I caught up with her just outside the barn; she heard my step behind her and turned, startled. She glanced about quickly, but saw we were alone. Realizing that there was no way of putting off a confrontation, she squared her shoulders under the woolen cloak and lifted her head, meeting my eyes straight on.
“I thought I’d best tell Young Ian to unsaddle the horse,” she said. “Then I’m going to the root cellar to fetch up some onions for a tart. Will ye come with me?”
“I will.” Pulling my cloak tight around me against the winter wind, I followed her into the barn.
Diana Gabaldon, Voyager (Chapter 38 – I Meet a Lawyer)
Nothing like a little confrontation to clear the air between good-sisters.
Their tête-à-tête in the root cellar is tense to start, but by the end, Claire’s and Jenny’s anger has followed the path through mutual sadness and fear of rejection, then climbed to the peak of hope, promise and renewed friendship.
All accomplished face to face in a matter of minutes.
I love my modern life, full of social media and connectivity…but sometimes, I long for the simple 70s of my childhood — when nobody phoned after 8pm, TV was 13 channels, and we all made friends on the playground instead of Facebook.
The simplicity this onion tart makes it one of my favourite foods on earth. It’s on my brunch table, in one form or another, 9 times out of 10, and I always miss it when it’s not.
Lightly sauteed onions and bacon are nestled in a buttery tart shell and blanketed with a velvety, egg-enriched bechamel. It’s creamier than a quiche and the onions are mild, despite the fact that they fill the crust.
This is also a favourite of my Chef Instructor from culinary school, Chef Patrice. A regional dish from the French province of his birth, Alsace, he was very definite about how it should be prepared. I’ve risked his wrath and made the bacon optional, but that’s the only change I’ve made to his master recipe.
The knife skill that we learned before tackling this recipe for the first time was a julienne. Julienned onions are used more often in professional kitchens than sliced because their size is relatively consistent, which means they cook more evenly.
To julienne an onion, trim the ends and peel. Cut the onion in half lengthwise, then put the cut edge on the cutting board. Work right to left – unless you’re cack-handed 😉 – and angle your knife to make graduated 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick slices. When you get to the middle and your knife is at 90° to the cutting board, clear away the cut onions and tip the freshly cut edge down to the cutting board. Again, working right to left, finish julienning the first half of the onion.
Repeat with the second half.
Confused? There are more pictures here that will explain it all.
What differentiates this tart from an onion quiche is the béchamel.
A béchamel is a basic white sauce made from milk, roux and seasonings. A roux is equivalent amounts of flour and butter, cooked together. Traditionally, the seasonings are salt, white pepper and nutmeg.
It’s pretty much a cheese sauce before you add the cheese, with a little nutmeg to make it fancy.
All of the components of this dish – the crust, the bacon, the onions, the béchamel – can all be made up to 2 days ahead, then assembled and baked on the day you plan to eat it. That said, I think this tart is even better a day or two after it’s baked, so I always prepare it the day before, then pull it from the fridge a couple of hours before service, to give it time to come to room temperature.
Toss a green salad to go on the side, and brunch doesn’t get much easier than that!
(Click on the recipe title below for a printable version of the recipe.)
: Creamy, mild and delicious. Perfect for brunch.
Yield: 11” tart, serves 6-8
- Yellow Onions – 1 lb (500 g)
- Butter – 2 Tble (30 ml)
- Olive Oil – 2 Tble (30 ml)
- Dried Thyme – ½ tsp (3 ml)
- Butter – 2 Tble (30 ml)
- Flour – 2 Tble (30 ml)
- Whole Milk – 2 Cups (500 ml)
- Nutmeg, freshly grated – pinch
- Eggs – 2
- Bacon, diced – 2 slices (optional)
- Short Crust Dough, chilled – 1/2 recipe
- s+p – to taste
Read the recipe through at least once before you begin.
Onions: Julienne (slice) the onions thinly, about ⅛” thick. Heat the butter and olive oil in a large pan over medium heat until melted. Add the onions, thyme and a pinch of salt. Saute until soft and translucent (no browning), about 15 minutes. Set aside.
Béchamel: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When frothing, whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk and heat, whisking occasionally, until it comes to the boil. Boil slowly for 1 minute, stirring constantly. The mixture will be very thick. Season to taste with salt (about 1 teaspoon) and pepper. Cool 10 minutes.
While the béchamel cools, separate 1 of the eggs into yolk and white. Beat the whole egg and the yolk together. Lightly beat the white and set aside.
Once the béchamel has cooled slightly, stir in the nutmeg, whole egg and yolk.
Assemble & Bake: Preheat the oven to 350° F (175° C).
Roll out the shortcrust dough into an 11-inch tart pan. Prick holes all over the surface of the crust with a fork, then par-bake as directed. When it’s out of the oven, brush the bottom with the egg white to seal.
As the tart shell par-bakes, crisp the optional diced bacon in a small pan over medium heat. Drain the bits over paper towel.
Increase the oven to 400° F (205° C)
Centre the tart pan with crust on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle the bacon bits on the bottom of the crust, top with the onions in an even layer, then pour the béchamel over top.
Bake until almost set in the centre, about 30-35 minutes.
Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Wrap leftovers well and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Tastes even better the next day.
Ith gu leòir! (Eat Plenty)