Onion Tart (Tarte aux Oignons)

June 2, 2009

Yes, life has many onions.
~Skip Coryell

While tartes aux oignons are considered a specialty of the formerly embattled northeast border region of Alsace, they are found throughout the country — so it is a recipe that bodes well in any département.

Passed back and forth between tribes, royalty, governments and churches over centuries, Alsace-Lorraine (Ger: Elsass-Lothringen) eventually evolved into a region shaped by both French and German cultures. Space does not permit me to adequately recount its strife-ridden, treaty-rent past. Suffice it to say despite its beauty Alsace-Lorraine was partially born of a dolorous recipe with unsavory ingredients: men, liberally seasoned with lands, boundaries, intolerance, suppression and religion. Sound familiar?

Even an aperçu of modern times reflects these geo-political vacillations. Following the Franco-Prussian War, the area was annexed by the German Empire in 1871 via the Treaty of Frankfurt and became a Reichsland. At the conclusion of World War I, the province reverted to France under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919. Nazi Germany then again occupied the territory during World War II, beginning in 1940, but the end of the war placed Alsace-Lorraine back in French hands where it has remained since.  With each war, inhabitants of this fair land were made to overhaul their allegiances, citizenship, language, and the like to appease the conquering forces.

In more recent history, efforts have been made to embrace Alsace-Lorraine’s duel Gaullic and Germanic personalities. The cuisine of both cultures have retained their individual identities yet have also remained intertwined — bäeckeofe, foie gras, sauerkraut (choucroute), quiche lorraine, sausages, smoked pork, and so on, all cohabitate peacefully.

ONION TART (TARTE AUX OIGNONS)

1 recipe pâte brisée*

3 slices bacon or pancetta
2 C yellow onions, peeled and very thinly sliced
1/4 C chives, chopped
Pinch of dried thyme

3 large organic, free range eggs
2-3 C heavy cream
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Roll out the pâte brisée on a floured board, and line a 9” removable-bottom tart shell with it. Flute the edge of the pastry. Cover with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator while making the filling.

Cut the bacon into lardons and fry in a heavy skillet until crispy brown. Set aside and drain on paper towels.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and sauté the onions, stirring regularly, until they are tender and just beginning to caramelize. Stir in the bacon, chives and thyme until well mixed. Remove the skillet from the heat.

In a small bowl, beat the egg and cream together. Add a pinch or two of salt and pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Add this to the onions, stirring to combine.

Pour the onion and egg mixture into the pastry shell. Bake tart for about 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the custard is firm. Let rest 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm or room temperature.

*Pâte Brisée

1 1/4 C all-purpose flour
6 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 T lard or shortening
1/4 teaspoon salt

3 T ice water

Place all the ingredients except the water, in a large bowl. Add the water mash and work with your hands and fingers so that is assembled into a solid, smooth ball. If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Makes for rich but delicate fare when paired with a simple green salad, a crusty baguette, and a crisp Alsatian white or Provençal rosé

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