Recipe: Alice Zaslavsky’s ‘Any Kind of Onion’ Tarte Tatin
Leeks, red onions and shallots will all work in this versatile vegetarian dish.
Recipe and words: Extract from In Praise of Veg by Alice Zaslavsk
If you’ve ever had a tarte tatin starring apples or pears, you might find yourself wondering what onions, leeks and shallots are doing in a dessert. And it’s certainly true that this dish, which originated at the Hotel Tatin in France over 120 years ago, was likely never intended as a savoury. But if you think of it as an open-faced pasty or upside-down vegetable tart, it starts to make a lot more sense.
I love the way the puff pastry shatters into buttery flakes on your lips, while the onions, caramelised to an indecent level, are silky and slippery. At the end I’ve also included some other vegie options for the tarte, because once you get the hang of it, this might just never leave your entertaining rotation.
350 g (12 oz) onions of your choice (such as leeks, red onions or French shallots), peeled and cut into 1 cm (½ inch) thick slices
plain (all-purpose) flour, for dusting
2 frozen all-butter puff pastry sheets, thawed
½ cup (110 g) caster (superfine) sugar
2 tablespoons fortified wine (such as sherry)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
50 g (1 ¾ oz) butter
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
2 anchovies in oil, finely chopped (optional)
1 handful of thyme sprigs and/or fresh bay leaves, plus extra to serve
crumbled marinated feta or goat’s cheese, to serve
purple basil leaves, to serve
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
Place the onions in a heatproof bowl and cover with just-boiled water. Leave for 10 minutes to soften slightly, then drain well and stand on a tray lined with paper towel to dry.
On a lightly floured work surface, stack both pastry sheets on top of each other. Using a rolling pin, roll the pastry out to a rough 26 cm (101/2 inch) square. Transfer to a tray and chill until required.
Place the sugar and ¼ cup (60 ml) water in a 23 cm (9 inch) ovenproof frying pan or skillet over medium heat. Cook, swirling constantly, until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to high and leave to cook without disturbing for 5 minutes, or until you blink and it’s suddenly turned into a golden caramel.
Remove from the heat. Carefully – the mixture will sizzle! – add the wine, vinegar, butter, pepper, anchovies and herbs of choice. Return to the boil and swirl to combine. Carefully arrange the onions over the hot caramel so that they are tightly packed, then place the pastry over the top, tucking the edges in to give you a cool rustic edge on the flip-side.
Bake for 30 minutes, then remove from the oven and cover with foil to prevent burning. Return to the oven and bake for a further 30 minutes, or until the pastry is cooked through and the caramel is bubbling. Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 10 minutes.
To serve, place a flat plate over the pan, then carefully invert the tart. Scatter with salt flakes and cracked black pepper, some crumbled cheese and fresh herbs.
1. If you don’t have an ovenproof frying pan or skillet, you can use any frying pan to make the caramel. After stirring in the vinegar mixture, transfer the caramel to a (roughly) 20 cm baking dish or shallow tray. Add the onions to this and continue with the recipe.
2. You could make individual little tartlets too, by using a pastry cutter slightly bigger than the onion or shallot you’ve chosen. Slice the discs of onion to soften and burnish in the pan with the caramel as per the recipe, then fish them out and pop puff pastry on top of each, baking for 20–25 minutes, until the pastry is golden.
3. Experiment with these other vegetable options for a savoury tarte tatin:
• Pumpkin (winter squash) + sage
• Ratatouille – zucchini (courgette) + red onion +
• red capsicum (pepper) + eggplant (aubergine)
• Parsnip + carrot + caraway seeds
• Beetroot + goat’s cheese
• Pine mushroom + thyme
• Potato + rosemary
• Artichoke + lemon zest
• Asparagus + parmesan
• Tomato + mozzarella + basil
Extract from In Praise of Veg by Alice Zaslavsky, RRP $70, available Nov 2020, published by Murdoch Books.