Last night’s dinner
This is one of my all-time favorite things to make. It’s also one the husband’s all-time favorite things to eat. When you add in the fact that this tart really isn’t that expensive (and if it’s done in steps, it’s not too fussy either), there’s a win-win…win, I guess.
You’re going to have to make puff pastry to make this tart. Please don’t be afraid. It’s not that hard. The recipe included here isn’t even “real” puff pastry. The main thing to remember is that all pastry likes to be cold. The goal is to make lots of really thin layers of flour and butter by rolling the pastry out and then folding it on itself, and then rolling it out again. The reason the fat (butter) needs to be cold is so it will keep together as a layer of fat, rather than just mixing into the flour (which is what it will do when it’s soft). When you think about it, it makes perfect sense – if you have cold butter, it’s a mailable solid that you can flatten. If you have warm butter, then it’s time for lobster and artichokes or maybe some nice toast.
Anchovies are not everyone’s thing. We love them. If you don’t, that’s ok. Make this anyway. Skip the anchovies (it’ll be cheaper). Or just use a couple. It doesn’t matter. The main reason to eat this tart is the onions and the pastry.
To encourage the pastry-timid, here are some photos of the tart.
Side note: If someone would please write a nice letter to Santa and put in a good word about me and mention that I need a decent SLR camera, that would be really grand.
And now, the recipes…
Fakeout Puff Pastry
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen
5 to 6 tablespoons ice water
Sift together flour and salt into a chilled large metal bowl (or a plastic one if you don’t have a metal one – it’s not that big of a deal). Set a grater in flour mixture and coarsely grate frozen butter into flour, gently lifting flour and tossing to coat butter (grate all the butter into the bowl, then toss it together).
Drizzle 5 tablespoons ice water evenly over flour mixture and gently stir with a fork until it’s mixed in.
Test the dough by gently squeezing a small handful – it should hold together without crumbling apart. If necessary, add another tablespoon water, stirring until just incorporated and testing again. (If you overwork mixture or add too much water, pastry will be tough.)
Put the dough on a cutting board (or your counter if it’s smooth and clean) and smoosh and pat it together to form a 5-inch square (roughly, no rulers!), then pull some plastic wrap around it tightly (to help it hold together) and chill, about 30 minutes. The dough will be lumpy and streaky and won’t really hold together all that well.
Roll out dough on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin into a 15- by- 8-inch rectangle (roughly). This is not going to look pretty and it’s totally ok to need to push some of the little lumpy bits back into the pastry. I have a pastry scraper and during the first two rollouts, I use it a lot to sweep everything that tries to escape and push it into the side of the dough. You can also use a scraper (or heck, you could use a ruler I suppose, so maybe nix the no ruler rule) to help shore everything up and make it into a pretty rectangle because, let’s face it, those years in therapy didn’t help you get over your ridiculous need to be perfect. Arrange dough with a short side nearest you, then fold dough into thirds like a letter: bottom third up and top third down over dough. Rewrap dough and chill until firm, about 30 minutes. It’s still going to be pretty lumpy and streaky.
Arrange dough with a short side nearest you on a floured surface and repeat rolling out, folding, and chilling 2 more times. You need to let the dough chill at least 30 minutes each time! If you don’t, you will end up with a lot of roux, which is good stuff, but much better for white sauce. Brush off any excess flour, then wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour. Now the dough should be fairly smooth and uniform, not lumpy and streaky.
At this point you can either use the pastry within three days (if you don’t, you will have gray pastry, which is probably still delicious but looks disgusting) or you can store in the freezer, probably indefinitely, as long as you put it in a freezer bag. If you do decide to freeze it, take it out of the freezer about an hour before you want to make whatever and let it start thawing. When it gets soft enough to unfold the flaps (it will still be quite frozen and you’ll need to wedge something like a dinner knife between the flaps to get them apart), do that and let it get get more thawed out (this will speed thawing). Once it’s soft enough to roll (but still very very cold), fold it back up and roll it out once more, to the thickness you want (usually about 1/4 inch). No matter what you do, DO NOT LET IT GET TO BE ROOM TEMPERATURE OR YOU WILL CRY WHEN IT’S BAKED AND THERE’S NO CRYING IN BAKING!
Onion and Anchovy Tart So Good The Husband Ate Three Pieces
This is also more or less, Julia Child’s recipe from “The Way To Cook,” page 393**
Are you ready for this?
4 cups of thinly sliced onions
3 Tablespoons of oil (or use butter if you really feel like you need some more)
A bit of salt
A bit of white wine for deglazing
Gruyere (fancy pants, expensive but very yummy Swiss cheese) or Parmesan cheese – about 4 Tablespoons
A tin of anchovies
Cook the onions in the oil in a large frying pan with a lid over med-high heat until soft and sweet, about 25 minutes. Stir them a every couple of minutes at first, then cover them almost all the way (leave a little gap for some of the steam to come out) and let them really cook. When you have dark brown stuff on the bottom of the pan, you know you’re doing it right. Every few minutes, scrape all that stuff into the onions. Right before you’ve finished cooking them, pour some white wine (maybe a quarter cup) and use that to get up all the good brown stuff. You’ll know the onions are done when they are caramel colored and kind of taste like candy (for onions – it’s not going to taste like an actual caramel).
Crap! I forgot the salt. I always do that. Sprinkle the onions with salt at the beginning.
Let the onions cool before using in the tart (or you’ll melt the pastry and remember what we said about crying?).
To put the whole thing together:
Roll out the pastry to make a disk about 8 or 9 inches across (I take a dinner plate and turn it upside down on the pastry and then cut around with a small sharp knife). At this point, it’s a good idea to put the disk back into the freezer for a few minutes, just to get the butter hard again. Grate enough cheese to cover the disk (about 3 or 4 tablespoons – I just use a hand grater and do it until it’s covered), leaving maybe 1/4 inch around the edge (it doesn’t need to be perfect, so don’t fuss about it – you’ll see why you do this in a minute). Cover the cheese with the onions. Decoratively arrange the anchovies on top (spell out your sweet thang’s name if you want) – we are crazy for anchovies, so I use more or less a whole tin. Use however many you want, or ditch them and don’t, or use something else. The anchovies aren’t the point (unless you’re us). Use a fork to crimp the edges up (see the photo above). Basically, you sort of push the edge up and then smash the “bend” down with a fork to make the edge stay up. Photo explains it.
Bake this thing at 425 for about 30 minutes in the middle of the oven. If you have a pizza stone, bake directly on that. If not, put the tart on a cookie sheet (heavy duty if you have one, if not, don’t worry about it). Be careful and check on it – you don’t want to burn the onions. Also, the last time I made this, it puffed up a lot in the middle, but it goes down once you take it out and it cools a bit. If it doesn’t, just stab it – it’ll be fine.
Let cool to room temperature and cut it up! We like to eat this with a green salad and a lot of red wine.
That’s it – it’s really not hard at all. If you make the pastry disks in advance and freeze those (instead of the “letter” of pastry), you can have this thing done in no time and you can do it on auto-pilot while you’re doing other things, like enjoying the company of your favorite person in the world or listening to Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me. Or both at the same time.
*I managed to get this shot off just moments before the piece of tart was devoured.
**When you get all brave and comfy with pastry, you can try Julia’s recipe for the real deal, puff pastry. It’s also not that hard, but a bit more finicky and time consuming. But when you do make it, you’ll bake it and you will not believe that you made anything that can do what it does or taste like it does. It’s extremely cool.