Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Onion Tart

I need a good cry from time to time, and these last few months, as grief sits in my stomach like a lead weight, I've appreciated the catalyst of external factors. Last week, I had a bout of gastro. Disgusting as it was, the pre- and post-viral weepiness was very cathartic. I may have been absolutely pathetic, but I felt much better for getting those tears out.

On the weekend, friends came over for dinner. The next batch of tears was settling in my stomach; it's the middle of winter; and my pantry was full of onions. So I made an onion tart.

I sliced up six onions as thinly as possible, which got the tears rolling. During the evening, we talked about death and bodies and sorrow and loss, and the richness of the custard and the smoothness of the onions salted by my tears felt just right.

This is a rich and sumptuous dish, just the thing to share. The onions take a long time to cook, but I make them and the pastry case the night before, once the kids are in bed and all is peaceful. The next evening, it takes just a minute to put together. Then all I have to do is slip the tart into the oven, assemble a salad, accept a glass of wine, and chat as the house fills with the smell of good food.

Onion Tart
For a 22cm/9 inch tart

For the pastry:
- 120g flour
- 50g unsalted butter
- 3 tbs water
- pinch salt

For the filling:
- 50g unsalted butter
- 2 tbs olive oil
- pinch of thyme
- 6 medium onions, thinly sliced into half moons
- 2 eggs
- 300ml double cream

Place the flour, a pinch of salt and the butter in a food processor. Process for 30 seconds, or until the butter and flour are incorporated; there will be no loose flour flying around. Add the water a tablespoon at a time, and process for another 30 seconds to a minute or until the mixture resembles tiny soft pebbles.

Flour the bench and a rolling pin. Tip the pastry onto the bench, and gently form into a flat disc with your hands. Roll it out, always rolling from the centre to the edge, until it fits your dish. Drape the pastry over the rolling pin and lift it carefully into the dish. Pat into place. Trim the edges.* Place the dish into the freezer, and leave it there until you need it.

Warm the butter, olive oil and thyme in a wide heavy-based skillet. When the butter has melted, add the onions and a good sprinkling of salt (the salt prevents the onions from sticking). Stir well, then turn the heat right down and place the lid on. Leave for 30 minutes, then stir gently. Cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the onions are completely soft but not coloured. Remove the lid, and cook for a few more minutes to evaporate any liquid, then take the pan off the heat and leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180C. If you are using a porcelain dish, place a baking sheet in the oven – this will give an the initial burst of heat which firms up the base.** Beat the eggs, then mix in the cream and the onions. Pour into the pastry case. Bake on the baking sheet for 40 minutes until just set – there should be a slight wobble in the centre. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for at least ten minutes. It will set further; and it tastes better tepid rather than hot.

*I use the trimmings to make mini jam tarts for my daughters – a good counterbalance to their usual diet of sourdough bread and chickpeas!

**I am assuming here the pastry is frozen. If not, you should bake it blind at 190C for 15 minutes, then empty out the beans, prick the base with a fork, and bake for another 5 minutes. Brush egg over the surface, and continue from the double asterisk.

Adapted from a recipe by Tamasin Day-Lewis in The Art of the Tart.

(Local: onions, thyme, olive oil, eggs, cream. Not local: flour, butter, salt.)


  1. You cried into the onions? I've cried into my beer before - but only I ingested that.
    ⊙︿⊙ I'm not a big fan of bodily fluid in my food.

    1. I may have... and my guests lived to dine another day!