french onion tart

A few years back Isabella and I were strolling through a neighborhood supermarket. Her eyes locked with a display of blueberries, and in her sweet little voice she asked if we could buy some.

It was January.

Close friends can already predict my answer. The rest of you might think me insane.

I told my then four year old daughter she couldn't have blueberries. I know, you're wondering why would anyone do such a thing.

For me the answer was very simple. Blueberries in January were a want, not a need. I didn't feel guilty at all. I didn't think I was denying her anything. I might even go so far as to say I was giving her the gift of reducing her carbon footprint.

Meanwhile, I had a draw full of apples from the Greenmarket. Locally grown apples that didn't require a passport to enter our food system.

Were they organic apples? No.

In fact, they were low-spray which means the farmer used as little pesticide as possible to cultivate his crop. But, yeah, I suppose you could say they were tainted depending on how hard and fast you draw the line.

Sure you might think peeling the skin solves the pesticide problem, but it doesn't. Residues remain, plus you lose the boost of fiber and nutrients found in the skin.

So, yes, I'm a contradiction of sorts, and perhaps the apples are an unfair example.

In truth, many local farmers are using organic methods but can't pony up the bucks for the certification. One stand I frequent knows how important growing methods are to his customers and purposely labels his tomatoes, berries and root vegetables as no-spray and pesticide free.

His apples, though, are always sprayed. I guess that's the nature of apples. I've only found one farmer at the markets I haunt that sells organically grown ones.

But enough about the apples. That's not why I brought up the organic vs. conventional question.

I had a "lightbulb" moment this morning while reading this post.

Suddenly it seemed clear to me why those of us who can afford to eat locally, seasonally and support our farmers' markets have a serious obligation to do so. I'll even go as far to say if you think you can't afford to eat this way, give your budget a once over. Start with the Starbucks habit and I bet you can add an extra $30 a week to your food budget.

Motherhood was certainly a moment of reckoning for me. Set with the task to feed another helpless human being, every item I purchased suddenly seemed to require research and more thought than I'd expected a mere apple would ever conjure.

My battle armor is on. I'm ready for your best shot. Before you fire the canons though, think about the best way to change the current food system and give a voice to all the people who don't have the luxury of choice.

When faced with a limited budget, the only answer is to make their dollars stretch in a way that allows them to put food on the table for their families.

For others, it's a matter of location. The same farmers' markets so many of us cherish, perhaps take for granted, are not a given across the country. Sometimes the nearest grocery store is miles away.

I get that. Really, I do.

This is why I utter the next words with convinction.

If those of us who can afford to choose really grasp the gravity of our buying power, then maybe we can give a voice to those struggling to put wholesome food on the table. Is it a pipe dream to think we can make real change to the conventional food system this way?

Maybe. But I'm not giving up on it.

For the time being, the blueberries nestled in the freezer from last season are just fine for me. They've got some strawberries to keep them company too. And while I panic that the peaches I canned may not last until the next season arrives, I'm well aware that's a pretty good situation to be in compared to so many other people.

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French Onion Tart

Serves 6 to 8

The seedling of an idea for this recipe started while I was making cheddar cheese crackers for the kids. The thought occurred that it might be an interesting base for a tart crust.

As I wandered through the farmers' market later that day, in search of some "late winter" inspiration, a bunch of humble onions set the ball rolling. It was at the moment I knew I wanted to recreate the flavors of a French onion soup into my tart. While the directions seem long, it really does come together effortlessly, and well worth the time it takes to caramelize the onions.

In case you're wondering, the flour is local, from Farmer Ground Flour, the onions were from Rogowski Farm, the eggs from Grazin' Angus Acres, and the paprika from Ray Bradley—a nice nod to my local farmers indeed.

For the filling:

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 pounds yellow onions, peeled & sliced thin

2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed & stems discarded

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

2/3 cups (2 ounces) Swiss cheese, shredded

For the Swiss cheese pastry crust:

3/4 cups (110 grams) whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 teaspoon (2 grams) fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1 cup (3 ounces) Swiss cheese, shredded

4 tablespoons (2 ounces) very cold butter, shredded using a box grater

1 to 2 tablespoons cold seltzer

To make the filling, heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute for 2 minutes. Cover pot, reduce heat as low as it can go without shutting off, and let cook until onions have cooked down and released a lot of their liquid, about 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, prepare the crust. Add the flour, salt, and paprika to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse once or twice to mix the dry ingredients. Add the cheese and butter, then pulse a few times until it forms a sandy-looking mixture. Add 1 tablespoon of seltzer, pulse again until a rough ball of dough comes together. If the mixture is too dry and crumbly, add more seltzer 1 teaspoon at a time (you may not need the entire 2 tablespoons), and continue to pulse until you have a ball of dough. Turn the dough out onto an unfloured counter, flatten and shape into a d

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. 

Remove cover from the pot of onions, raise heat to medium, add the thyme and season with salt and pepper. Let the onions cook, stirring occasionally to scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pot, until onions turn golden brown, about 30 to 35 minutes. When onions are golden and very tender, stir in the sherry vinegar. Remove from heat and, using a slotted spoon, transfer onions to a medium bowl.

Place the chilled dough between two sheets of parchment paper, and roll it into a 13-inch circle. Fit dough into a 9-inch ungreased springform pan. Fold down sides of dough, leaving a 1-inch high crust.

To finish the filling, add the egg and cheese to the bowl with the onions. Stir to mix well. Pour mixture over the tart crust and spread to the edges using a rubber spatula. Bake for 25 minutes, until slightly puffed and golden. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing.



Comments

  • debbie koenig: Not throwing anything here, Jen! I could’ve written this post. Check out the upcoming issue of Kiwi (April/May, I believe)–I wrote a big piece for them about buying organic on a budget, and if I do say so myself I think it’s got some really good stuff in it. There’s definitely something about becoming a parent that makes everything much more fraught, isn’t there?
    JP’s Note: Can’t wait to check out the issue Debbie :)

  • Maureen @ Orgasmic Chef: I love the onion tart and I’m going to make it. I never met an onion that wasn’t a friend.
    More importantly I agree with you 100% about buying locally and buying from the farmer. Those of us who can buy this way will eventually influence our friends. We can lead by example much better than someone dictating what everyone should do.

  • mommylisa: Can I use a pastry cutter if I don’t have a food processor? I have such limited counter space I have not invested in one.
    JP’s Note: Yes, you can use a pastry blender. Just make sure the cheese is finely ground in, so the flour forms that sandy texture as in making pie doughs before you add the seltzer.

  • Mia: I too have come to the conclusion that buying locally and sustainably is a responsibility for those of us able to do so, even if that means occasionally going without or choosing to give up that Starbucks habit. It’s amazing where you can save money when you really sit down and calculate expenses. The thing is, you have to want it. Change never came about as a result of knowledge. Motivation is key.
    JP’s Note: Yes, Mia I agree you have to want to make the change. I believe there are a lot of “voiceless” people who do want it too, but they can’t afford to vote with their dollars, which is where the rest of us come in to play our part.

  • Jen @ She said. She said.: Very well said. I had never thought of it that way – about being our obligation to do so, but it makes a lot of sense. I buy local as much as I can. Living in MN can make that tough – especially right about now.
    There are many times I stand in the produce section for what seems like an eternity having the debate of – do I really need to spend double the $ for the local and sometimes organic version. Almost always I do – because I know it’s better for my health in the long run and the greater good.
    This post really solidifies that with me. Our grocery budget is big and I’m okay with that. Our health bill is very small.

  • Meg: The onion tart looks great! I’m curious to add cheese to a tart crust.
    As for the organic question, it’s too bad it’s become an issue of class and resources. As a dietitian in training, one of the things we recommend to those on limited budgets who are curious/interested in buying organic food is to put their “organic budget” to the foods that matter — berries & apples, etc. Fruits & veggies with thick peels (like bananas!) can still be bought from the general produce section. It’s a good first step and helps people prioritize purchases on a limited budget.

  • Julia’s Child: I love this post! Yes–I feel an actual obligation to buy local and organic food, because it helps to expand the availability and accessibility to others. Also–and I think this is every bit as important– it protects the grower of the food, and also the ground water nearby his/her farm. I’m even willing to say that the health benefit to the grower is greater than my own. And that’s alright.
    I wouldn’t have bought the blueberries either. “They’re not in season, sweetie,” is my stock answer.

  • Kimmy @ Lighter and Local: Jen – I completely agree with you. I try to focus on taking a finite amount of cash per week and spend it my local market and/or farm. I tend to go local versus organic, but only because I know the management techniques of my local farms. I’m actually thinking of starting a weekly post on the blog at the start of market season about stretching your food dollars locally and how to preserve throughout so you can enjoy all winter as well.
    It’s more than just the health benefits, I love the idea of supporting people in my own community business-wise as well. I just don’t always like the politics associated with it all, I feel like you bring people to the local/organic table with great, fresh, healthy food, then you feed them the benefits that go along with it.
    Great post, thank you!
    JP’s Note: I agree Kimmy, sometimes the message gets lost in the politics and passions. What matters most is helping the people who need it most, and I feel like this is one way we can do it.

  • Shira: No dissenters here Jennie!
    I think we all just want to do what’s best for our kids and for the planet when it comes to food choices. I’m fortunate in that even though I only live 1.5 hours from NYC, I live in a semi-rural area where I can grow a good amount of my own produce. What I don’t grow myself I’m able to get from the farmer down the road (including fresh eggs). It’s a beautiful way to be able to live, and I appreciate that every single day. Now if spring would just get here already so I could start growing!

  • Juanita: That’s one fantastic looking onion tart!
    Seasonal, local eating is good. In SA, eating out-of-season fruits and veg is cost prohibitive anyway, because most stuff is flown in from Spain and is two to three times the normal price.

  • Winnie: Couldn’t agree more. Though twice recently I have caved and purchased organic fruit (blueberries and then mangoes) that was completely not local/seasonal because it was on sale at my local natural food store. This year I have to get better about freezing/preserving more so I am not so tempted…
    As for the tart? Looks completely scrumptious.

  • fortycloves: This reminds me of an onion tart that I had in Paris. I haven’t been able to find a recipe that comes quite as close as this one – I’m thrilled! Thanks!

  • Grace: Jennie, I made this tart this weekend and it was amaaaazing. I have a real “thing” for onions, so this was right up my alley :) I substituted the following: dried thyme for fresh (I used about 1/2 tsp), white wine vinegar for sherry vinegar, and Dubliner irish cheese for swiss (all simply because I had them on hand). I halved the amount of cheese in the filling because I was using a sharper cheese. I measured everything by weight (where given), and the result was perfect. I’ve been reheating small slices in the microwave; it’s pretty irresistible :)
    I am all for buying local and/or organic whenever I can, but it’s very difficult in the winters here (I try to freeze things in season, but I never seem to freeze enough). My solution is to buy organic as much as possible, because I can’t always buy local. That said, I’ve joined a CSA for this summer, and I am very excited for the fresh surprises each week.
    JP’s Note: Grace I love how you relied on the pantry to put your own spin on this recipe. That level of comfort is exactly what I hope to help people understand is the most important ingredient when cooking!

  • Katie: Delicious! Can’t wait to make it!

    Just wanted to point out a little typo in the recipie. At the end of the paragraph about mixing the dough it says roll it into a d. And doesn’t mention chilling it. I think you maybe meant roll into a ball and put in refrigerator perhaps. Just thought you may like to know. :)
    Otherwise, I cannot wait to make your delicious tart!

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