Thursday, February 14, 2008

happy birthday to the french language

Food blogging, it seems, is always feast or famine, pun fully intended. I'll go several days without cooking or eating anything worth writing about, and then I'll suddenly have a multiple-post pileup to work through.

Bear with me as I play catch-up. The calendar says it's February 17th, but this blog is still busy with the events of the 14th.

As much as I like anti-Valentine's Day celebrations, another way to approach February 14th is to recognize some of the other events that happened on that day. Having been a French major, one of my favorites is the anniversary of the Oaths of Strasbourg.

The Oaths of Strasbourg were sworn on February 14th, 842, by Louis the German and Charles the Bald. The oaths were mutual pledges of allegiance, and they were sworn in the language that would later become French.

The rest is of little interest to anyone who isn't studying historical linguistics, but it gives the rest of us an excellent excuse to bake tarte flambée, an Alsacian specialty of crispy flatbread topped with crème fraîche, onions, and bacon.

Tarte Flambée

(Recipe not for one. If you're going to celebrate alternative holidays, it's more fun with company.)

First, the dough. Any recipe for pizza dough or flatbread will probably work fine, though you could even cheat and use bread dough, if you have an obliging friend who just happens to be baking bread the night before. (Half a pound of dough will make enough tarte to feed three to four as a snack or appetizer.)

Next, the oven. Tarte flambée is traditionally baked in a woodfire oven, but unless you have one in the backyard, you'll have to settle for cranking up the kitchen oven as far up as it'll go - around 500 or 550F.

Roll out the dough to the thickness of a crêpe. Spread with a thin layer of crème fraîche; top with thinly sliced onions and small pieces of thick-cut bacon. Bake for eight to ten minutes, until the crust is golden, the onions translucent, and the bacon sizzling. Remove from oven. Allow to cool slightly before cutting into slices. Serve with dark beer.

Should you have any particularly theatrical (or impressionable) guests, a dramatic reading of the Oaths would be a fitting accompaniment.

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