My good friend Emile Jung, the chef and owner of the three-star restaurant Au Crocodile in Strasbourg, introduced me to Tart Flambé at a local winstub. The fire-blistered crust was thin and crisp, coated with a thin slick of crème fraîche and then showered with thinly sliced red onion and a tangle of smoke-kissed ham. The combination was heavenly. I must have consumed my weight’s worth of Tart Flambé during the time I worked with him as a young chef. He was a kind and generous man who made me fall in love again with the cooking of my Alsatian grandmother.
Emile often lamented that winstubs were starting to buy premade frozen Tart Flambé dough rounds instead of making the dough from scratch. I thought it a shame as the frozen crust lacked the je-ne-sais-quoi of a fresh one. The frozen ones always seemed dry and floury.
Before I left Strasbourg, he gave me a rough dough recipe that had a list of ingredients but no measurements. I took the list and developed this recipe in my kitchen. I made it over and over to fine tune it until I achieved the texture and taste of the crust I remembered.
I returned to Alsace several years ago on assignment with Conde Nast Traveler. I was there to capture the essence of Alsatian food and wine for a feature article. A lot had changed. Tart Flambé was no longer topped solely with ham and onions and other traditional toppings. It had moved outside of tradition. I had Tart Flambé topped with duck confit, mushrooms, and all types of assorted vegetables. Tart Flambé had somehow mated with pizza and had a baby that I didn’t recognize. It was a bittersweet moment.
Before this trip, the Tart Flambé we served at RSV respected tradition. The smoked ham and red onion version was my favorite and went perfectly with Abraxas. A match made in heaven. But now a seed had been planted and I was thinking about all of the untraditional flambé I had tasted on my travels.
We had gardens full of vegetables and a quiver of wines that deserved a chance to be served with a different version of Tart Flambé. When I first tasted cruschi peppers I thought of POV. These sweet crunchy dried peppers are grown solely in Basilicata region of Italy. They are harvested once a year and naturally dried. I took a bite of one and their flavor exploded in my mouth. These will be brilliant with the dried herb and graphite notes of POV, I thought. PERFECTION! The first winter squash was coming out of the garden and a light bulb went off. A caramelized winter squash Tart Flambé topped with the sweet crunch of these peppers would be a show-stopper. And there you have it – thin crisp crust, caramelized thyme-scented squash melting into creamy crème fraîche and crisp pieces of sweet pepper coming together in the most perfect way for POV.
Sure, you could serve POV with the traditional ham and onion Tart Flambé but I like to reserve that traditional combo for Abraxas. POV deserved something unexpected that fell outside the lines of tradition… and it rocked it!
Until the Next Wine…