In the spirit of Armistice Day let’s turn our attention to Northern France, where much of the fighting of The Great War took place. The trenches of World War One sprawled across the fields of Champagne, Alsace, Lorraine, Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardie, the defensive line protecting Paris.
The cuisine of the north is much less familiar than French bistro standards like Coq au Vin, Boeuf Bourguinon, and Steak au Poivre. So today let’s venture into the unknown and make something from Picardie, or Picardy as it’s called in English.
Picardy is a vast garden with a rich, simple gastronomic tradition. Many Parisian foodies travel here to find unusual ingredients like salicornia, called sea beans here, a plant that thrives in the salty marshes of the northwest and is considered by some to be a local delicacy. Whatever. Other (more approachable) vegetables grown in the region include carrots, watercress, endive, leeks, rhubarb, and apples, which are used to make both cider and desserts.
The Somme River supplies a variety of freshwater fish; saltwater fish such as sole, sea bass, and herring are caught off the coast. Regional specialties include ficelle picardie (Picardy-style crêpes), “gâteau battu” (cake), duck pâté en croûte from Amiens, and macarons that are made with both almonds and honey.
And finally there is flamiche, a tart of leeks, cheese, and sometimes bacon that may be the Picardy equivalent of the familiar Quiche Lorraine (the Lorraine region is just a hop over Champagne from Picardy).
The “Regions of France” website tells us: “Originally called ‘flamique’ in the Picardy dialect, the traditional flamiche is a hearty, convivial dish proper to the Santerre land in Northern France. Inspired by the Flemish gastronomy, this rich pie is mainly stuffed with chopped leeks, milk or crème fraiche and a touch of butter. The flamiche aux poireaux recipe first occurred in the late 18th century, in a French soldier’s notebook with other anecdotes of that time. The Picardy specialty is described as a ‘kind of galette made with baker’s dough’. (So…flamiche can be made with bread dough instead of the pate brisée, which most recipes call for.)
The Australian website SBS adds “There are many variations on this simple classic, some with the addition of a little nutmeg, others, seasonal vegetables such as pumpkin, while some add an extra layer of pastry on top to make an enclosed pie. The name flamiche stems from flamique, a Flemish word meaning ‘cake’.”
It looks mouth-watering, n’est-ce pas?
I haven’t made this before so I am going to rely on the recipe that accompanied The New York Times article by Patricia Wells, “Food; AFTER QUICHE,” because none of her recipes have failed me yet. Let me know what you think if you try it. (Note: Poireaux is the French word for leeks.)
Recipe: Flamiche aux Poireaux from Patricia Wells and The New York Times
For the pastry:
- 1 ⅓cups unbleached flour
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 to 5 tablespoons ice water
For the filling:
- 12 small leeks (about 3 pounds)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large eggs
- ¼ cup crème fraiche or heavy cream
- 4 slices unsmoked ham, such as prosciutto, coarsely chopped (I’ll use crispy cooked bacon)
- ¾ cup grated Gruyere-style cheese, such as Comte
- In a food processor, process the flour, butter and salt until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about 10 seconds. Add three tablespoons of water and process for three seconds. Pinch the dough, and if it does not hold together, add additional water and process for several more seconds. Be careful not to overmix. The dough should not form a ball. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knegreen ad, just until it forms a ball. Wrap the pastry in plastic wrap and flatten into a disk. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
- Roll out the dough to line a 10 1/2-inch tart pan. Carefully transfer the dough to the pan. Chill for another 30 minutes, or until firm.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Trim the leeks at the root. Cut off and discard the fibrous, dark green portion. Split the leeks lengthwise for easier cleaning and rinse in cold water until no grit appears. Coarsely chop the leeks.
- Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat, add the leeks, salt and pepper and cook, covered, until the leeks are very soft, about 20 minutes. They should not brown.
- If the leeks have given up an excessive amount of liquid, drain them in a colander. Combine the eggs and crème fraiche in a medium-size bowl, mixing until thoroughly blended. Add the leeks and mix again. Reserve a quarter cup each of the cheese and the ham to sprinkle on top of the tart. Mix the rest into the leek mixture.
- Pour the leek mixture into the prepared tart tin. Sprinkle with the ham, then the cheese. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper.
- Bake until nicely browned, 40 to 45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
More pictures from the internet (to tempt you further).