KUALA LUMPUR, May 3 — Outsiders often associate Paris with glamorous fashion and fine, fancy food. Sure, some Parisians look like models (and dress like them too), and Michelin-starred restaurants abound, but Paris is more than haute couture and haute cuisine.
My favourite memories of Paris involved popping into any boulangerie (bakery) I spot in a new neighbourhood — there’s usually more than one — and walking out with piping hot croissant or pain au chocolat. There’s nothing like biting into a fresh pastry fresh from the oven.
But a boulangerie is not judged by its pastries but its bread, and there’s none better than Poilâne in the 6th arrondissement. Famed for their pain au levain (sourdough bread), one can’t resist buying some back to tear into. However, if you’re staying at a hotel rather than in an apartment, smuggling some bread, however amazing it is, back to your room, may not offer the same experience Parisians enjoy at home.
Fortunately though, there’s a better alternative. At Cuisine de Bar, the tartine bar next to Poilâne, you can sit down to a leisurely brunch of these open-faced sandwiches. To be sure, the French weren’t the only ones to have invented open-faced sandwiches: the Swedes have smörgås, where buttered rye bread is topped with smoked herring or liver pâté; the Welsh have their rarebit where copious amounts of cheese, mustard and even Worcestershire sauce are poured over toasted bread.
But perhaps the French does it in the most elegant way, covering each slice of sourdough bread with just enough toppings (never too much!) before putting inside a blazing-hot broiler. My favourite tartine topping at Cuisine de Bar is soft Saint-Marcellin cheese covered with Bayonne ham: simple yet simply to die for.
Is it any wonder that I would try to replicate these tantalising tartines at home once I returned to Malaysia? Given that I miss the four seasons my European friends enjoy every year, I decided to create not one but four different toppings.
From a savoury and full-flavoured pairing of olive tapenade and meaty rillettes (another nod to the French inspiration) to a sweet, decadent yet refreshing match between chocolaty Nutella and juicy mango chunks, the possibilities are endless... and the rewards most mouthwatering.
TARTINES IN FOUR SEASONS
Traditionally the bread of choice for tartines is pain au levain (French for sourdough bread). But really, any rustic bread would do. If the bread you have isn’t crusty enough, try letting go stale overnight. Cut into thicker chunks and allowed to broil for a few minutes longer, even white bread can be transformed into a decent tartine base.
These are four variations of tartine toppings but feel free to experiment with other ingredients. Savoury options include bacon, ham, smoked salmon and chorizo sausages; for sweet tartines, try honey, peanut butter, and fresh fruits such as sliced bananas and berries.
I find tartines are a great way of using up leftover foods in the fridge or abandoned items in the pantry (which was how I found a use for my bear meat rillettes from Hokkaido).
· 4 slices of sourdough bread (about 2cm-thick slices), preferably from a day-old loaf
· 3 whole eggs
· ½ dozen cherry tomatoes, halved
· A handful of grated Cheddar cheese
· A drizzle of truffle oil
· 3 tablespoons of olive tapenade
· 2 tablespoons of rillettes or pâté
· 2 tablespoons of Nutella or other chocolate/hazelnut spread
· ¼ small, ripe mango, skinned and cut into chunks
· Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 200°C. Toast the slices of bread lightly in the oven.
While the slices of bread are toasting, prepare the toppings. First, beat the eggs with some salt and pepper. Scramble the egg mixture in a non-stick pan and set aside. Using the still warm pan, cook the halved cherry tomatoes until soft and set aside. Alternatively you may roast the cherry tomatoes beforehand and keep aside.
Once the slices of bread are ready, it’s time to cover them with the four different toppings. On the first slice, spread some cooked cherry tomatoes over it, mashing them into an even layer. Sprinkle a handful of Cheddar cheese over it. Season with salt and pepper. Place this slice back into the oven for the cheese to melt.
For the rest of the tartines, no further cooking is required. Just spread the remaining three slices with these toppings: scrambled egg drizzled with truffle oil on one; olive tapenade and rillettes on another; and a generous layer of Nutella on the last slice, covering one corner with fresh mango chunks. The first slice should be ready at this point once the cheese has melted over the mashed cherry tomatoes.
Serve all four slices on a platter for sharing.
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