Home / Essays / 2015 / July

S01E09 The one with the onion tartlets

! Warning: You might find the following content at least slightly sad.

! Advice: Strap on a pair and read the damn thing.

A day that began with an early Skype call from my family back home, letting me know that my dad was in the hospital and that he might be dying. Nothing you imagine in the world can ever truly prepare you for that moment. I cried my heart out for half a day, thinking not only that he might be dying, but that he might die without seeing me for one last time. That was the day I told my father “Please wait for me” and he said “I'll try”. Every morning ever since that day, I would sleep with the fear and wake up with the fear, brush my teeth with the fear and eat and walk with the damn fear of losing him.. That day was the beginning of the end and the last time I cooked for blog.

Needles to say, I wasn't up for anything that day, but I decided to try and do it in order to distract myself and maybe stop crying for 5 whole minutes. This was like food therapy. That was the purpose of cooking that day, and it served me well. It's going to be extremely difficult to tell you how much time this recipe takes, because it took me aprox. 5 hours. I was thinking and moving in slow motion but I was crying full speed. This recipe was truly my Everest and the time that followed was easily the hardest time of my life. I did make it home on time to see my father before he died. I got to kiss him and hug him and tell him “I love you” for the last time. The reason I'm writing about this is threefold:

1. Because it happened and I have a crazy compulsion to tell the truth.

2. Because depending on how my life is going my relationship with food changes. I may use cooking to make me feel better, I may try to use it to make me feel better and fail because the shit I'm going through is just too much; There are times when I have no appetite, no creative spark, I'm stuck in a rut eating bad sandwiches and feeling hopeless. It's all connected and it reflects on my food.

3. Because my dad loved food. Decadent, hot, meaty, eat-with-your-hands and share-with-your family-food. I got my love for food from him for sure. The way he spoke about food would make any mouth go watery. He truly had a gift. He appreciated the good things in life, the good food, the good booze, the great music.

Food was a big part of my family's life. We did express love through food and no, I don't think that was a bad thing. My dad loved to take us out to eat, or surprise us in the morning with fresh hot pies from various pastry shops, or come home from the market loaded with strawberries and awesome cheese and hot bread! The best times we had together were the times we were around a table. In the summer time we would make late-night barbecue and eat it outside, underneath the dark sky. A meaty feast accompanied by a hot polenta and freshly made garlic sauce. At the end we would all share a huge, cold-from-the-fridge watermelon and fight over the sugary middle. Those were the days, my friend. Over the years, as my dad's sickness kept getting worse, I kept hoping that at one point we will be restored to our former glory and celebrate with one of those barbecues. Sadly, that never happened. He died with the taste of unsalted veggie mash and tasteless cottage cheese in his mouth. He had been craving a meat and cabbage stew. He would tell me about it, he would describe the smokey meat, the hot bright yellow polenta and the chili pepper that would accompany that. I was going to come home in august for a whole month and cook for him. We made so many food plans, a list of things I never got to make. That, believe it or not, is one of my biggest regrets.

After I post this recipe, the “Friends food challenge” will officially be on a break (get it? - insert Rachel and Ross fight here) because I will be staying home for a couple of months. During this period I may post childhood recipes or things my dad liked. And maybe a glimpse of the magic Romanian markets that I missed so much! And when autumn comes, I will return to Dublin and to the food challenge and to my fat cat. And possibly mental health.

Things and stuff:

A 20 cm tart pan with a removable butt, a rolling pin, a blender/mixer type thing/your lovely fingers, a bowl, a pan, a knife, a cutting board,the usual.

It was this big:

Well, a 20 cm tart ;)

It took this long:

The making of the pastry - 10 min., the resting of the pastry - 30 min. The preparation of the onions - 25 min., the making of the cheese filling - 5 min (but because this is happening while the pastry is resting, you're basically turning back time!). 5-10 min. to assemble, 30 min. to bake it. If you are making the candied nuts I made, add an extra 10-15 min.

Ingredients:


The Process

THE PASTRY

Pre-step: get your butter out of the freezing cold and allow it to come to room temperature. He deserves it! He never gets to be on the outside, playin' with the cool kids. When warm, dice that baby up real nice.

"Why am I doing this?"
Because if you want a awesome piece of pastry you need to have an even distribution of butter within the flour, to give it that flakiness we all know and love. This is difficult to achieve if the butter is as cold as ice but, unlike the girl from the song, unwilling to sacrifice. Sooo, listen and make sure it is at room temperature.

Step 1: Put the flour, butter and salt into a large bowl (if you're using your hands) or you mixer bowl (if you're going electrique).

Step 2: Lightly rub together using your fingertips OR blitz them shortly until you have a sandy texture.


Step 3: Add the egg and the water and blitz again like we did last summer. If you're doing this with your fingers, make a well in the center and then add the egg and water, gradually working them into the flour mixture.


Step 4: When the eggs have been absorbed, bring the dough together and press to form a ball shaped thing.Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently with your palms for just 10 seconds. Flatten said dough into a round, and wrap in cling film. Refrigerate for 20–30 minutes before rolling out. 


!  You have to judge the consistency of the dough. If it is too wet add a little flour; if too dry, add a little water. Flours differ in absorbency, you have to roll with it.

! Flattening the dough before resting it in the fridge is much easier to do than once it is chilled. Resting makes the dough less elastic, more pliable and easier to roll. I wouldn't have it any other way.


THE ONION FILLING


Step 1: Thinly slice the onions. Like so:


Step 2: Start melting the butter in a pan ( you can add a tablespoon of olive oil too, to prevent the butter from burning). Then throw the lobsters into the air! Wait. No. That;s not it. You throw the onions into the pan. With the salt and pepper.Let them soften. Little heat, lots of lovin'.


Step 3: When they are submissively soft, add the sugar and the balsamic vinegar and let them party until they merge into this purty lil' thang:

Done!


THE CREAM FILLING


Step 1: Grate cheese and combine withe the eggs and the thyme.


Step 2:  Add milk and creme fraiche, mix until combined.


ASSEMBLY TIME:

Step 1: Roll out the dough. Place in the middle of a large sheet of cling film and cover with another sheet of cling film, of similar dimensions. Roll out the dough to a circle, 3mm thick give or take.

!Rolling it in between two sheets of paper prevents the dough from sticking or breaking. It doesn't become heavier due to the use of flour and it's cleaner. Cleaner, faster, better! This is teleshopping shit at its best! Cling film! Point to a bag today! ;) 


Step 2: Take off the top layer of cling film and discard, then lift the dough by picking up the corners of the cling film and invert it into the tart pan, removing the cling film.

 Ease the pastry into the ring with your fingers and then tuck that baby in! With the help of your rolling pin, trim, baby, trim.


Step 3: Prick it, prick it good, prick it just like you should. Or maybe you prefer : Fork it, baby, one more time! A lil' bit of Britney for that old school feel.


Step 4: Place the tart case in the fridge for 30 min. to relax and firm up. At the same time! 


Step 5: Preheat the oven at 170 degrees/gas mark 3. now rest and allow yourself at least one glass of wine. Seriously, you need it. No? Just me?


Step 6: The 30 min. are up! Wake up, get it out of the fridge and get back to business. Place the onions in the pastry case.


Step 7: Pour the creamy stuff, you know you want to.


Step 8: Place it on the middle shelf in the oven and wait for it. 30 min or until golden browned.


Now, I decided to over-complicate things and add goat cheese and candied nuts on top. I would give you the recipe but I can'd remember shit. So, instead of lying about it or trying to cover up the fact that I have no recollection of how they happened, I am coming clean and promising to make lots of candied nuts in the autumn time when the weather is fine. Enough talk, there it is:


Feedback: Oh, goodness gracious, great balls of fire! You can't get cheesier that this! And gooey and sweet and creamy AND crumbly! This one here is the bees knees, the cat's pajamas, top freakin' notch! Takes a bit of time and a bit of dough skills, but I trust that you (whoever that may be) are a hungry yet rational individual with a desire to improve yo' baking skills and put this baby in yo' mouth.

 Caution: let it rest, if you try (as I did) to cut into to it when hot out of the oven, you will regret it. Wait for at least 15 min. and then indulge. Serve with a fresh green salad and become a better person. Guaranteed!  

Oh, Russell, you understand me. It's just that I miss a lot of things these days. I miss my bedroom, my boyfriend and my cat. My big kitchen, my closet space and all that. But most of all, I miss you, dad. 

Until the next one, happy eating!