Sunday, May 26, 2013

An Onion and Fig Tart To Start Off Your Next Dinner Party, with Cocktails, Of Course

More from Cocktail Buzz’s Cookbook Challenge . . .

The seductive aroma and complex flavors of Ras el Hanout, a North African spice blend, are the secret to this tart’s success.

If architectural terms, puff pastry is the foundation that keeps your tart structurally sound. This cocktail party workhorse is just about the easiest thing in the world to create with. All you need to do is let it thaw and unfold. Your imagination then takes over as you decide on the sweet and savory toppings. Most anything in your crisper or on top of your kitchen counter will work well with the flaky, layered dough. The one thing puff pastry doesn’t like, however, is bland. That’s why caramelized onions are the perfect “main floor” of your tart. Little else, save salt and pepper, are needed. We found a basic caramelized onion tart recipe in a very helpful, instructional book called Knives Cooks Love, one of the books we chose this month as part of our ongoing Cookbook Challenge. In our version, we wanted to ramp up sweetness and spiciness with some fresh mission figs, cut into halves or quarters, and a sprinkling of the 30-plus-spice Moroccan blend known as ras el hanout.

Mission figs are starting to appear in markets right now and should be available through the end of September. Chose ones that are plump, dark, and give a little when you squeeze them. You don’t want them greenish, or they will taste slightly astringent. When fully ripe, they should taste more like newton filling. Adding ras el hanout works magically with figs. Figs were originally brought to the Americas by the Spanish conquistadors, so choosing a spice blend from generally the same part of the world seemed to us like a good fit. Besides having the usual mixture of ground cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, and cumin, the ras el hangout we used had some rosebuds ground in the mix as well, offsetting the spiciness with a slight floral taste and aroma.

Caramelized Onion Tart with Figs 
(inspired by and adapted from Sur la Table’s Knives Cooks Love, by Sarah Joy)

4 yellow onions
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, 10"×10", thawed
5 fresh black mission figs, quartered or halved1
1 tablespoon ras el hanout (Moroccan spice blend)2
orange zest (optional)

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the onions in half from pole to pole. Then take each half and cut from pole to pole into 1/4-inch-thick slices. (To achieve this, you will have to cut obliquely into the onion, by angling the knife a little. Start slicing from the bottom, then move your way to to the top. Readjust, then slice the remaining onion.)

Heat the oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add onions and salt, and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring every so often. The onions can brown a little, but you do not want them to burn. If they seem to be sticking too much to the pan, add a little water to loosen them up. After they are done cooking, remove them from the pan to a plate to allow them to cool completely.

Next, unfold a sheet of puff pastry onto the parchment-lined baking sheet. Flatten a little with a rolling pin, to roughly 11"×11". Prick the dough all over with a fork, but avoiding close to the perimeter. Keep the dough refrigerated if you are not ready to assemble the tart.

Spread the caramelized onions evenly over the dough, leaving a little room at the edges. Arrange the sliced figs on top in a way that every slice will allow at least one bite of fig. Sprinkle the ras el hanout (and orange zest, if using) from about a foot above the tart, so that it disperses evenly over its entirety. Bake until the crust is golden on top and also underneath (you can check the bottom by lifting the tart with a spatula), about 25–30 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board. Cut into bite-sized squares or rectangles if for a cocktail party; if for dinner, cut into nine even squares. Serve warm.

1  You can substitute any fresh figs. If you only have dried figs, add them to a small pot, fill with water so that it covers the figs completely, bring to a boil, remove from heat, and cover. Let sit for at least 2 hours. Remove from water and use. Instead of dumping the remaining liquid, you can add some sugar to it (about 1/4 cup), bring to a simmer, and reduce for about 10 minutes, or until desired thickness. You can use this fig simple syrup as a sweetener substitute in one of the cocktails below. If thicker, you can pour over vanilla ice cream.

2  You can get prepared ras el hanout from spice purveyors such as Kalustyan’s in NYC. No two are exactly alike, and some can use over 30 different spices and herbs.

Pairing Suggestions

Accompany your onion tart
with a cocktail and a side salad.
Brandy Old-Fashioned
Champagne Cocktail
Jack Rose
Slivovitz Sour
Gin and Tonic
Tom Collins
French 75
Pimm’s Cup

photos © Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz