Friday, 11 January 2019

RECIPE: Alsatian Onion Tart

I don’t think there's anything genuinely Alsatian about this, it's my own version of a dish that originally appeared in The Pauper's Cookbook back in the 1970s and I've been cooking and tweaking it ever since, trying to keep the quicheyness (is that a word? If not it should be) while capturing some of the flavours of northern French dishes I've experienced over the years. I wouldn't call my version a pauper's dish - butter, cream and Emmenthal aren't cheap - but the bulk comes from onions which are still a bargain.

You will need a 23cm uncooked shortcrust pastry flan case, and if you are using bought pastry make sure it isn’t the sweetened kind. If you are making your own, 120g flour and 60g of your chosen fat should give you the right amount of pastry.

You will also need quite a lot of time. Not that you will be spending hours slaving over a hot stove, but there's some long, slow cooking with occasional stirring involved, so keep this to make on a wet afternoon when you don’t feel like going out. Pop a good film on the TV and remember to give it a stir in each commercial break.

For the filling you will need
1kg onions, peeled and roughly chopped
6 sprigs of thyme
100ml cold water
30g butter
3 large or extra large eggs
50ml double cream
50g Emmenthal cheese, roughly grated

Place the onions, water and leaves from the thyme in a heavy, lidded non stick pan. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to very low and cook for about 2 hours, until the onions are extremely soft and just about melting, stirring frequently to make sure they don’t catch. Keep an eye on the liquid and add more if necessary.

When they are really soft, increase the heat to high and continue cooking, stirring very frequently, until all the water has been driven off. Stir in the butter and reduce the heat to medium. Continue cooking for 10 minutes until you have a rather unappetising looking brown mush like that in the photo below. During this 10 minutes, stir a few times but do allow a few places to catch slightly to give a hint of “fried onion” taste.

Set aside and allow to cool slightly. You can do this in advance and use it completely cold, but in any case it needs to cool enough for the eggs not to scramble when you add them.

Heat the oven to 220C, 200  fan, 450 F, gas mark 8.  While it is heating, beat together the eggs, cream, a little salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Stir this into the onion mixture along with about half the grated cheese, turn the whole lot into the flan case and level the top, then sprinkle over the remaining cheese.

Bake for 15 minutes then reduce the oven temperature to 180C, 160 fan, 350F, gas mark 4 and continue cooking for 45 minutes to an hour until set and browned. If it starts to look too brown before it is fully cooked, drape gently with a sheet of greaseproof paper.

Best allowed to stand for half an hour before eating, so it is tepid rather than hot.

Serve with green salad and a few new potatoes. Hazelnut mayonnaise ( use your favourite mayonnaise recipe replacing half the olive oil with hazelnut oil) makes a delicious salad dressing to serve with this.

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