Thursday, May 7, 2009
Tartine is one of the most beautiful words I know, in any language. It's French, of course, and it most often denotes, rather mundanely, "bread spread with butter or jam." That definition hardly does it justice. When you order a French breakfast, say at the little café at the Kayser boulangerie on the Rue Monge in Paris, you're offered the choice of a pastry--croissant, pain au chocolat--or a tartine.
If you go for the tartine, what you get is a slab of baguette from a loaf cut in half the long way, into top and bottom (imagine a hot dog bun; now, forget I said "hot dog bun"). Cut this way, the baguette reveals all the glory of its fragrant wheaten interior, pocked with irregular, gluten-glazed crevasses. There is glorious golden crust all around the pliant but substantial crumb.
You contemplate it for a moment. You take in your surroundings. Along with a fantastic piece of bread, you have the Paris sunshine, a bowl of café crème, and--not to overlook the obvious--your beloved companion, sitting across the little table, contemplating the same things. Enough contemplation: Let's eat.
Start with butter, and maybe end there. The rich unsalted butter fills the holes in the bread, and with bread this good, I usually find jam superfluous. The crunch of crust, the yielding crumb, the butter melting in your mouth: You have entered le monde de la tartine, and life is good.
A great tartine is so much more than "bread and butter" would imply. It can be more than that literally*, too, as seen above in the smoked trout and herbed cream cheese tartine which, with a salad of wild greens, made a Bide-A-Wee supper last weekend. The baguette was a couple of days old--not ideal, a baguette is a bread of the day, better, of the hour--so we warmed and browned it over the coals. That revived it quite nicely.
Into the cream cheese I mixed chopped chives and watercress and a squeeze of lemon juice, and a little soft butter, because the cream cheese was rather cold and hard--letting it come to room temperature would make that easier. We just spread that on the grilled bread and topped it with home-smoked brown trout, but any smoked fish would do. The salad was wild watercress, dandelion greens from the Bide-A-Wee hills, and a few white violet (oxymoron?) flowers for pretty.
Simple, delicious, springtime fare. We may not always have Paris, but we can always have a tartine.
* Eric Kayser's book 100% Pain has a mouth-watering section of gourmet tartines--the picture of the grilled scallops tartine always makes me hungry.
Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw