In 1994, I spent one month in the french region of Alsace, near the border with Germany, with a group of other young people from all over the world, invited by the Lions Clubs of France. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years already. One thing is certain, I wasn’t the same person when I returned.
CCMI94 was a month of unforgettable gastronomic and cultural adventures, but most of all, it forced me to go out of my comfort zone and learn how to manage and conceal my huge shyness and insecurity. I made loads of friends and, predictably, fell crazy in love for the first time, which was, also predictably, followed by a crushing heartbreak, but that’s a story I’ll share some other day.
In that July, I flew on my own to Paris, where I met the whole gang — we were 40, from 25 nationalities —, and we then travelled together by bus to Strasbourg, then Metz, then Strasbourg again. We visited the European Parliament, museums, cathedrals, fortresses, farms, wine cellars, saw fireworks shows, open-air theatre, watched together the World Cup Final where Brasil beat Italy (sorry, Luisa), we had picnics, city walks, we explored the region thoroughly. In the middle of all that, two important things happened: I started to enjoy wine and pizza.
One of our first visits had been to a champagne cellar, precisely in Champagne, on our way from Paris to Strasbourg. I was still very finicky, afraid to try new things, and as dumb enough not to taste the real deal. Everybody was way “happier” on the rest of the journey, that’s all I know. Everybody but me.
However, we attended several official receptions while there, and usually, the choice of drinks was between a horrible watered-down artificial orange juice or a beautiful typical cocktail called Kir. it consists of a flute of ice-cold white wine (or champagne, if it’s a Kir Royal) with a bit of blackcurrant liqueur (Crème de Cassis) on the bottom, which made a terrific ombre effect. I think I went for the juice the first couple of times — dumb, again — but eventually I came to my senses and through Kir, I learned to like, to love, white wine.
With pizza, the process was quite similar. Most of our meals were had in an university canteen near the Cathedral square, one of the most beautiful squares I’ve ever visited. The food was… canteen style, with an extraordinary exception. There was a fire-burning oven who turned out fantastic pizzas, right before our eyes. As soon as we got there, everybody would run for the pizza line. I was the first to get fed, though, because I went for the regular food. No line there, whatsoever. Because nobody was having it. Because it was really, really bad. Reaaaaaly bad. But I didn’t like pizza then. It had chess on it, I hated cheese, couldn’t even touch it. But day after day, that miserable sad canteen food got the best of me, and I finally got the guts to taste one of those fragrant pizzas. How worse could it be?
I was appalled to realised that pizza was actually the best thing I had ever eaten. Normal cheese: horrible. Melted cheese: wonderful and addictive! I had been fast enough to discover the wine, but it sadly took me the whole month to figure out pizza. Just in time.
After a month living together in an university campus, most of the group returned home. Who wished so, could stay with a foster family for an extra week, which I did. On the last day, we organised a big farewell dinner in a typical Alsatian restaurant where they served up the famous Tartes Flambées, or Flammekueche, some kind of white pizza with sour cream, onion and bacon.
Instead of me taking a plane back to Lisbon, my parents had decided to come and pick me up by car, with my brother. Yes, they drove from Lisbon to Strasbourg like they were just driving round the corner to pick me up. With several touristic stops along the road trip, of course, but still, quite a stretch. They arrived to Strasbourg on that day, and joined the group on that epic last supper.
It’s been 20 years, but I remember every detail. The huge L shaped table on the restaurant patio, the sun setting very late, the great temperature of that August night,the awesome tartes flambées who disappeared as they hit the table, but kept arriving, the fresh white riesling that I kept knocking down, the excitement of being together for the last time ever, a sweet and sour mix of the joy of still being there and seeing my parents and brother after a month apart and the crushing sadness of knowing I would leave the following morning. I will also never forget the look on my parents’ faces when they saw me eat pizza and drink wine like there was no tomorrow. Who are you, and what have you done with our daughter?
When I saw this month’s theme for Dia um… na cozinha was pizza, it wasn’t Rome but Strasbourg that came to my mind. Tarte Flambée is not exactly pizza, but I’m sure I’ll be forgiven.
Dough (for two pies)
- 250g flour
- 12 g yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 125ml lukewarm water
- Sour cream / crème fraiche
- Onion, thinkly sliced
- Bacon, cubed
- Emmental cheese, grated (optional – the original tarte flambée original has no cheese at all, just the gratin version)
In a big bowl, crumble the yeast in the flour, using the tip of your fingers. Add the salt and the sugar.
Make a little mound with the flour mix and dig a little well in the centre. Pour the olive oil and the water into the well and start mixing with your hands until you have a smooth dough, adding extra water if needed. Knead for a few minutes more, over a floured surface, and shape it in a ball. Oil the inside of the bowl and place the dough inside, covering it with cling film. Leave to prove for at least one hour, until it doubles in size.
By the end of that time, turn on the oven at maximum temperature, with a baking tray or pizza stone inside (it will ensure a well cooked bottom).
Punch the dough with your fists to knock the air out and divide it in two portions. Roll out one portion with a rolling pin, until it’s really thin, trying to shapen it like a square. Trim the edges if necessary.
Place the square dough on a floured parchment paper, can cover it with the sour cream, the cheese, if using, the onion and the bacon. Transfer to the really hot tray and bake it for about 10 minutes, to until the dough is golden. Cut into squares and serve.
Dia Um… Na Cozinha: não se esqueçam de visitar a página do grupo para ver todas as pizzas deliciosas que foram feitas para hoje.