Amelie restaurant recipe: Onion tart with radicchio salad
France has always had an obsession with onions and you may well be conjuring up the image of a Frenchman on a bike in a striped Breton and beret with a string of onions around his neck. These individuals known as Onion Johnnies were a common site all across the UK from Kent to the Orkneys particularly in the first half of the 20th century when they sold their pink Roscoff onions from Brittany as it was easier than going to Paris.
The onion though is revered across France and the main staple ingredient in most of its classical dishes, such as the pissaladière and ratatouille from Provence, the French onion soup which is a national dish, as well as the onion tart which has its roots in Alsace in the north-east of the country on the German border.
Although I didn’t grow up in Alsace, it’s food, wines and culture has had a profound impact on us as a family having enjoyed many holidays over the years exploring this charming well-preserved region with its picturesque walled medieval villages of half-timbered houses and cobbled streets, steep vineyards, forests and ruined castles. Although the area has had a chequered history with the Franco-German border shifting numerous times over the centuries, the fertile land has benefited both nations and the wines and food reflecting their different cuisines are varied and superb.
Growing up with my father Regis as a chef meant my earliest memories are of food and kitchen life in his restaurants in Suffolk. Even whilst we were on holiday he cooked too, first taking my sister Amelie and I to the wonderful local farmers’ markets piled high with the beautifully displayed fresh seasonal produce to choose what we’d like to eat. The local chefs really champion their ingredients rather than the process and the beauty of the food is in the simplicity of the cooking and combining the different textures and flavours.
Onions are a staple in every kitchen, whether they are caramelised and used to top a burger or cooked underneath a Sunday roast, they are full of flavour being sweet, savoury and pungent all at once adding extra depth to any dish. Selecting the right kind of variety will give you a tasty dish. The regular yellow onion, also known as brown or white onions are sharp and punchy when eaten raw, mellow after a long slow cook. Red onions are slightly sweeter and good raw or roasted whole. Shallots are milder and sweeter and work well finely diced for dressings and salsas and spring onions are good in stir fries or chopped finely in a salad.
Our recipe for today is a classic amongst tarts and though may sound rather dull centred around this humble onion – the yellow variety is perfect, this least lauded of vegetables when slowly cooked in butter develops a wonderful rich and deep flavour.
Onion tart is a firm favourite for many and for me evokes wonderful memories of autumnal lunches when the sun’s not so hot so we can gather on the terrace with family and friends and a delicious large tarte a l’onion as the centre piece for the table to be shared over a glass or two of Reisling on the side.
Onion tart with radicchio salad
500g onions, finely sliced
50g unsalted butter
Salt and black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
15g plain flour
30g Parmesan cheese, grated
300ml whipping cream
3 eggs plus 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
If not enough fillings to your taste, add an egg and 100ml cream
Pinch of salt
125g unsalted butter, diced
1 egg yolk
10g ground almonds
Two heads of radicchio, leaves torn into bite-sized pieces
8 mint leaves finely chopped
2 coriander stalks finely chopped
Pinch of salt
½ tbsp Dijon mustard
1 egg yolk
Juice of ½ lemon
4 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp cream
Make the pastry: put the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Mix in the beaten egg and water until the mixture combines. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill in the refrigerator for 10–15 minutes.
On a lightly floured board, roll out the dough, about 2mm thick, and use to line a 30cm buttered loose-bottomed tart tin. Trim the edges, prick the dough all over with a fork, and then place some greaseproof paper inside and fill with baking beans.
Bake ‘blind’ in a preheated oven at 160°C, gas mark 3 for 30 minutes. Allow to cool and remove the baking beans and greaseproof paper. Mix the egg yolk and ground almonds to a paste and brush over the inside of the cooked pastry shell. Pop it back in the oven for 5–6 minutes until the pastry is crisp and cooked.
Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, cook the onions in the butter over medium heat for 20–30 minutes until softened and almost caramelised. Reduce the heat if necessary to prevent them from burning. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and then stir in the cayenne pepper, flour, and Parmesan. Slowly stir in the cream and bring to a simmer before adding the beaten eggs and yolks.
Stir again and pour the mixture into the pastry shell. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes or until the filling is cooked and feels firm when pushed gently with a finger.
While the tart is cooking, make the radicchio salad. Put the radicchio, mint, and coriander in a bowl. Mix the salt, mustard, and egg yolk to a paste, then stir in the lemon juice, olive oil and cream to make a vinaigrette. Toss the radicchio in the dressing and sprinkle with parsley. Serve the tart hot, warm, or even cold with the radicchio salad.