At this time of year lots of very smug-looking people get on the Piccadilly Line with huge great long bags, full of their own skis (no ‘renting’ them for the ‘pros’), and for a nanosecond I dream of snow, blue skies and dressing like a Michelin man. Then I remember that the only time the XBF and I went skiing, he got flu on day one and then I did. It was the most expensive week I’ve ever spent in bed. Also, for the one brief moment when one of us wasn’t ill, and I went for a skiing lesson, I have never felt more patronised by a Frenchman (and, having lived in France several times, I have been subjected to all levels of Patronising, from 101 up to a PhD). And, really, if the likes of Michael Schumacher, poor sod, exceptional athletes and Germans (you know, who live in countries with mountains that you can ski down), fall over, then what chance have the rest of us got?
However, there is something rather gorgeous about being in the snowy cold then going into a warm, wooden chalet and eating an awful lot of hot melted cheese. The ‘après’, as far as I’m concerned, is much more fun than the ‘ski’. We fed our flu, once we could stand, with plenty of alpine treasures: fondue, raclette and this, tartiflette. Kilograms of potatoes, smoked bacon, cream and cheese, all designed to cover your body in a layer of cold-repelling fat. Absolutely divine. And, wouldn’t you know it, so easy to make that you really don’t need to get on the tube, lugging layer after layer of goose down and several thick pairs of socks onto a crowded flight to spend a week falling over at the feet of a sniggering Frenchman; you can simply make this at home and feel much less exhausted but just as happy.
Tartiflette (adapted from the imaginatively named Cheese, by Patricia Michelson)
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
potatoes, 1kg (I have made it with floury ones and waxy Charlottes; they both work)
olive oil, ½ tbsp
onion, 1 (I’ve made it with white and a mix of white and red)
unsalted butter, 25g
smoked streaky bacon, 250g
white wine, 60ml
crème fraîche, 4 tbsps
Reblochon, 500g, or something equally melty (I have now made it twice with Taleggio, which is perfect, and anything mild and washed-rindy would be fine. Try Fontina or, at a push, Pont L’Evêque.)
salad, something green and mild, like a plain round lettuce or peppery like rocket (to serve)
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan-assisted/gas 6.
2. Peel and slice the potatoes into thick-ish (5mm or so) pieces. Steam them until cooked through (about 5-10 mins depending on their thickness). Steaming is my favourite way of doing potatoes for a gratin now because they seem to keep their flavour and shape better than boiling but you can, of course, boil them instead.
3. Peel, top and tail the onion and the garlic then finely slice both.
4. Heat the oil in a frying pan and sauté the onions and garlic until just soft and colouring but not brown.
5. Whilst the onions are cooking, snip the bacon (I find kitchen scissors more effective than a knife hence snipping) into small pieces and trim the rind off the cheese and slice it.
6. Once the onions and garlic are soft add the bacon pieces and leave to cook for another five minutes or so until just done.
7. Pour the wine over the mixture, and let it bubble for a couple of minutes.
8. Put half the potatoes into a layer in an ovenproof dish then put half the bacon and onions over the top, followed by the rest of the potatoes then the rest of the bacon mixture. Cover with the slices of cheese and the cream then bake for about 20-25 minutes until oozing and bubbling. Serve with a very very simple green salad.