Our Romance with Tarts

A tart, in the UK, is anything baked inside a pastry case. Also, it’s an old-fashioned slang term for a woman of questionable reputation.

Our romance with tarts started, with savoury custard tarts, made with eggs and cream or milk, have been around in England for hundreds of years, starting with curd cheese tarts made from cheese making leftovers.

In the last few decades however, people have been calling any kind of cheese, vegetable and custard tart quiches instead of tarts. This must have started in the 60’s or 70’s, when British food was so awful, any foreign dish always sounded more appetising (Black Forest Gateau, Steak au Poivre, spaghetti, Chicken Kiev etc).

But the tarts we were making all those years didn’t really have a whole lot to do with the sort of thing you find sold by the slice in a French patisserie-boulangerie. Not judging by the taste buds of your average channel-hopper, anyway. You can’t make good quiche with poor ingredients, although there are infinite possible combinations for well-chosen ones.

Caramelised Onion & Gruyère Cheese Tart

Ingredients:                                                                                                   Serves 8

1 Tbsp unsalted butter

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

2 Large onions, halved and thinly sliced

1 Tbsp white sugar

225ml Dry Marsala

4 Free range eggs lightly beaten

470ml 50:50 Milk : double cream

Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Short crust pastry

140g Gruyère cheese, coarsely shredded

56g Grated parmesan cheese

¼ Tsp garlic powder (optional)

¼ Tsp English mustard (optional)


1. In a large skillet, melt the butter in the vegetable oil. Add the sugar and sliced onions, cover and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about twelve minutes. Uncover the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and well browned, about forty five minutes longer; add a little water as necessary to prevent the onions from sticking. Add the Marsala and cook until nearly evaporated. Season the onions with salt and white pepper, garlic powder and mustard if using and transfer them to a medium bowl.

2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°.On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the short crust pastry, to a 13-inch round and 1/8-inch thick. Wrap the dough around the rolling pin and fit it into a 10-inch buttered and lightly floured fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Run the rolling pin over the rim to trim off the overhang. Prick the bottom with a fork and refrigerate until chilled, at least 10 minutes.

3. Line the tart shell with foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 25 minutes, or until the edge is golden and the centre is nearly set. Remove the foil and weights, cover the edge with foil and bake for 5 minutes longer, until the shell is cooked through and golden.

4. In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs, stir in the 50:50 and the grated Gruyere cheese. Gently fold in the caramelized onions. Spoon the onion mixture over the partially baked crust and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese.

5. Bake at 375° for 35 to 45 minutes. Allow the tart to set for 10 minutes before cutting and serving. This is crucial, or the tart will not be firm enough to hold its shape when cut.

6. Serve the tart with baby leaf salad lightly dressed with lemon vinaigrette, and a tomato sauce. This tart can be served either hot or at room temperature. It is ideal for buffets but is especially nice as a main course alongside a crunchy, leafy green salad.


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