Interior motives: Caramelized onions are the flavour base for this delicious tart
Kara Wille develops a savoury dish that’ll bring a tear to your eye
It’s a sunny weekend morning and you and your friends are standing in the middle of a bustling food emporium like Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market. Overwhelmed by the vast array of ingredients, you stare blankly at each other, trying to decide what to make for lunch. Meat counters, fish stalls, vegetable bins and cheese vendors clamor for your attention as you mentally run through an index of recipes. What to do? Why not keep it simple and opt for a meal of crisp salad and a savoury tart.
Essentially a pastry base baked with a filling of vegetables and/or meat of your choosing, bound with eggs, cream and sometimes cheese, a savoury tart or pie (depending on the type of pan you use) is easy to make and pretty to serve. As the choice of filling is up to you, it’s also an excellent mid-week supper when the fridge holds little but a knob of cheese, a few sad, withering peppers and a handful of stray mushrooms, or, in this case, a bag of onions. As long as you’ve got some milk or cream, a few eggs and some pastry to hold your filling of choice together, you can make a delicious meal.
Oh, right. Pastry. Many people are unnecessarily intimidated by pastry and will opt for store-bought frozen pie shells. Nothing wrong with a little convenience on a busy day, but since shortcrust pastry is simply flour, salt, ice water and a very cold, solid fat (shortening, butter or lard), and can be easily made by hand with only a rolling pin and some sort of blade or wire to cut the fat into the flour (dough scraper, pastry cutter, or large kitchen knife), making your own pastry is easy as (wait for it) pie.
Start simple with this basic onion tart recipe. Consider it the starting point for your exploration of fillings to suit your taste, your wallet and your wine collection.
Although my personal preference is to use vegetable shortening, in the interest of avoiding trans fats, the following recipe uses butter. It is important to work quickly so that the chilled butter doesn’t warm up and melt into the flour. For this reason, it’s also a good idea to make your pastry before you start cooking anything else so that your kitchen is cool.
2 cups all purpose flour, plus a 1/4 cup more for dusting
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup very cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes (it’s a good
idea to return the butter to the fridge for re-cooling
after you cube it)
1/2 cup ice water
dough scraper or large kitchen knife
wax or parchment paper
clean work surface
Pour flour onto work surface, add salt and mix. Add cubed butter to the mound of flour and, using your dough scraper, pastry cutter or kitchen knife, begin to cut butter into flour. Working quickly, cut the blade(s) through the butter into the flour, then scoop flour from the sides of the mound on top of the butter and cut through again, and repeat. If you have cool hands, and can work very quickly, you can do this with your fingertips, rubbing the butter and flour into crumbs. Either way, continue cutting the butter into the flour until the two have incorporated and created a mealy texture, almost like very coarse cornmeal. Begin adding the ice water, a dribble at a time on the flour and butter mixture and use your cut and scoop technique to incorporate the water into the flour/butter mixture until it forms a dense, but not too sticky, ball of dough. Divide into two balls, and flatten each into a disc. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap to keep moist and chill in the fridge for an hour or two.
When ready to begin assembling the tart, take one disc out of the fridge and unwrap. Place a large sheet of waxed or parchment paper on your counter and dust with flour. Place disc in the middle of the sheet, dust with flour and place a second sheet of waxed or parchment paper on top. Using your rolling pin, roll out the dough between the sheets until it’s about a 1/2 inch thick. To place in tart pan or pie dish, simply remove top sheet and flip the dough over into the dish, then peel off remaining sheet. Trim overhanging dough from edges and pinch into a fluted pattern with fingers.
Unused dough disc can be frozen. Thaw in fridge overnight before use.
Basic Caramelized Onion Tart
Serves 4 generously or 6 sensibly
1 disc chilled shortcrust, rolled out and placed in 10 inch tart tin with removable base (although a pie dish works fine, if that’s what you have)
6-8 medium sized onions (about a pound), sliced into fine rounds
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp sherry (optional)
2 medium eggs
1/2 cup cream
generous pinch salt
generous pinch black or white pepper
parchment paper, cut to fit tart shell
pie weights or dried kidney beans or rice
Blindbake the tart shell. pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. prick bottom of tart shell with fork all over and place parchment paper on bottom of tart shell and fill with pie weights, kidney beans or rice, making sure that weights are distributed around the edges to help shore-up the pastry crust. Bake on middle rack for 10 minutes, remove from oven and let cool.
In a large skillet, gently heat olive oil and add onions. Cook the onions slowly, stirring frequently, on medium heat. As they gradually become golden, add tablespoon of sherry and continue cooking slowly until onions caramelize (30-45 minutes) and remove from heat.
Whisk eggs and cream together with salt and pepper. Distribute caramelized onions in pastry case and pour egg and cream mixture on top.
Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes until egg mixture is set. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving. If you baked the tart in a tart tin with a removable base, take the tart out of the tin and place on serving dish.