Something that you may not know about me is that for a year and a half I helped to run/manage a village pub…My mum bought one and ended up needing help to run it, so myself, Damian and Ringo (and our cat Skitz, who ended up staying with my parents when we left the pub) moved from Birmingham to a tiny village in West Sussex where we lived upstairs in the pub and helped manage it, despite never even having done any bar work before…We learned a vast amount, did a bit of everything including serving drinks, waiting tables, working in the kitchen, admin, stock ordering, hiring staff, organising events, looking after the cellar, writing menus, decorating, till programming and cleaning the drains….amongst many other things…There were some good times, some lovely people and beautiful countryside, we made friends and I got to go horseriding again (after having to sell my horse a few years previously); but it was incredibly stressful and non-stop. Living in the pub there was no privacy and no such thing as a day off…(or even an hour off…). The pub didn’t make much money, so we were earning less than minimum wage, and we were both stressed and tired; there were some truly horrible/nasty/racist/interfering locals and we ended up having arguments with my mum, the head chef/co-owner and each other. So we made the decision to leave and go back to Birmingham, and were much happier for it. It was an experience, though one I never want to repeat…
Anyway, the point of all that rambling being, that my mum recently made the decision to sell the pub, and as she and Serge (the chef/co-owner) don’t want to go back into the restaurant business, they have very kindly given me a lot of the kitchen equipment from the pub. And when I say a lot, I mean A LOT, I am seriously struggling to fit it all into my badly designed, lacking in storage space kitchen…but it is all very good quality (much better than I can afford!) and I will never need to buy another pan again…(no promises…). There was also quite a lot of food to clear out, so my cupboards are stocked up as well. This included a massive bag of red onions and a kilogram log of goats cheese…hence these caramelised red onion and goats cheese tarts.
The base is a crumbly shortcrust pastry flavoured with parmesan cheese and caraway seeds, it is very simple to whizz up in a food processor (you can do it by hand as well), just remember to make sure that your butter and water are very cold to ensure that your pastry is crisp. Because the filling is wet, the pastry needs to be blind baked before adding the filling mixture, you will need some ceramic baking beans, but you can also use dried rice or beans if you don’t have any. The filling is made with red onions which are slow cooked with sugar, balsamic vinegar, thyme and star anise until they are soft and sticky. This is topped with a mixture of egg, milk and cream, flavoured with a little nutmeg, and a round of goats cheese – mine were sliced from the kilogram log but you can buy two 100g rounds of cheese and cut each one into two slices. I garnished mine with sprigs of fresh rosemary which lent a subtle taste, but they aren’t necessary.
The recipe makes four 13cm tartlets, but you could probably make one 20cm one if you prefer, it would take a little longer to bake though (about 30 mins). They are creamy and delicious, sweet and tangy from the onions and cheese, with a hint of spice to round out the flavour. We enjoyed them as a main meal with a generous pile of salad but they would also make a nice starter (note that if you want them to be completely vegetarian make sure that you use a parmesan that is suitable for vegetarians).
- 200g plain flour
- 100g cold butter, diced
- 20g parmesan, grated
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp caraway seeds (optional)
- 3-5 tbsp ice cold water
- 500g red onions, thinly sliced
- 2tbsp olive oil
- 1 star anise
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 75ml balsamic vinegar
- 3 tbsp dark brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 90ml whole milk
- 80ml double cream
- generous pinch grated nutmeg
- salt and pepper
- 200g goats cheese rounds (two 100g rounds, each cut into 2 slices)
- 4 small sprigs fresh rosemary to garnish (optional)
- Place the flour, butter, parmesan, salt and caraway seeds into a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. With the motor running, add the water 1 tbsp at a time until the pastry forms a ball (you may not need all of the water). Alternatively, rub the butter into the other ingredients by hand then add the water.
- Form the pastry into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for about half an hour.
- Heat the olive oil in a wide pan and add the onions and star anise. Fry for about 15-20 minutes over a medium/low heat until the onions are soft and golden brown in colour.
- Add the thyme, balsamic vinegar and sugar and cook for a further 10 minutes until the mixture is thick and glossy. Remove from the heat, discard the star anise and leave to cool.
- Divide the pastry into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece out on a lightly floured surface until it is large enough to line a 13cm/5in tart tin. Line each of the four tins with the pastry, pressing it into the edges. Trim off the excess pastry, prick the bottom all over with a fork and return the tins to the fridge to chill for another 10-15 mins.
- Meanwhile, heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4.
- Line each pastry case with greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans. Bake for about 20 mins then remove the paper and beans and return to the oven for a further 10 mins until the pastry is pale golden.
- Whisk together the eggs, milk, cream and nutmeg and season with salt and pepper.
- Divide the onion mixture between the pastry cases, pour over the egg mixture so it comes almost up to the top. Place a goats cheese round on each tart and garnish with a sprig of rosemary (if using).
- Bake for about 20-25 minutes until golden, puffed up and set. Allow to cool slightly before turning out and serving.