Our friends Stephen and Beth are coming over for an afternoon of fashion documentaries and chats. I suggested to Beth that we name such events “Allkie talkies” because they involve a lot of chatting, and Stephen’s last name is Allkins. She loved the idea.
But what to cook? Beth usually brings the best hummus in Sydney (made by Erciyes in Crown Street, Surry Hills – others may dispute this and nominate Abduls, but I like the Turkish version more). I thought I would make something a little nostalgic: an onion puff pastry tart – something a little like the delicious Pissaladière of southern France.
Why would I dub this nostalgic? Well, the first recipe book to get me back into cooking after an 8 year hiatus was Jill Dupleix’s New Food. Contained within its enormous covers was a delicious recipe for caramelised onion, as the basis of an onion soup. In 1994, the Dupleix’s book was an inspiration for two reasons: the language contained within was plain, simple, and unpretentious; almost larrikin in nature, the humour and personality of the author shone out; secondly, the food styling was seriously beautiful, clever (often focussing on ingredients and their beauty over the finished product of the recipe) and mouthwatering. The recipes weren’t genius – they were simple, delicious, accessible and easy to prepare. New Food was my gateway back to the love of cooking, and without it I would never have been able to approach the austere scholarship and comprehensive knowledge of Stephanie Alexander’s (my most treasured cookbook, along with Claudia Roden’s Book of Jewish Food).
So today I will make a couple of variations on the traditional Pissaladière. Beth is vegetarian, and I will make one of the tarts without anchovies, but with the addition of some cherry tomatoes and a splash of A’s homemade tomato jam to add complexity. Second, the pastry will be pre-purchased puff (PPP) – I’m not going to make a bread dough, nor will I make pâte brisée (shortcrust pastry), because short-cuts are quite acceptable in my book. Here’s what you will need for these delicious goodies. If you can’t find vino cotto at your specialist wanky delicatessen, then you may substitute it for 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. Alternatively, leave out the 2 tablespoons of red-wine vinegar, and substitute with 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.
- 1 packet puff pastry
- 8 Spanish (red) onions
- 3 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped from stalks
- 50g butter
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 2 tablespoons sherry or red-wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon vino cotto
- 1 punnet cherry tomatoes AND/OR adequate reserves of anchovies
- 100g olives (pitted)
Preheat the oven to 190ºC.
Peel your onions, and slice. There’s no need to chop into fine dice – the sliced onions will give a lovely texture. Heat your butter and oil, and when foaming, throw the onions in. Turn the heat down to about low-medium. You want the onions to cook slowly, get soft and caramelize as they go – it will take between 30 and 40 minutes, with occasional stirring. In the last 5 minutes, stir in the vino cotto and the red wine vinegar (alternatively the balsamic vinegar; third alternative, dissolve the brown sugar in the red wine vinegar and then stir it in).
Let the onions cool. Now get your frozen puff pastry out of the fridge. Score a ridge along the side of it with a knife, but be careful not to cut right through! Then spread your onion mixture onto the pastry, and arrange the ingredients (olives and/or anchovies and/or tomatoes and or whatever) on top. Place on a baking sheet, and into the oven for 20-25 minutes.
Easy peasy! I forgot how easy and fun these are to make. The only irritant is all that onion peeling and slicing at the beginning. They went down a treat as we watched three special documentaries: Florent, Queen of the Meat Market (about a restauranteur activist and icon of New York’s Meatpacking District, Florent Morellet); Elizabeth Taylor: Auction of a Lifetime (the auction of Her jewellery) and L’Amour Fou (about the art collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé). What a nice Anzac Day treat!