Elysian Food

On January 22, 1963, the Elysée Treaty was signed between Germany and France.  No, I am not going to tell you what it was about because that would mean I would have to research it - and I would rather write about food.

I mention it because on January 22, 2011- 48 years after the Treaty - Ed and Lila were coming to dinner.  I think I have introduced you to Ed and Lila before.  Lila is a wonderful potter and I love using her beautiful pieces when cooking, serving and photographing for the blog or other projects.  She did, indeed, make the best pie plate ever, using a glaze that somehow magically crisps the crust and keeps it from getting soggy, and to which the crust doesn't stick.  Seriously, it is the best pie plate ever!  If it ever breaks I will be inconsolable.  Piece by piece, I am acquiring her beautiful wares; next on tap is a blue or green - or blue-green - soufflé dish.  And Ed is no slouch, either, when it comes to talent and creativity.  He is an amazing photographer with an eye that truly sees beyond the lens, whether in black and white or color.

One time, when they were coming to dinner, I looked up what had happened in history on that date and saw that it was "Wear Brown Shoes Day" - December 4th.  So I suggested they wear brown shoes (they might have) and that we would cook accordingly (I thought lamb stew the perfect complement to brown shoes...).  Fast forward a little more than a year and it was time to celebrate the signing of the Elysée Treaty.  I suggested a theme of Franco-Germanic food.  And that, my friends, was the start of a great menu!

When they come to dinner, we always make sure we start early because the dinners can go on for four or five glorious hours - we never tire of subjects: food, wine, travel, books, movies, education, art and politics (although I sometimes put the kibosh on politics at the dinner table, old-fashioned person that I am...).  By the end of an evening with them - whether in their home or in ours - we are energized with great food for thought.  In addition to the conversation, we all four love to cook, and this makes for some great food for eating!

For our Franco-Germanic dinner, I wanted to try a new recipe I found for a French soup - a Purée de céleri-rave (celeriac, or celery root).  This new-to-me version has the velvety creaminess of my standard with almost none of the fat!  Dessert was easy to decide - a Nußtorte that I had eaten when living a summer in Heidelberg.  It is a walnut sponge cake with alternating layers of raspberries and cream.  Very tasty.  The main course was a bit of a puzzle.  french or German?  On the eastern side of France, right on the German border, is the region of Alsace, noted for its marriage of the French and German cultures.  So Mark suggested a traditional Alsation recipe for our main course - Tarte à l'oignon.  The perfect idea!

The search for recipes commenced.  When I visited Strasbourg many years ago - one of the most beautiful cities in Alsace - I enjoyed  wonderful slices of onion tart.  The best part about them was their simplicity - just onions, cream, eggs, salt and pepper.  I began searching online at Epicurious, one of my favorite sources.  They had a recipe from famed chef André Soltner, but it had bacon.  While I am sure it would be tasty, bacon in the United States is ultra-smokey and way too strong for the delicacy of this French recipe.  I kept looking.  Finding very little in English, I switched to French and searched on "recette tarte à l'oignon."  I found a simple, convincing version in French and made it for Ed and Lila as part of our bistro-esque evening.

The recipe was very good, except for its faulty timings.  At first I questioned my translation abilities, but that really wasn't the problem.  Even when I more-than-doubled the baking time - both for blind-baking the pâte brisée and for the tarte itself - the crust was too soft and the top was dull with no color.  Also, the seasoning was weak.  So I played with it today and am quite happy with the results.  I am very thankful to Ed and Lila for being my testers - while there wasn't anything wrong with it the first time, it needed to be tweaked a bit to make it shine.  Today, I give you my version for the Tarte à l'oignon, an Elysian food for sure.  And perhaps soon I will share the soup and nut cake recipes, too.

So, bon appétit or guten Appetit!

- David

Tarte à l'oignon

9 ounces flour (about 2 1/2  cups)
1/2 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into 9 pieces
1 egg yolk
ice water

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 pounds sweet onions, such as Vidalia
3 eggs
7.5 ounces crème fraîche (a scant cup)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Make the crust.  In a food processor, pulse the flour and salt three times to distribute the salt.  Add the chunks of butter and pulse 12 times.  In a 1/3 cup measure, add the egg yolk and then complete the 1/3 cup by filling it with ice water.  With the motor running, add the water and egg through the feed tube and process until ingredients almost come together as a dough.  Turn out dough onto a floured board and pull together to make a smooth ball of dough. Roll dough out to a 13-inch circle and then place in an 11-inch tart pan with flutes sides and removable bottom.  Press dough into the corners and flutes, trim the top and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Chop onions.  In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil and 4 tablespoons butter until the butter is melted.  Add chopped onions and stir to coat with the butter and oil.  Cook onions over low heat until very soft and golden.  This can take 45 minutes to an hour, depending on your heat source.  Be careful not to brown too much.  While the onions are cooking, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Remove crust from the refrigerator and carefully cover the bottom with aluminum foil.  Top with beans or pie weights and then bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes.  Remove the foil and weights, and continue to bake for 20 minutes until golden (do not brown).  Remove from the oven and let cool.  Keep oven heated to 325 degrees F.

When onions are golden, season with the salt and pepper.  Whisk together the eggs and crème fraîche in a medium bowl until smooth.  Place onions in the bottom of the crust and spread them evenly.  Slowly pour the egg and cream mixture over the onions, being careful not to let it overflow the crust.  Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and place in the preheated oven.  Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until top is golden brown.  Serve warm, preferably with a salad of mâche with a light vinaigrette.

Note: This is an easy recipe with which you can get creative - but once you start adding Parmigiano-reggiano, Gruyère, bacon, prosciutto, thyme or rosemary, it will no longer be a true Alsatian tarte à l'oignon.  But that's okay - it will be delicious and and it will be your own recipe.


  1. Is that blue bowl your friend's creation David? It is sooo beautiful!

    I love that the dinners with your friends have themes.

    Your tart looks amazing David. Being an onion freak myself, meaning I can devour anything that has a lot of onions in it, I find it extremely appealing.

  2. Magda,

    Actually, no - Lila did not make that particular bowl. It is from a potter back East in Massachusetts. But I agree - the color is amazing. And the lip of the pouring spout is so fine that it never drips, which is rare.

    Theme dinners are so much fun - we have a monthly with three households - sometimes the theme is an ingredient (basil, ginger, lemon) and at other times in is broader (Asian, Italian, childhood favorites).

    The tart is wonderfully sweet from the caramelized onions - I hope you like it! (NOT a diet recipe for sure...)


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