FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Sept 9, 2009 - Mark R. Vogel - [email protected] - Mark’s Archive
Alsace is a region of northeastern France bordering Germany and Switzerland. Over 8,000 square kilometers and home to almost two million people, it stretches from the eastern slopes of the Vosges Mountains to the fertile plain of the Rhine River. Once part of the Roman empire, it eventually was incorporated into the Holy Roman Empire. It was annexed by France during the 17th century by Kings Louis XIII and XIV. Then it changed hands between Germany, (previously Prussia), and France a number of times, most notably during the two World Wars. Its largest city is Strasbourg. It has a diverse economy of manufacturing, agriculture and international business.
Given its propinquity to Germany, not to mention the times that it was actually a German territory, the Teutonic influences on the culture, language, and for our purposes the cuisine, are marked. This is best exemplified by Alsatian charcuterie, (various pork products often sold in delicatessen-style shops) and its quintessential dish choucroute garni, i.e., sauerkraut cooked with different kinds of sausages or pork, (sometimes goose), and potatoes. Speaking of geese, not only are they prized for their meat, but their livers are used to make foie gras. Alsace lays claim to being one of the French Meccas of this delicacy.
Alsatian cuisine also embraces other critters such as poultry, frogs, deer, wild boar, pheasant, rabbit and fresh water fish such as carp, pike, trout and crayfish. Baeckeoffe, (also spelled Baekenofe or Backenoff), is a traditional stew made from lamb, pork, beef and a variety of vegetables and herbs. Potatoes and cabbage are the primary vegetables but onions, beets and summer asparagus abound. Popular side dishes include spaetzle, (a German pasta), and flour based dumplings called knepfle. Muenster cheese also gets to call Alsace its home. There are numerous fruit trees, especially apple and pear and they often find their way into another famous dish of Alsace: tarts. There are also savory tarts like the classic onion tart, as in the recipe below.
Finally, one cannot peruse Alsace’s gastronomy without mentioning its wine. Alsace has 33,000 acres devoted to wine. Alsace’s cooler climate is more conducive to whites. It excels at Riesling, pinot gris and gewÃ¼rztraminer. Although sweet varieties exist, Alsace’s Rieslings tend to be drier than Germany’s.
GewÃ¼rztraminer, which actually originated in Italy, can be dry or sweet. It is distinctively spicy and fragrant and best appreciated young. The German influences can even be noticed in Alsace’s wine bottles, which tend to be narrow, green and Mosel-like, thus mimicking their German counterparts.
RECIPE: ALSATIAN ONION TART
FOR THE CRUST:
â€¢ 1 cup flour plus extra as needed
â€¢ Pinch of salt
â€¢ 1 stick cold salted butter, cut into cubes
â€¢ Ice water as needed
Add the one cup of flour and salt to a food processor and then add the butter, one chunk at a time, and pulse just enough to incorporate it into the dough. A coarse meal is the target consistency. Add the water in very small increments, again just pulsing the processor enough to incorporate it until a dough is formed.
Scoop it out onto a floured board and lightly knead it for about a minute. Form the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and allow it to rest in the fridge for at least an hour.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Roll out the dough on a floured board until it will fit a standard 9-inch tart pan. Place the dough in the pan and push it around the sides to eliminate any air pockets. With your fingers, bunch up some of the excess dough around the rim to make a pronounced edge.
Place a sheet of parchment paper in the tart shell and fill it with pie weights or dried beans.
Bake it in the oven until you see the edges starting to brown, about 20 minutes.
Remove the parchment and weights and return it to the oven to brown the bottom somewhat, about 5 minutes.
Remove from the oven and reserve.
FOR THE FILLING
â€¢ 6 pieces of bacon, chopped into small pieces
â€¢ 2 tablespoons butter
â€¢ 2 lbs. onions, (before trimming), thinly sliced
â€¢ Salt and pepper to taste
â€¢ Â½ teaspoon dried thyme
â€¢ Â½ cup heavy cream
â€¢ 1 egg and 1 egg yolk
â€¢ Pinch of nutmeg
Lower the oven to 350 degrees.
In a 14-inch non-stick skillet cook the bacon until the pieces are crisp. Remove the bacon and reserve but leave all the drippings.
Add the butter to the bacon drippings and melt.
Using medium to no more than medium-high heat, begin sautÃ©ing the onions. Add salt, pepper and thyme. Be somewhat conservative with the salt as the bacon will add considerable saltiness. Cook the onions until they are completely browned and caramelized, about 20-30 minutes. As they become brown lower the heat a little and increase the stirring to prevent them from burning.
Add the reserved bacon to the onions just before they are finished.
Remove the onions from the heat and allow them to cool.
Mix but don’t over whip the cream and egg in a bowl with just a pinch of salt and some pepper.
Add the onion/bacon mixture to the cream/egg mixture.
Fill the tart shell with the combined mixture and bake at 350 degrees until the filling is set, about 18 minutes.
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