Friday, February 24, 2012

Sexy-Ugly Onion Tart

Let me begin by saying that I did not name this tart myself, but I feel the name is too awesome to dismiss. It’s a recipe from Big Girls Small Kitchen, found via The Kitchn. I used my own recipe for the crust, but you can use pretty much any recipe you want (including the one at the link). This sexy-ugly onion tart was different from my Alsatian onion tart in that it’s less rich and eggy, so it’s less quiche-like, and the onions simply rest on the cheese, as opposed to being mixed in with it. It’s a very simple tart to make and is a nice homely and homey meal.

I used this recipe as the perfect excuse to finally do something that had been intimidating me for a while: make cheese. Yes, that’s right: actually make my own cheese in my own kitchen, using cheesecloth for its original intended purpose. Ironically, I would have never bothered with it had I not been lactose-intolerant, because making cheese had always sounded like so much trouble when it’s so easy to go to the store. I used a recipe from Smitten Kitchen. It was much easier than I thought, too. And as a bonus, I got to eat lactose-free ricotta, which so far can only be obtained by making it yourself. It tastes better when it’s rich, so if you’re in Canada, I recommend that you use 1 cup of Natrel’s lactose-free cream and 3 cups of their lactose-free milk. Unfortunately, I don’t have lactose-free cream here, so I used 4 cups of lactose-free whole milk. The ricotta was delicious in the tart, though it might be too bland to use as a spread on crackers. Nonetheless, I consider this a complete success.

For the ricotta (makes about 1 generous cup)
3 cups lactose-free whole milk
1 cup lactose-free heavy cream (if unavailable, use 1 more cup lactose-free whole milk)
½ tsp coarse sea salt
3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Pour the milk, cream and salt into a 3-quart nonreactive saucepan. Attach a candy or deep-fry thermometer. Heat the milk to 190 °F, stirring it occasionally to keep it from scorching on the bottom. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice, then stir it once or twice, gently and slowly. Let the pot sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.

Line a colander with a few layers of cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl (to catch the whey). Pour the curds and whey into the colander and let the curds strain for at least an hour. At an hour, you’ll have a tender, spreadable ricotta. At two hours, it will be spreadable but a bit firmer, almost like cream cheese. (It will firm as it cools, so do not judge its final texture by what you have in your cheesecloth.) Discard the whey, or, if you’re one of those crafty people who use it for other things, of course, save it. Eat the ricotta right away or transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the onion tart
2 Tbsp unsalted butter or margarine
2 onions, halved and sliced into thin half-moons
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (plus a little extra for garnish)
¼ tsp salt
1 cup whole-milk ricotta
1 egg yolk
pie dough for 1 pie crust

In a large cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven, melt the butter over low heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes, until caramelized. The onions should be deep brown and sweet. Add the fresh thyme and the salt, and let cool off the heat. Whisk the ricotta and the egg yolk together in a small bowl. Set aside.

Make sure your work surface is clean and cool. Lightly flour the surface and roll out the dough until it is large enough to cover a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Roll up the dough on your rolling pin and slowly unroll on top of the tart. Use your fingers to press the dough into the tart and a paring knife to trim off any excess. If the dough breaks, don’t worry—just pull it together and patch it. Try to make the walls a bit thicker than the bottom. Chill the tart shell in the fridge for 10 minutes so that the dough remains cold.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 °F.

Remove the tart from the fridge, and use a spatula to spread the ricotta mixture evenly across the surface with a spatula. Arrange the onions on top. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the ricotta filling is firm and the crust is beautifully golden. Let the tart cool in the pan. Garnish it with thyme leaves.

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