Friday, 26 June 2015

French Onion Tart (or I haven't done a recipe for a while have I?)

I emerged from university all those years ago and set up my first proper home in Bath. It coincided with my mum presenting me with my first Elizabeth David. It was an old battered copy, probably from a jumble sale or a charity shop, although I might be doing her an injustice. Some of the pages were a little loose, and they were discoloured and scented with that magical ancient musty book smell. Wait a minute, I'll go and find it so I can show it to you...

I can remember reading through it and thinking that it could well be the only cookery book I would ever need. These days I have probably got over a hundred cookery books, but there is one recipe from this one that follows me around and knocks on the door as a very welcome visitor every six months or so. I know it so well that I haven't looked the recipe up for years and in fact I've just found out that I've made a little amendment or two to it in the interim. I made this recipe back in the old days in Bath, and it was the first meal I cooked on the first day in our current house, 14 years ago, on the basis that it was the one thing I knew I'd be able to buy all the ingredients for in the local shop. I've made it to impress people; I've made it as comfort food. I think I even made it in honour of Keith Floyd when I heard he'd died. And today happiness was a couple of hours while the children were out, some gentle music and a pile of onions...

Tarte à l'oignon (or Onion Tart if you look in the index)

A lot of onions: more than you can fit on a chopping board once they are peeled and halved (Elizabeth David says 2lbs), finely sliced
40g butter
2 eggs
70g gruyère cheese, grated
100ml double cream (my addition, I'm not sure when that started but there didn't seem to be enough cholesterol in it before)

Pastry (again a few additions to make the crusts a little more welcome)
100g plain flour
50g butter
Salt & pepper
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
A good grating of Parmesan

Melt the butter in a big frying pan, over the lowest heat possible, and add the sliced onions. It might be hard to fit all of them in the pan but it does shrink down over time. Season them well and keep stirring occasionally. At first the mixture will be wet but as it cooks it will start caramelising on the base of the pan so you need to ensure you turn it all over. Keep cooking very slowly - it usually takes an hour or so - until there is a little colour everywhere and the huge pile of onions has turned into a luscious few tablespoonfuls of loveliness. Like this...

Let's have a little close up, can you smell them yet?

While this is all going on, make your pastry by combining the flour, butter, seasonings and parmesan. Oh and turn your oven on, 180 degrees or gas mark 4.

 Rub in the butter, then add just enough water to bring it all together. Mine today was bit too wet so I had to add some more flour.

Wrap it in cling film and put in the fridge for half an hour. Then roll it out and line your quiche tin. A circle of baking parchment and some baking beans and Bob's your uncle. Into the oven with it for 15 minutes.

Now take it out and leave it and the onions to cool while you go out to pick up your daughter from her friend's house, discuss summer holiday playdates and buy some secondhand roller skates from the friend. By the time you get back, the pan will be the perfect temperature for you to add the eggs, cream and most of the cheese, plus a little more seasoning, and give it a good stir.

And the baking beans can go back in their jar. Turn your oven back on and put your filling into the pastry case. Top with the rest of the cheese.

Cook for... well... half an hour or so. Until it looks like this. Funny how some of the best food just looks beige... Serve with some good tomato-heavy salad and vinaigrette, and a good glass of red wine to raise to the memory of Elizabeth David and Keith Floyd. Bon appétit.

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