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A French delicacy goes from sweet to savory

(food styling and photo/Béatrice Peltre)

In France, clafoutis is comfort food, a dessert that fills me with vivid memories of the cooking of my mother and grandmother in rural Lorraine. Traditionally made with cherries embedded in an airy, moist custard, clafoutis has evolved into a dish of many variations. This delicacy is so cherished and celebrated on French tables that over the years, cooks have turned it into a savory dish, moving it from the sweet course to the main part of the meal, replacing the fruit with fresh vegetables.

From the French patois "clafir" (to garnish), clafoutis used to be simple peasant food served during hay season in the countryside. Yet it could also become a Sunday special treat. The fruit is loosely arranged in a baking dish, then topped with a mildly sweet, crêpe-like batter made of eggs, milk, flour, sugar, and sometimes cream. Some cooks like to add almond flour while others would never forget a touch of rum. When the baked clafoutis reaches juicy perfection, it can be served warm or cold.

In September, when apples and pears announce the beginning of cooler weather, those fruits are tossed into a version of clafoutis called "une flognarde."

Keeping the basic principles of clafoutis, the vegetable and cheese version offers the cook many options. Imagine paper-thin slices of fennel with juicy pears topped with crumbled blue cheese, or perhaps tarragon-flavored artichoke hearts enhanced by freshly chopped spinach. Or one made with sauteed red onions, shaved zucchini strips, and fresh goat cheese baked in a cumin-flavored custard. When presented in individual ceramic molds, these will dress up your table, and though they're quite easy, they seem labor intensive.

Add a fruit clafoutis to finish your meal, and you and your guests will be in clafoutis heaven.

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