Well, Marc's in the bathroom, shaving off his beard for the inaugural day of Movember. At my request, he'll be going for the Magnum P.I. look. I can't wait. Too bad it's getting too cold outside for the cutoff jean short shorts. Sigh.
Anyhoo, while I wait to see my bare-faced mate, I've decided to bring you la tarte à l'oignon - the onion tart : one of the simplest things you can make, if you have the patience to see the caramelization of the onions through to the end. It's one of my favourite things to make when I have a laid back get-together; people are often underwhelmed by its plain brown appearance, but they always raise their eyebrows when they taste their first bite. Hah! I love that. Plain brown food one; dinner guests with little faith, zero.
This recipe is based on a tarte à l'oignon I ate for lunch in Marseilles, at a friend of a friend's house nearly ten year ago. I was too shy to ask for the recipe at the time, so I'd just recreated it from gustatory memory when I got home... It was good, but something always seemed to be missing. Then, I discovered the missing link : cream. How could I not have seen it before?!? I have Laura Calder to thank for that tidbit, bless her shameless, butter loving heart (see the recipe for Caramelized Onion Tarts in her book French Food at Home). The tart went from good to goooooood. And then, I got more raised eyebrows.
Of course, this recipe is still quite delightful sans cream, if you prefer to omit it. That way, you only have to deal with the guilt coming from the evil, evil (read: delicious) pie crust.
Let's get on with this recipe, shall we?
Tarte à l'oignon
What you need to have:
- 1 pie crust, purchased or made yourself. If you're making your own, I recommend a flaky one over a denser, buttery one. Don't pre-bake it.
- 5 to 6 large-ish onions, sliced into thin half moons (slice the onion in half from head to toe, then slice each half crosswise). You need about seven to eight cups of sliced onion in total. If you have a bit more or a bit less, it's not the end of the world.
- some thyme, preferably fresh, but dried will do. 2 tbsp fresh leaves, or 1 tbsp dried.
- a splash of brandy or white wine
- a good splash of balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 cup of heavy cream (35%). Again, omit this if you want.
- salt and pepper
What you need to do:
- throw a good 2 tbsp of butter into a heated pan (sorry - you need lots of butter for this), and add a bit of olive oil to prevent the butter from burning (a tsp should do);
- once the butter's bubbling, throw in the onions, lower the heat to medium-low and wait for them to caramelize, stirring regularly so they don't burn. This may take time. Up to 30 minutes. It's not that bad! Read a book while you stir! Or empty the dishwasher! Or sort your laundry! Whatever! Sheesh!
- when the onions are soft and brownish, throw in a splash (1/8 cup) of Brandy or white wine; let it simmer and reduce until it's gone;
- throw in a splash of balsamic vinegar. Start with about 1/8 cup, stir it all around and taste the onions. You need to taste the balsamic tanginess - it helps counteract the sweetness of the onions. Add a bit more if you don't feel the tang;
- add about 1/2 cup of heavy cream and stir it around, letting it simmer softly for a minute or two, just to thicken a bit;
- take everything off the heat, throw in the thyme, and season with salt and pepper;
- slide everything into the pie crust and bake for the time recommended on the package / in your crust recipe;
- let the tart cool a bit and serve warm or at room temperature.
Voilà! And here's an optional step. I usually throw a handful of pitted black olives (like Kalamata) on top of the tart, just before baking. I find their brininess the perfect companion to the onions' sweetness. Although I didn't try it in the recipe above, the olives would have been just as stellar with the richness of the cream, too. Give it a try, you won't regret it, I'm sure. And if you do, bah. Just pick off the olives. No biggie.
Oh gawd! Marc just walked in! Cue the Magnum theme song!
Aaaand I'm out. Enjoy the tart!