Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist


Seasonal Stirrings the Vidalia Way

Even though Vidalia onions are an edible hallmark of spring down here in the South, I start thinking about this Vidalia Onion Tart more as the cooler, shorter days of fall start approaching.  Something about it just seems earthy and right set on a cool, fall table, with the sound of crunchy leaves and waning light all around.  I think we’re all ready for fall once Labor Day comes rolling around as it’s about to once again.

Vidalia onions are basically a sweet onion that hail from Vidalia, Georgia. Sweet onions

Photo by Helene Dujardin

with a less noble label are fortunately available throughout the year. They really make this tart sing, as the sweetness plays the most beautiful taste music against the salty back-notes of the bacon and lemmony earthiness of fresh thyme.

I love this Alsacienne-themed tart so much, I actually repeated it in Tart Love – Sassy, Savory and Sweet from its original home on the pages of Southern Farmers Market Cookbook. The only recipe I’ve ever repeated, it’s just that good and can be served warm, room temperature, or hot from the oven.  It’s especially delicious, and even a little bit romantic, eaten in front of a blazing fire with a good friend and a cool glass of Riesling.

Here it is as adapted from Tart Love – Sassy, Savory and Sweet (Gibbs Smith). By the way, the publisher told me last week that the book has arrived at the warehouse and will be shipping to bookstores in a matter of days! There is no time like the present for tarts. Happy cooking!

Vidalia Onion Tart with Bacon, Honey and Fresh Thyme

(Serves 10 to 12)

Equipment Needed: One 12 X 1-inch round tart pan with removable bottom

Egg wash (yolk, pinch salt, splash water blended together)

One Recipe Master Savory Pastry:

2 1/2 cups White Lily all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt

2 sticks (1 cup) AA grade unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/4-inch cubes

3 tablespoons ice-cold water, or just enough to hold the pastry together

For the filling:

4 slices bacon

5 large Vidalia onions (or substitute another sweet onion), peeled, halved and thinly sliced

Kosher salt or sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh thyme leaves

1/2 cup dry white wine

3 tablespoons honey

1 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons whole cream

At least 30 minutes before rolling and baking (or up to one day in advance), prepare the pastry. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a plastic blade, pulse together the flour and salt. Add the butter and pulse rapidly, 40 – 50 times, or until the butter is blended into the flour and is coarse and the butter is the size of small peas. Gradually, add the water in a small trickle, with the processor running. Continue adding just as the pastry starts coming together in the shape of a loose, crumbly ball. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Form into a disc, about 1″ high, and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or overnight.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface until it’s about 1″- thick. Line the tart pan with the pastry. Tuck the pastry neatly into the edges of the pan, guiding about 1/4″ of the pastry up and into the insides of the pan. Using your rolling pin, roll over the entire circumference of the pan to cut off any excess pastry (this can be saved for later use). Press the excess pastry between your forefinger and thumb, to form a slightly elevated border. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. Line the pan with parchment paper and weights (I use dried beans) and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the parchment and weights and brush the bottoms and sides with the egg wash. Bake another 10 – 15 minutes, or until just golden. Remove from the oven and set aside until ready to fill.

To prepare the filling, heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the bacon in a single layer and cook, turning as needed, until it is crispy and the fat has been rendered. Transfer bacon to drain and cool on paper towels; chop coarsely once cool enough to handle. Reserve 2 tablespoons bacon fat in the pan and reduce heat to medium. Add onions, salt, pepper, and thyme. Cook over medium heat until onions have softened, stirring about every 5 minutes. Do not let the onions brown! After about 20 minutes, add wine and increase heat to medium-high. Cook the wine down to a glaze, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the honey and reserved chopped bacon. Stir and cook 5 minutes more. Remove onion mixture from the heat and spoon into a shallow pan; refrigerate to cool. When cool, drain off any excess pan juices and stir in the egg and cream. Adjust seasonings as needed.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Fill the pastry crust with the onion mixture and bake about 35 minutes, until golden brown and the filling is set. Serve warm or at room temperature.




Roasted Tomato and Garlic Tart with Fresh Marjoram and Fontina

We’re getting nice and close to the publication launch of Tart Love, so there will just be a few more tart “tempter” recipes on the blog before the book’s actual release on October 1. This delicious and delightfully easy tart makes tasty use of summer’s tomato bounty. Adapted from Tart Love – Sassy, Savory and Sweet (Gibbs Smith, Oct. 1, 2011, by Holly Herrick). Make it in good health and in good times!==========================

Reminiscent of a very elegant and light pizza, this beautiful square tart just dances with flavor. Two-toned tomatoes (I used yellow and red heirloom tomatoes I found at the farmers’ market) are roasted prior to going into the tart to condense their flavor and reduce their juices. This, combined with a protective and flavorful coating of roated garlic paste that forms the first layer of the tart, prevents the pastry from getting soggy. Fat wedges of fragrant, nutty fontina cheese seep Italian goodness into the tomatoes as the tart cooks. A jolt of fresh marjoram and a drizzle of olive oil at the finish, and you’ve got a beautiful dinner for four.

Photo by Helene Dujardin

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Tart with Fresh Marjoram and Fontina

(Serves 4)

Equipment needed: Parchment paper, pastry brush, roasting pan

One 6″ X 6″ square prepared puff pastry (I like Pepperidge Farm)

3 medium-sized fresh heirloom tomatoes – try and find 2 or 3 different colors, trimmed, halved and sliced into 1/8″ thickness

1 whole head garlic

Drizzle best-quality extra virgin olive oil

Drizzle best-quality aged balsamic vinegar

Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Egg wash – 1 egg yolk mixed with a dash of salt and a teaspoon or two of water

1 small onion, peeled and sliced very fine

8 thick, 2″ long slices fontina cheese

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh marjoram (or substitute oregano)

Preheat oven to 400F.  Remove the puff pastry from the freezer and thaw according to manufacturer’s directions. Keeping the colors separate, arrange the tomato slices on a baking sheet in an individual layer. Season generously with salt and freshly ground pepper. Trim the top off the whole head of garlic and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Wrap tightly with aluminum foil and place on an open corner of the baking sheet. Place the tray in the center rack of the oven. Roast the tomatoes until they’ve just shriveled, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely to room temp. Keep the garlic in the oven another 15 minutes, or until it’s softened. Remove the foil and allow the garlic to cool. Drizzle the tomatoes lightly with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. When the garlic’s cool enough to handle, remove the pulp by squeezing the garlic gently, as you would an orange, to extract the flesh from the individual clove casings. Discard the garlic casings and spread the roasted garlic flesh into a paste with the back of your chef’s knife. Cool completely to room temp.

Unfold the thawed, but still cool pastry and arrange on a roasting pan lined with parchment paper. Press gently to form its (already) square shape. Brush the entire square lightly with the egg wash using a pastry brush. Using the same brush, coat the pastry with a layer of garlic paste (you will be using all of it!) leaving a 1″ “naked” border all around the square. Arrange a single layer of the fresh onions and season generously with salt and pepper, following the lines of the bare border. Arrange the tomatoes on top, forming two parallel, vertical lines of two different colored tomatoes. Wedge four slices of fontina cheese evenly between the tomatoes on each of the two lines of tomatoes. Bake until crisp, brown, and bubbly, about 20 minutes. While the tart is still warm, drizzle with the fresh marjoram, salt and freshly ground pepper and a tiny touch of extra virgin olive oil. To serve, cut into four large squares and plate alongside a fresh, green salad. 





Tasso Tussled Sweet Potato and Arugula Tartlets

These savory beauties would be perfect on any Easter or spring holiday table…Adapted from Tart Love – Savory, Sweet and Southern (Holly Herrick/Gibbs Smith). The lovely photo is by Helene Dujardin. Happy Easter and enjoy the beautiful weather and flavors of spring!

Sweet potatoes and arugula (also called “rocket”) grow best in the cooler seasons of fall and spring. Though sweet potatoes are often served loaded with sugar and fat at calorie-drunk Thanksgiving tables, they have a rich, nutty, savory flavor in their virgin state. Arugula provides a deep green color lining at the bottom of the tartlets that gives peppery taste surprise to every bite. Crumbled, candied pecans scattered over the top add just the right sweetness to counter the Cajun kick of tasso ham, which is prepared from cured and smoked pork butt. If you can’t find it, substitute pancetta or bacon, and feel free to spice either up with a little cayenne and fresh garlic as it cooks.

Makes 10 to 12 Tartlets

Equipment needed: Ten to twelve 3 5/8″ X 1″ tartlet pans with removable bottoms, 6″ round pastry cutter

For the pastry:

2 1/2 cups White Lily All Purpose flour

2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

2 sticks (or 1 cup) best quality, AA Grade unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/4″ cubes

ice cold water – about 3 tablespoons or enough to just hold the pastry together

One egg wash – yolk, pinch salt, dash water, blended together

For the filling prep:

2 large sweet potatoes, skin on and pierced with a fork or knife

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup 1/4″ cubed tasso ham

4 cups coarsely chopped fresh arugula, stems removed

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For the candied nuts:

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup fresh pecan halves, coarsely chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili pepper

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

To finish  the potato filling:

1/2 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons honey, preferably good local honey

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup Half & Half

1 egg

Prepare the pastry first. Pulse the flour and the salt together in the bowl of a large food processor fitted with a pastry blade. Add the butter and pulse until the butter breaks down into small pieces, about the size of peas (40 – 50 pulses). Gradually, add the water through the mouth of the food processor, while pulsing. Add just enough so that the pastry comes together in one large, loose ball. Turn it out on a lightly floured surface and form it into a 2″ thick disk. Wrap with plastic wrap and rest in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes or overnight.  Once the pastry has rested, roll it out on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4″ thickness. Working tightly to avoid waste, cut rounds with the pastry cutter. Line the tartlet pans with the pastry, pressing the pastry delicately into the edges and forming a small 1/4″ high border. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375F. Line each tartlet with parchment paper and fill with about 1/4 cup of weights – dried beans, pie weights, and rice will all work. Arrange the tartlets on a baking sheet and cook for 20 minutes or until the pastry has begun to set. Remove the weights and their liners and brush the sides and bottom of the tartlets with the egg wash. Continue baking another 20 minutes or until golden brown and fully baked. Meanwhile, prepare the fillings.

While the pastry is baking, place the two sweet potatoes in the hot oven to bake, skin-on. Bake until softened, 40 – 50 minutes. Remove to cool at room temperature. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. When sizzling, add the tasso and brown, tossing from time to time, browning on all sides. This should take about 5 minutes. Add the arugula all at once, tossing or stirring to coat. It will wilt and break-down almost immediately. Cook only 1 – 2  minutes so that it retains its brilliant green color. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool, draining off any excess liquid.

Prepare the candied nuts. Heat the butter in a medium saute pan. When sizzling, add the pecans, salt and pepper, chipotle chili pepper, and sugar. Toss to coat, stirring occasionally. Cook until just browned. Watch carefully so the nuts do not burn! Count on about 5 minutes for the nuts to brown evenly. Drain on paper towels and set aside.

Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel, and place the cooked flesh in a large bowl with salt and pepper to tate, 2 tablespoons honey, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 cup Half & Half, and one egg. Beat with a hand-held mixer on medium high until frothy and light, about 2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

To compile the tartlets, line each with about 1 tablespoon of the cooled arugula mixture. Top with 3 tablespoons of the potato mixture. Arrange the tartlets on a baking sheet and bake at 375 for  35 -40 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Finely chop the cooled nuts and drizzle the top of each tartlet with about 1 tablespoon of the nuts. Serve warm, drizzling lightly with a bit more honey, if desired.

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