Sunday, August 23, 2009

Simplicity = Onion Tart

In the oppressive heat and humidity of August in New York City, it is the simplest food that I crave. I can't do the amazing things that my friend Peter, for example, does in the kitchen. He is a down-to-earth guy who composts and re-uses and grows his own vegetables, but his food is not simple. Everything has yuzu, agave nectar, smoked poultry broth, and homemade bacon in it, and then gets plated with lovely little edible flowers. I would like to eat the things he makes, but I cannot/do not have the will to cook them. I have to keep things simple. But I want delicious food too - simple doesn't have to mean plain.

Here is a truly simple dish, and it is a wonderful dish whose sum is far more elegant than its parts. I'm talking about the onion tart. The ingredients are inexpensive and the tart is quite versatile - you could serve this to your foodie friends, to your 2.5 year old, or brown bag it for lunch the next day. Oh, and it lends itself very well to wine - you can go in most any direction with this.

All you need is a few onions, a pie crust, and butter. The essence of the onion tart is very simple - thinly slice 3 or 4 medium onions and cook them for 25-30 minutes in plenty of butter in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add a bit of salt and stir every few minutes so that all of the onions get a turn touching the pan's surface. You can let the onions get all brown and caramelized if you like, but I prefer to stop about 5 minutes short of that. They will still be very sweet, but not as intense and rich. Put these onions in a pie crust that you have flattened (or if you're Peter, make your own crust), fold the edges of the crust up around the onions, and bake for about 40 minutes. That's it - the most basic of onion tarts. I like to add dried herbs to the onions as they cook. You also add things like olives, tomatoes, anchovies, lemon zest - whatever sounds good to you. This time I added Herbs de Provence to the cooking onions, and put black olives and little Juliette tomatoes atop the tart before baking.

Now, what about wine? I think it would be pretty hard to take a wrong turn here. This is simple food that will go with just about any wine. I thought about an Alsace Pinot Blanc, but that made me want to add eggs and cheese to the tart and eat it in January. It's late summer, it's hot, and I used Herbs de Provence - we went with the 2008 Château de Pibarnon Bandol Rosé, $26, Michael Skurnik Wines. This wine turned out to be absolutely excellent, as good as any Bandol rosé I've had this year, including the phenomenal 2007 Terrebrune. I have yet to drink the '08 Tempier, so the jury is still out for me. Anyway...Pibarnon's rosé is 50% each of Mourvèdre and Cinsault, and it is a beautiful deep orange, with vibrant and spicy aromas of peaches. The lavender in the herb mixture brought out something floral in the wine - this was one of those times when the wine and the food elevate each other. But it was the texture that made the wine stand out, for me. It is voluptuous and thick, almost viscous, but the fruit and mineral flavors are so clean and bright that the overall effect is one of elegance and balance. This wine has plenty of stuffing, and If I had a case, I would drink half while young put half of it in the cellar for at least 5 years before checking in.


Weston said...

making me hungry, got to love "simple" foods with great flavour. Doesn't hurt when it doesnt take long to cook either

gcarl said...

I'll have to try this (both the tart and the Pibaron). Perhaps it is OT, but last week I tried the "slow cooking then searing" method of steak preparation you published in May, using a thick porterhouse. It was outstanding and led me to try the same technique this evening with some 1-1/4" or so pork loin steaks, seasoned just before cooking with ground salt/pepper and Herbs de Provence. They reached 120 degrees in the 275 degree oven and about 145 in the hot iron skillet. After sitting for several minutes before serving, the temperature increased and the juices were redistributed throughout the chops. I served them with some simple stir-fried vegetables and some rice cooked in a rice cooker with some peach mango salsa.

The best and easiest pork chops I have made, and they went well with the 2007 Terrebrune rose' I had in the cooler.

Thanks for your "meat cooking tip", it really works well.

Scott Reiner said...

haven't had the 08 pibarnon yet, but so far the tempier is my favorite 08 bandol rose.

Clarke B. said...

This vintage of Pibarnon rosé is the best I've tasted for sure (disclaimer: I represent the estate in NY)... Scott, you've gotta try it.

A few more facts about the wine: the Cinsault is from press juice, the Mourvèdre saignée. The vines are planted in soils of clay and Triassic limestone, on southeast-facing slopes 300 meters high (Pibarnon has the highest-altitude vines in all of Bandol).

2008 was a very strong vintage in Provence--a long growing season with slow and gradual ripening, which promotes freshness and vibrancy in the rosés.

Also, for the first time ever, the estate used some of the grapes destined for their top Bandol rouge in the rosé--another reason for the greatness of the '08.

I admit, I usually think Tempier is at the very top of the heap, but in '08 I really think the Pibarnon edges it out.

Brooklynguy said...

@ gcarl - i'm so glad that this worked for you, and applying it to pork sounds brilliant. i'll have to bring this method elsewhere too.

@Clarke - thanks for your informative comments. interesting that they would put 08 grapes destined for Bandol rouge into the rose. why would they do that, i wonder? perfect grapes and no sorting, yields almost too high? in any case, i would have to agree, pibarnon's rose in08 is utterly great.

Clarke B. said...

My understanding is that Eric de St. Victor (owner and winemaker at Pibarnon) has consciously scaled back red production, albeit quite slightly, over the past few years, due to a small sales dip. The demand for rosé seems only to be increasing, which I'm sure was a motivating factor as well.

peter said...

Hey Neil-

Thanks for the shout-out. I loves me an onion tart with rosé; couldn't be a better post to include me in (though next time I'd like to be included in the tart-eating as well.)

I may be showing the apartment over the next few weeks, and if so I'll let you know and we can try to have a drink.