Vanessa Chang
(A Glutton with Brains)


a glutton with brains

Caramelized Onion & Mushroom Tart

Onion mushroom tart 9

[This post may not fit in with your so-called dietary resolutions. If you've already given them up, welcome aboard. The way I see it, this is exactly the time of year where you don't deprive yourself of good things to eat, things that go deep into your belly and suffuse a warmth that's lacking in the cold season. This creation is a twist on the provençal pissaladère. Purists will note the omission of anchovies, but it wasn't on purpose. This tart is invariably flexible and forgiving. Cheese. Anchovies. More herbs. Roasted veg. Go for it. Just be sure to serve it with a winter green salad (bitter, invigorating greens) in a dijon vinaigrette and a crisp ale or white wine. You want something to clean the palate so you can feasibly eat more of the stuff.]

Thanksgiving comes and goes. And I eat well. Too well. With each passing of this third Thursday of November, I always manage to forget an oath of moderation. I've developed a two-parter to the celebration. Lunch with the family followed by a walk in the park with a loveable, albeit retarded (pure-bred, that's why) golden retriever. Then off to dinner/cocktails with friends who've managed to wriggle out of more family commitments.

We rocked the Korean-American roots at lunch with mon-doo (korean dumplings) mom made from scratch. Oddly enough, it worked really well with the honey-glazed ham she bought. I brought over sticky toffee pudding for the anti-pumpkin pie parents. At dinner, my gorgeous friend Amber provided a dreamy staple of a Thanksgiving feast—turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, *sigh*. Romina (of Kouing Aman fame) brought sweet potato brioche rolls which were nothing short of celestial. And being in the company of pastry chefs, we were secured with with about six desserts among the eight of us. Heaven.

But now the feasts are over. The left-overs greedily consumed. And I feel like I'm walking around with a big lump in my belly. No wait. That is my belly. So much for moderation.

Now there's the promise to eat better before the Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa/Festivus onslaught. I managed to do the brown rice and steam veggie thing for about a day. But such clean satisfaction is limited when it's cold and grey. I want the culinary equivalent of a wool sweater. Just in moderation. Alone with maybe a salad of belgian endive or soft ruffles of butter lettuce splashed with salt and vinegar.

Onion mushroom tart 13

Ready-made frozen puff pastry is an invention I hold up there with wireless internet. Someone else has schlepped flour and butter with enough finesse to bake into golden layers in my own oven. All I had to do was defrost the thing.

Caramelizing onions is a winter technique. All that heat fogs your kitchen. The scent of the allium breaking down into soft ribbons is just as ubiquitous as cinnamon and nutmeg. And when the sharp scents give way to the soft squidge in the pan when you turn them around with the spoon, it's like bio-rhythmic therapy. I could lie and say I make batches and batches of caramelized onions. But to do that, I'd need to raid the farm and get all four burners going with onions. Not going to happen. The best I get is a little leftover for an omelet or sandwich.

Onion mushroom tart 6

So when I make them, I make them for a purpose. With a really sharp knife, I slice two sweet onions thinly. In a big sautepan, I melt a few glugs of olive oil and three tablespoons of butter. Tip the onions into the pan and give them a stir to coat. I keep the heat at medium, making sure they don't scorch, but don't steam either. It takes a good 30 to 40 minutes to get a velvety softness and amber hue out of them. I don't add salt until the very end. A spoonful of sugar in the beginning if I'm in a hurry, à la potluck.

Once done, I spread the mixture over the thawed out puff pastry. I pricked the pastry with a fork where the onions will go. Leave a border of about an inch all around sans fork pricks. Add whatever you'd like at this point. Fresh thyme, sun-dried black olives. In this case, roasted crimini mushrooms to balance out the sweetness. Oh, and a good stinky cheese like taleggio is great strewn across the top, too. Bake in a 400-degree oven until the puff puff pastry at the edge comes out well, puffed, and golden. Serve in squares, slices, or nibbles. And always with something dry, like a crisp pale ale, or if you're really splurging, some bubbly.

I count this as light. Especially with that green salad.