While others might have a better idea of their families’ national or ethnic origins, for a long time I was adrift. The astrological DNA tests were no help, and who is to say that great-great grandad wasn’t a foundling or that great-great-grandma wasn’t a woman of less than impeccable virtue–if there is such a thing–who had a torrid affair with a blacksmith in Chattanooga before great-great-grandpappy–an accountant–had her put on a wagon and sent down the Natchez Trace?
For all I know, I have ancestors from Siberia, Senegal, and/or Malta, but if family surnames are any indication, I am a Welshman, and have for a very long time observed in my own way and always on my own the Welsh national holiday, St. David’s Day, March 1. Wales has many traditional dishes involving potatoes, mutton and lamb as well as the inevitable leek, also liver and pork meatballs called faggots, which are quite popular among the Brits, but of course versions of the recipe proliferate the globe.
Then there’s Welsh rabbit, which is made not with conies but bread, cheese in a sauce and the always-welcome option of beer. The most basic version involves thick slices of bread slathered in a thick cheese sauce made with Cheddar or some other substantial firm, off-white cheese with a slosh of your choice of beer (a good stout is excellent) and broiled. No one really knows any more how cheese on toast came to be called ‘rabbit’ or ‘rarebit’ (the variations in spelling seem to be arbitrary), but both Escoffier and Brillat-Savarin gave a recipe for ‘Lapin Gallois‘ and a ‘Wouelsche Rabette‘, which first appeared in Antoine Beauvilliers’ L’Art du Cuisinier in 1814. Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches.
Lightly toast thick slices of bread (your choice, a ) and place in a very lightly oiled skillet, top with Bechamel sauce with grated sharp cheddar (any hard, sharp and white or yellow cheese will do), a small amount of milk or blonde ale and a good prepared mild mustard (I use Zatarain’s Creole, about a teaspoon to a cup of sauce), put in a very hot oven until bubbling and lightly browned. This is a great late-night dish, wonderful for cold-weather breakfasts, and kids love it because it’s cheesy and messy and rabbits.