Into the gloom of post war Britain, Elizabeth David brought the sunshine of France and Italy in the form of simple recipes, new cooking techniques, and ingredients fresh from the fields of Provence. She introduced exotic new foods like pasta, olive oil, garlic and aubergines to a people gastronomically crippled by years of rationing and bland food. Along with a whole new world of herbs and spices, she brought the romance and sensuality of the Mediterranean countryside to a war weary country. She was a little bit racy (ran off with a married man) ahead of her time, (her recipes still seem perfectly modern today) and tireless (she wrote 8 books, won numerous awards, traveled extensively, and even opened a shop).
I chose her tarte a l'oignon, or onion tart because I love this kind of classic country cooking that relies on the deliciousness of a few simple ingredients: onions, egg yolks, and cream. This is kind of a proto-quiche...but lighter. It has an authentic air of the French countryside about it. Once mastered, this tart can be reincarnated with other ingredients.
Onion Tart (from Elizabeth David's At Elizabeth David's Table)
For the filling:---this is Elizabeth's exact recipe. I used Martha Stewart's No Fail crust
750g/1½ lb onions
butter and oil for cooking the onions,
salt, nutmeg and plenty of freshly ground pepper
3 egg yolks
150ml/¼ pint thick cream
fibrous parts at the root of the onions. Melt 60g/2oz of butter and a little oil in a heavy
frying pan. In this cook the onions, covered, until they are quite soft and pale golden. They
must not fry, and they should be stirred from time to time to make sure they are not sticking.
They will take about ½ an hour. Season with salt, nutmeg and pepper.
Oil a 20-cm/8-inch tart or flan tin. Roll out your crust as thinly as possible (the great thing about this dish, as also the quiches of Lorraine, is that there should be a lot of creamy filling on very little pastry). Line the tin with the pastry, pressing it gently into position with your knuckle. Pour in the filling, cook in the centre of a fairly hot oven, with the tin standing on a baking sheet, at 200°C/gas 6, for 30 minutes. Serve very hot.
Elizabeth David considers this a first course...I say, cut yourself a large hunk of it, make a salad, pour some wine, and call it dinner.
For the future, I'm envisioning throwing in some finely chopped ribbons of ham, maybe some fried sage, heirloom tomato slices...
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