A cold morning found me doing vigorous exercise in the kitchen. I was cutting thick slices off a dense pain de campagne whose bottom crust was putting up a good fight against my bread knife. As the first slice fell onto its face on the wooden bread board it reminded me of a passage that I had read in a book, the name of which remained stubbornly in that part of my mind which houses all the other names that I can’t remember. I did remember that it was about cheese on toast which I was soon eating for a late breakfast.
It is only as I sit in front of a roaring fire in the late afternoon, enjoying a cup of tea, that I have remembered the name of the book. The writing of Edouard de Pomiane was an early and important influence on my cooking and on my thoughts about food. His book “Cooking in 10 Minutes”, which was first published in 1948, caused outrage amongst the culinary giants of Paris. His debunking of the mysteries of preparing delicious food in a simple way was anathema to the disciples of Escoffier and Careme. M.de Pomiane was not a latter day Jamie Oliver, but a highly respected dietician and, moreover, a professor at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. It was his light hearted approach that inspired me as well as his extraordinary knowledge of the chemistry of cooking: of why and how one particular food would react with another and how, if it didn’t do what you expected, you could correct your mistakes on the hoof. His second book “Cooking with Pomiane” has a foreword by Elizabeth David in which she declares her love of his work and the debt which she felt that she owed to him. There is no higher praise in my mind.
Tranche de fromage by Edouard de Pomiane ( his version is made on black bread )
“This is a peasant dish, rustic and vigorous. It is not to everybody’s taste, but one can improve upon it. Let us get to work.
The slice of bread should be as big as a dessert plate and nearly an inch thick. Spread it with a thick layer of French mustard, then cover the whole surface of the bread with strips of cheese about 1/2in thick. Put the slice of bread on a fire proof dish and place under the grill. The cheese softens and turns golden brown. Just before it begins to run remove it from the heat and carry it to the table. Sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Cut the slice into four and put it onto four hot plates. Pour out the white wine and taste your cheese slice. In the mountains this would seem delicious but here it is all wrong. But you can put it right. Over each slice pour some melted butter. A mountaineer from the Valais would be shocked but my friends are enthusiastic, and that is good enough for me.”
He also mentions that “…one can start slimming tomorrow”.