What: Onion Tart
Where: The Art of Simple Food
Who: Alice Waters
The onion tart is the perfect example of Alice Waters’ philosophy. In her introduction to her cookbook, she says, “Let things taste of what they are.” This, together with her love of organic, local ingredients and her support of family cooking and family meals, is what makes Alice Waters.
There are times for complexity and there are times for simplicity. Waters is all simplicity. Letting things “taste of what they are” does not mean “Don’t season it.” It means doing just enough for the flavor of the main ingredient to shine, allowing you to truly taste it. The onion tart tastes of what it is: onions. There are no other ingredients vying for the spotlight. Thus, onions are what you taste, and the taste is surprisingly delightful! But there is also the needful but subtle supporting cast of butter, fresh thyme, salt, and pastry dough (without which you’d just be eating a bowl of onions, which misses the point). Here, we have a mystery unpacked: a harsh, biting, stinging bulb becomes, without any sugar, an astoundingly sweet and amiable vegetable. I see this as such a glory and a gift from our Creator.
The trick is the slow-cooking (caramelizing) for 30 minutes in butter. Don’t let the onions brown. You’re almost just sweating them over low to medium heat until they’re as limp as noodles. This is what allows them to sweeten. And all the while, the fresh thyme is in there weaving is woody aromatics throughout.
I used her Tart and Pie Dough recipe, exchanging the 2 cups regular flour with 2 cups Pamela’s Bread Mix flour. It worked wonderfully. To her dough mix, however, I did add 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar, as I do to any pastry recipe. This results in an extra flaky crust. Waters says to use 10 ounces of the dough for the tart; however, I used the whole of her pastry recipe. Gluten-free dough cannot be rolled as far because it cannot be stretched as thin as gluten flour, so use all 20 ounces of the gluten-free pastry dough for the onion tart. Roll it out to 14 inches on two pieces of lightly-floured parchment paper (one piece will not be wide enough). I do not refrigerate my dough before working with it.
The only potential misery to this is the peeling and slicing of 6 onions! But if you use the onion goggles (and breathe through your mouth) you will not shed a single tear. I am particularly sensitive to onions, and these goggles have been a trusty savior!
Waters has you refrigerating the rolled-out pastry for 10 minutes before spreading the cooled onions onto it. Refrigeration is not a necessary step with gluten-free pastry, so I omitted it. She also says that if your onions “are still juicy, even after draining, sprinkle a little flour over the pastry (avoiding the border) before adding the onions, to soak up some of the juice while the tart cooks.”
I slid the parchmented tart right onto our pizza stone for baking (I did not preheat the stone), though you can also use a square rimless baking sheet or a cast iron pizza pan. Waters did not say to do this, but I garnished the tart with fresh thyme leaves after baking.
This mouth-watering dish was made even more delightful by getting to share it with friends. We ate this alongside Waters’ Minestrone Soup, Carrot Salad, and Winter Fruit Compote with Crème Fraiche.