Saturday, September 18, 2010

Ardmore Irish style Alsace Onion Tart

The Onion is one of the oldest crops we humans have raised. It's reckoned we, as a species, have cultivated Onions for 5 millennium. Along with leeks and garlic - members of the same family- they are amongst the oldest recorded crops. There are so many varieties that grow in so many climates it is impossible to write a full history, but they are an important and continuous part of our evolution.

I would hazard that 99.9% of people who have a kitchen garden will grow some member of the Onion family.
It is a cornerstone in crop rotation and when grown from set is very easy to cultivate.
There are varieties that are quick growing for the summer, others that can survive winter and give us early crops

Onions were a staple in ancient Egypt, they were also worshiped and used in burial ceremonies, many have been found in tombs.

Onions are mentioned as being eaten by the Israelites in Exodus: "We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic."
In the sixth century B.C., the Indian medical treatise Charaka - Sanhita celebrates the onion as medicine - a diuretic, good for digestion, the heart, the eyes and the joints.

Dioscorides, a Greek physician in first century A.D. also noted several medicinal uses of onions.
The Roman gourmet Apicius, credited with writing one of the first cookbooks had many references to onions.
Pliny the Elder wrote of Pompeii's onions. Excavators of the city found where bulbs about which he had written left behind telltale cavities in the ground where Pliny had seen them in the gardens, in the town where he was another victim of Vesuvius.

The basis of most foods we eat is the onion, Asian, Indian and European cuisines all rely heavily on them to provide the foundation of so many familiar dish's. They are the first ingredient prepped in so many curries, stir fries and stews.

But we often don't look at the onion as the centre of a recipe in itself.
Onions are treated, quite poorly in my opinion, simply as the first thing into the pot to take on and spread the spices and herbs to the rest of the meal, its own identity getting overwhelmed and lost itself in the process.

So, to perhaps do my little bit to right that wrong I am planning a couple of recipes that concentrate on the noble vegetable.

France is famous for its onion growing, and the use of onions in its cuisine. Perhaps the region of Lyon is most noted for the use of onions, but my favorite onion dish comes from Alsace.
It's simple, delicious, served hot or cold, as a snack or a starter and it's a family favorite.
To give it a little bit of a Connemara twist in the pastry I use buttermilk to bind, but water is also fine.

The onions I grew this year was a mixture of Ailsa Craig and Bedfordshire Champion from seed and Red Baron and Stuttgarter from set.
Leeks were Musselburgh, Lyon and an old Dutch type Albinstar from seed.
If there is one thing I learnt is that you plant the leek out as a winter veg because they are very slow growing, and unless you are really into heritage varieties like myself, onion sets are a lot harder than sets.
I hung the onions up to dry french style, braided up by the fireplace.

For the pastry
125g  plain flour
pinch of salt
75g  Cuinneog butter, cubed
30-45ml/2-3 tbsp buttermilk. Cuinneog also make this product.

For the filling
450g onions, halved lengthwise and very thinly sliced crosswise.
You can substitute some leeks for the onion
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
250ml cream
1 whole egg plus the yoke of an egg
1/4 teaspoon ground or grated nutmeg

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and stir in most of the butter.
Using your fingertips, rub in the butter until it resembles fine crumbs.
Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons buttermilk, then stir with a knife until it clumps together – add a little more buttermilk if it's dry.

Bring the mixture together to a rough ball. Tip out onto a lightly floured surface and knead very briefly until you have a smooth, firm dough – do not overwork as you'll end up with tough pastry!

Wrap in cling film and pop in the fridge for 30 minutes – this relaxes the gluten in the flour and stops it shrinking during cooking

While the shortcrust pastry is chilling, put some butter on a frying pan and melt at a low heat.
Add thinly sliced onions and saute until soft and translucent.
Meanwhile put the cream, egg, salt and nutmeg into a bowl and beat with a fork until blended.
Also start to preheat oven to 190°c at this time.
Take out the pastry and roll it out to the size of your lightly greased baking dish. Again I used Cuinneog butter to do this
Carefully line the pastry in the tin so the crust is just a little proud of the edge, just slightly higher.
When the onion is ready, put it into the baking dish.
Then pour over the cream mix until it comes up just to below the onion
Put into the preheated oven for 35 - 40 minutes, until the top is browned.
Serve with a nice, crisp green salad or I would recommend a warm goats cheese salad. A lot of recipes call for bacon in the tart, but to me that is a different dish, more from the Lorraine side.
It is a simple meal to prepare as I said, and its very economical as well. Lovely served with a Muscadet.
I hope you enjoy it, and please take the time to leave a comment.

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