The Summer after my A-levels, as a young, green, Venture Scout, I headed off to Thiérache in the wild borderlands of Belgium and France. We had to survive on a budget, walk ten miles a day and, amongst other things, try local food. We used to walk into cafes and bakeries in our neckerchiefs and demand whatever the local speciality was, a tactic which was surprisingly effective. We had croissants, black and white pudding (a challenge for my vegetarian partner), chocolates and cider but the best thing of all was a tart made with the local cheese – Maroilles.
I now pick up this cheese whenever I see it, even though it’s expensive and it stinks. It’s smooth and creamy, belying its aroma. After a small misunderstanding at the cheese counter in Arles I ended up with six euros worth which meant I could bring some back from France and, in a happy coincidence, this month’s Olive magazine (a corker by the way) has a recipe for Flamiche, a tart made with Maroilles which can only be the same thing that kept me alive as an eighteen year old. (The recipe’s not online yet but I’ll add a link it when it is).
It’s a gentle recipe in that it takes time but isn’t tricky. Sweat 500g of chopped leeks (you’ll need 4 to 5 leeks) in a tablespoon of olive oil or a knob of melted butter. Do this with the lid on over a gentle heat, you want them to soften but not brown, which takes about 20 minutes. Leave the lid off for the final five minutes of cooking to get rid of any moisture and then cool while you get on with everything else.
Preheat the oven to 180C and leave a baking tray in the bottom to heat. Roll out two thirds of a 500g block of puff pastry (keep the last third for the lid) and drape in a flan tin. Take 200g of Maroilles, ignore any complaints about the smell, and chop into small cubes. Sprinkle half of these over the pastry. Reblochon is recommended as a substitute cheese, I imagine Stinking Bishop would work, as would Brie or Camembert.
Mix an egg yolk (save the white) with 4 heaped tablespoonfuls (roughly 85ml) of crème fraiche. Mix the crème fraiche mixture with the leeks and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg if you have it. Spoon into the tart tin and dot over the rest of the cheese.
Roll out the final third of pastry, trim the bottom layer of pastry and wet the edges. Place the lid over the top, crimping the two edges together. It’s not the end of the world if this isn’t secure as it could be. Mix the egg white with a pinch of salt and brush over the surface of the pie.
Make three slashes in the top and then score lightly in a criss-cross and place on the baking tray for 35 minutes. The cheese should be bubbling, the lid brown and crispy and some of the edge risen. Leave to cool in the tin for ten minutes and then carefully unwrap from its tin.
This is great immediately; the oozing cheese is perfectly balanced by the sweetness of the leeks to create a cheese and onion pasty extraordinaire. It also sets quite solidly, so is portable the next day and is amazing warmed up.