‘French Provincial Cooking is one of the foundations of the way we cook today-over the past 50 years, it has influenced untold numbers of cooks, restaurant chefs and food writers. Miss David’s recipe for L’Aligot is simple and no-nonsense. It may only be cheesy potato, but it’s improbably delicious.’
Extract from Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking Published by Grub Street in 2007 (first published 1960)
The French have invented dozens of excellent potato dishes, but many of them turn out less successful here than in France because we can rarely get the right varieties of kidney or waxy potatoes. Here is one which is suitable to English potatoes. It’s a purely local country dish which I came across at Entraygues, a little town on the confluence of two rivers, the Lot and the Truyère, in south-western France. It was described to me by a very ancient lady in the shop where I was buying local cooking pots, and the proprietress of the hotel where we were staying obligingly cooked it for us.
2lb floury potatoes
The cheese used for this dish is the soft white unfermented tomme de Cantal (not to be confused with Cantal proper, which somewhat resembles English cheese in consistency) but I find that Caerphilly, a mild cheese which melts easily, serves the purpose very well. A mild and unmatured Lancashire would also be suitable but, being stronger flavoured, 2oz less would be sufficient.
Cook the potatoes in their skins, peel and sieve them to a dry purée, and add seasoning. Heat the butter and cream in a heavy pan, put in the purée, stir until hot and amalgamated, add a very little crushed garlic, then the cheese, cut into small squares, all at once, and stir until it is all melted and quite smooth. Serve quickly before the mixture starts getting grainy.
As will be perceived from the list of ingredients this is scarcely a light dish. It was served to us quite on its own, as a first course, but I think myself a few small slices of bread fried in butter provided a good accompaniment something crisp to contrast with the softness of the potatoes.
If there is some left over, it makes most excellent potato cakes. Simply form the mixture into small flat cakes, roll them lightly in flour and fry them
gently to a light golden colour.
Charles Campion is a food critic. His new book Eat Up! Seeking out the best of British home cooking will be published by Kyle Cathie in March at £16.99