Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tarte aux Oignons – Caramelized Onion Tart with Black Olives

Peg Bracken, who penned guides on cooking, housekeeping, and etiquette in the 60s and 70s, advised quite firmly against ironing of any kind. She felt it led to a surplus of introspection. In that same vein I would counsel entirely against slicing onions by hand at the end of winter. An old onion is what’s known as a “cryer”, and by the beginning of March, they’re all getting rather vicious.

It’s been 4 months after all, since the end of the onion field harvest. Now that’s not to say I’m suggesting you wait until they’re back in season in August to cook with onions. There are way too many important things to eat between now and then – this tart for example. But if you’re going to set out to make something that involves slicing four or five cold storage onions into half moons, particularly on a dreary day in March, then you might want to proceed with caution.

Let’s say, just for example, that you’re wrapping up the process of applying to New York City nursery schools. You’ve written your essays (I am not kidding) and procured references from your most plausible friends and fumbled through parent interviews that opened with a question about your parenting philosophy (What? My what?). And suppose that all your ducks finally seem to be neatly in a row, and that you’ve made it to the final step, which is your child’s “playdate” or “observation.”

Now let’s just say that your impeccably bathed and dressed 2 year old chooses this exceptionally delicate moment to completely and utterly lose her mind. She steals toys and hurls blocks and pronounces the word “no” in increasingly shrill tones. "Mom!" she calls over her shoulder at one point, brandishing a wooden spatula, "I hit that boy with this spoon!" And just when you think that all your darkest fears have been realized, and that it can’t possibly get any worse, your child marches up to the director of admissions, who is perched in a toddler-sized school chair, and with remarkable force and accuracy, gives her a kick in the shins.

“Hey lady!” she screams, “Don’t talk!”

Hours later your 2 year old has long forgotten her transgressions and the ensuing chaos and admonishments. You on the other hand are still having exactly the sort of day where, upon finding yourself faced with a bowl full of late season onions, you should reach for the food processor.

“Why are you crying Mommy?”

“Oh, I’m just happy honey,” you beam out over your chopping board of hand-slivered onions.

So, so happy.

Sure it’s probably just old onions. You don't cry about nursery schools. You know how to butcher half a cow. But life is full of blurred lines and gray areas too.

Do you know anything about applying to nursery schools in Manhattan? It’s another story for another blog, but suffice to say that when one of you turned to the other and said “Let’s have a baby,” applying to nursery schools in Manhattan was precisely the opposite of what you meant. And when they first handed you this baby, you did not, could not even conceive of the way in which she might hit her “terrible twos” with all the subtlety of a 30-pound wrecking ball. Or synchronize her “hitting phase” (read: “relentless, socially-isolating thirst for blood”) so flawlessly with nursery school interview month.

Fortunately friends come over. To cringe. To laugh. To compare tales of public humiliation. And friends have to be fed. You don’t have the wherewithal for actual cooking, of course, but this is scarcely a recipe. It’s like the less refined, rustic cousin of the classic Alsatian onion tart that uses pâte brisée and a custard filling. Tarte aux oignons is scrappy and crave-able and fragrant, rather like your two year old.

There’s hardly a bit of work involved, especially if you take my advice and let the thinnest slicing blade on your food processor do the labor. In fact it’s your job to leave the onions alone as they cook. That’s the only way they’ll caramelize and build up all the jammy savor that makes this tart so perfect for late winter. I’ve added some black oil cured olives, much like a Provençal pissaladière, though I’ve skipped the anchovies. I find the olives add an earthy salinity that enhances the sweet, floral flavor of caramelized onions deglazed in wine. The white wine is the trick here – it adds an extra depth that sets this apart from other onion tarts.

This is just as good cold as it is warm, and cut into small wedges it makes a wonderful accompaniment to apéritifs. If you want your tarte aux oignons to be the main event though, all you really need with it is a little green salad vinaigrette (I like mâche this time of year) and a glass of whatever you have open. Which frankly ought to be plenty if you’re even contemplating applying to nursery schools. If you require more sustenance, tapenade makes an ideal accompaniment, as do some thinly sliced rounds of sauçisson sec.

Serves 4 – 6

Extra virgin olive oil
4 – 5 large yellow onions, peeled and sliced into thin half moons
1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced,
6 stems thyme
large pinch minced rosemary
1 glass dry white wine
kosher salt
black pepper
flour for dusting
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg
splash of milk
small handful oil-cured black olives

Preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C, gas mark 7).

Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Give it a generous glug of olive oil and then add your onions. Do not stir. Do not add any salt. You want these onions to caramelize. Check them often so they don’t burn, and when you see some color beginning to form, give them a good stir and allow to sit still until color forms again. Refresh the oil if the pan gets dry. Make sure the fond in the bottom of the pan doesn’t burn and continue until the onions are golden brown (see photo below).

Add the garlic, the leaves from 4 stems of thyme, the minced rosemary, and stir again. Allow to cook until quite dark and then remove from the heat. Add the glass of wine and season generously with salt and pepper. Return to medium-high heat and allow to bubble, scraping the bottom of the pan to lift up the fond, until the wine has evaporated.

Meanwhile flour a work surface and roll out your puff pastry. Trim to a rectangle of about 10 x 16 inches (about 25 x 40 cm). Line a baking sheet with parchment and then arrange your pastry sheet over the paper. With the tip of a sharp knife, lightly score an inch-wide border around the outer edge of your pastry – this helps the crust to rise. Prick the inner rectangle all over with a fork.

When the wine has evaporated and the onions are dark brown, check the seasoning with more salt and pepper if necessary, and arrange them on the center of the pastry (see photo below), and then sprinkle over the olives.

Whisk together the egg and the milk and brush over the outer border of the pastry. Place the tart in the center of the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 375 F (190 C, gas mark 5). Bake until the crust is puffed and golden (30 – 45 minutes). If your crust gets too dark before 30 minutes has passed, you may tent the tart loosely with tinfoil while it finishes baking. Remove the tart from the oven and allow to sit uncovered for 10 minutes before serving. Just before serving sprinkle over the leaves of one or two more stems of thyme.


Anonymous said...

Omg I'm clutching my stomach laughing. This reminds me of when my girls were little. It's never the boys by the way, only the girls.

Lucy said...

Egads. That all (wait no, not the tart) sounds simply awful, Amanda. Essays! Far really is ridiculous the lengths one has to go to...

For some reason I threw away the slicing disc that came with my processor...shall have to be taers for me, too.

At the risk of repeating myself, how lovely it is to have you back.

Figs, Bay, Wine said...

Anon, of course it's only the girls, The boys are still in dreamland, it's so unfair.

Lucy, essays! One school had SIX essay questions on their application. It is impossible to write that much about a baby without sounding like someone you'd never want to meet. Anyway, won't your onions be lovely and fresh right now? You'd better make this quick, or at least on a good day : ) And you're really so nice to say so. It's awfully nice to hear, and you know the feeling is mutual. xo

Peter C said...

Ditto Lucy, you were gone too long.

Gloria said...

I love onions and specially in tart look delicious, have a wonderful weekend! gloria

Toffeeapple said...

I am astonished that you have to go through that kind of thing to get a baby into nursery. It wasn't like that in my day.

The Tarte looks so delicious that I want to make it immediately. I can't do that but I will return to it when I am able.

Warda said...

Growing up, my mother would often make us tarte aux oignons on was our favorite! Your looks scrumptious with the caramelized onions, and the saltiness of the cured olives must add a great touch to the tart. I know what I'll be making this weekend :)

Joanne Rendell said...

This is perhaps my favorite blog post of all time. I love Lucy so much! She really showed the system for what its worth. She's a genius.

Figs, Bay, Wine said...

Peter, thank you. I'm really glad to be back.

Gloria, thank you! I love them in french onion soup too. Have a great weekend.

Toffeeapple, it's ridiculous. And you have to apply to so many because it's so hard to get in anywhere. There are only 2500 nursery spots in all of Manhattan. The lesson is we should all be opening preschools and making a fortune.

Warda, that's such a nice tradition! It's perfect weekend food actually. Not too much work but oh so satisfying to eat.

Jo you are too nice. Maybe you can start a school and admit us xo

Amy said...

Sounds crazy! I hope it works out well for you all.

Jenn @leftoverqueen said...

Beautiful tart! I love those onions!

Figs, Bay, Wine said...

Amy, thank you for the kind wishes. I personally think the whole thing is nuts.

Jenn, thank you my dear, me too! Nice at the end of winter.

Heide Riess said...

This, too, shall pass dear Mando....the tart looks amazingly great.....xox

Texas Foodie said...

They start out so cute and then they go nuts for a while. Don't worry, it'll all right itself before too long.

Jessica said...

i don't even need the onions -- i'm crying hysterically with laughter! So eloquently written and the tart looks simply divine.

Figs, Bay, Wine said...

Heide, thanks for the vote of confidence. I'm so impressed with your mushroon/artichoke addition. Let me know how it turns out.

Texas Foodie, all this reassurance is extremely fortifying. She can't possibly stay 2 forever.

Jessica, you're so nice, thank you. There's nothing like being able to enjoy someone else's public humiliation and feeling relieved it's not your own. I hope that happens to me one day : )

Cynthia said...

All I need is a glass of wine and half of that tart! :)

Cynthia said...

My dearest, I just saw your other comment... I am so glad that I was able to brighten your day. I meant everything that I said. Thank you for being you.

Sending you warm tight hugs.

Figs, Bay, Wine said...

Cynthia you are the best. I'm sending you a big hug too, plus that glass of wine! xo

Sylvia said...

Love caramelized onions I made one similar, with red wine.
You make me smile with your kid asking about cry :)

Anonymous said...

Top notch writing.

Wendy said...

I met a friend for lunch the other day. She used to believe that the "terrible twos" were just an excuse for badly behaved children. Then she had her own child... Needless to say, she thinks very differently now!

The tart looks absolutely scrumptious, by the way. And as for the essays... Goodness - I feel like we live on different planets. Do love to visit your planet though. :) x

Molly said...

Wow, I guess that scene in "Baby Boom" wasn't a joke. There are many things about Manhattan that I miss: the idea of writing an essay so my two-year old can build blocks for $30k a year is not one of them. Egads!

I think I just drooled all over my keyboard reading this recipe. So happy to have stumbled across your blog. Recipe bookmarked!

Figs, Bay, Wine said...

Sylvia, I love the idea of the red wine. I will be sure to try that in the fall!

Anonymous, I don't know about that, but if you can feel the depth of my public humiliation, then I haven't failed entirely. Thank you : )

Wendy, how I would like to live on your planet again, believe me! Apparently applying to kindergardens is 100 times worse. It's all so messed up and worlds away from going to the village school in Crail, which is how I can't help but feel kids come out best.

Molly, it is so funny you say that. 2 nights ago I was talking with a friend about it, and she brought up Baby Boom too (which happens, incidentally, to be a favorite movie). I remember how foreign that sand box scene used to feel to me, but it actually is true! Except the part where you put the child's name down for a school when they're born. You can't do that anymore. So glad you like the tart!

Sarah said...

You poor thing--I can't imagine the pain of applying for nursery schools in NYC. Best of luck to you!

I do look forward to enjoying this tart very soon, however!

Anonymous said...

I had a perfectly sweet 2 year old boy who missed the terrible twos entirely but has become a terrible 4, which, combined with the recent development of superhero powers, a genuinely terrible 2 year old and a three month old baby has been quite something. And the kindy thing . . . apparently our money has been well spent. He arrived home today and stated that he had slept all morning . . . "Why?" I asked. "So I won't be tired and naughty" He responded. My heart melts . . . he continues . . . "And you won't shout at me. At school they say its wrong to shout and that you should always speak nicely to people and be respectful." Sigh. Back to bad mummy school for me. I wonder if I'll have to write an essay for entry because places are oversubscribed??


PS He didn't really sleep - I cross-checked. Oh and I haven't raised my voice since.

PPS Tart looks absolutely fabulous - my husband has been going crazy on caramelized onions for pizzas. This can be a new take on it.

Figs, Bay, Wine said...

Sarah, thanks for the vote of confidence : ) And enjoy your tart!

Figs, Bay, Wine said...

Sarah!!! You make me feel vaguely ludicrous for being stressed out with one! I hate when I raise my voice. I never thought I would. Your little guys sounds absolutely adorable.

Hannah said...

Oh my goodness. I am making this the moment I get some pastry dough. Do you think it would also taste good to add some toasted pine nuts?

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