Caramelized onion tart
You know how they
tell you you’ll use pre-calculus when you grow up, but you highly doubt it? When I was in high school, I didn’t like pre-calculus much. I used to sit in class feeling queazy and thinking I might die from appendicitis. (I wish I was kidding!) The teacher, a small, dry man, took me aside and told me I couldn’t avoid everything that confused me. Ha! Proved him wrong! I’ve been doing that for over 40 years, and I pretty much never
use pre-calculus skills in the real world. I took another class called Writing and Responding. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I said it was one of those classes that shapes your life. It was taught by Carol Lefelt, and I went on to do independent studies with her on Shakespeare, and (If I recall correctly) female poets. She was remarkable! Very questioning, very curious – contagiously so. In Writing and Responding, we learned how to respond constructively to other writers’ work. I’ve thought a lot, through the years, that some of these lessons I have used in real life, not just in responding to writing, but in responding to people! For instance, after reading a piece, you always start by saying a couple of things you like. Specific things, be they ever so small. This seems like such a simple idea, but I don’t know how many times I find myself thinking, “no, no, no…start with something nice, then get to the complaint.” I went to Malcolm’s second grade parent-teacher conference a few years ago. Before I’d sat down, before I’d even crossed the room, his teacher said, “Malcolm is all over the place! He breaks all his pencils!” And I thought, “What you really meant to say, surely, was that my son is so bright and imaginative, and he has so much energy …” And then get to the part about the pencils. Right? Another lesson – instead of saying you don’t like something, or that it doesn’t work, you ask questions about it. That way, the writer, in pondering your questions, will understand that they didn’t get their point across, that they’ve caused confusion instead of clarity. Wouldn’t that be nice? Instead of being scolded, to be asked a few questions that showed you the error of your ways. Another thing we learned, on the writing side, was not to worry about being ready to write, or knowing exactly what you’d like to write, but using the act of writing as a way of figuring that out. “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” I like this idea a lot. And I’ve found it to be true. In writing, as in life, sometimes the less you fret, the better things turn out. Admittedly, this appeals to me, partly, because I’m a vague and lazy person. And, obviously, some things need to be carefully planned and plotted. You’re not going to build a cabinet, say, or a rocket ship, just slapping some things together and hoping it works. But other things – things that come from some part of your brain you’re not in complete control of, seem to work better when you just do them. You just let them evolve as they need to evolve. I think cooking is like that – for me at least. I’m not a fan of following recipes. I like to dream a bit about what would taste good, and then see what I have, and let it come out as it does.
So – we got some onions from the farm. It might seem odd, but this has been one of my biggest veg challenges to date. I like shallots, chives, scallions… I just don’t love actual onions. They’re too much! I don’t like the smell of them clinging to walls and clothes like some bad dream from a Tom Waits song. But I tried caramelizing them, and I think they’re quite nice. I followed Deborah Madison’s recipe to the letter (except that I halved it). If ever I were to follow a recipe, it would certainly be hers. She’s my hero! And I decided to put them on a big, pizza-like tart. With brie, capers, and artichoke hearts, and fresh sage and fresh thyme. Because I had all those things, and they told me they’d be good together! And they were! This was very easy, and very tasty. I used a buttery pate brisée crust, but you could use pizza dough instead, if you were in the mood.
Here’s Respond React, from The Roots
One batch pate brisée
Caramelize 4 onions in this way…
1 cup grated mozzarella
1/2 cup brie, cut into small cubes
1 cup artichoke hearts (canned, packed in brine) cut into small chunks
2 or 3 T capers
5 or 6 fresh sage leaves, chopped
2 or 3 thyme sprigs, leaves only
salt and plenty of pepper
Melt 2 T butter in a large frying pan. Add the onions, chopped into 1/4 inch wide pieces, and 2 or 3 thyme sprigs. Stir and fry for about five minutes, till they’re wilty and reduced. Reduce heat, cover and cook for 20 minutes. Add 1/2 cup dry white wine and one teaspoon salt. COok for about another hour, stirring every 20 minutes or so – more as you go along towards the end, when the onions will start to be a bit sizzly and brown. When they’re caramel colored, reduced, and very soft, and 1 t sherry vinegar and lots of pepper.
Preheat the oven to 425
Roll your chilled dough so that it fits comfortably on a big cookie sheet. Fold the edges a bit to make a crust.
Spread mozzarella over in a thin layer. Dot it here and there with as much caramelized onions as you like, and save the rest for another recipe.
Sprinkle the capers over, spread the brie evenly, spread the artichoke hearts evenly.
Cook till brown and bubbly – about 20 minutes.