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MARGARET PROUSE: The kitchen as a classroom

Warm up winter with Tomato Soup with Meatballs. Chock full of meat, potatoes and aromatic vegetables, it’s the perfect meal in a bowl.
Warm up winter with Tomato Soup with Meatballs. Chock full of meat, potatoes and aromatic vegetables, it’s the perfect meal in a bowl. - 123RF Stock Photo

The world is full of things to learn, and I learned some new things in the kitchen last week.

Tartiflette is a dish that was, until last week, unknown to me. The dish is said to have originated in the Savoy region of the Alps. However, another origin story says that tartiflette was invented by the Reblochon Interprofessional Union in the 1980s to increase the sales of the cheese. 

Authentic tartiflette is made with reblochon, a soft, washed-rind, smear-ripened French cheese made in the Alpine region of Savoy from raw cow's milk. Reblochon has AOC designation, a French place of origin designation that prohibits similar cheese produced elsewhere from being called reblochon.

The dish consists of sliced potatoes, chopped onions and lardons (bacon) all pre-cooked, and topped with a halved wheel of reblochon cheese and, sometimes, white wine. Many recipes suggest substituting other soft, melting cheeses such as a ripe Camembert when reblochon is unavailable. The one I used was Quebec-produced 14 Arpents.

Exotic as it sounds, tartiflette is made with foods – cheese, potatoes, onions, bacon, and cream – that have long been part of Prince Edward Island cuisine.

Switching from European to Asian foods, I learned how to fill and cook the little filled dumplings called wontons last week. Wonton wrappers, small squares of firm dough, are found in refrigerator cases in the produce sections at stores. The dish I made, using a recipe from LCBO’s Food & Drink online, called for a filling made from finely chopped cooked duck, cabbage, green onion and egg white seasoned with soya sauce.  After spooning about 2 mL (½ tsp) of filling onto the centre of a wrapper, I learned to dip a finger into a slurry of cornstarch and water and then run that finger around the perimeter of the wrapper to spread the mixture as a sort of adhesive, before folding the dough to create a triangle shape and pressing the edges to seal. For the recipe I was using, the wontons were cooked in a seasoned broth, but for some dishes they are fried until crisp and browned.

Moving on to Middle Eastern cookery, I checked into the difference between bulgur and cracked wheat. Bulgur is made from parched, steamed and dried kernels of wheat, which are used in dishes such as tabbouleh.  Several types of bulgur with particles of different sizes, are available. Cracked wheat is made of whole wheat grains that are crushed into coarse fragments. Because it isn’t precooked, cracked wheat takes longer to cook than bulgur.

Finally, circling back again to European cooking, I learned to make a new (to me) type of vegetable soup, with a recipe from my cookbook by Belgian author Mario Cattoor. Remembering his own childhood tastes, Cattoor recommends making lots of meatballs if the soup is to be served to children. The soup is simple to make and tasty. 

Tomato Soup with Meatballs

Adapted from Cattoor, Mario: Local Flavours of De Vlaamsche Pot. Borgerhoff & Lamberights Inc., Ghent, 2006.

  • 250 g (8 oz) ripe tomatoes (I used 2)
  • 1 leek, white part only
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 20 g (approx. 22 mL/1½ tbsp) butter
  • 1 L (4 cups) water
  • 300 g (⅔ lb) potatoes (I used 1 large and 1 small)
  • 15 mL (1 tbsp) tomato paste
  • Bouquet garni of parsley and thyme
  • 250 g (8 oz) ground meat

Cut the tomatoes into four, and chop the leek, onion and celery into small dice. Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the leek, onion and celery, and cook over medium heat until transparent. Add the tomatoes.

Pour the 1 L of water over the vegetables and bring the mixture to a boil. Leave the soup to cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the diced peeled potato, tomato paste, and bouquet garni. Simmer until the potato is cooked. 

Meanwhile, roll the ground meat into meatballs about 1 cm (½ inch) in diameter with your hands and cook them in salted water for five minutes. Drain and blot on paper towel.

Purée the soup with a hand blender, blender, food processor or force through a sieve.

Season with salt and pepper, bring to a boil briefly, and add the meatballs.

4 generous servings


Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by email at islandgusto@gmail.com.

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