When you consult the lunch selection at your average French boulangerie you will undoubtedly see a few quiches, some salads, and - if you are lucky - a croissant au jambon. Another item you may see is a tourte. This is one of those vocabulary words that I have come to understand in French without actually consulting a dictionary. It's like a quiche, but without the custard. Actually, it sometimes has a custard-like substance to bind, but the eggs don't take the starring role. Clear as mud? Well, according to my beloved Larousse Gastronomique, a tourte is (and I quote) "A round pie or tart, which can be savoury or sweet. The name originally designated a round loaf (from the Latin tortus). A tourte consists of a shortcrust or puff pastry case (shell), filled either with a mixture of meat, poultry, game, fish or vegetables (with aromatics and additional ingredients) or with fruit and cream."
I have never actually seen a sweet one. Or if I have, it wasn't labelled. For me, it's that satisfactorily savoury pie-that-is-not-a-quiche. It's usually fairly carbohydrate-heavy. As is my Tourte with potatoes and duck. But they are extremely filling and satisfying on the 200th day of winter. (We have a tulip on the terrace. Usually these come up in February, but our first one appeared this week.)
This dish came out of the fact that we had leftover duck from a raclette/pierrade dinner last week. You could easily substitute Serrano or Proscuitto ham; in fact, I think smoked duck would work best. But normal, cooked, duck breast is what I had left at the end of our meal and it was just dandy. Onions are essential for bringing it from a stodgy potato-laden dish into something with flavour and weight.
For those who are wondering, the Parmentier designation is French shorthand for "it has potatoes in it". M. Parmentier was the marketing genius who introduced the French to that humble root vegetable, the potato. When he was unable to convince the starving masses that this strange new plant was edible, he successfully talked the king into eating it, an early form of royal corporate sponsorship. Once his Royal Highness declared them nutritious, edible and tasty the rest of the country followed suit. And soon the Irish discovered them and the rest is history.
Tourte Parmentier au Canard
1 puff pastry crust
3-4 large potatoes, very thinly sliced
1 onion, even more thinly sliced
100 g duck breast, cut in thin slivers
2/3 cup grated cheese - Beaufort, Gruyère, Cheddar in a pinch
2 Tbs sharp mustard, divided
2/3 cup crème fraiche
1/3 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Remove the puff pastry from the refrigerator and slice the potatoes and onion. Roll the puff pastry into the bottom of a large quiche pan. (Grease the pan or leave the paper from the pastry in the bottom, as indicated in the instructions.) Smear half the mustard on the pastry. Layer half the potatoes, overlapping so that all covers are cornered. Scatter the slices of onion over the potato and then sprinkle evenly with the duck. Mix the cream, eggs, remainder of the mustard and milk well. Season generously with salt and pepper. Drizzle half the mixture over the potatoes, onion and duck. Lay the rest of the potato slices over the rest. Drizzle the rest of the egg and cream mixture and then sprinkle the cheese evenly over the whole dish. Bake in the oven 45 minutes to an hour - until the potatoes are tender, the crust is browned and the cheese is crusty. Serve hot or cold. If the tourte is a bit dry, you can mix a little crème fraiche with mustard and tarragon and serve as an accompanying sauce.