I don’t normally associate the words “salad” and “hearty” but maybe I haven’t spent enough time in the French Alps. Happily, Meg Bortin from The Everyday French Chef has enlightened me. Her recipe for Salade Savoyarde combines potatoes, country ham and — genius touch — melted Gruyère cheese into a warm, nourishing main dish that can be prepared in 20 minutes.
Meg is an American journalist, writer, cooking teacher, and fantastic home cook (with brief experience as a professional chef). She regularly hosts lucky friends (like me!) for delicious dinner parties in her Paris apartment, whipping up fabulous French cuisine (without spending hours in the kitchen) and sharing the recipes on her blog. Meg lives with her 13-year-old daughter and their cat, Fifi; she also gardens and cooks gorgeous seasonal produce at her country home in Burgundy.
“I love putting together a simple three-course dinner in 20 minutes,” says Meg. “When friends drop by, it knocks their socks off – and can be easily done. For example, peel and grate a couple of carrots, spritz on some lemon juice, add salt and olive oil, and you have your starter: carottes rapées. Then make something pan-seared – fish, scallops, steak, chops – with steamed green beans or some such. For dessert, cheese and fruit. Et voilà.
“When I want to make something effortless for myself, a favorite choice for winter – and this harks back to the days when I was working in Russia as a reporter – could be smoked salmon with boiled or steamed potatoes with crème fraîche and fresh dill and cilantro. Or I might do something similar with cheese ravioli. Or sometimes just a green salad accompanied by Wasa rye crackers with melted cheese. Or, in summer, that old favorite, tomatoes with mozzarella and basil. And wine, of course.
“My 13-year-old daughter usually gets home around 6 p.m. on Tuesdays. The French school day is very long – the kids start at 8 a.m. and finish at 4 or 5 pm., and then get together at one or another’s home for a little decompression time. She has lunch at the school cafeteria but it’s not always great, so she’s often ravenous by the time she arrives. And I head straight for the kitchen. If I have the ingredients on hand, a salad is often her first choice, with salade savoyarde at the top of the list. This is a great salad for school nights because I can throw it together in no more than 20 minutes – the time it takes to boil the potatoes. And it’s more or less a balanced meal in one dish.”
Salad with country ham, melted cheese and warm potatoes
“This is called a salade savoyarde because it comes from the Savoie region in the French Alps,” says Meg. “And in fact we first encountered it while on a ski trip in that area. The recipe calls for reblochon cheese, which is made in Savoie. It’s a pungent soft cheese that may be hard to find outside of France. But not to worry. You can substitute other cheeses – for example, French comté or Swiss gruyère. Or use your imagination. As for the ham, go for an unsmoked, cured variety – prosciutto for example, or, if you can find it, jambon de savoie – sliced thinly, but not paper-thin.”
Note from Ann: I chose to melt the cheese on top of the cooked potatoes, raclette-style, and sprinkled them with a bit of piment d’Espelette (because we’re out of black pepper).
For the salad:
1 head of romaine or Boston lettuce
2 medium potatoes
2 slices cured country ham
1/2 pound (220 g.) reblochon, comté or gruyère cheese
For the vinaigrette:
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. red wine vinegar
2 tbsp. sunflower oil or another vegetable oil
1 clove garlic
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Wash the potatoes, place in a pot of cold water, bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 20 minutes – or, if you have a steamer, cut the potatoes in half lengthwise, place in the steamer over boiling water, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. You can peel the potatoes or not, according to taste.
While the potatoes are cooking, preheat your oven to gas mark 6 (400 degrees F., 205 degrees C.).
Wash the salad and spin it dry. In the bottom of a large salad bowl, combine the mustard and vinegar. Add the oil gradually, stirring constantly to make a thick emulsified vinaigrette sauce. Peel and halve the garlic and add it to the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Cut the ham into ribbons about 1/3 inch (1 cm) wide and 1-1/2 inch (3.5 cm) long. Set aside. Cut the cheese into slices about 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) thick and place in a pie tin. Set aside.
When the potatoes are cooked, cut them into slices about 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) thick.
Pop the cheese into the oven, and while it is melting assemble the salad.
Remove the garlic from the vinaigrette. Add the lettuce, ham and potatoes to the bowl and toss to coat with the sauce. When the cheese has melted – five minutes or less, depending on your oven – pour it over the salad. Serve immediately with fresh bread and, if adults are present, a bottle of hearty red.
(Non-salad photos from Meg Bortin.)