Do you know how I finally admit to myself that we’re in the thick of autumn and there’s no turning back? It’s nights like tonight: cold, rainy, windy nights. Nights when I’m going home after a sweat-filled, seriously challenging spin class and standing in the middle of a salad bar only to realize that the last thing I want to be eating tonight is a crunchy salad. Give me something warm and keep the cold vegetables away, please!
Normally, I’m a salad lover, the girl who loves to crunch on the crudite at parties.* In Russia, vegetables were the one thing I would dutifully eat. I would push the meat around my place like it was a soccer ball, secretly hoping that my mother would somehow think I was eating it. But my mother was far too smart for that, having gone through a very similar trick with her own mother and would give me stern looks after which she’d point to my plate with her fork, as if saying, “Don’t even try this wit me! I see right through you. Now eat your chicken cutlet!” My mother held a draconian watch over what I ate and I wasn’t allowed to leave the table until my plate was spotless and sparkling. But the vegetables – those went fast! It was the other stuff I couldn’t bear to eat. Vegetables – I could’ve been eating for weeks and months on end.
In Russia, however, fresh vegetables were only available in the summer. Fall, winter, early spring brought on lots of root vegetables, stews, soups, but not salads. I would have died for a salad back then. But now? With this rainy, drizzly weather, on days like these all I want is something slow-cooked, caramelized, hearty. Like a giant pile of sliced onions slowly and patiently cooked over low low flame for nearly an hour and a half until they’ve succumbed to the kind of perfection only achieved food gets brown and tastes of fall – a heap of fragrant, golden-brown goodness. A bit of sharp cheese doesn’t hurt either and a few slivers of fresh figs accentuate the onions. Add some buttery puff pastry in the mix, bake it until flaky and golden. As a piece de resistance, drizzle a bit of your best honey and bit into it. And then see the magic unfold.
I knew I had a winner on my hands when I saw the main ingredients of this listed in the title. As if I needed another excuse for caramelized onions, Stilton (swoon!) and figs. What I didn’t anticipate is what a hit it was going to be with my guests for a party I threw earlier this month. I don’t think I ever got this many compliments on a single dish, with these two being the continuous crowd-pleasers. This tart vanished in a matter of minutes. I kind of felt bad for guests who arrived late, but I’m sure those who ate a few extra slices didn’t mind their tardiness one bit. Even I snagged a piece and nearly fell over because people, this is good stuff. I mean, really good. The kind of good that makes you want to take the rest of the plate, go to your room, lock the door and not share. Fortunately for others, I like sharing and I prefer not to transition to pants with an elastic waist. But, I could’ve gladly consumed many more slices of this tart if there were any left.
Don’t believe me? Go and and make it for yourself! I dare you to eat only one piece.
Fig Tart With Caramelized Onions, Rosemary and Stilton
Adapted from the New York Times
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large onions (1 1/2 pounds), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 sprig rosemary, more for garnish
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
1/4 cup milk
Flour for dusting
3/4 pound prepared puff pastry
1 pint fresh figs ( 3/4 pound), stemmed and cut in half lengthwise
1 1/2 ounces Stilton cheese, crumbled (about 6 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons pine nuts
Good-quality honey for drizzling, optional.
1. In a large skillet over low heat, melt butter with oil. Add onions, rosemary and sugar. Cook, tossing occasionally, until onions are limp and golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Stir in the vinegar, scraping any browned bits from bottom of pan.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and egg until smooth. Stir in the onions. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line an 11 by 17-inch baking sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry to a 9 by 12-inch rectangle. Transfer to baking sheet.
3. Use a fork to spread onion mixture evenly over pastry (let excess egg mixture drip back into bowl), leaving a 1-inch border. Arrange figs, cut-side up, in even rows on onion mixture. Scatter cheese and pine nuts over figs. Use a pastry brush to dab edges of tart with egg mixture. Gently fold over edges of tart to form a lip and brush with more egg mixture.
4. Bake until pastry is puffed and golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve, sprinkled with rosemary needles and drizzled with honey, if desired, warm or at room temperature.
Yield: 8 servings