Or tarte a l’oignon and little chocolate pots, possibly. Friends were coming round for dinner at the end of another long week, and we had been talking tarts. Specifically, why don’t we make them more? A tart soothes with pastry and soft, billowy mouthfuls of mild creamy custard, yet it’s also a little bit sophisticated and manages to seem somehow wholesome, despite its full-fat dairy quotient. A tart is a light lunch or a simple dinner and the perfect size to share with friends.
‘Roast Chicken and Other Stories’ certainly delivers on the tart front: anchovy and onion, cep, crab, leek, onion, red pepper, tomato and pesto. I decided on the classic onion tart – mountains of thinly sliced onion half-moons, softened very gently in butter for a whole hour until transformed into a tangled slump, then mixed happily with cream, egg yolks and black pepper. The magic is in the slow cooking of the onions to bring out their deep, gentle savory-sweetness. I didn’t even need to add salt.
Dessert was the little chocolate pots, the consistency of a chocolate truffle under a firmer crust, to attack with a spoon while the discussion veered from meetings with Hermione Lee to Megan Fox’s bra size. Well, just because you’re eating sophisticated French food doesn’t mean you have to have sophisticated conversation.
Onion tart Serves 4
Simon seems to assume you know what you’re doing on the pastry front and, having made it only once before, I didn’t. Well, anyhow, it seemed to work almost perfectly so I’ve added my notes.
This recipe will leave you with a lot of egg whites, so either make meringues or freeze them (try and remember to write the number of whites on the label).
For the pastry:
50g butter, cut into cubes
110g plain flour
1 egg yolk
a pinch of salt
For the filling:
4 large onions (I only had miniature onions so I used about 7)
salt and pepper
4 egg yolks
300ml double cream
To make the pastry, quickly work the butter into the flour, rubbing them together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. There can be a mix of bigger and smaller pieces. I’ve read about everything having to be very cold when you make pastry, but I disregarded that and it didn’t seem to matter. Add the egg yolk, salt, and enough water so that you can stir it and it forms a firm dough. I found this was a tiny amount, so add cautiously. Chill the dough in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180c. On a floured surface, roll out the pastry as thinly as you can. Grease a deep 20.5cm flan tin and line it with the pastry, pressing it into the edges. Trim off the overhang, either with a knife or your fingers. Don’t be over-zealous, as the pastry may shrink in the oven (mine did). Keep the off-cuts in case of cracks developing. Prick the bottom gently with a fork. Now is the time to use your ceramic beans or pie weights if you have them, or you can use dried beans. This is to stop the pastry from bubbling up in the oven. I didn’t use anything and it was fine. Bake the case for about 15-20 minutes until straw coloured. If cracks have developed, patch them up.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the onions and a sprinkle of salt, and cook gently with a lid on for about 10-15 minutes. Make sure the onions don’t brown. When very sloppy, remove the lid and carry on cooking on the lowest heat, stirring from time to time, until most of the liquid has evaporated. This may take up to 1 hour. The onions should become very soft and turn darker in colour, but you’re not caramelising them so make sure they don’t stick and burn on the bottom of the pan. When done, pour into a bowl and cool.
Mix the egg yolks and cream together and add to the onions with a generous amount of black pepper. Taste and see if it needs salt. Pour the mixture into the pastry case – you may not be able to fit it all in, but try to get in as much as possible. As Simon says, “half-filled tarts are always disappointing.” If you have leftover mixture, look around and see if you still have those pastry off-cuts. If yes, you can form yourself a little miniature tart for your boyfriend to have for lunch tomorrow – you wouldn’t want him to miss out, would you?
Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until set and lightly browned. Mine looked about done after 20, so I turned off the oven and left it in there for the last 10 minutes. Serve with a green salad.
Petit pot au chocolat Serves 4
175ml double cream
1/2 vanilla pod, split lengthways
75ml milk (I used semi-skimmed)
125g dark, bitter chocolate, broken into pieces (I used some 73% cocoa stuff bought from my veg box people)
2 small egg yolks (now you can really make a lot of meringues)
1 heaped tbsp icing sugar
Preheat the oven to 140c. Warm the cream with the vanilla pod – careful, it can boil up quickly! Stir to disperse the vanilla seeds, turn off the heat, cover and leave to infuse for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in the milk. Beat together the egg yolks and sugar (you may need to sieve the sugar first, icing sugar tends to go lumpy) and add to the chocolate milk and vanilla cream. Mix together thoroughly. Pass through a fine sieve (not sure this was necessary, but I did it) into 4 small pots or ramekins. The ones you get from GU chocolate puds are about the right size.
Bake in a bain-marie (i.e. half fill a deep baking tray with hot water and place the pots in it) for 45 minutes – 1 hour. The pots should puff up slightly and you want them to get to a stage where a crust forms on top – they will probably start to develop teeny cracks in the top when ready. Cool in the fridge for at least 6 hours before serving.
Adapted from Simon Hopkinson’s ‘Roast Chicken and Other Stories’.