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.
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.
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.
Michel’s Red Onion Tart
Serves 6 as a light dinner main with a salad, or more as a happy hour snack.
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)
15 grams (3 Tablespoons) fine breadcrumbs
one puff pastry pie crust
salt, pepper, olive oil
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.
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.
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.