to the dish.
2 pounds of large Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed
½ pound round of Reblochon cheese (or cheese of your choice)
½ pound of thick bacon, chopped
1 medium Vidalia (sweet) onion, cut in half, then sliced
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ cup white wine (optional)
8-inch square baking dish
Place the unpeeled potatoes in a large pot of water and boil for 20 minutes until easily pierced with a knife. Drain and place the potatoes on a dish until they are cool enough to handle.
When the potatoes have cooled enough, peel them by rubbing off the skins then cut them into quarter-inch slices. Slice your round of cheese in half then cut each half into thin slices. Set aside.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. In a large frying pan, cook the bacon until browned. Set the bacon aside, reserving about 1-2 tablespoons of bacon grease in the pan.
Sauté the sliced onions in the bacon grease until soft and lightly browned. If your bacon is lean, you might need to add a little olive oil to the pan. When the onions are done, add the cooked bacon back to the pan and stir to combine.
Add your sliced potatoes to the pan and gently stir to combine.
Place half of the potatoes-bacon-onions into your baking dish. Top with half of the slices of cheese. Layer the other half of the potato mixture, then top with the rest of the sliced cheese. For extra flavor you can pour in a half-cup of white wine, if you prefer.
Place the uncovered baking dish in the oven and let it cook for 20 minutes. Check to see how the top is melting. You want it to be very brown, but not dry. If it’s browning too quickly, cover it with some foil then continue baking for an additional 10-15 minutes until the cheese is fully melted and bubbling.
Note: I don’t add any salt and pepper to the recipe, as some bacons and cheeses are quite salty, but feel free to add some freshly ground pepper to each layer as you’re composing the tartiflette in the baking dish. Diced pancetta is a nice alternative to thick bacon in this recipe. I always have some packages on hand in my freezer to use in a Tartiflette or Quiche Lorraine.