Clifford Wright is a James Beard award winning author and culinary instructor at Venice Cooking School with New York Times columnist Martha Rose Shulman. He's been widely hailed as the foremost English speaking expert on Mediterranean cuisines. In his forthcoming book Hot & Cheesy (John Wiley & Sons, 2012) he ventures beyond the Mediterranean for recipes such as gomser cholera, a Swiss pie with filled with apples, potatoes and cheese that will appeal to cooks who love the simplicity of one-dish meals.
True, we're proposing a baking a pie in the middle of a minor heat wave in Los Angeles. To boot, it's an obscure, nearly extinct Swiss recipe with a name more unfortunate than smen (North African aged butter). And yes, we are reminded of the speech from The Third Man:
You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock [and gomser cholera]
Turn the page for Wright's history laden explanation of why a pie would be named after an epidemic and the recipe.
According to Wright:
Goms is a valley in the rugged mountainous canton of Valais in Switzerland, where this pie originated. The unusual name of this pie derives from the cholera epidemic that hit Switzerland hard in 1836. Rather than leave the house and risk infection, people tended to prepare meals with the food they had on hand. In nineteenth-century Switzerland, this was typically, apples, pears, potatoes, onions, leeks, raclette cheese, local bacon, and the pastry ingredients
Notes from Clifford Wright: The cheese called for is one particular kind of raclette cheese known as Gomser; other raclette cheeses are Belalp, Valais Raclette, and Bagnes. They are sold under the generic name raclette cheese, which is readily available in better cheese departments. As befits a home-prepared dish of many families, there are many recipes. This recipe is adapted from the one posted on the Goms tourist bureau Web site. However, the pie is hardly known in Switzerland today; in fact, most Swiss will look at you confusedly if you were to mention it.
4 Yukon gold potatoes (about 1 3/4 pounds)
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3 1/2 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
8 ounces onions, finely chopped
1 pound leeks, white and light green parts only, split lengthwise, washed well, and thinly sliced
1 pound tart apples, peeled, quartered, and sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1 pound puff pastry, defrosted according to package instructions
10 ounces Gomser cheese (raclette cheese)
1 large egg, beaten
1. Place the potatoes in a pot full of water, bring to a boil over medium heat, then cook until a skewer glides easily into the center, about 40 minutes in all. Remove the potatoes, peel, cut into quarters, slice, and set aside.
2. In a large flameproof casserole, melt the butter with the bacon over low heat and cook until the bacon is slightly crispy, about 10 minutes. Add the onions and leeks and cook, stirring, until softened and slightly caramelized, about 20 minutes. Add the apples and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out two-thirds of the puff pastry dough to fit into a 9-inch diameter deep-dish pie pan. Spread half the onion mixture over the dough and top with half of the potatoes and then half the cheese. Cover the cheese with the remaining filling in the same order. Roll out the remaining puff pastry and cover the filling with it. Score in several places and brush with the beaten egg. Bake until golden brown, about 35 minutes. Serve hot.
Makes 8 to 10 servings