Back to school…could they be the three most hated words in the English language? And why is it that, more than twenty-five years after my last BTS experience, the return to work in January still resonates with the impending horror I felt at 16? It must be something to do with cold buildings, damp clothes and the thought of exercising in the depths of winter, all of which, alas, I still experience, and dislike, two decades later.
This then, despite what everybody else is saying and doing, is a time for comfort and treats, not a time for excising all such pleasure from our diets by giving up alcohol, wheat, dairy, chocolate, sugar…or whatever else is currently perceived as ‘bad for you’. However, since the one thing I am willing to give up after the flaying I gave my credit card in December is spending, I am devoting my January blogs to warm, cheapish cosy food, the sort of food you won’t mind staying in with, the sort of food, for example, that the Swiss and the French always serve you in mountain chalets after a hard, cold day’s skiing, snowshoeing or snowboarding. What I really want, in fact, is raclette but since raclette is really just a French way of saying melted cheese and the necessary grill is not often found in kitchens north of the Channel, an oven-baked cheese, such as the delectable Vacherin Mont d’Or sort is a perfect substitute. Vacherin is only around till April so it’s worth making the most of it but if you can’t get it, or it seems too expensive, Camembert, as Mr Nigel Slater points out in Real Food, is a perfect substitute.
This is comfort food of the highest order, like a duvet for the stomach, and blissfully easy. Let stick insects think about their body shape, forget about the ‘homework’ (otherwise known as ‘ironing a shirt’ or ‘making a sandwich’) and enjoy this very simple pleasure.
Melted Vacherin/Camembert with accoutrements
For two to three decent portions you will need
Cupboard (or things you may already have):
potatoes, 3-4 medium [to serve] or good bread
Vacherin (usually 500g) or an equivalent normal-sized Camembert, preferably in a wooden box (Vacherins almost always come in them; with Camembert you may have to improvise with an ovenproof dish and foil)
white wine (you only need a tiny amount, a teaspoon or two)
small gherkins/cornichons [to serve]
selection of charcuterie (salami, saucisson, bresaola, chorizo, whatever you like) [to serve]
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan-assisted/gas 6.
2. Take the cheese out of its plastic packaging and, if in one, replace in its wooden box. If it doesn’t have one, put enough foil to wrap it in a suitably-sized baking dish.
3. Peel the garlic clove and rub it over the surface of the cheese.
4. Stab a fork into the surface of the cheese to perforate it a few times then drizzle in the white wine.
5. Cover with the lid of the box or wrap in the piece of foil then bake for about 20 minutes until oozing and hot.
6. Whilst the cheese is melting, peel and boil the potatoes until done (if using) and set out dishes of cornichons and charcuterie.
7. Put the hot cheese in the middle of the table, remove the lid and enjoy spoonfuls of it drizzled over everything else. Divine.