This cheesy, bacony potato casserole is hot to tot
In the French Alps the food is a bit different from what you might think of as “French” food. No tiny portions of nouvelle cuisine with delicate saucery here. The food of the area is more what one might call robust. A bit heavier, a bit richer, most probably to address the caloric loss of days swooshing down mountains. Not being a skier myself, I have no idea how hungry it makes one, but I assume that the combination of physical activity and adrenaline make for some serious post-run pangs.
One of my favorite recipes from the region is a little minx called tartiflette. I know this sounds like a French manic-pixie-dream-stripper, but actually it is a killer combination of potatoes, bacon, onion, and a rich buttery local cheese called reblochon. It is a Frenchified potato bacon cheese casserole and it is impossibly delicious. It is also a perfect brunch dish, as you can make the casserole ahead and then just bake it off, sort of a fancy Gallic version of a hash brown casserole.
It’s also kind of a pain. It takes a while to prep and cook and calls for a cheese one usually has to special-order from a gourmet cheese monger. That's all well and good if you are planning an Alpine dinner party and have weeks to make arrangements, but what if you want some of that potatoey, baconey, cheesy pleasure right now?
So I make totiflette. Let’s be very clear, this is a different beast than the original, and I absolutely recommend that when you can you either head for the Savoy region of France and munch one in situ or find a good recipe (like this one by Anthony Bourdain) and a source for the cheese and indulge. This is not a replacement for the veritable, just a satisfying “inspired by” version, with all due apologies to the French.
Swapping out frozen tater tots for the raw potatoes cuts the cooking time way down, as does using pre-cooked bacon. Whenever I am making bacon, I make the whole package and keep the extra in the freezer for recipes just like this one, but there is no shame in buying that pre-cooked box at the store. If you’re feeling ambitious, go ahead and cook some fresh, whatever makes you happy. But make this dish, sooner rather than later. It is great pals with roasted meats, but I love it on a brunch buffet next to some scrambled eggs.
1 package tater tots, cooked according to package directions
8 ounces pre-cooked bacon strips, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small yellow onion, sliced thin into half-moon shapes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
1 pound soft creamy bloomed rind cheese, I love Saint Angel for this, and it is pretty widely available, but use whatever you can source near you.
While the tots are baking, heat the oil and butter in a nonstick skillet and sauté the onion until tender but not browned. Spray a 9x13 casserole dish with cooking spray. Slice the cheese about ¼-inch thick.
When the tots are done, keep the oven set for 400°F.
Place half of the warm tater tots in the bottom of the casserole, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Layer the onions over the tots and scatter the bacon pieces evenly over the onions. Add the cheese evenly over the top and then top with the remaining tots, sprinkling again with salt and pepper. Return to the oven and bake for 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve hot.