Caramelised Onion, Thyme & Goat’s Cheese Tart
I’m pleased to report that this is every bit as good as it looks – luscious as only caramelised onions can be, with their sweetness offset by the slightly salty goat’s cheese and crisp pastry.
1 pre-baked 25-26cm tart shell, in its tin (recipe follows)
50ml extra-virgin olive oil
5 large brown onions, finely sliced
1 ½ tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves,
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 free-range eggs
130ml pure or thickened cream
¾ cup (180ml) milk
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
200g goat’s cheese marinated in olive oil, well drained
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
Tiny thyme sprigs, for scattering
# My favourite cheese for this is Meredith Dairy’s marinated goats cheese in extra-virgin olive oil, with garlic and herbs. It’s available in supermarkets and delis.
To make the filling, heat the oil in a large frying pan over low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, for 20 – 25 minutes until it has collapsed and softened. Now add the brown sugar and vinegar and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently to make sure the onion doesn’t stick to the pan – by now it should be a gorgeous, glossy pale toffee colour. Turn off the heat, sprinkle in the thyme leaves and add salt to taste, then set aside to cool.
Preheat your oven to 180C and sit the tart shell in the tin on a baking sheet.
In a bowl, whisk the eggs to break them up then whisk in the cream, milk, and a little salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.
Spread the onion mixture evenly over the base of the tart shell. Now break the goat’s cheese up with your fingers and dab it around evenly as best you can on top of the onion – it’s a bit soft and oily. Give the egg mixture another quick whisk in case it has settled, then drizzle it over the top. Finish with a sprinkling of parmesan and thyme sprigs.
Put the tart in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until it’s a glorious golden colour and lightly set. To check, insert the tip of a fine knife into the middle and gently press the sides of the cut apart. The filling should be softly set with no liquid running into the cut. Remove it from the oven and leave it to cool and settle for at least 10 minutes before serving it. Then just slip off the outer ring of the tin, and gently slide the tart onto a serving plate.
A Good Simple Shortcrust Pastry Tart Shell
This is the pastry recipe that I use all the time – it makes terrific pastry that’s short and buttery without being too difficult to handle. In fact, over the years I’ve noticed that many of my students who have sworn off ever making pastry, have actually become remarkably adept once they used this recipe, so even if you feel a little nervous about making it, please give it a go, it really does work well.
As I write this recipe, I’ve been racking my brains about what the most important tips are that I can pass on to you. And one in particular that keeps surfacing is just what a difference it makes when you get a handle on when pastry is at the right stage for rolling. It’s not hard to pick this up, however you may have to make it a few times before you feel entirely comfortable with it. Basically, if the pastry seems too soft to roll, chill it a bit longer; if it’s hard and cracks around the edges as you begin to flatten it, then let it soften a bit more. The temperature of the room where you’re rolling the pastry also makes a difference; pastry is always much easier to handle when the weather is cooler, as it softens rapidly in warm weather. However, having said that, I live in a near-tropical climate and still make it – so there is hope! I tend to roll it early in the morning before the temperature soars, and also try to work quite quickly when I’m rolling it to prevent it becoming too warm and soft.
1 1/2 cups (225g) plain flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
125g cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1/4 cup (60ml) iced water
1 egg yolk mixed with 2 teaspoons cold water, for glazing
Whiz the flour and salt together in a food processor. Add the butter and whiz everything again until the mixture resembles medium-fine breadcrumbs. With the motor running, pour in the iced water and process only until the dough forms a ball around the blade. (The time for this varies a bit depending on the weather, when it’s warm it seems to come together faster.)
Tip the dough out onto a board and shape it into a ball. Now, flatten it into a disc, and wrap it tightly in plastic film. Chill the disc in the fridge for about 40 minutes, or until the pastry is firm but supple enough to roll out. By the way, if you want to make the pastry ahead of time, it keeps well in the fridge for up to 3 days, but it will be too firm to roll at this stage, so let it warm up at room temperature until it’s pliable. (You can also make this a few weeks ahead and freeze it, then just defrost it in the fridge overnight.)
On a lightly floured board, roll out the pastry into a large round to fit a 26-28cm loose-based tart tin. Roll the pastry around your rolling pin to transfer it to the tin. Then gently drape it over the tin, being careful that you don’t press it down onto the sharp top edge which may cut through it.
Use you knuckles to gently press the pastry into the tin, leaving an overhang all around. Trim a little pastry from the overhang and keep it in the fridge in case you need to patch any cracks later on. Sit the tin on a baking tray – this makes it much easier to manoeuvre both now and later when the tart is baking – and chill it for 40 minutes or so, until the pastry is firm.
Preheat your oven to 200C.
Completely cover the pastry with a large sheet of foil, pressing it gently down into the corners. Spread pie weights, uncooked rice or dried beans all over the base to a depth of about one centimetre to weigh it down.
Slide the baking tray into the oven and bake the tart shell for 20 minutes, or until it’s nearly set. Remove it from the oven and run a rolling pin over the foil on the top edge to cut off the pastry overhang. Return the tin to oven, with the foil and weights still intact, and bake the pastry for a further 10 minutes, or until it is lightly coloured and feels firm and dry. Take it out again and carefully remove the foil and weights. Don’t worry if there are any fine cracks in the pastry shell, just patch them with the reserved pastry.
Brush the egg yolk mixture over the pastry, making sure it is well coated, then return the tart shell to oven for a few minutes so the egg wash sets to a shiny glaze (this helps seal the pastry and stop the bottom getting soggy once it’s filled.) When it’s set, remove the tart shell from the oven and leave it to cool in the tin on a rack. It is then ready to be filled. Makes one 26-28cm tart shell.
P.S. If you’re wondering what the egg yolk wash does, it’s to help seal the pastry by filling in any hairline cracks, and forming a lacquer-like layer between the crust and filling; this in turn helps prevent the filling leaking into the base and making it soggy.