Thursday 23 April 2009

Another day, another David…

01 - The finished tart

Do you remember I told you Lady de B and I joked about setting up a catering business out of the back of a vintage Bentley? Well, we don’t have the wheels yet but we do have our first gig. My friend Paula asked me to cater her wedding in September - marquee in her country garden, bunches of blowsy, old-fashioned roses and herbs on the tables, mismatched plates and a hog roast for 120 happy revellers. Richard Curtis, call your production designer…..

Paula wants canapés, big salads to go with the roast, puddings and gorgeous English cheeses, and later, little bits of biscuity heaven to go with tea and coffee. I’m excited. Excited and scared. I’ve never done anything this huge before. So I called Vanessa, AKA Lady de B, who as well as being a wonderful cook, is queen of the clipboard and list. Between us, we’re going to do it. Last night we had our first planning meeting at De Beauvoir Mansions and I made a French Onion Tart to take along for our supper. It’s based on Elizabeth David’s Tarte à l’Oignon or Zewelwaï, the lovely tart from Alsace, from her book French Provincial Cooking.

I thought of calling this post ‘I have cried salty tears…’. I know this is a lot of onions, but it’s worth it - they all cook down into the most deliciously sweet, lusciously melting, creamy mass. You’re eating essence of onion, and that’s never a bad thing.

Tarte à l’Oignon, or Zewelwaï

My lovely dad, who is stoical and uncomplaining in the face of all kinds of adversity, hates to chop an onion almost more than any other domestic task. I think of all of the things I’ve ever done, he’s most impressed by my capacity to slice and dice my way through a mountain of onions without the aid of goggles, gin or Valium.

250g plain flour
125g unsalted butter, very cold, cut into small cubes
1 tbsps olive oil (not extra virgin)
A good pinch of sea salt
2 eggs
2-3 tbsps iced water
1.2 kg onions, finely sliced
6 egg yolks, very well beaten
284ml pot of double cream
A few gratings of nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

01 - A bowl of onions

02 - Chopped onions

Cooked Onions 1
Put the flour, butter and salt into a food processor and pulse briefly a few times – you still want little, pea-sized pieces of butter in the mix. Drop in the eggs and pulse a few more times. Turn it out into a bowl and add the water a little at a time, stirring gently with your hands or a knife to bring it together into a ball – you may not need all of the water. Place the dough on a floured surface and with the heel of your hands, lightly stretch it out into a ragged rectangle. Fold it over in three sections, rather like you would a business letter, and repeat the process a couple of times. Do it all very gently. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least a couple of hours so that it loses all of its stretch.

Butter a flan tin (mine was 19x29cm) and dust lightly with flour. Roll out the pastry so that it is quite thin. Line the tin with the pastry, pressing it gently into position and trying not to stretch it. Don’t trim it yet – put it into the fridge for half an hour or so to chill down, then trim it just before you fill it.

While all the pastry palaver is going on, make the filling. Melt the butter in a large frying pan with the oil over a medium-low heat. Tip in the onions with Cooked Onions 2a good pinch of salt and stir until they’re all coated. Turn the temperature down to low and cook the onions until they are soft, translucent and starting to turn golden. Stir them from time to time to make sure they’re not sticking. This took about an hour, on the lowest possible heat. Season well with salt, nutmeg and plenty of pepper and allow to cool down a bit. In a jug or bowl, whisk together the cream and well-beaten eggs then pour over the onions and stir until everything is combined.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6.

Pour the filling into the pastry case (yes, that’s right, no blind baking – hurrah!) and put the tin on a baking sheet. Bake for about 30-35 minutes until golden. Eat hot. You can certainly eat it cold – I had leftovers for breakfast this morning and it was delicious – but the pastry will lose some of its melting flakiness.

06 - Ready to eat


If you want to serve this when you have friends round for lunch or dinner and you'd like to avoid last-minute panics, line the flan tin and make the filling a few hours ahead. Pop everything in the fridge until about 45 minutes before you want to serve it, then assemble and bake at the last minute.


  1. Exquisite blog. Wonderful images, great writing. You set the bar very high and we keep coming to see what you're doing now.


  2. Lovely blog Debora! Thanks for posting on mine too - how nice to connect again here.
    Isn't it marvellous how connections and reconnections work?! I do remember you from D&B's, particularly for the food I expect!
    I'll drop by here often, and may see you in person again sometime soon.
    :) X

  3. I, too, am impressed by your onion-slicing stamina! The tart looks marvelous.

  4. Hi there! Thanks for you comment on my salsa! It's going to be warm this weekend in Chicago too :) This French Onion Tart looks amazing! I don't have all the necessary pans yet, but they are on my list of kitchen items to get. That's so exciting you are catering a wedding - I'd be nervous too!

  5. While I cannot pretend to be able to slice all those onions without wine nearby - I do - because I know the end result. This looks utterly beautiful. And what a gig! Sort of fun-scary? I love the profile sentence "chaotic gardener." That is my new name for myself this week.

  6. Mum - Thanks for your ringing and entirely unbiased endorsement!
    Scarlett - The internet is a wonderful thing, isn't it? I'll certainly be dropping into your blog often for gardening advice and inspiration. I hope to see you soon in South London.
    Catherine - Thank you! I liked it so much, I'm tempted to make another one this weekend...
    Meghan - You could certainly make this is a round tin, about 28cm diameter would probably be about right.
    Claudia - Well, if wine is what it takes, I would get pouring (and chopping...).
    It's good, isn't it, to sometimes do things which at first seem a little frightening? What's that often quoted Eleanor Roosevelt saying about doing one thing everyday that scares you? Good advice I think. I must say my dash of nervousness is tempered by a whole lot of excitement. I really can't wait to get into menu planning mode.

  7. How exciting - a country wedding!! Old fashioned roses and herbs, mismatched plates...cheeses, salads.. can I come? It sounds perfect and who better to create this still life - including everything edible - than you Debora? As you say scary - but then this kind of scary is good and you will be brilliant.
    I love French Onion Tart - if only I was disposed to venture into the kitchen I might just make one... I used to!
    Avril x

  8. Avril,

    I must say, I'm very excited about it - I hope it will as wonderful in reality as it is in my imagination. Paula has some fabulous ideas and it will be a great adventure to get them onto the plate.

    As for the tart, if you ply me with wine and conversation I'll happily make one for you when we're in France next week (can you believe it is so soon?). Dx

  9. I still love yourpost and am bookmarking your Ireland ideas. many thanks! Delphi sounds great!

  10. Hi Debora - what a fine blog! Thanks for your comments on mine...just getting started.
    Fran in Tottenham

  11. Hello Claudia - DO visit Delphi if you can. It's one of my happiest memories of Ireland.

    Hello Fran - Thanks for visiting, and I look forward to seeing the gardening and cooking adventures on your blog.


  12. The pastry you used looks firm and not at all soggy considering you didnt blind bake. Nice to know actually because blind baking can be so time consuming.

    A wedding to cater; how exciting and how reaffirming for you to know that someone has that kind of trust in you and your cooking. Can't wait to hear more about it as the date draws closer. Good luck with it all; it does sound like she is in safe hands though.


Comments are now closed.
This site has migrated to

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...