My friend Jon Rowley, who is the person who taught me this pastry dough recipe, albeit for a sweet pie, talks about the incredible advantage gained in an apple pie by using a variety of apples. I decided to use his pastry dough and his diversity theory on an onion tart to see how it would pan out. And, I think it was a success. The theory driving the pie idea is that, when cooked, the variety will give you several textures and flavors.
I think this pastry is a natural for savory pies because of the leaf lard. I wrote in great detail about leaf lard in my recent chocolate pie post, but suffice to say that it isn’t as bad for you as was once believed. In fact, it is widely thought that unprocessed lard is better for you than an equal portion of butter. This is un-hydrogenated lard. Mind you, I am not talking about just any lard that you will find on a shelf at the grocery store at room temperature.
Lard is not absolutely essential here, and you can certainly get away with using shortening, instead. But I am a leaf lard convert. I’m not sure I’ll ever go back. In the notes section below, I will give you the low down on a great source for leaf lard. But for now, back to the onions.
I honestly set about getting as many onion varieties as I could at the grocery store. I chose two shallots, a white onion, a yellow onion, a sweet onion, a purple onion, leeks, and green onions. Perhaps this is a bit excessive. If I were to drop two from this list it would probably be the purple and the green onions. The green would go because one bunch of green onions only yields about 2 Tablespoons of onion, and the purple because…just because. But it was great fun using them all. My onions were rather large and I had more than I needed for one pie. It would have definitely overfilled a traditional tart pan. I would suggest, if you do not have an elongated pan like the one pictured, that you use a pie plate so that you have some depth to hold all of the onions.
I also held back on the seasoning because I really wanted it to be all about the onions. Often, nutmeg is added to these types of tarts, but the onions are already quite sweet from the process of sautéing. I didn’t want to push it any further in the sweet direction. For me, a few shakes of Tabasco sauce and some salt and pepper were all that was needed.
I chose an aged white cheddar for the filling. I tossed around the idea with Joey, a chef who works at the cheese counter at the Park Lane Whole Foods, and he also recommended Gruyere. But since I have used that a lot lately, and I simply had a feeling that white cheddar was the right choice for me, he guided me to a great one.
Incidentally, since I had a little extra filling, I cooked it in a ramekin alongside the tart. I think it would work for a gluten free side. If you choose instead to cut back on the onions, consider using one less egg and a splash less cream.
1-½ cups all purpose flour
4 Tablespoons butter
4 Tablespoons leaf lard
½ teaspoon salt (approximately…eyeball it)
4 to 6 Tablespoons cold water (a little more if needed)
A minimum of 3 to 4 hours before starting the crust, chop the butter and lard into small pieces in a bowl and put them in the freezer. Measure the flour and put it in the freezer, as well. I measure my flour into a re-sealable plastic bag and put it in the freezer. If you have room in your freezer and you make pastry often, place a whole bag of flour in a big re-sealable bag to have handy. Leaf lard keeps best in the freezer, so you should already have it there, as well. A pastry cloth is not necessary, but I now use one…thanks to Jon’s recommendation, and I keep it in the freezer in a re-sealable bag, also.
When you are ready to begin, put the butter, lard, flour and salt into a medium size bowl and work the flour into the fats with a pastry cutter or a fork, and then your hands (I sometimes cheat and use the food processor for a few pulses but Jon swears that the hands-on approach is superior…I always finish it up with my hands). Once the flour and fats are combined and you have worked the fats down to the size of peas, give or take, you can sprinkle the water on top and work it into the dough. When the dough is sufficiently moistened to hold together, stop working it. Wrap it in plastic wrap and shape it into a flat disk and put it into the refrigerator to rest for an hour or two. If you do not make pie dough often, consider reading the much more detailed instructions in my Quintessential American Apple Pie and Chocolate Pie with a Leaf Lard Crust posts.
3 slices bacon, sliced into small bits
1 Tablespoon butter
3 to 4 medium assorted onions (white, yellow, purple, sweet)
1 bunch green onions
½ pound aged white cheddar, shredded
¾ cup heavy whipping cream
3 to 4 dashes of Tabasco Sauce
Salt and Pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the dark green parts and the root ends off of the leeks and green onions and rinse them thoroughly. Leeks can hold a lot of sandy grit so check them before proceeding. Slice the leeks and green onions into disks. Cut the remainder of the onions into halves and slice them into ¼” to ⅓” slices. You may cut them into smaller chunks if you like, but it is easier to slice them as half onions and then whack them into quarters once sliced.
In a heavy pot (enamel coated pots are magic for onions) over medium heat, saute the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with a paper towel. The rendered bacon grease stays in the pot. Add the butter to the bacon grease and allow it to melt. Add all of the onions and leeks to the pot. Stir them every 5 minutes or so for 30 minutes until they have softened and reduced significantly in volume. You are not trying to brown or caramelize the onions. Remove the onions to a large bowl to cool for a few minutes. If there is juice left at the bottom of the pot, bring it to a boil and let it reduce to nearly nothing and add it back in with the onions. It is a lot of concentrated flavor. Before adding the custard, you may add the bacon back into the onions. That was my plan, but I forgot to put them back in with the onions. Oops-a-daisy.
In another medium bowl, whisk together the cream, eggs and cheese. Add the Tabasco, salt and pepper and stir to combine. At this point, the onions are too hot to pour the custard directly into the onions. You would have scrambled eggs. Instead, add a forkful of onions at a time to the custard and stir them in. Add another forkful and stir them in. Continue this until the custard bowl is almost full of onions, and then add them all into the larger bowl of onions. Set aside.
Take the pastry dough from the refrigerator. Dust your pastry cloth or countertop with flour and roll out the dough to the necessary size depending on the dish you are using. Move the pastry to the dish and fit it into the dish. Do not stretch the pastry to accomplish this. Cut off all but a quarter of an inch of the excess dough. Fold the edge of the dough back under itself and crimp the edges if you desire or press the dough lightly against the edge of the dish. Poke the bottom of the pastry several times with a fork. Gently spoon the filling into the crust. Place the dish in the oven and let it bake for 1 hour. At 50 minutes, test the doneness by pushing a toothpick into the middle of the tart. It will come out a bit wet, but it should not come out goopy. The middle should be “set.”
Remove the baking dish from the oven and let it cool for a minimum of 15 minutes on a wire rack. You may also allow it to come to room temperature before serving. Cut into pieces and serve.
Leaf lard is the rendered fat of a pig from around the kidneys. It is widely regarded as a superior fat for making pastry. I have now had several experiences working with it, and I have even rendered my own lard using fat I purchased at a local grocery store. I do not think it was purely leaf fat, unfortunately, but it worked great too. The prettiest, yes I said prettiest, lard I have used was purchased at Dietrich’s Meats in Pennsylvania. They do only phone orders and you send them a check and they send you pure, creamy, white leaf lard.
Local meat producers are also getting back into this game so if you have a pork vendor at your local farmers market, by all means ask them if they have any leaf lard.
I was about to eat the leftovers of this tart for lunch and put it out on the counter to come to room temperature. I went to my desk to do some work and 10 minutes later my dog Poppy came in looking very, very guilty. I never learn. She never fails to take advantage of that fact. And, now I cannot tell you how it tasted on day two. But it still looked wonderful.
Finally, the dish I used here was 12” by 8”. This is ample dough and filling for a 9” or 10” pie plate. Or get creative. There is no rule that says you have to use any particular baking dish for any particular tart. Get into my slightly fly-by-the-seat way of cooking and just grab something and go with it.