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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Onion Tart...with buttermilk. (Alternate Title: Do not fear the pâte brisée.)

Yesterday, I recommended saving the rest of an onion for an onion tart, or tarte à l'oignon, as we say en France. Guess what I couldn't stop thinking about? If you answered "a nice bottle of Sancerre accompanied by an onion tart", you would be right. The Sancerre was easy enough; I had to go to church last night to set up for a service*, but I didn't have to actually sit through the service and there was just enough time to slip out to the package store**.

Earlier in the day, I had made the pâte brisée, which was chilling in the fridge when I got home from church. I couldn't do it during Baby J's nap time, because I didn't want to risk waking him up with the Cuisinart. Now, my French mother in law can whip up a
pâte brisée by hand. I'm sure I could, too, but it's much easier in the Cuisinart and the Larousse Gastronomique*** approves. Pâte brisée is a fancy name for basic pie crust. Don't be intimidated, it's easy. You will need a food processor, though. If you want a free one, I recommend going to someone's house who hates to cook but got married in the eighties. I guarantee they'll have an unused food processor. I personally burnt out the motors of three never-used, hand-me-down processors before my sweet husband bought me a Cuisinart. And don't be mad at him for giving me an appliance. I wanted it real bad and it flipping rocks. The cheap ones are fine, by the way, they just won't last long if you use them a lot.

Pâte brisée

In the food processor, dump the following:
  • one heaping cup of all-purpose flour. By heaping, I mean don't skim across the top, just reach into your bag of flour with the measuring cup and take a big scoop.
  • a pinch of salt. Using imprecise measurements will make you feel more French and your food will come out better.
  • a heaping spoonful of sugar. The sugar is actually optional, so use as much or as little as you like.
  • a stick of butter, cold and chopped into pieces. The pieces don't have to be very small, maybe 8-10 per stick.
Switch on your processor and pulse until all the ingredients are mixed. It should look crumbly, about the consistency of potting soil.

Now add two tablespoons of very cold water. Make yourself a glass of ice water and take it from there. If you're making the pastry for someone other than immediate family, spoon the water out before you take a sip. Or before anyone sees you take a sip.

Use the pulse button again. After a few seconds, the dough will bind and pull away from the walls of the processor. Take out your dough blob, make it into a ball, wrap it in tin foil and put it in the fridge for at least an hour.

Onion Tart

If your baby is still behaving, you can now caramelize the onions. In addition to the onion you saved from yesterday, you should slice two more onions. Red onions are best. It doesn't matter if your onion from the day before was red or white or yellow. Slice the onions very thin. If you have one, use a mandoline. I have one, but I forgot to use it and the onions were fine...but I almost sliced my finger. You should end up with about eight cups of sliced onion. Put them in a container and dump a small half cup of buttermilk over them. Cover the container and put it in the fridge. Go console your baby and read him that stupid Wheels on the Bus book for the fifty millionth time. Give him a dried fig to distract him so you can go cook the onions. He likes dried figs.

In a big frying pan, melt a chunk of butter and add a splash of olive oil. Dump the onions in, buttermilk and all. Sprinkle salt on the onions and cook them, stirring every so often, until they're translucent. That should take about ten minutes, enough time to read the stupid Wheels on the Bus book a couple more times. Lower the heat and cook them for a long time, until they're nice and brown. That's going to take about thirty minutes. You can read the stupid book twenty more times or you can distract the baby and waste some time read fascinating and informative blogs like this one on the internet.

When the onions are browned, splash in just a little balsamic vinegar, no more than a teaspoon or two. Continue cooking and stirring the onions for a few more minutes to distribute the vinegar. You'll probably have to just hold the baby while you do it, which you can count as your weight lifting for the day. Make sure you hold him away from the stove, though. The pan should be on the back burner. Duh.

Turn the heat off. Leave the onions on the stove (no need to dirty another container) while you go pick up your big kids from school. Bring them home and referee whatever fights they might have while simultaneously making them do their homework. Take them to their weekly Kid Yoga class, which seems to really mellow them out. While they're at Yoga, take the baby to the grocery store and buy a hunk of Gruyère cheese. And bananas. And olives. And milk. And a cookie for the baby, because he's darn cute. Pick up the kids from Yoga and take them home to do more homework, which they'll now do with pleasure, because they're all Yoga'd up.

For the next couple of hours, do whatever it is you do this time of day, until you're ready to make the tart.

Open the bottle of Sancerre and pour yourself a glass. Isn't that nice? Preheat the oven to 450°. Take your pâte brisée out of the fridge and leave it on the counter for about five minutes while you grate about a cup of the Gruyère. Eat some olives if you're hungry.

Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to about a ten inch diameter. Put it on a baking sheet. Technically, you're supposed to put it on parchment paper on the baking sheet, but I didn't have any and my husband was still at work, so I couldn't go out and get any. According to the world wide internets, paper bags can catch on fire at 475°, so I decided not to use one of those. I just put the dough right on the cookie sheet, ungreased. I recommend heavy duty aluminum sheets, because that's what I like.

Sprinkle most of the cheese on the pastry, reserving a couple of spoonfuls. Put the caramelized onions on top of the cheese, leaving about two inches of pastry around the edge. Fold the extra pastry over the onions. You'll have a hole in the middle so the onions can peek out. Don't fold it too precisely, because you want it to look all French country cooking. Also, you've probably had a second glass of wine by now and you won't be able to be too precise anyway. Brush the pastry with buttermilk. When it's cooked, that'll give it a nice glazed look, kind of like your eyes are glazed from the wine. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top and put it in the preheated oven. Bake it for about ten minutes, enough time to clean the counter and eat some more olives. Lower the heat to 350° and cook for about 25 more minutes, until the crust is brown and looks just right. Make sure you let the finished tart sit for a few minutes on the counter to cool before you cut into it.

By the time it's ready, your husband should be home from work, the kids will be asleep and all will be right in the world.

Namasté, y'all!

* Yeah, I'm an old lady, in case you hadn't guessed that. I'm on Altar Guild at my church. As far as volunteer work goes, it's great, because you do it by yourself. Volunteer work with others can be very annoying for a control freak like me.

** Further evidence that I'm an old lady. Instead of liquor store, which is so boringly obvious, I call it the package store. Did you know that term originated in 1933, after the repeal of Prohibition? It was a small concession to the anti-liquor people. Liquor could be purchased, but had to be concealed in a package. Fascinating.

*** Please pardon all the footnotes. I stayed up too late. If you don't already own a copy of the Larousse, get one. I got mine when I was in college and I refer to it all the time. It's kind of a time suck, though, because looking up one thing always leads you to look up another. Kind of like the internet.

3 comments:

Brenda said...

Now I am craving onion tart. Your recipes are a riot BTW!

Becky said...

How do you get 8 cups of sliced onion from 3 onions? I used 4 and got 4 cups more or less, but although it barely fit in the pan to cook, it certainly melted down into too little for the crust. I've been loving your recipes because they are easy to adapt to ingredients I can get here in Europe. Only do you have an idea how to make biscuits without shortening? That is one thing I can't get here - my mom just brought me some crisco sticks and I am saving them for Christmas baking. I really enjoy your blog, I feel lots less homesick!

Annie said...

Hi Becky! I didn't know how to get in touch with you, so I'm answering here. They were really big onions and I didn't pack them down in the measuring bowl - if I packed them tighter, I'd have less onion - maybe four cups or so.

As for biscuits without shortening, that's an interesting challenge and I'll have to work on it...

Best!
Annie