It’s difficult to imagine, while sipping a glass of something white and chilled by the Med, that in the deep south of France, and especially in the more altitudinous parts of it, winters are hard. For those thinking of moving there, a good stove is as crucial an investment in creature comfort as a dazzling blue swimming-pool. Some stick-to-the-ribs recipes are handy too, for a tub of pesto is cold comfort indeed when icicles hang by the wall.
Here is one of those deeply traditional French dishes which give the health police palpitations. Packing ludicrous amounts of starch and fat, it can be a main course, with a chicory or celery salad for contrast, or a soaker-up of meat juices. Depending on tribal loyalties, the cheese should be tomme d’Auvergne, Laguiole or Cantal. Gruyere or Comté give a different, slightly nuttier flavour, strong Cheddar misses the point. It is equally at home with a steely, robust white or a fruity red with a bit of backbone.The roast garlic is a mellow twist on the authentic recipe.
Aligot (Cheese Mash) with Roast Garlic
For 4 who want to see another Christmas in
- 1kg floury potatoes eg King Edward
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- a head of garlic
- 50g butter, melted
- 200g full fat crème fraiche, scalded
- 400g Cantal cheese, grated
Preheat the oven to 190C/Gas 5/375F. Slice the top off the garlic bulb and place it on a square of aluminium foil. Lubricate with a little olive oil and some sea salt. Replace the “lid”, wrap tightly in the foil and bake for about 40 minutes or until very tender when squeezed. Cool.
Peel the potatoes and cut into manageable chunks. Steam or boil in well-salted water until just tender, drain and let most of the steam subside before proceeding. Bring the cream to scalding point but don’t boil it.
Season the potatoes well, and add the melted butter. Mash them gently, using an electric hand whisk on a low setting. Return them to the pan on a very low heat. Remove the garlic from its foil parcel , and squeeze it hard to expel the roasted garlic puree. Stir in as much or as little of it as you care to, followed by the warmed cream.
A proper Auvergnat would do this by hand, but life’s too short, especially on this kind of diet. Increase the beater speed and begin adding the cheese, a handful at a time. When it is all incorporated and the potatoes are glossy and stiff, the aligot is done. Don’t keep it waiting.
For a traditional regional pairing, try with a fresh red Marcillac from the local fer servadou grape.
Alternatively, a full-bodied white would work well too.