Oh, caramelized onions. How do I love thee? Swimming in the darkly savory broth of a French onion soup, tangled up in gruyére. Nested on top of a burger like a sweet-savory crown. On a slab of baguette with a swipe of soft cheese, on crostini, with a fork, with my fingers. With the depth and breadth of my soul.
And, as you may have guessed, in this luxuriant tart. Melting ribbons curled around bits of tangy, creamy goat cheese, bound by a small amount of custard and baked in a flaky, buttery pie crust: love.
A shallow tart crust keeps any heaviness at bay, allowing for rich, full flavors without clobbering anyone’s palate. It makes a lush first course or an elegant vegetarian main, and politely asks for a glass of crisp white wine. For a très français brunch or dinner menu, I’d serve this tart before a Salad Lyonnaise, that deeply satisfying, un-salad arrangement of frisée, poached egg, crisped bacon and a bright vinaigrette.
If you’ve never caramelized onions before, you might be surprised by how straightforward it is. Cooked slowly, the onions release their natural sugars (I add a healthy pinch of granulated sugar to help things along), which oxidize over low heat and turn a deep, mahogany amber. Patience is the only real trick here, as higher heat will scorch your onions. Low and slow.
And if we’re waxing poetic about such a humble treasure as onions today, I’d be remiss if I didn’t leave you in the far more capable hands of Pablo Neruda, that earthy-sexy sage of 20th century poetry. Below, an “Ode to The Onion”.
Onion, luminous flask, your beauty formed petal by petal, crystal scales expanded you and in the secrecy of the dark earth your belly grew round with dew. Under the earth the miracle happened and when your clumsy green stem appeared, and your leaves were born like swords in the garden, the earth heaped up her power showing your naked transparency, and as the remote sea in lifting the breasts of Aphrodite duplicating the magnolia, so did the earth make you, onion clear as a planet and destined to shine, constant constellation, round rose of water, upon the table of the poor. You make us cry without hurting us. I have praised everything that exists, but to me, onion, you are more beautiful than a bird of dazzling feathers, heavenly globe, platinum goblet, unmoving dance of the snowy anemone and the fragrance of the earth lives in your crystalline nature.
Caramelized Onion Tart with Goat Cheese & Thyme
makes one 9″ tart
- store-bought pie dough or homemade pâte brisée
- 1 1/2 medium onions, thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 oz goat cheese, herbed or plain
- 1 generous Tbsp fresh thyme, minced
- 1 Tbsp olive oil + 2 Tbsp butter (plus additional, if needed)
- pinch of sugar
- 2 Tbsp cooking sherry
- 3 eggs
- 1/4 C half and half, cream or milk
- 1/2 tsp salt
- pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out and line a 9″ fluted tart pan with pie dough; let rest in the fridge for 10 minutes while you prep the other ingredients. Line the prepared shell with aluminum foil and weigh down with dry beans or pie weights. Bake for 10 minutes; remove foil and beans, reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 12-15 minutes or until the bottom of the crust is fully set.
Caramelize the onions: in a large sauté pan, heat olive oil and butter over medium-low heat. Add onions and season with salt and pepper to taste, tossing to coat with the fat. Cook, stirring occasionally. After about 5 minutes, add a healthy pinch of sugar. If the pan looks dry, add another pat of butter or glug of oil to the pan. Cook slowly until the onions turn a deep amber color, about 30 minutes total. Briefly turn off heat; add sherry to deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned bits. Put back on the heat to cook off the sherry, about 2 minutes. Toss with thyme and remove from heat.
Lightly beat the eggs, dairy, 1/2 tsp salt and a healthy pinch of black pepper together. Dot the baked tart shell with half of the goat cheese and place tin on a baking sheet. Spread onions over all and dot with remaining chevré. Pour custard into shell, taking care not to overfill.
Bake 15 minutes at 350 degrees; turn the baking tray and continue to bake for 10 minutes or until the crust is browned and the filling is set. Serve warm or at room temperature.
“Ode to the Onion” from Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon: Selected Poetry of Pablo Neruda, translated by Stephen Mitchell. Translation copyright © 1997 Stephen Mitchell. Published by HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.