Michel’s Red Onion Tart

We sat around the thick wooden dining table after sunset in Avignon. The sky was still deep blue, slowly turning black, reflecting the colors of a mood ring.

We’d made dinner for our hosts – as we like to do when we play the role of overnight guest. Stuffed tomatoes and zucchinis (courgettes), a reminder that summer was quickly on its way, and a salad as a starter.

Ottolenghi’s red onion, walnut, and goat cheese salad with arugula (rocket.)

Michel commented on the onions with a grin “Ah, l’oignon rouge… quelle douceur.”

“Wait a second, don’t you have a red onion dish that you make?” my partner in crime interjected.

Red onions

Red onions

Michel smiled and nodded, pleased that his good friend’s eldest son remembered the recipe, one of his potluck staples.

“What was it again? A savory tart?”

I remembered, too – I’d already heard about the red onion tart during family dinner discussions of summertime get-togethers with the friends from Avignon.

Michel told us the story of having been invited to a conference in Spain that he didn’t want to attend. The conference booklet had included the dinner menus for each evening. One night, the group was to eat a “Catalane onion tart,” and Michel, curious about what such a tart would possibly taste like, decided to make it up himself.

“So, I added a bit of cinnamon, some red wine, and some small dried raisins. Cooked the red onions in a frying pan, and then poured the whole thing into a pie crust and browned it in the oven.”

“Wasn’t there some crème fraîche too? Or shredded swiss cheese?” asked Michael, testing his childhood memory.

“No, not at all!”

“Do you put lardons?” I asked, inquisitively.

“Of course I do!”

Michel beamed in telling us that he’d made the tart for a neighborhood association dinner, and minutes after having laid it down on the table, it had disappeared.

After dinner and before bed, I scribbled down my notes about the tart and vowed to recreate it, myself. Like a game of Telephone, I give you the Catalan onion tart, and invite you to make yet another version, if you please.

Thyme

Thyme

Michel’s Red Onion Tart

Serves 6 as a light dinner main with a salad, or more as a happy hour snack.

Ingredients

25 grams (3 Tablespoons) pine nuts, lightly toasted
100g lardons, chopped fine
3-4 red onions, chopped (500 grams)
1 cinnamon stick
1.5 Tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
60 cl (¼ cup) red wine
45 grams (4 Tablespoons) Corinthe raisins (see note)
3 eggs
15 grams (3 Tablespoons) fine breadcrumbs
one puff pastry pie crust
salt, pepper, olive oil

Method

Start by sautéing the lardons until lightly browned and crispy, about 2 minutes.

Add a splash (about 1-2 Tablespoons) of olive oil, the onions, and the cinnamon stick and sauté over medium to medium low heat stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and sweaty, about 8-12 minutes.

Sautéed red onions with raisins

Sautéed red onions with raisins

Add the thyme and red wine, stir well to incorporate, and continue to cook until all the wine has evaporated.

Taking off the heat, add the raisins and allow to cool.

While the onions cool, heat oven to 190C/375F. Blind bake the crust with pie weights (or a bunch of beans that have been collecting dust in the back of the cupboard…) for 12 minutes, remove weights/beans and continue to blind bake for 3-4 minutes until golden brown.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, season with salt and pepper. Discard the cinnamon stick and add the onions to the egg mixture, along with the breadcrumbs and toasted pine nuts, and mix well.

Pour the mixture into the piecrust and bake for 28 minutes, turning halfway to ensure an evenly browned crust.

Serve lukewarm or at room temperature, with a glass of red wine.

Michel's Red Onion Tart

Michel’s Red Onion Tart

Note: Corinthe raisins are small, black raisins and they work perfectly in this tart because they are about the same size as the pine nuts. If you can’t find them, regular black raisins would work, too.

 

 

 

 

 

La Camargue – La Telline

You could have missed the restaurant if you weren’t paying enough attention. Luckily, we were on bicycles, so we saw the little white wooden sign as it emerged from beneath a tree on the front of the property. La Telline.

For my inaugural multi-day cycling trip, we had embarked for 8 days in the South of France. A loop starting from Avignon, going southwards towards the sea, then up and west through Nîmes and Uzès, and back again. We would spend two nights in the Camargue – a preserved wetlands region at the mouth of the Rhône river. The Camargue is known for its rice cultivation, its wild pink flamingos, and its gypsy population in the main city – Saintes Marie de la Mer.

Flamingos in the Camargue

Flamingos in the Camargue

Having done some restaurant research (but not too much) I found mentions of La Telline in a number of places and was charmed but the down-home feel from its website. In red italics at the bottom of the page with a little “no entry” symbol reads the warning “The restaurant does not accept credit cards.” I decided that if we were going to go all-out for one nice (cash only) meal, it should be there. I’d packed a nice-looking skirt that fit smugly over my bicycle shorts, and we set out in the morning from Arles riding along the banks of the Rhône before our lunch.

The dining room at La Telline

The dining room at La Telline

The interior of the restaurant feels like someone’s home – smartly decorated with antique radios, bullfighting posters from decades past, cast-iron tools, ancient water jugs and drinking glasses. Everything delicate about France that you can spy at garage sale is here – but it’s clean and displayed in an attentive, cozy way.

One of their specialties, of course, is tellines – little oblong clams that can be fished in and around the Camargue. They serve them cooked and cooled in a tall round white ceramic dish, stirred with an aïoli thin enough to not disturb the pleasure of a simple dish of steamed clams.

Another specialty is the grilled bull steak. Bulls are grown in the Camargue to support the local tradition of the ferias, or local festivals featuring bullfights. The bulls that don’t have the right “character” to fight are used for consumption. The meat, grilled in front of us on the fireplace, had that same tender firmness of duck breast – but with a distinctly beef flavor.

I ordered the grilled eel, which was also cooked in front of us on the fire. Both of our main dishes were served with locally grown red rice, and a side dish of sautéed carrots with garlic and shallots.

We enjoyed a locally harvested wine with our meal – first, a white with our starter, and then a red from the same vineyard for the main.

As we finished our lunch, the mood of the restaurant loosened up a bit and the patron and his wife chatted with us.The wine we’d drank was from a vineyard just down the road – we’d passed it on our way in.

Where were we staying? asked the patronne, and as it turned out, our innkeepers were close personal friends of the restauranteurs.

During our two days in the Camargue, we’d come to realize that most of the mom-and-pop tourist businesses all knew each other. When we cycled back to the vineyard to pick up two bottles for our stay, the winemaker also nodded at the name of the inn. “Ah! You’re staying at Irène and David’s place.”

We arrived at the inn and Irène was thrilled we’d had a good lunch – “ce sont nos amis proches !” We enjoyed our dinner that night on the small terrace of our little two-room rental apartment.

Besides the restaurant, and the winemaker, our other favorite food-related visit was the Maison du Riz – founded by a local riziculteur, they sell rice from their own production, as well as beer made with their own rice flour. The red rice beer, in particular, had a nice full flavor, with a hint of sweetness from the rice.

Bike on the beach

Bike on the beach

Links for the Camargue:
Restaurant La Telline: http://www.restaurantlatelline.fr/
Mas de Valériole winemakers: masdevaleriole.com
Holiday home Les Mazets du Paty: http://www.lesmazetsdupaty.camargue.fr/
La Maison du Riz: http://www.maisonduriz.com/

and also… excellent bike rental in Avignon: http://www.daytour.fr/?lang=en