A cheese-free alternative to pizza

flammekuche 261014

The other day, I was reflecting on how difficult it must be to enjoy a good pizza if you don’t like cheese. I tend to think that tomato-based pizzas aren’t very interesting or tasty unless there is a generous amount of mozzarella on top but that’s just me.

It’s been a while since I have shared a recipe, and this time I was inspired to do so by a close friend who never gets to eat pizza because she hates any and all cheeses. So when we were in France in the summer and I was reminded of this whilst perusing the supermarket shelves, I was determined to try this recipe out at home.

One of the traditional dishes of the Alsace near the border with Germany is the Flammeküche, or Flammenküche, also known as tarte flambée (which is a tart cooked in a wood-fire oven, not the intriguing ‘pie outbreak’ Google Translate would like it to be). It is a type of pizza with a white base, topped with caramelised onions and smoked lardons and customarily baked in a wood-fire oven. Its stand-out characteristics are:

  • The base is made of cream and yoghurt: yes it works!
  • Not only does it not usually have cheese on it, it doesn’t even need it, which as a cheese and pizza aficionado I was a bit suspicious about originally, but I was positively surprised by the outcome.
  • The traditional dough is made without a raising agent.

The end result was delicious although I wasn’t totally sold on the dough. I must have done something wrong somewhere as it was sticky and difficult to work with, and when cooked, it was, well, quite ‘doughy’. Badgerman is a big fan of doughy and loved it but I think I will be a bit more careful with the amount of water I add in the future. If you’re unsure about dough in general you can still make this very successfully using pizza dough or a shop-bought mix and spreading it as thinly as you can although the end result won’t be quite the traditional way.

flammekuche pics 261014

INGREDIENTS

For the dough

  • 250 g plain flour
  • 50 ml rapeseed oil
  • 1 small glass of lukewarm water
  • A pinch of salt

For the topping

  • 60 g of crème fraiche
  • 50 g of plain yoghurt (I used Total yoghurt; this is the nearest equivalent to the French ‘fromage blanc’ I have been able to find)
  • 1 large onion
  • 250 g smoked lardons (or streaky bacon cut into thick matches)
  • 12 g corn flour
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper

METHOD

  1. Mix the flour and salt in a big bowl, add the oil and start to work the dough with warm water. You may not need all the water so add it slowly and see how it goes. Work the dough until it no longer sticks to your hands and put it aside.
  1. Cut the onion into thin strips or rings and brown them slowly in a frying pan with a little rapeseed oil, then add the smoked lardons and cook them for two minutes. Put aside.
  1. Mix the crème fraiche with the plain yoghurt, corn flour, nutmeg, pepper and a little salt. The lardons will add saltiness so don’t add too much.
  1. Pre-heat the oven as high as it will go (typically 240°C or 250°C – thermostat 8). Spread the dough as thinly as possible on a baking tray covered in baking paper. Spread the cream mix evenly over it, top with the onion and lardons and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

You can eat it as you would a pizza with a green salad on the side.

One for the cheese lovers

We were in London today to collect our new passports. Being there with Badgerman was a very different experience to going on my own, although I wouldn’t go as far as saying it was particularly more relaxed.

For one thing, he was not allowed inside the Consulate with us. Considering the size of the place and how busy it can get, I was not surprised but it was nonetheless a very odd moment. Instead he went off and bought himself a coffee, whilst I queued and got my fingerprints checked.

The good thing is that he is as much of a foodie as I am and he was quite keen to find somewhere interesting to have lunch and so we had a little look around South Kensington. The previous two times I went up to London, I approached the trips in an entirely practical way. How quick can I make it there and back with minimum fuss? Of course I was alone with Little Girl and not on a tourist trip, and I used to work just round the corner for four years so I was not going to linger more than necessary. I just went as fast as possible to hopefully minimize the likelihood of Little Girl having a melt-down on the train on the way back to Sussex. This involved eating on the go from one of the Victoria Station food stalls or a sneaky McDonald’s.

Today we took our time and had lunch in the most unlikely of places, a wonderful cheese shop just around the corner from South Kensington station called La Cave à Fromage. Now, I am a big cheese fan but I will be the first to admit that I was reluctant at first to open the door on a sweltering day like today and then eat there. To put it politely, most cheese shops I’ve been to before have had a certain whiff about them, sometimes even from across the street, that make it difficult to breathe in them. But the sandwiches on offer in this particular shop looked amazing and so we decided to give it a go.

I was pleasantly surprised when it was lovely, cool and almost scent-free inside. Obviously, you still know you’re in a cheese shop but that’s because everywhere you look you are surrounded by cheese, not because you start to smell like one.

heart-shaped cheese

The sandwiches were on fresh artisan baguettes with sun-dried tomatoes, charcuterie, roasted artichokes and obviously cheese. The type of charcuterie and cheese differed from one sandwich to the next so between the two of us, we had one with a hard cheese – it might have been a Comté or something like that – and one with a mild goat’s cheese; they were both delicious. I had a glass of fragrant white wine with it which enhanced the taste of the food and was so generous we ended up sharing it. Who would have thought that wine would go with a sandwich?

It is primarily a shop and not a restaurant so the menu was limited but there were other things on offer such as a salad, platters of charcuterie and cheeses and hot dishes of French cheese specialties such as Raclette and Tartiflette. Had it been colder weather, I might have been tempted by one of the last two.

In any case, the food was delicious, the staff friendly and when we were done, we headed next door to Wafflemeister for a warm Belgian waffle with hot chocolate sauce, whipped cream and a scoop of strawberry gelato (I know, healthy!).

Sometimes a nice lunch is all you need to have a pleasant day. Well, the sun was nice too.

In which a French person replied to me in English

International Market

Not bad, but not quite French

The French Market was back in town this weekend. It was advertised as such but it would be more accurate to call it the International Market, as there were Italian and Spanish stalls too. There was no bakery either, which is near sacrilegious and not very French at all!

As per usual I lurked around the dry sausage stall and settled on a Rosette de Lyon: 100% pork, dry and oh so tasty. I then made my way to the cheese van, and this is where I embarrassed myself in the worst possible way for a French person. I made a grammatical mistake.

It will make you happy to know that French people do not possess any magical skills when it comes to knowing whether a word is masculine or feminine. We are not able to sniff them out. I occasionally get a feel for a word but I am wrong 50% of the time, as I will now illustrate.

I asked for a particular cheese with the words: ‘Je voudrais un Vignotte, s’il vous plait.’ At the back of my mind, I thought I might be wrong because Vignotte looks and sounds like a feminine word. It rhymes with Charlotte, une cagnotte (money = a kitty/pool), une peutiotte (a little girl) and is also very similar to une vignette (a sticker), which are all feminine words. I literally had this conversation in my head at the time and despite this I concluded it was most likely masculine because cheese is masculine (Un fromage). The seller responded much louder than the situation warranted if you ask me, ‘UNE Vignotte! It will be £2 pounds please.’ To which I responded in my best French voice ‘merci!’ and scuttled away in embarrassment.

I was thinking about it this morning and remembered another time when I made such a mistake and really stood out among French people. In the late nineties/early noughties, dvds became standard and as I was living in the UK by then, I realised that I’d never used the word in France and didn’t know whether they said une dvd or un dvd. Aside from the fact that I did a quick search and can confirm that omg dvds came out in Europe in late 1998 (doesn’t that make you feel old?!), it took me a long time to get used to saying ‘un dvd’; for some unknown reason it doesn’t feel quite right and so I fumbled for ages between the two.

 

I suspect I am not alone in making such mistakes. Do any of you expats have particular words that cause you trouble time and time again and make you to look stupid in conversations with your compatriots?

French Market Day

Every six months or so, the French Market comes to town with its weird and wonderful stalls. I missed the last one as I was still at work, but whilst I am still on maternity leave I thought I would make the most of it. I must apologise that I didn’t dare take any pictures of the stalls, I always feel very conspicuous when the seller is staring at me in the face.

It was a little bit disappointing to be honest, I hoped there would be a few more stalls, especially food ones. I felt cheated there was no Tartiflette. And I’m always surprised that the French music one ever comes back at all, I can’t imagine the kind of people in my neck of the woods who would listen to post-war French music. I don’t listen to it myself and I have never understood the interest in Edith Piaf, I think she warbled horribly.

Anyway, I was hoping for a more interesting hot food area, but there was only hot potatoes and prawns and I didn’t fancy that at 11am. Still, there was a wonderful selection of dry sausage, or saucisson sec in the lingo, including some made with Kangaroo, Bison and Ostrich meat. Some of them looked a bit too moldy even for me so I settled for an old favourite, pure pork with Provençal herbs. I’ll readily admit it doesn’t look so good but I’m looking forward to the taste immensely.

There's a sausage in there somewhere!

There was also a biscuit stall, and I bought some Galettes Bretonnes made with butter, ideal for dunking in a nice cup of tea. The guy was also making crepes but since I can make them myself for a portion of the price, I decided to pass.

Biscuit goodness

The cheese stall as always is particularly interesting to me. I love it that they always put it right on the edge, presumably to save the other stalls from the smelly fumes. I went a bit mad and bought three cheeses. One of them, the little one at the top, is called a Crottin de Chavignol. It’s a rustic goat’s cheese that tastes wonderful grilled over fresh bread. ‘Crottin’ is the word usually used to describe horse, zebra and donkey poo, but in this case, it apparently is a local term meaning ‘hole’. The French Wikipedia page explains this in more detail if you’re interested. The heart-shaped one is a Neufchatel, it is soft and mellow, whereas the one in the middle is a creamy Camembert.

The whole kitchen is enjoying these

The best stall of all is the bakery. It has an outdoor oven and they make fresh croissants and pains au chocolat. So I bought some, and bread, and also lovely patisseries, namely a slice of flan patissier, apricot tart and a fruit tartlet. I wasn’t thinking about who was going to eat all this, so it’s going to be a nice unhealthy weekend for us!

Tonight's dessert or tomorrow's breakfast