On my very first trip to France, I visited Paris, the Loire Valley, and French Basque Country (don’t get too jealous, mere days were spent in each location). I was also only 18 at the time and a complete novice in the traveling and culinary world-i.e. I didn’t eat the right foods, take the right pictures, nor savor the moments. And while I have been back to Paris two times since that first ever trip, I’ve never seen other parts of la France. There are countless places to I want to visit there-Provence, World War I battlefields, Normandy, Mont St. Michel-but also at the top of the list is the region of Alsace. Why there you ask? Well, besides its high number of picturesque villages, churches, and castles, it also has an incredibly unique history-its changed hands between Germany and France on multiple occasions!
Alsace is located on France’s eastern border and on the west bank of the upper Rhine, adjacent to Germany and Switzerland (you can see why France and Germany were always vying for it). The back and forth tussle between the two countries started following the Franco-Prussian War in the late 19th century (after France was defeated, Alsace became German and after Germany was defeated in World War I, it was ceded back to France) and continued up to World War II. Alsace-Lorraine was occupied by Germany in 1940 during the war and although it was never formally annexed, it was incorporated into the Greater German Reich. Alsace became French once more after the Nazis were defeated in World War II and this saw a return of the French language, culture, and food.
French is the official language that is spoken by all although there is also the Alsacien dialect (similar to the German spoken in northwestern Switzerland or in western Baden-Wurrtemberg in Germany) which was spoken widely in major cities before World War II; however, following the war usage declined as people were encouraged to only speak French (children were even punished if someone heard them speaking Alsacien). However, the French government is working to save the Alsacien dialect through various means and visitors to many communities in Alsace will see bilingual street signs in both French as well as the Alsacien dialect.
But enough of history lessons! It’s time to talk food, n’est pas?
Alsace’s most famous dish is the tarte flambée which is “somewhat” like a pizza (I use the term somewhat very loosely). It’s composed of bread dough that has been rolled out very thin and is then covered with fromage blanc (similar to yogurt, it’s a fat-free, fresh and slightly drained cow’s milk cheese) or crème fraîche, thinly sliced onions, and lardons (like bacon…but not). While I had certainly heard the name tarte flambée before, I don’t think I had ever tried it…until now.
I decided to not only make it, but simplify it immensely. And you can too with this extremely easy recipe. Instead of making my own dough, I used already made thin pizza dough (yes, Pillsbury does make this), and since fromage blanc is not available here in Pittsburgh, I substituted it with an ingredient I already had on hand…Greek yogurt. And for the lardons? Thick slices of bacon. My version of tarte flambée may never grace Alsatian cafes, but I think it still tasted pretty terrific. Although a trip to Alsace wouldn’t be half bad either!
- 1 can of thin pizza dough
- Approximately 2 cups of Greek yogurt (enough to coat the pizza dough once rolled out, use more if needed)
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- About 8 slices of thick sliced bacon (use more if you adore bacon like many people do)
- 1-2 cups of Gruyère (or Swiss) cheese, grated
- Salt and pepper
- Allspice (optional)
- Nutmeg (optional)
Steps to make the tart
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (adjust accordingly depending on the temperature listed on the pizza dough container that you use)
2. Cut the bacon into small pieces and fry.
3. Slice the onions into thin rings and sautee them in two tablespoons of butter for about 5 minutes or until they are transparent.
4. While the onions are cooking mix together the Greek Yogurt with a dash of salt and pepper and also a pinch of nutmeg and Allspice.
5. Roll the dough out as thin as possible on a cookie sheet. Using a spatula, spread the Greek yogurt over the dough. Then, top it with the sauteed onions, bacon pieces, and Gruyère.
6. Bake for about 15-20 minutes and serve with a side salad (this is oh so French).