Cooking Off the Cuff: Updating a classic


Ed’s take on a tarte flambee, with squash standing in for creme fraiche and fresh cheese. (Edward Schneider for The Washington Post)

We recently had a somewhat disappointing butternut squash in the house. When halved, it was wonderfully fragrant, like a ripe melon. But when oiled, seasoned and roasted cut side down until caramelized and very tender, it proved watery. The situation improved when I cooked some of it down in a skillet (to drive away excess liquid), seasoned it well and spread it on grilled bread with a drizzle of good balsamic vinegar — something you might wish to try some time.

That, plus a recent happy encounter with an Alsatian-style tarte flambee in a restaurant, suggested another use for the roasted squash. The topping of a real tarte flambee includes creme fraiche — thick cultured cream — along with onions and bacon, and it occurred to me that, with its almost creamy consistency, pureed squash might make a good foundation for the other toppings. And the squash’s time in a hot oven would concentrate its flavor and fruity sweetness, which would mate well with the onions and bacon.


Squash tarte flambee: looks good, tastes great. (Edward Schneider for The Washington Post)

Atop the dough, I spread 2/3 cup of squash puree, well seasoned and mixed with just a tablespoon of cream (which you could omit if you’re feeding people who can’t — or more likely won’t — eat dairy products). This I topped with half a small onion sliced wafer thin and two strips of bacon cut crosswise into thin matchsticks. (Both of these I pre-blanched for a moment in boiling water, but my onion was uncommonly strong and my bacon unusually salty.) I slid the disc onto the pizza stone and baked it for 10 minutes, though I started checking it after seven. (If your oven gets hotter than 500 degrees, take advantage of the extra heat and start checking after five or six minutes. If you have a pizza oven, you don’t need me to tell you what to do.)

It worked. Because of the onions and bacon, and because of the thin crust and the consistency of the squash, it was definitely reminiscent of a genuine tarte flambee, but the squash gave it an extra dimension: a bit more complex in flavor. It also looked great.

Imagine what it will be like next autumn with a squash that is delicious to start with.

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