The Cheat's Guide To Skiing: Take Me To The Cheese
I am a clumsy girl. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that I have practically no balance or coordination. As a kid, I could never manage to grasp how anyone could remain upright on rollerblades, skateboards or ice skates. I couldn’t even figure out how to walk without tripping over my own feet. My tendency to faceplant has, over the years, endowed me with various silly but painful injuries including (but by no means limited to) a broken arm, a displaced bottom jaw, a fractured coccyx, a few cracked ribs and an estimated nine badly-sprained ankles. It’s also given my family and friends many, many reasons to laugh at me.
They say you get wiser as you get older. This isn’t necessarily true for many areas of my life. Despite being 27, I still think it’s a good plan to stay up all night playing Minecraft when I know I have important things to do the next day. I don’t understand taxes, I haven’t reeeally got the hang of make-up yet, and I can never refuse any kind of booze-based challenge even when I should definitely, DEFINITELY be saying no. I evaluate whether I can get away with wearing a t-shirt again by performing a smell-test. And I make many of my (real life, supposedly-adult) decisions based on what Veronica Mars would do, even though she’s fictional and I am, sadly, much less bad-ass.
I have, however, finally accepted that there are some things I simply should not attempt, which I reckon must be a sign of some encroaching maturity. (Right? RIGHT?) This is why, when my boyfriend occasionally suggests that “maybe we should go on a skiing holiday sometime,” my reply is always an uneasy “Uhhhhh… y’know, it might be better if you went with the lads instead…”
There is no way in hell my body will let me stay upright on skis. There is absolutely no way I could manage anything except gracelessly sliding down the hill on my face, and even that would probably end in disaster. (Or I’d get my tongue stuck to the ski-lift, like Harry in Dumb & Dumber.) I know this, and somewhere inside my boyfriend knows this too, even if he refuses to admit it. I don’t even like the snow, for cryin’ out loud! I can’t deal with cold weather at all, and I would inevitably end up spending the entire trip sitting in the ski lodge, getting quietly drunk on hot whiskeys, eating many unnecessary meals and working my way through a pile of books. (Which doesn’t sound terrible, it’s just that I could do the same thing at home without paying for flights.)
This brings me to the only aspect of skiing that appeals to me: the part that involves no actual skiing, or indeed any exercise at all, but instead focuses on delicious things like open fires and wooden chalets, and food and drink designed to fill you up and warm your insides. Tartiflette is one of these things, and I can make it at home without ever having to embarrass myself by wobbling down a hill into a pine tree.
Before doing a bit of research for this article, I had thought tartiflette was a traditional French Alpine dish, but after a bit of research I discovered that it was actually invented relatively recently (in the ‘80s) in order to increase sales of Reblochon cheese. The modern recipe was, however, inspired by a genuinely traditional dish called “péla,” a gratin of potatoes, onions and cheese made in a special long-handled pan. Tartiflette is very similar, involving cheese, spuds, bacon and onions. As you can imagine, it is not a particularly low-fat dinner, but it’s a great treat when the weather is crappy, or you have your period, or you’re wallowing in self-pity because you just stabbed yourself in the thumb with a knife and then dropped your sandwich on the floor. (Although you’ll probably still eat the sandwich, because, y’know, there’s a 10-second rule and you’re still 13 in terms of mental maturity)
Tartiflette is most often made with Reblochon cheese, but there are countless variants out there. I found this Cheddar and Camembert version in a Rachel Allen cookbook last week, and made it for a midweek supper on a horribly rainy evening. It was hot and filling and delicious, and I didn’t have to venture out in the snow to get it. The below is almost an exact reproduction of Rachel’s, but with three times as much garlic. I have an addiction, okay?
Serves 4 (although it has to be said that in my house it only served three. We are hungry women.)
First grab these:
- 500g potatoes, peeled and cut in half
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 200g bacon, pancetta or cooked ham, cut into small cubes
- 100g Cheddar, grated
- 3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 small red onion, peeled and sliced
- 1 tsp chopped thyme leaves
- 200g Camembert, or similar bloomy-rind cheese, cut into wedges about 1/4″ thick
- 200ml single cream
Now do this:
- Pop the spuds in a saucepan and add enough water to just about cover them. Throw in a teaspoon of salt and bring to the boil. Cover and boil for about 25 minutes, or until tender. Drain the potatoes and allow to cool a little before cutting them into thick slices.
- Add a little olive oil to a frying pan, and sauté the bacon until lightly browned.
- Preheat your oven to 220°C.
- Arrange the potato slices in the bottom of a 10” diameter (or thereabouts) oven dish.
- Sprinkle over the sliced garlic and onion, followed by the Cheddar and thyme. Scatter over the bacon or ham, before layering the wedges of Camembert over the top. Grind over some black pepper, and pour over the cream.
- Lash it into the oven for around 15-20 minutes, or until the top is golden and bubbling. Pop it on some plates and go to town on it.
Tartiflette is traditionally served with crisp salad leaves and gherkins; I did have both of these things with mine, but I also added some garlic bread because I am a pig. You could also serve smaller portions as a side dish for chicken or something similar, and I will definitely be experimenting with different combinations of cheese in the future.
If you have any funny stories of past injuries, or a decent recipe for tartiflette, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment below.
[All images property of Jocelyn Doyle.]