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Savory clafoutis a refined receptacle for holiday ham

Mine is a household that often indulges in both turkey and ham for the holidays.

The excess likely can be traced to my extended family’s gathering of no fewer than 12 people that ballooned to 16 during my childhood. My grandmother, who lavished commendable effort on Christmas, kept things relatively simple for the feast, usually repeating what we had just eaten a month prior for Thanksgiving.

The two-meat format has held sway, even as celebrations become smaller and scattered around the state. So true to tradition, I have both turkey and ham to dispatch before the week’s out.

Ham is probably more versatile than turkey and welcome at just about every meal of the day, including breakfast. Because it’s a natural with eggs, ham is bound to find its way at my house into omelets and scrambles, quiche and frittata.

More refined, but also suited to any time of day, is clafoutis, typically considered a dessert with cherries. But there’s a savory side, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported this year. Less demanding than a soufflé, clafoutis is French country comfort food. It differs from quiche because it lacks a crust. Nor is it flan, which is denser, owing to more flour.

A perfect clafoutis, writes Arthi Subramaniam, is delicate, with a crisp edge and top and a creamy interior. The batter should not be overmixed, or the clafoutis will have a souffle-like feel and end up in almost two layers.

It's also important to match the texture of the clafoutis batter to the filling. If the filling is made with ingredients that tend to release a lot of moisture, add a sufficient amount of flour so it can absorb excess liquid. Pastry flour keeps the texture tender, as opposed to using all-purpose or bread flour.

After mixing, the batter needs to rest for about 20 minutes so the flour can absorb the liquid. Finally, bake at 350 degrees for around 40 minutes.

The pepper and garlic mixture can be cooked ahead of time and refrigerated. When it is time to make the clafoutis, warm the vegetables in a skillet before adding to the egg mixture and baking it.

If you can’t find creme fraiche, sour cream will work as a substitute. However, crème fraiche is easy — and much more economical — to make in the home kitchen from heavy cream and buttermilk left to thicken overnight. See this post from my blog archives for more detailed instructions.

Sweet Pepper and Cheddar Clafoutis

3/4 cup whole milk

1/2 cup creme fraiche

4 large eggs

2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, divided, plus more as needed

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup coarsely grated sharp white cheddar cheese, divided

2 ounces sliced ham, chopped

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 sweet bell peppers, preferably red, yellow and orange, cored and sliced into 1/4-inch-wide strips

2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Fresh lemon juice, for serving

Crushed red pepper flakes, for serving

Heat oven to 375 F.

In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, creme fraiche, eggs, flour, basil, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and the pepper. Stir in 3/4 cup of the cheddar and the ham.

In a 9-inch ovenproof skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Stir in the peppers and cook until they are softened and golden at their edges, for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the garlic and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook until fragrant, for about 2 minutes.

Scrape egg mixture into skillet and top with remaining cheddar and the Parmesan. (For a more elegant presentation, scrape vegetables into a gratin or casserole dish and add egg mixture and cheese to that.)

Bake in preheated oven until eggs are set, for 35 to 40 minutes. Cool slightly, then top with the lemon juice and red pepper flakes.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Recipe from "Dinner in French: My Recipes By Way of France" by Melissa Clark (Clarkson Potter; 2020).

Tribune News Service photo