Described with the aid of chef Simon Hopkinson as “a conventional amongst tarts”, this deliciously sweet recipe from Alsace-Lorraine is someplace between a quiche and a flammkuchen, a tangle of buttery, sluggish-cooked onions slightly held collectively by way of rich egg custard. When I first got here across it, in an Alsatian eating place perched alternatively incongruously at the aspect of an Alp, I concept an onion tart sounded as a substitute dull. I’m no longer too proud to confess I was incorrect: the way to the alchemy that happens while this most, not unusual, yet least lauded of vegetables is given time to fulfil its capability inside the flavour department, this is a dish that’s some distance greater than the sum of its elements.
Though it’s by no means the most effective onion pastry inside the French repertoire – Provençal pissaladière and Flemish flamiche spring to thoughts, however, there are not any doubt others – it’s my new favoured. More summery than Lancashire butter pie and less delinquent than pickled onion Space Raiders, that is a brilliant, vegetarian-friendly centrepiece for a spring lunch, although, frankly, I’d snap it up at pretty much any time of day, or indeed year.
Such cakes continually seem to be made with regular brown onions, in preference to the milder white or sweeter red kind, but achievement depends to a significant extent on how those are prepared, as I discover to my value when two disintegrate in a soggy mess underneath the knife. Though the methods are different, the fault, I decide, is the equal for each: the onions are too wet. To be fair to Jane Grigson, her unique recipe, protected in her Vegetable Book, shows frying the onions in lard – however, she cautions, because it’s “wealthy and filling, it’s nice eaten at midday if there may be a smooth belly within the circle of relatives”. One “way out is to blanch the onions in water for seven to 10 mins until they melt”. I can’t resist giving it a try, and, perhaps predictably, it’s a disaster: though I drain them well, they leak moisture into the filling, and prove regrettably bland, which Grigson charitably describes as “a paler flavour”.
The different recipe, from Gilles Pudlowski’s Alsace Tradition, fries the onions for just three mins, which does wilt them, but doesn’t soften them to whatever near the satiny ribbons I grow to be with after an hour of patient evaporation on the stove for Simon Hopkinson’s recipe. As ever with onions, persistence could be rewarded; with sufficient butter, they don’t need more than the occasional stir. However, the flavour, as well as the texture, is properly really worth the attempt; deep and nearly winey.
That stated, I also like Pudlowski’s concept of adding a tumbler of the local white for a touch extra acidity – simply ensure you reduce it ultimately, because sprinkling a touch flour over the pinnacle doesn’t appear to do the trick for me, (Although any dry white will do, in case you use riesling or pinot gris, the rest of the bottle might be a formidable pairing on the table).
Hopkinson and Rowley Leigh cook the onions in butter, Elizabeth David butter, bacon fat or red meat dripping, and, as we’ve seen, Grigson recommends lard and Pudlowski olive oil. As long as you don’t skimp on something you cross for, it’s in large part a matter of flavour, even though I think that exact pork dripping goes mainly well with onion.
Grigson chops her onions, however we all prefer them in skinny slices; now not most compelling is that this plenty less complicated, mainly in case you very own a mandoline (and also you without a doubt need to – they’re cheap and could pay you to lower back in dauphinois), but the slightly stringy texture is lots more fascinating, almost like sweet noodles. That stated, it does make the tart tough to reduce smartly, so if presentation is essential to you, do not forget cutting them as a substitute.
What definitely sets the numerous recipes apart, but, is their technique to fillings. At one give up of the feel spectrum is Elizabeth David’s in French Country Cooking, glued collectively with just eggs and grated gruyère, which proves delicious, but extra of a cheese and onion tart than vice-versa.
At the other is Hopkinson’s, well summed up with the aid of his first comment: “My concept of the proper onion tart is one from which the filling oozes out while you cut into it.” He achieves this impact with 300ml double cream and four egg yolks – and, indeed, it runs like rich lava on the merest brush of the knife. It proves extraordinarily famous with my testers, and I’d exceptionally suggest giving it an attempt, but the effects aren’t quite as I remember the onion truffles I’ve acknowledged and loved in Japanese France, which tend to be higher stable and eggy than this savoury custard tart.
Rowley Leigh’s model in A Long and Messy Business, with an aggregate of egg yolks and entire egg, and double cream and milk, come closer, and Grigson’s, as a long way as I can inform given the unfortunate incident with the blanched onions, closer still together with her unmarried cream and complete eggs – the whites appear to give the filling structure, at the same time as a beneficiant dash of cream tames the intensity of the onions.
Shortcrust is obligatory here – nearly. Pudlowski makes use of slightly special bread, made using melted butter, that’s so tender, it’s more spreadable than rollable. Not simplest is it some distance less faff to make, but it proves crisper and flakier than regular shortcrust, and pleasing contrast with the creamy filling. Make positive you blind bake it, although; damp pastry can be OK with David, I’m no longer especially eager.
Extras and seasonings
Hopkinson says his mom used to make a “jolly right cheese and onion tart” with Lancashire, and admits he on occasion adds thyme, sage, chopped bacon or anchovies, however, “I choose the purity of onions alone”. Again, make your preference; cheese is delicious. However, I think a small amount of bacon enhances the vegetable without overshadowing it, specifically in case you fry the onion in its rendered fats. Either, or… or neither: as much as you.
Whichever way you go, I could, but, strongly recommend including an energetic grating of nutmeg; don’t be shy, this dish can take it.
Perfect onion tart
Serve heat, in place of hot or cold, ideally with a green salad and a pitcher of riesling on the facet.
Prep 30 min
Cook 2 hr
100g butter, lard or dripping
80g chunky bacon lardons, smoked or unsmoked, to flavour (optionally available)
1kg onions, peeled and finely sliced
Salt and pepper
75ml dry white wine
100ml whipping cream
Nutmeg, to grate
For the pastry
3 tbsp water
250g plain flour
½ tsp quality salt
Over medium heat, soften the fat for the filling in a big frying pan for which you have a lid. Add 50g of the bacon, if the usage of, fry until gently golden, then scoop out with a slotted spoon and set apart.
Turn the heat proper down, add the onions to the pan, season with salt, stir well to coat and cover. Cook until wilted (approximately 5 to ten mins), then eliminate the lid and upload the wine. Cook the onions till golden, however not browned, and all of the liquid has evaporated – this will take about an hour, with occasional stirring, mainly toward the cease. Take off the warmth and go away to cool.
Meanwhile, grease a deep, roughly 23cm tart tin. Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/fuel 6. Melt the butter and water for the pastry in a small pan till effervescent. While it’s getting there, positioned the flour and salt in a bowl, then tip inside the effervescent butter. Mix till you have a ball that comes far from the sides of the container.