I have been dreaming recently of Paris; this dream takes a number of shapes and forms, but it usually involves – or culminates in – me packing up my belongings, declaring (in bad, bastardized French) “Je vais aller à Paris!!” and running away to la belle ville. My love affair with the city began a few years ago when I went there for the first time, and it has never quite died down. Over these Easter holidays I have been suffering from this affliction greatly.
But any number of things prevent this dream from taking on the hues of reality, as it were: my dastardly lack of passport (it has been sent for visa processing), my wretched lack of money, the #postmodernproblem of needing visas and at least three months planning in advance to acquire one (not to mention the micro-planning required of tickets, dates, places to be stayed in, enough funds in bank account? letters from college proving I am indeed a student etc etc etc – my list of visa troubles is long and sad, and best saved for another day). I will however say — nothing reminds me more of those lines from Beckett’s Endgame than visa woes, whereupon he shouts at his father: “Scoundrel!!!! Why did you engender me???”. In my case it usually reads like “Scoundrel!!!!! Why did you engender me…. With a passport that everyone requires a visa for???”
However! Despite this sordidly circumscribed life, I have managed to find little pleasures in pretending I am in France: I have been vicariously living la vie Parisienne by cooking French pastries and food almost obsessively. I have spent the past week almost entirely in the kitchen, learning how to use piping bags, whisks, the oven (yes, indeed!), learning how to measure the temperature of sugar without a thermometer… Etc. All because I discovered a lovely show on BBC Iplayer called The Little Paris Kitchen:Cooking with Rachel Khoo. This show is no Masterchef, and all the more endearing for it – I love watching cooking shows but the sheer difficulty of most of what they make is overwhelming. Rachel Khoo is not only a lovely looking/seeming person (and half-Malaysian, to boot yay!), but the food she cooks is elegant and simple. So I made it my mission to try out some of the yummy things she made – the madeleines were a success, the chouquettes less so but still delicious, and then last night I tried her version of the delicious French tartiflette (good memories of having this for the first time – at the Christmas fair on the Champs-Élysées, from a polystyrene container, crouching in the dark by the side of the road… Yesss!). Lacking the requisite ingredients (Reblochon is difficult to find in Oxford!) and skills (Julienne technique? I can’t even chop onions properly!) were no impediments, as I decided to use handy tips and tricks from this recipe also. I mashed these two recipes together and made up some of my own aspects, to create what I like to pretend is an amazing fusion Moroccan-French tartiflette. Whether or not such a thing exists in either France or Morocco is another matter, as is whether anybody French would deem it a ‘tartiflette’. But: it tasted good, and so without further ado, the recipe:
2 tbsp soft butter
500-600g waxy potatoes (I was feeding a hungry boy so added more – the extra 100g of potato I used, to the 500g specified by Rachel Khoo, were sweet potatoes, which I thought would be delicious in this salty cheesy dish. They were!)
1 onion finely chopped
1 clove garlic finely chopped
1 bay leaf
5-6 merguez sausages (the recipe traditionally comes with bacon, which is the ingredient specified in both the above recipes. But because I lived above a Moroccan deli, which didn’t have bacon but DID have these delicious spicy merguez sausages, I used these instead. Hence the claim to ‘fusion’ cooking!) – use more or less of these according to taste. I used 4 merguez sausages, so the tartiflette was more potato & cheese heavy, but you can equally make it more meaty!
200g of haloumi (instead of reblochon)
50g of any soft goat’s cheese (I used chevre).
1. Heat oven to about 200C. The recipes above differ widely in their temperatures, and I assume that this is because Rachel Khoo’s recipe uses fine ‘matchstick’ potatoes and requires less heat to bake than the one that uses boiled and chopped potatoes. Mine is trying to find a middle ground.
2. Get all your potatoes chopped into very thin slivers, resembling a matchstick (using a Julienne blade, if you have one, or chopped according to the Julienne technique, if you can). I neither possessed such a blade nor could chop so finely, so I used a grater instead (potatoes grate amazingly well). The problem with grating is, however, that you get very soggy potato slices, as all the juices run out – you can dab them repeatedly on tissue to dry them out a bit, but they will still be wetter than the ‘matchsticks’ specified in both recipes above.
3. Put 1 tbsp of butter in the frying pan, and add the merguez sausages (I also added a tsp of ground cumin and hot chilli powder with the merguez, just to go all out with the flavour!). After about 4-5 mins on medium to high heat, they should start spluttering and the delicious merguez fat will start oozing out. At this juncture, add the onions, garlic, and the bay leaf. The idea is to get them cooking in the delicious merguez fat, which would have made them equally flavoursome.
4. Leave for about 4-5 mins, until the onions start browning (though since this is difficult to see through the spices etc, you might just need to guess they’re somewhat cooked). Then add all the potato shreds to the pan, and stir and fry for about 3-5 mins. This just to dry out the potato shreds a bit more, and to get the merguez and spices flavour’s seeping into them.
5. Transfer this concoction to a baking tray (sides all greased of course), and then crumble the haloumi and goats cheese over the whole top. Now, haloumi tastes great with this spicy dish and really complements the taste of the merguez, but it doesn’t melt very well at all – where the reblochon of the original recipes makes the potato pieces coherent by melting into them, this dish will not be so coherent. I added 50g of goat’s cheese just so it would create little pockets of cohesion, but add more if you want a less piecemeal dish.
6. Leave in for 15-20 mins. I liked mine slightly crispy and burnt at the top, so I left it in for about 20 minutes at this heat, but I think even 15 minutes will do for the impatient. And then… Voila!! It is finished!!!