09 February, 2010

Tasting the Cevennes.

All landscape photos courtesy of http://www.oignon-doux-des-cevennes.fr

The building blocks of the local cuisine, here where I live, are simple and hearty: chestnuts; small goat cheese rounds known as Pélardons; dark, mysterious-tasting honeys from the local chestnut, rosemary, heather and pine; wild mushrooms (especially cèpes/porcini, chanterelles, pieds de mouton and morels); game such as wild boar and line-caught trout--and the oignon doux des Cevennes, or sweet onion, named for the region and benefitting from its own AOP (Appellation Européenne Protégée), the EU version of the AOC.

One of the most common autumn sights are farmer's stands, which cluster on the central village place during sun-kissed market days and otherwise along the two-lane roads, where they are rather casual arrangements of plywood thrown together and groaning under the the collective weight of apples, squash, pumpkin--and sweet onion. I could not imagine my cévenol kitchen without the permanent company of at least a dozen of these genuinely sweet, creamy white root vegetables, which are grown across the Cévennes on its terraced hills and steep mountain faces.
A long-standing house favorite is an onion quiche, made with just enough egg and milk to hold together a lavish amount of goat cheese and gently caramelized onion. As with soups and stews, quiches improve if allowed to mellow overnight, so this is an easy, make ahead recipe (even if there's a lot of text here). I generally use a store-bought, rolled round of pastry crust, the quality's quite reliable in France. I have been known to use more delicate pre-made puff pastry as well. I used to make my own crust from scratch and store it in the freezer half-rolled (really!) but with my freezer space at a continuous premium (no American-sized refrigerator/freezer anymore, I've gone native). In the interest of time, etc...without further ado, my groan-inducing tart. The secret is the sufficient quantity and cooking down of these delicious onions. They can of course be substituted with any sweet onion, such as a Vidalia. Ideal for a weekend lunch or light dinner when served with a green salad dressed with a mustardy vinaigrette and crumbled chestnut.

I'll add an accompanying shot of the tart once I have made Thursday night's dinner and photographed it. Promise. (Eventually.) [See?] Tarte au Pélardons et l'Oignon Doux des Cévennes/Cévenol Onion Tart

1 refrigerated pastry crust
enough whole onions to tightly fill the intended large saucepan in a single layer (4-8)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon of dried marjoram or oregano, crumbled
3 organic eggs
3/4 cup organic milk
3/4 cup loosely packed pélardon or other goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven 220C. Unroll pastry, place in large tart pan and prick with a fork. Tear off a large sheet of baking paper or aluminum foil, lay on top of crust, fill to rim with dried beans, rice, or pie weights. Place in oven for 15 minutes, or until edges are just golden. This is called baking blind. Remove from oven, reduce heat to 180C, remove foil and beans. Place crust in oven again a few minutes longer, just enough to partially bake the bottom of the crust, but not so much that it inflates like a balloon. If you get distracted and this does happen, quickly remove and prick with a fork to deflate. Be careful, the steam escaping will be quite hot! Set the crust aside.

While the crust is baking, chop up the onions. If you wear contacts, be sure you put them in beforehand, as this is the best way to avoid weeping over your work...You will find yourself with a rather daunting pile of onions, but don't worry, this will reduce as you cook it. Once done chopping, quickly wash your hands to try and remove as much as possible of the lingering, penetrating odor.

Heat the oil in a large, high-rimmed saucepan, add the onion and saute over medium heat, stirring periodically so that the onions make an even sizzling sound, but don't allow them to brown. They will become transparent--keep going. Crumble the teaspoon of marjoram over the pan, salt (about 1 teaspoon) and pepper generously. After about 30 minutes (haven't ever actually timed it), the pieces of onion should be paper-thin, pale golden and almost sticky with the now-viscous liquid. The onions should have reduced in volume by at least one third.

While the onions are cooking, crack the eggs in a mixing bowl and add the milk. Add the crumbled cheese. Stir in the slightly cooled onions, mix thoroughly, and pour the mixture into the partially baked crust. Slide into the oven and bake for about an hour, or until the tart's surface is evenly browned. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before eating (if you get impatient and slice it too soon, the filling won't hold together very well--I know: I've tried).

7 comments:

  1. How long will you be in LA for?

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  2. One week! Got any restaurant advice?

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  3. Since there is such wonderful food in France, I would say skip the french food in LA and go for the restaurants where you will see movie stars, where you will have great views or go for the Japanese, chinese, Thai... all the ethnic restaurants that are hard to find in France. Mozza and Osteria Mozza are wonderful if you like italian food. They are the creation of Mario Batalli and Nancy Silverton (of La Brea bakery fame).
    I love the Cevennes. When I was young, we stayed in a "gite de France" near Sumene (not far from St Hypolite du fort). I wished I had bought a mas then. They were practically given property away. I was too young (16) to know better. There is a wonderful book written by Andre Chamson "la superbe". Have you ever read it? It takes place in the area.
    I don't know if you are originally from LA but you will have to go see the Getty museum and RSVP to see the getty villa (I haven't seen it seen they remodeled it and redid the gardens 2 years ago).

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  4. Sorry about the typo (I haven't seen it SINCE). I type too fast.

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  5. Definitely going to visit Getty!

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  6. I will have to give this recipe a try. I just recently made my first quiche, and I am in love! I am glad to hear that even in France you use a premade crust. I slaved away over homemade crust on my first batch, and it took SO much time.

    I may be the only one in my house who will eat this, though. Nigella Lawson has an onion pie recipe in "How to Be a Domestic Goddess." I absolutely love it, but no else in my house will touch it.

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  7. Here's the thing, Rose, often people who object to mushrooms or onions do so because they dislike the texture in the mouth. These onions are cooked so long they just melt in your mouth. Let me know whether you manage to convert anyone!

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