Nothing gives me more pleasure than to satisfy a friend's request. Within reason, that is.
Last week while my blogger friend Paul Gervais de Bédée was enjoying himself in Sardinia and St. Tropez, I got an unusual request from him. Did I have a recipe for a tarte a l'oignon? Mais non, but I was sure that with a little research and some practice on my part I could come up with a good one, if not the best one.
When I go in search of the ultimate recipe for something I haven't made before, I like to start with an authentic source. Obviously, Julia Child was the first name that came to mind but knowing her recipes, I knew hers was going to be long and involved. The next name on the list was Patricia Wells who, amongst others, had written a cookbook on bistro cooking. Not good enough. She's really more Provencal. I wanted a typical tart recipe from the region that made it famous, in this case Alsace. And then a coupe de foudre... André Soltner!
For those of you not familiar with M. Solter, he was the former owner and chef of the four-star restaurant Lutéce in New York City. For many years, long before Daniel and even Le Cirque came around, Lutéce was considered by many to be the best French restaurant in Manhattan. This recipe, traditional cafe fare in Alsace where he was born, was shared by him in his book The Lutéce Cookbook. A copy of it, now out of print, resided until recently in my mother's bookshelves but, unbeknownst to her, it had mysteriously slipped into my suitcase the last time I visited.
At about the same time as all this was going on, I was looking for a recipe for the vegetable bounty now appearing in my friend Sandra Jonas' potager. Just last weekend the onions had started making their appearance. Sweet onions, no less. So the ones I borrowed for my tart are from her Georgia vegetable garden, via my Georgia kitchen to Paul's table in Lucca, Italy. From Georgia with love, dear friend....a french tarte a l'oignon!
Just as I predicted, the tarte was sublime. When one has cooked as long as I have, one can tell just by reading the recipe.
M. Soltner recommends blind baking the tart's crust, a process in which the crust is baked, then filled, then baked again to help keep the crust firm and crisp. I strongly encourage you to do this. There is nothing worse than slicing a tart and finding that the bottom crust has disappeared. I made the dough the night before, stored it in the refrigerator overnight and rolled it out the next morning. It handled beautifully. I guess I am getting better at working with dough now that I've started making pizza at home.
If you don't have pie weights for blind baking the crust, you can use dried beans, rice, or clean, round pebbles.
Don't rush the onions. Cook them on low until they begin to caramelize. It might take as long as 20 minutes. That is really the part that takes the longest but it is well worth the effort. While the onions are cooking, open a bottle of a chilled French rosé and start slicing some fresh tomatoes for a salad. Life could be worse.
|It looks like a lot of onions|
|...but it's not once they are cooked|
Andre Soltner's Tarte A L'Oignon
* 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for tart pan
* 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
* 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
* 1/2 cup ice water
* 1 1/2 pounds onions, about 2 large) finely sliced. I used Vidalia onions.
* 1 large egg, lightly beaten
* 1/2 cup heavy cream
* 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
* 1 pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
* 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Gruyere cheese
1. Butter a 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom; set aside.
2. Make the crust: In a medium bowl, combine flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add 8 tablespoons (1 stick) chilled butter, and combine with fingers or a pastry blender until it has the texture of coarse meal. Add 1/2 cup ice water, and stir just until a dough forms. Form into a disk, and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 15 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8-inch-thick round. Fit dough into prepared tart pan; trim excess. Line with a parchment paper round, and fill with pie weights. Chill for 15 minutes. Transfer to oven, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove pie weights and parchment paper. Bake for 5 minutes more. Remove from oven, and set aside.
4. In a large skillet, heat remaining 4 tablespoons butter. Add onions, and cook, stirring frequently, until slightly browned and softened, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
5. In a small bowl, combine beaten egg, cream, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in onions.
|Ready to go in the oven|
6. Sprinkle baked tart shell with cheese. Spread onion mixture evenly over cheese. Bake until set, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve immediately.
All you need to serve with the tarte is sliced tomatoes with good olive oil, fresh basil and Balsamic vinegar. Paul should have no problem coming up with that!
I know some of you have had problems leaving comments. Here's two solutions. 1. Sign in as anonymous and sign your name at bottom 2. When signing in as Google account, uncheck the box that says "stay signed in". That should help.
All photos Lindaraxa