Monday, April 25, 2011

Phyllo Onion Tartlets

I find translucent onion bathing in a hot pan of butter immediately awakens my senses – and appetite! The smell is incredibly evocative for me. It was the basis of so many delicious comfort foods when I was growing up, from Bubble & Squeak* on the weekends, to a wholesome vegetable soup or savoury mince for bobotie**.

On Saturday's City Bowl Market, I picked up an enormous bag of shallots. Inspired by a delicious-looking onion tart in the Eat-In magazine, I got to work caramelising the finely chopped shallots. When they were almost ready, I made a blue-cheese roux, which I poured over the softened onions in individual Le Creuset ramekins. Topped with a few layers of butter-kissed phyllo and baked until golden in the oven, the results are rich, layered flavours, and a combination of creamy cheese, sweet onion and crackling phyllo.

Makes 4
  • 100g butter
  • 2 tsp sunflower oil
  • 15 - 20 shallots (depending on size), finely sliced
  • Half a glass of white wine
  • 1 tbsp thyme
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 100g blue cheese
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • phyllo pastry

How to make:
On a medium heat, melt about a tablespoon of butter with the sunflower/canola oil in a pot on the stove. Once it's begun to smoke, add the onions and allow to sweat for about 10 minutes. When the onions begin to stick, pour in the white wine and deglaze, allowing them to simmer and soften in the wine for approximately another 10 to 15 minutes. Once the wine has evaporated, add the sugar, pinch of salt and thyme stirring well. Turn the heat to low, stirring occasionally. The longer the onions cook, the softer and sweeter they become. At this point, turn the oven on to 180ºC.

After the onions have been cooking for about 45 minutes, begin the cheese sauce. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a small pan on medium heat. With a wooden spoon, vigorously stir in the flour to form a paste. Turning the heat down a little, add the milk, little by little, stirring well after each addition to avoid lumps. Crumble the blue cheese in and continue to stir until it's melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Grease the the top edges of the ramekins with butter/cooking spray so that the phyllo comes away easily when you're eating the tartlets. Fill the ramekins with the onion mixture and pour the cheese sauce over the top. Unroll two to three sheets of phyllo. Following the instructions on the packaging, keep the phyllo moist so it's manageable as you cut it in half and then quarters. Drape, fold and tuck one of the quarter sheets in each ramekin on top of the onion-sauce mixture. Melt the remaining butter and gently brush each crumpled sheet (it's more like a dabbing action so as not to tear the phyllo), before repeating on the remaining layer(s). Bake in the oven for 15 minutes until the phyllo is golden and crispy.

Serve warm from the oven with a glass of buttery wooded Chardonnay or Pinot Noir to compliment the tartlets' richness.

    * Traditionally a British meal made of leftover vegetables, predominantly potatoes so it's a bit like one big rosti.
    ** A South African, traditionally Cape Malay, dish of curried mince meat baked with an egg-based topping.

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