Hello from 30,000 feet! I wrote this on my 23rd airplane flight since November 2012, but here’s the part where you can be certain at last that I’m as weird as you already suspected: I still love flying as much as this guy. How could I not? At the time, there were perfect white puffs of clouds below us (I always call them Simpson’s Clouds, because they remind me of the ones in the show’s opener) and the sky above the clouds, as always, was piercingly blue. The day before, it was snow-sided mountains down below, and before that, circular fields inside perfect grids, fern-like trenches and mosaics that stretched to the horizon. That I also get to hang out at awesome bookstores and meet really nice people who indulge me (but really shouldn’t, lest I feel encouraged) by laughing at my terrible jokes only makes it more fun.
This strange thing that’s been happening over these book tours that I spend the entirety of my time outside the kitchen pining for it. I constantly jot down recipe ideas and become obsessed with making something very specific when I get home, like English muffins that taste like rye bread or a breakfast burrito like the awesome one I had at the Salt Lake City Airport (seriously) or intense homesick cravings for street meat from Rafiqi’s. Then I get home and… nothing. My cooking motivation goes through the floor. I try not to fight it; I hate when cooking is a chore, so we’ll order in or go out for one night, and then another. Usually, by the third evening, I am so completely over it — the salad with too much dressing, the raw-centered burger that you send back and comes out burnt through — that I’m back in the kitchen, relieved that absence made my cooking obsession stronger.
Alas, it’s still March in New York City which means that just because I’m excited to cook doesn’t mean that there’s a lot of very exciting ingredients to cook with right now. My fridge is either filled with ever-fresh vegetables and fruits of distant origins and disturbing packaging dates or it’s bare bones. Digging around the other day, I found little but onions, a old hunk of cheese, butter and eggs and could think of no better way to turn them into something greater than the sum of their parts than quiche. I took a page from my cookbook, wherein I reduce French Onion Soup to it’s most essential parts — brothy caramelized onions, toasts and broiled cheese, to be served as a snack — and expanded it into what has got to be the best dinner tart we’ve had in ages. If you like the soup but were hoping for more of a meal; if you have almost nothing in the fridge and don’t feel like shopping; if you’ve got a brunch this weekend and want to up the bar on your go-to quiche, well, I think this is how you should.
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, UK/Australia Edition: Last Thursday, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook came out in the UK and Australia. (The US edition, from Knopf, and Canadian edition, from Appetite Canad, were both released in October 2012.) I am so excited about it, I wanted to give you a little preview here. The book looks a little different; the cover is pink, abstract and jacketless, showcasing a recipe inside for Rhubarb Almond Hamantaschen. They’re not really traditional hamantaschen; there’s no vegetable oil or orange juice. In fact, they’re closer to free-form tartlets than they are to heavy cookies, just the way I like them. I hope you do too.
The recipes inside are exactly the same, but they’ve been anglicized a little — eggplants are aubergines, for example, and alternative suggestions are made for ingredients not readily available on the other side of the pond. While the U.S. edition has measurements in cups-and-spoons and weights in grams and sometimes ounces, the UK/Australian edition is just in weights and spoonfuls. The book should be available throughout the UK and Australia from online and brick-and-mortar retailers. I hope if you were holding out to buy the book until it finally crossed the pond, this will be worth the wait. [More Cookbook Information]
Out and about: Book Tour II continues, and what fun it has been! I will be in Minneapolis Tuesday evening and Louisville at the end of the month. Every listing and all of the details are on this page. Come say hi?
One year ago: Fried Egg Sandwich with Bacon and Blue Cheese and Multigrain Apple Crisps
Two years ago: Spaghetti with Lemon and Olive Oil, Pina Colada Cake and Whole Wheat Goldfish Crackers
Three years ago: Monkey Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze, Cauliflower and Caramelized Onion Tart, Thick, Chewy Granola Bars, Arroz Con Leche, Baked Rigatoni with Tiny Meatballs and St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake
Four years ago: Red Kidney Bean Curry, Thick Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, Meatball Sliders, Key Lime Coconut Cake, and Steak Sandwiches
Five years ago: Pear and Almond Tart, Escarole and Orzo Soup with Meatballs
Six years ago: Baked Tomato Sauce
French Onion Tart
I tend to fiddle around with different crust ratios each time I make a savory tart shell because I’m still looking for my favorite. Below is (roughly) the one recommended by Larousse Gastronomique. If you have a go-to crust that you love, feel free to use it here. If you can’t be bothered making one, there’s no shame in buying one at the store. I also tend to go back and forth on the value of par-baking crusts — if you blind bake them first, you will get a more crisp shell and deeper color in the end (if, uh, you bake it as long as I recommend below, and not for the shorter time that I did, because I wasn’t paying attention). It’s totally up to you if you feel this step is worth it; it still works if you put the filling in a raw pastry shell, it just stays a bit more pale.
Updated: Because several of you had issues with the quiche layers separating (into onions, eggs, then cheese), I’ve altered the directions to have you cool the onions long enough that they won’t scramble the eggs, then mix the egg custard and onions together before filling the shell. The prior method, spreading the onions in the bottom, then pouring over the custard, was to allow you to skip the cooling step.
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces or 113 grams) chilled butter, in cubes
3 tablespoons cold water
1 1/2 pounds yellow onions (about 4 medium), halved and thinly sliced
1 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Scant 1/2 teaspoon table salt
Pinch of sugar
1 cup low-sodium beef, veal or mushroom stock/broth
2 teaspoons cognac, brandy or vermouth (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup (about 2 ounces or 60 grams) grated Gruyere, Comte or Swiss cheese
1 large egg
1/2 cup heavy cream (half-and-half and milk work too, but cream tastes best)
Make crust: Mix flour and salt together in a large bowl or the work bowl of a food processor. Add butter; either rub the butter bits into the flour with your fingertips, with a pastry blender or (in the food processor option) by pulsing the machine on in short bursts until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Sprinkle in cold water and mix it with a spoon, a few more cuts with a handheld pastry blender, or by pulsing the machine a couple more times. The mixture should form large clumps. Knead it gently into a ball; it will be on the firm side but should be easy to roll.
Lightly butter a 9-inch round tart pan with a removable base. Don’t have one? Try a standard pie dish or even a 9-inch cake pan. The second two options will be hard/impossible to unmold later, but there’s no harm in serving the tart from its baking pan.
Roll your dough out between two pieces of plastic wrap until it is about 11 inches in diameter. Peel the top plastic layer off and reverse the dough into the prepared tart pan, lifting the sides to drape (rather than pressing/stretching the dough) the dough into the corners. Press the dough the rest of the way in and up the sides. Trim edges, which you can leave ever-so-slightly extended above the edge of the tart pan, to give you some security against shrinkage. Chill for 15 minutes in your freezer.
If par-baking the crust (see notes up top for pros/cons): Heat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly butter a piece of foil and press it tightly into your firm-from-the-freezer tart shell. Fill tart shell with pie weights, dried beans or rice or pennies and blind bake for 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from oven, carefully remove foil and weights, and return to oven for another 5 to 7 minutes, until lightly golden at edges. Set aside until needed.
Make filling: Melt the butter and olive oil together in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions to the pan, toss them gently with the butter and oil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cover the pan. Cook the onions for 15 minutes, then remove the lid, stir in the salt and sugar and saute without the lid for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the onions are fully caramelized and have taken on a deep golden color. Pour in cognac, if using it, and the stock, then turn the heat all the way up and scrape up any brown bits stuck to the pan. Simmer the mixture until the broth nearly completely disappears (wetter onions will make for a wetter quiche), about 5 to 10 minutes. Adjust the salt, if needed, and season with freshly ground black pepper. [Updated to add.] Let cool until warm. You can hasten this process by spreading the onions out on a plate in the fridge, or even faster, in the freezer.
In a mediu bowl, beat the egg and cream together. [Update] Gently stir the lukewarm onions into the custard.
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Assemble and bake tart: Fill prepared tart shell with onion-egg mixture. Ideally, this will bring your filling level to 1/4-inch from the top, however, variances in shells, pans, pan sizes and even onion volume might lead you to have a lower fill line. You can beat another egg with cream together and pour it in until it reaches that 1/4-inch-from-top line if you wish. Sprinkle cheese over custard and bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until a sharp knife inserted into the filling and turned slightly releases no wet egg mixture. Serve hot or warm, with a big green salad.