This riff on this traditional bistro classic apple tarte tatin—a creation of caramelized apple halves or quarters topped with pastry, baked and turned out with the sweet apples dripping their caramel down onto the supremely crisp and flaky crust—is as flexible as you are.
My first experiment with this grand idea was not, I must admit, spectacular. I caramelized scads of onions, topped them with a pastry crust, baked it and was singularly visually unimpressed with the delicious brown mess I ended up with. The solution? Simply don’t turn this tart out. Using enough butter or oil to make a vegetable tart successfully turn out just led to a something I found to be a greasy mess. I could tell you to cook the vegetables and then put them in a clean, parchment paper–lined pan before the final baking, but that’s a level of fussiness and pot-cleaning that doesn’t interest me much.
First, prep your vegetables. You’ll want a bit of aromatics—onions, leeks, shallots, garlic—either sliced thinly or minced, as well as about 4 cups of chopped or sliced vegetables. Potatoes are a delicious option, as is peeled and seeded winter squash. A combination of similarly textured vegetables works well too. Potatoes, parsnips, celery root and turnips, for example; or a ratatouille combination of eggplant, zucchini, peppers and a few tomatoes. Some greens can even be added to wilt in at the end. In a heavy pan—I find a cast-iron frying pan to be ideal—melt a few tablespoons of butter, duck fat or olive oil. Add the aromatics, season with salt, and cook, stirring, until they are fragrant and soft. Add the other vegetables and cook, stirring once in awhile, until they are tender and starting to brown. Add more butter or even a bit of broth.
Adjust the seasoning—adding more salt or fat, if needed, and pepper or herbs, if you like—and spread the vegetables evenly in the pan. Cut a circle of puff pastry or piecrust to fit over the pan, with about an inch overhang all around. Set the pastry on the vegetables and push the crust down around the vegetables along the edge of the pan so the pastry sticks up along the inside edges of the pan.
Bake at 375°F. until the pastry is cooked through and well browned. Let sit a few minutes before serving, but cut into wedges and serve while still hot.
(By the way, if you want to try an all-onion version, you’ll want to start with a giant pile—8 cups at least—of sliced onions and cook them very slowly, stirring often, over fairly low heat to truly caramelize them. The process takes at least half an hour, and often longer.)
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