The other evening I nipped over to France for dinner. In related developments, I am finding it very difficult to leave Switzerland. From my perch these past few weeks in quaint yet cosmopolitan Basel, I've enjoyed the best of three countries, cultures and cuisines at once — sampling real Black Forest ham in Heidelberg, oozy raclette and deep, dark chocolate truffles in Zurich, pink praline pastries in Lyon. And in Strasbourg, I sat outside a crowded cafe, sipping chilled Pinot Noir (I said what I said) and nibbling a classic Alsatian dish, flammekueche, aka tarte flambée, aka what I have come to regard as French pizza.
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What makes tarte flambée so hauntingly delicious is its brilliant simplicity — a razor thin, unyeasted dough is topped with creamy cheese, thick bacon and red onions, then baked at high heat. You can throw some mushrooms in the mix, or a little fragrant hard cheese, but the magic is in that crackling crust and minimalist topping. This is comfort food at its most relaxed.
In my tiny temporary kitchen, I've gone for the spirit, if not the letter, of the dish with a handful of easy to obtain ingredients. It's true that here in Switzerland they sell flammekueche dough in the supermarket, but I don't remember ever seeing a flammekueche aisle back home at Trader Joe's. So instead, I've just defaulted to the flattest toppings vehicle I know — the tortilla. My tarte flambée also has leeks instead of red onion, because I love their sweet, grassy flavor, and diced ham instead of uncooked bacon because my oven doesn't get terribly hot. You can play around with your own favorite flavors here; I won't tell the French.
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Because I am an American barbarian, I did, that evening in France, abandon all pretense and pick up my tarte flambée, fold it, and eat it New York pizza style. No regrets! Later, as I walked back to the train, it started to rain, but the sun refused to stop breaking through the orange and charcoal colored sky. It was unforgettable. And while I may never experience that particular late summer in Strasbourg feeling of magic again, at least I can try, now and then, for a little taste.
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Cozy French pizza Yields 2 servings Prep Time 5 minutes Baking Time 5 - 10 minutes
2 medium tortillas or rotis
4 - 6 tablespoons of crème fraîche (You can substitute mascarpone, crema, sour cream, or Greek yogurt if you can't get crème fraîche)
1/4 cup of shredded gruyere cheese
3 ounces of good ham, coarsely chopped
1/2 leek, cleaned and cut into rounds
Optional: Parsley and grated parmesan cheese
Preheat your oven to 425º F.
Put the tortillas on a baking sheet.
Spoon the crème fraîche, then the cheese, leeks and ham evenly over both.
Bake 5 - 10 minutes, until the cheese is melted.
Top with fresh black pepper and enjoy with a chilled red wine. You heard me.
If you are feeling more ambitious, you can of course make this with homemade or store bought pizza dough. The only stipulation is that is ought then to be rolled thin thin thin.
of our favorite pizza-esque dishes
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