One of Bruno’s favorite hunting partners, a wealthy retired industrialist nicknamed “the Baron,” is famous for the tomato tart he cooks for the hunters’ regular evening get-togethers. But because the juicy tomatoes gave the pastry base a soggy bottom, it occurred to Bruno not only that tomatoes would respond well to a tarte-Tatin treatment—that renowned apple tart that is cooked under a crisp pastry lid, then flipped upside down—but that the method might be applied just as successfully to most vegetables. With a crop of onions hanging in his barn, he came up with this recipe, which he served to the hunters to great applause, and not a little grumpiness from the Baron, with an arugula salad dressed in a mustardy vinaigrette to counterbalance the sweetness of the onions.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons light olive oil or vegetable oil
2 teaspoons sugar
4 or 5 red onions, peeled, cut in half crosswise
Leaves from 6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 1/2 oz / 300g Simple Flaky Pastry (page 181) or store-bought short-crust pastry
1/3 cup (31/2 ounces / 100 grams) firm (not runny) goat cheese
Preheat the oven to 325°F/170°C.
Over low heat, melt the butter with the oil in a heavy-bottomed sauté pan that can go into the oven. When the fat is sizzling, take the pan off the heat, sprinkle in the sugar, and lay the onions, cut side down in one layer in the hot oil to fit. If there are any gaps between the onions, cut one of the halves into quarters or eighths to fill the gaps tightly. Cover the pan, and brown the onions on one side over the lowest heat for 10 to 15 minutes, shaking the pan gently once or twice to prevent them from sticking.
Lift the lid, sprinkle the thyme, vinegar, and salt and pepper over the onions, then re-cover, shake again, and place the pan in the oven; roast for 45 minutes, till the onions have softened and the liquid has evaporated. Wearing an oven glove, remove the pan from the oven, and test the onions for softness with the point of a knife. If significant liquid remains in the bottom of the pan, place it, uncovered, over medium-low heat, and reduce it until only a little thick syrup remains, shaking the pan every now and then to prevent the onions from sticking.
Raise the heat of the oven to 375°F/190°C.
Allow the pan to cool until you can touch it; then lay the pastry, rolled out to be 2 inches (5 centimeters) larger than the circumference of the pan, so it covers the onions and hangs over the sides of the pan. Fold the excess pastry edge back under itself casually so it now fits the pan, as you would for a fruit tarte Tatin. Press it down lightly to seal it tight. Pierce the pastry here and there with a fork so the steam can escape. (All this can be done 2 days before baking; but refrigerate the tarte.)
Bake the tarte until it’s crisp and golden, 40 minutes. Wearing an oven glove, remove the pan from the oven, run a knife around the edge of the pastry to release it, and set it aside to cool for 10 minutes. Place a serving plate larger than the pan over the top of the tarte. With one hand firmly on the plate, flip the pan and plate upside down so the tarte is turned out onion side up. Dab or crumble the goat cheese over the top, and serve.
Credit line: From Bruno’s Cookbook: Recipes and Traditions from a French Country Kitchen © 2023 by Walker and Watson, Ltd. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.