The wind has turned cool and the grey clouds are gathering. Parisian girls have obediently put on their black tights and thick coats.
It is September 3rd. Autumn has arrived right on schedule. Today is Back to School day, for children and students, and adults that like an excuse to buy stationery and start with blank resolutions for a new year. The French love la rentrée.
September 3rd marks the two year anniversary of my arrival in France. And for the first time in twenty years (!) I am not going back to school. I am back working in my little bakery, for real this time.
In the metro on the way home, however, I read about the very affordable evening courses (art/language/computer/carpentry…) sponsored by the city council. So as not to make it too easy, I have to carefully fill out forms in triplicate (of course) and post them off within a week. Errors may mean disqualification of the hopeful candidate.
Paris, Paris. What a tease. Culture around every corner, if you know how to jump through the hoops. Filigree balconies and an ominous stench of pee. (It’s true, it is a beautiful but smelly city.)
To honour this weird and contradictory place, I bought onions and cried while slicing them.
I made this tart, in the leafy colours of autumn – caramel, mustard, burnt umber.
It looks like a quiche, but it is less eggy and more savoury. Fully half of it is made up of onions cooked until brown and sweet as toffee. Then Camembert, Bayonne ham and Dijon mustard add miles of flavour and French authenticity.
Actual Parisians wouldn’t dream of making the tart crust themselves, not in their pocket-sized kitchens. You can buy pastry (all-butter, please) as they would, from the supermarket. Or, enveloped by a cosy onion fug, you can make this simple crumbly short crust while you wait for the onions to caramelise.
French onion and Camembert tart
makes enough for 4 in a deep tart dish about 22cm wide
100 cold butter
1 tsp salt
3-4 tbs cold water
for the filling:
500g onions (2-3 large ones)
80g Camembert (or another smelly cheese)
2 slices Bayonne ham (prosciutto will do as well)
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp mustard
a little Gruyère to grate on top, if you have any
Blend flour, salt and 100g cold butter in a food processor. Drizzle in cold water until the dough starts to clump together. Push it into a rough disc with your hands, clingfilm and refrigerate.
Melt 60g butter in a large saucepan. Peel, half and thickly slice the onions into half moons. Cook in the butter, half covered, on a medium heat until soft. Then uncover, turn up the heat and cook until caramelised, stirring every now and then. Takes about 20 minutes.
While onions are cooking, grease a tart pan and heat the oven to 180C. Roll out the pastry and gently press into pan. If it crumbles a little, just patch it up again. Stick it in the freezer this time until onions are ready.
Fill pastry with caramelised onions, then tear up the cheese and ham and sprinkle over. Whisk eggs, cream and mustard and pour it on. Finally top with a little grated Gruyere.
Bake for 30-35 minutes until puffed up, golden and firm. Serve with a green salad and a sharp vinaigrette.
P.S. If you were to be really cunning, you wouldn’t wash the onion saucepan but throw some chopped carrots into it, cover with boiling water and simmer until soft. Add coconut milk, spices, blend and you have a quick soup ready before the tart comes out of the oven.