It was the perfect gift for the winter of 2013-14. A snow-vember; a storm in December that closed Route 322 leaving Richard, Sabine and me stranded on the wrong side of the Seven Mountains for several hours on the way home from Philadelphia International; whiteout New Year’s travel; the thrill of the Sochi Winter Olympics; and here it is March, and the snowflakes are still falling.
The gift, which Sabine somehow crammed into her oversized carry-on luggage and then sweet-talked Belgian airport security into letting it pass, was a Belgian-made, 1300W, 6.6 kg (14.6 lb.) stone grill-raclette for a crowd of eight.
Raclette, the classic Swiss dish, is pure peasant food. Swiss shepherds move their dairy cows from one mountainous pasture to the next. At night, they warm themselves around a campfire and break out a loaf of crusty bread and a wheel of cow’s milk cheese. They melt the cheese slowly and scrape it onto the bread for a simple meal. The French word for “to scrape” is “racler,” which gave way to the term raclette.
As is often the case, peasant food became haute cuisine. It evolved into ski holiday fare in the Alps, with a wedge of cheese melted in front of a cozy fireplace, and then scraped and draped over fingerling potatoes, cornichons (tiny pickles) and pickled onions. From there the tradition travelled downhill and was modified to become urban-friendly. Today, you will visit apartments of 20-somethings in Brussels, where young people huddle around a table, sip Belgian brew, toast meats and vegetables on the stone grill, and underneath, melt cheese in square little trays with handles. Each person has her own tray. When the cheese sizzles to perfection, she pulls it out and uses her individual wooden spatula to scrape the cheesy-ooze onto boiled fingerling potatoes and meat and vegetables from the grill. He persons follow suit. As each cheese tray is emptied, it is refilled. And on it goes into the night.
Raclette is a hostess friendly method of entertaining which encourages informality, relaxed conversation, and laughter. One night, Celso (our former Brazilian Rotary exchange student) and his fiancée Sarah joined Richard, Sabine (originally from Rwanda), Marina, my mom and me for such a dinner. We grilled pre-roasted cabbage and zucchini strips, and slices of prosciutto, and had a bowl of cooked “Tiny Tim” potatoes. Each of us had color-coded trays so we could monitor our melting cheese. It was a night to remember: People of four continents dining without borders. Laurie Lynch
Side Salad: Raclette is often paired with a fresh salad. Here is a new one I enjoy.
Red Cabbage Slaw with Ginger Dressing
½ red cabbage, thinly sliced
2 carrots, julienned
2 scallions, thinly sliced
Handful of toasted, slivered almonds.
½ cup rice vinegar
¼ green pepper
1-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ cup plain yogurt
Salt and Pepper
Slice vegetables for slaw. Set aside. Place ingredients for the dressing in a blender, and liquefy. Pour over slaw, toss, sprinkle with almonds, and serve.
Side Comment: If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely. –Roald Dahl