Sunday, August 10, 2008


That Cookbook Thing II - Râpée de Morvandelle

French lunches are almost always simple yet fully-flavoured affairs. There is great importance placed on fresh produce and a steady reliance on eggs, the superfood.

In her many texts, Elizabeth David paints glorious pictures of lunch at provincial hotels after drives in the countryside or along the roadside with provisions from a hotel proprietor or produce bought at an impromptu moment. Always, the descriptions of lunch menus are spellbinding. An enticing pastoral lunch is David's famous preference for an omelette and a glass of wine, preceded by home-made pâté, and olives, followed by fresh salad, a ripe, creamy cheese and small, fresh fruit, such as figs or strawberries. In the first instance, this lunch menu is beyond simple; it is a masterplan that can be adapted to every season. Thinking of the buttery, eggy omelettes, rich cheese, bitter salad leaves, salty olives, gamy pâté, and honeyed figs, one sees that this is an exploration of seasonailty, temperatures and textures. This is also a celebration of depth of flavours.

The most popular lunch item that has been appropriated by many a nation is quiche Lorraine (although often bastardised with the addition of cheese). In fact, such is the simplicity and convenience of making open-faced tarts that Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck first present readers of their Mastering the Art of French Cooking) with a series of quiches in their chapter on Entrées and Luncheon Dishes, from which That Cookbook Thing II tests this month's chosen recipe: Râpée de Morvandelle.

If one is too pressed to make a pâte brisée (as shown at the introduction of this chapter, which also gives detailed preparations on making soufflées, which I recognise may not be a typical offering at lunchtime these days) for a quiche, one can turn the filling of a quiche into a gratin (named for the shallow heat-proof dish in which it cooks). Gratins also often have cheese (usually Swiss cheese), bubbling and burnished as they come out of the oven and are transferred to the lunch table. Râpée de Morvandelle is a gratin of shredded potatoes with eggs, onion, and ham.

Râpée de Morvandelle
(from Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck's Mastering the Art of French Cooking)

1/2 cup onions, finely minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
56g/4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided use
120g/3oz cooked ham, finely diced
4 eggs
1/2 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons parsley, minced
120g/3oz cheese, grated (I used Gruyere; the receipe suggests Swiss)
4 tablespoons cream
salt, pepper
300g/10oz potatoes

1) Preheat oven to 190 C/375 F.
2) Over medium-low heat, heat oil and 21g/1.5 tablespoons butter in a saute pan, then cook onions until yeilding but not coloured.
3) Turn heat up to medium, then add ham and cook for one minute.
4) In a bowl, beat together the garlic, parsley, cheese, cream, salt and pepper.
5) Add onions and ham to the beaten mixture.
6) Peel potatoes and grate them with the large holes of a box grater.
7) Squeeze water out of the grated potatoes.
8) Stir potatoes into egg miture.
9) Check for seasoning.
10) Heat 21g/1.5 tablespoons butter in a heat-proof baking dish or oven-proof saute pan/skillet. When warmed through and foaming, pour in the potato mixture.
11) Dot with the remaining 14g/1 tablespoon of butter.
12) Bake in upper-third of the oven until top has browned, approximately 35-40 minutes.
13) Serve from the baking dish or sauté pan.

True, this is simplicity itself, but it is an odd dish to pick to highlight a section of a cookery book. That said, like Elizabeth David's aforementioned lunch menu, many a technical foundation is taught in this chapter, and this gratin is appealing and adaptable. Imagine it encased in a buttery pâte brisée or swap out the onion for leeks and blitz chives into the butter that dots the gratin. This is the foundation for a lunchtime centrepiece; it is rich, fulsome, and perfect.

Feel free to check out the results of That Cookbook Thing II's other members: Sara of i like to cook, Ruth of Once Upon A Feast, Mary of The Sour Dough, Kittie of Kittens in the Kitchen , Elle of Elle's New England Kitchen, Deborah of What's In My Kitchen?, and Mary of Cooking For Five. Bon appétit.

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Lovely post...makes me want to head over to Paris, sit on a bistro terrace and have some lunch! Care to join me?

I did really like the flavors and textures of this one.
Great post, I completely agree that it is but a foundation... a very tasty one!
I'm with you on this - this is a good base recipe, which makes it perfect for personal touches, but only so-so if you make it as is. And woo-hoo on the Gruyere!
Yes, leeks would be wonderful!
I actually really like this kind of honest, simple dish. I sometimes cut down on my flour intake, so the lack of pastry can be good too :) Looks great.
What a great post. I adore the simplicity and honesty of the flavours. An excellent cooler-weather lunch...

Hi Sweetie -- me again.

I've just given you a blogging award on Cardamom Addict here.

Hi Shaun,
I'm glad that you chose to highlight this recipe. There is no shame in such a simple yet "fulsome" (I think that expression you used) dish. I don't make gratin often enough, so thank you for the inspiration.

have a lovely first weekend of Spring! It's raining cats and dogs right now...

x nora
Ruth ~ Yes, I'd love to join you in Paris. I'm already mentally preparing a list of foodie destinations!

Kittie ~ Indeed, this is a somewhat elementary recipe, but when it is done right, it is difficult not to become prosaic.

Deborah ~ It is hard to beat gruyere - the perfect melting cheese.

Sara, darling ~ I always think leeks add a sophisticated touch to dishes. Perhaps it is the association with vichyssoise, but a subtle allium note is always welcome.

Kelly-Jane ~ The great thing about gratins is that there is no pastry. Mastering the Art of French Cooking provides the reader with many options and suggestions.

Jasmine, honey ~ Thank you so much for the blogging award - you're so very sweet. This dish, however, is not so sweet. It is the perfect savoury focus of a simple lunch during cooler times. It is a breeze to make and soul-satisfying to eat.

Nora B. ~ I hope the weather has improved. We had a bit of rain, too, but things have managed to stabilise over the weekend. Do try this gratin - I found myself thinking of a second helping just after a few bites!





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