Thursday, September 2, 2010
Voila! Pommes le Terre a la Boulangere
I have always shied away from cooking French food. I suppose that’s because, at least subconsciously, I must think that French food is fussy and – therefore – not for me. I was wrong. I have started watching, although not regularly enough, Laura Calder, host of The Cooking Channel’s “French Food at Home” and I was instantly intrigued.
After looking at a couple episodes, I decided to try a recipe I saw on a show in which she focused on s-l-o-w foods. I watched her make a simple potato dish, with such a pretty name – Pommes le Terre a la Boulangére – and I thought, “I can make that!” And I did.
Potatoes Boulangere is a fancy name for this peasant dish, which is really just sliced potatoes and onions baked slowly in broth. Kind of like scalloped potatoes, except no milk or cream. How the dish got its name is quite interesting. (This kind of food history always fascinates me.) Boulanger is the French word, you may know, for baker, and this potato recipe is called “boulangere” because long ago it used to be cooked in the town baker’s oven after bread making had finished for the day.
People used to quite literally take their dishes down to the bakery and have them cooked in the leftover heat of the baker’s big ovens so they could conserve their own fuel. There are a number of variations on how to prepare and cook this simple dish. Some versions do not pre-cook the onions and Laura Calder’s version uses beef broth because she asserts it imbues a richer, deeper taste. But I just had chicken broth. She also did not specify a type of potato and on her show said she used different kinds of un-skinned potatoes for the variety of color. I just used red.
And red passed with flying colors for my daughter’s farewell dinner last weekend. She came home to Pennsylvania from Tampa for an unprecedented 10 days and did a whirlwind of visiting with family and friends. So the day before I was driving her to the airport I pulled out all the stops and made a great dinner. In addition to the potato casserole, there was pork tenderloin with fennel, onions and apples and roasted broccoli with garlic and red pepper and an apple cake. (More posts later!) My husband accused me of “killing the fatted calf.” The two of them didn’t care what the potatoes were called, though; they just knew they were good.
From Laura Calder, French Food at Home
3 T butter
1 T olive oil
4 onions, sliced thin
2 pounds potatoes, sliced thin
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Fresh thyme leaves
2 cups beef broth (or chicken broth)
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
Melt half the butter with the olive oil in a saute pan, and gently cook the onions over medium heat until soft and lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Spread half the onions in the bottom of a casserole. Lay a layer of sliced potatoes on top, season with salt and pepper, and scatter with thyme leaves. Build another layer of onions, then a final one of potatoes. Dot with remaining butter. Finally pour the stock over all. Cover the pan with foil, and bake until all the liquid has been absorbed, 2 to 3 hours. Uncover the last hour, if you’d like the top crisper.