About a year ago, Eugene and I went to a midnight feast at Landmarc, one of my favorite restaurants here in the city. Once the usual dinner patrons had left, the staff transformed the restaurant, covering the tables with red and white gingham tablecloths and setting up stations around the large room.
There was a moules and frites station, with steaming pots of mussels simmered in a rosemary and bacon broth and endless batches of seasoned french fries (with mayonnaise for dipping, of course). There was a giant table covered with a huge assortment of cheeses, freshly baked French bread, and fruit. In the middle of the room, a long line servers sat behind piles of freshly grilled sausages and charcuterie with various types of mustard for dipping. The tables were each set with fresh vegetables, butter, and salt, and a waitress came around offering slices of smoky bacon tarte flambée, the Alsatian flat-bread pizza topped with fromage blanc, caramelized onions, and crisped lardon.
Of all the amazing things we ate that night, it was the tarte flambée that made the most impression on me, and one I've been meaning to recreate since then. It wasn't until one day last week when I realized that I pretty much had all the ingredients I needed. In my freezer, there was a ball of homemade pizza dough, leftover from the pizzagaina I'd made a few weeks earlier. I had a basket of onions and thick slab bacon in the refrigerator. In place of the traditional fromage blanc or creme fraiche, I realized I could use goat cheese, which I happened to have quite a bit of on hand.
I let the dough defrost in the fridge over night, and got to work on the topping, which can be made in advance. I used my scissors to snip the bacon--a smokey black forest kind--into 1" strips, then sauteed them in a large cast iron skillet until the fat rendered. To the cooking bacon and fat I added about 2 cups of thinly sliced onion. I let the two cook together until the bacon was nearly all crisp and the onions nearly all caramelized. As they would continue to cook in the hot oven, there was no need to cook them all the way--just enough to guarantee crisp bits of bacon and sweet, caramelized pieces of onion in every bite.
|Tarte flambee, ready for the oven|
I heated the goat cheese just until it softened and thinned it out with some heavy cream, whisking until smooth and then pouring and spreading the mixture evenly over the dough until it reached just about a 1/4 inch from the edge. I then spread the cooked bacon and onion mixture evenly over the entire pie and topped it off with a generous sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper and bit of sea salt.
I slipped the cookie sheet into the oven and about 10 or so minutes later pulled out a gorgeous tart with crisp, golden edges and bubbling filling. We ate this for dinner paired along with an apple and arugula salad. I also brought out a small dish of anchovies that we spread on top of the pizza; if you like anchovies, it's a garnish that I definitely, definitely recommend.
Eugene loved this, as I'm sure you can imagine, and the next night he asked me if we would be having tarte flambee again. We were not, unfortunately, and we were both disappointed.
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Tarte Flambée with Goat Cheese
Also known as flammekueche and flammkuchen, it is said that tarte flambée was created by Alsatian bread bakers who would use it to test the heat of their ovens. At peak temperature, the tart would cook in just one or two minutes, the edges of the thin pie nearly burned by the heat of the flames, hence the name. You can easily modify this dish based on what you have available, the goat cheese can be substituted with fromage blanc (as in the original), ricotta, cottage cheese, or even regular cream cheese. You can also use puff pastry instead (adjusting the baking time and temperature as needed) or substitute a whole wheat pizza dough, if desired.
1/2 pound pizza dough (homemade or store-bought)
4 strips thick-cut slab bacon, cut into 1" strips
1 large yellow onion, sliced thinly
4 oz goat cheese, softened (herbed goat cheese also works lovely here; I actually used a chevre by Cypress Grove called Herbs de Humboldt)
1/3 cup heavy cream
freshly ground black pepper
Preheat your oven as high as it will go (at least 450 degrees) and position the baking rack on the lowest rung.
Cook the bacon in a large, heavy skillet or dutch oven until the fat is rendered, but the bacon is not yet totally crisp. Add the sliced onions and stir well to coat evenly in the bacon fat. Let cook over medium-high heat until the bacon is nearly all crisp and the onions are close to being caramelized (about 7 minutes). Turn off heat and let cool in the pan.
Roll the dough out into a thin, long oval. If the dough keeps shrinking back, let it relax a bit before trying again. Dust a large cookie sheet with flour and position the rolled out dough on it.
Whisk the softened goat cheese until smooth (it might help to nuke it in the microwave for 20 or so seconds to melt it a bit). Add the cream and whisk until combined. Pour the cheese and cream mixture over the dough and spread out evenly leaving only 1/4 inch of dough on all sides.
Top the dough and cheese with the cooled bacon and onion mixture, drizzling on any bacon fat that remains in the pan. Season liberally with freshly ground black pepper and hint of sea salt.
Place in the oven and let bake for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the edges are golden and crisp (they may bubble up a bit; that's OK.
Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 5 minutes before cutting and serving. Can be eaten hot, at room temperature, or even cold. Cut into small pieces, this also makes for a wonderful appetizer.