Sunday, March 14, 2010

Caramelized Onion and Dried Tomato Tart

Or, in praise of slow cooking. There are some foods that just take to long hours, low heat, and loads of patience. Tomatoes stirred in a pot with olive oil, basil, and a little salt are one. And don't even get me started about the amazing transformation of pork shoulder after sitting in a smoker all day, rendering up the tastiest barbecue sandwiches imaginable. Onions are another. Cook 'em long and slow enough and their pungent greetings become sweet, melty goodbyes. Caramelized onions are my favorite bases for quiche, and this tart is a one-off motif from that, with no eggs and an open, rustic shape.

The markets open up in about a month, so I'm conscientiously trying to use up the food left in my freezer before then. This recipe uses some of the tomatoes I oven-dried in mass quantities last summer. Still to go: lots of zucchini, some squash, a ton of nectarines, cream peas, purple-hull peas, green beans, sweet potatoes, roasted red peppers, and roasted chiles. I'm kind of amazed.

Caramelized Onion and Dried Tomato Tart
Adapted from the Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

5 or 6 medium onions, peeled and sliced thin
a handful of dried tomatoes, slivered
2 big pinches of dried thyme
4 tablespoons butter or olive oil
Tart dough

Heat the butter or olive oil in a low-sided heavy-bottomed pan. Add the onions and thyme and cook over medium low heat until they are soft, juicy, and deeply browned (30-40 minutes). These pictures were taken at night and the quality is not great, but they'll give some idea of the progression:

Season the onions with salt to taste. Cook a few minutes more. Put in a bowl to cool. If the onions are very juicy, pour them into a strainer over a bowl to drain. Remove the liquid.

Roll out the tart dough into a 14-inch circle (or, for me, a rectangular shape that better fit the cookie sheet I was using). If it sticks to the counter, use liberal amounts of flour to keep it in line.

Brush off the excess flour, transfer the dough to a baking sheet lined with parchment (or a Silpat, or, just buttered, like I did) and let it firm up in the fridge for 10 minutes or so.

Spread the cooled onions over the dough and sprinkle the slivered tomatoes on top of them, leaving a 1 1/2 inch border around the edges.

Fold the border up over the edges. You can also do an egg-white wash for a shiny look, but I wasn't out to impress anyone.

Bake on the bottom rack of a preheated 375 degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown on the bottom. Slide the tart off the pan onto a rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Bonus Road Trip Feature!

Some law school friends and I got out of town for an awesome Spring Break down in Gulf Shores, Alabama this week.

Sourdough bread from Au Fond made good toast in the mornings. We ate it with coffee and tea on the wrap-around balcony of a friend's beach house. Many thanks again to Roger for having us!

Pls to be ignoring that box of bad, bad Cheez-Its. Ahem. While there was a little bit of homework (I've been reading articles for the law review until my eyes cross; luckily, it's a fun job. I learn random little nuggets of information that I may or may not ever use unless I one day realize my lifelong dream to nerd out on Jeopardy! In the meantime, I'm kept interested as I'm looking for something good to publish), there was mostly beach and Mecca. I mean, Publix.

Lord knows I love this city. But, people, we don't have Publices in Memphis. Leave me my quiet pining for the supermarket of my childhood.

Look what I found, so far from home!

Organic, pastured pork is great, but sometimes nothing will do but a Publix Cuban. I say, get 'em while the gettin's good.

Because coming straight back to Memphis was unthinkable after a couple of lazy, sand-and-sunscreen days, there was a side trip to New Orleans:

Cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe du Monde, natch.

You cannot see this at all, but it's spinach with garlic, ginger, and beef, with fried plaintains and coconut rice at a tiny African restaurant on Royal Street in the French Quarter. Bennichen's was the name, I think. Not very traditional New Orleansy, but tasty nonetheless. Besides, there was also gumbo, pralines, and Abita Amber earlier in the day to make the trip authentic.

Finally, for my friend Jessica, long-suffering, much-vindicated Saints fan that she is. The city is still celebrating!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Au Fond Memphis is Open! (Kind of)

When chef Ben Vaughn announced mere weeks ago that he was expanding his fresh, French-inspired culinary vision from Grace Restaurant into a more family-friendly offshoot, I was completely intrigued by the concept: high-quality, locally-sourced ingredients (I've eaten at Grace and I know they work with extremely conscientious farmers) at moderate, affordable prices ($6-$8).  I had humongously high hopes for the place.  When I ate there today, I was not let down: not only was the food delicious and well-priced, the portions were generous as well.  It was a too-good-to-be-believed holy trinity of taste, satisfaction, and economy----but believe it, because it's true.

Au Fond's facebook page tipped me off that today was their soft opening, so my dining companion and I played hooky from school to check it out.

When you walk in, there is a big empty space right now.  Eventually, it will house a little market, where you can buy all sorts of cheese, bread, coffee and tea.  Menus are written on old doors hung above the counter, where you place your order.  Today the restaurant was serving both breakfast and lunch when we got there around 1:30, but normally, they will serve breakfast at breakfast time, lunch at lunch time.  We took advantage of the potential for both at the same time and each ordered off different menus.

I got the house breakfast, $6 (two eggs, any style, herb potatoes, applewood smoked bacon, and brioche) and my co-hooky-er got the Turkey Hot Brown, $8, which turned out to be turkey on a baguette-ish bread, topped with mornay sauce, some more applewood bacon, and tomato slivers, all run under a broiler to ooey-gooey cheesy deliciousness.  It came with pommes frites (that's freedom fries to you and me).

Holy organic farming, was this good.  I mean, see aforementioned high hopes, but this breakfast and lunch killed.  My eggs were fluffy, still a tad bit wet without being runny, like I like them, and needed nothing but a little pepper.  The bacon, well, it was bacon, and was therefore amazing, but made even better by the fact that it was neither too crunchy nor too chewy.  The potatoes had some deeply sweet caramelized and burnt onions mixed in.  We tried to identify the "herb" in "herb potatoes" but failed, though we suspect something Greek-y.  The brioche had tons of butter.  Also delicious.

The hot brown was pretty awesome, too.  The bread had crunchy edges and fluffy insides, and the sauce added plenty of flavor without weighing or sogging down the sandwich.  If it looks enormous in that picture---it is.  We could have easily split that and the frites and been completely full.  So my companion took half of it home for dinner (maybe a little less than half.  Hey, I had to sample it!) and I am a mite jealous.

I will definitely go back to Au Fond.  It had its opening-day kinks, like some timing issues (my dish was out long before the sandwich).  Right now, though, the restaurant is sharing a kitchen with Grace, and that they're still figuring out the logistics is completely understandable.  I also thought both the potatoes and the frites could have been even better with a little less oil.  But the staff is friendly, the space is interesting (kind of an outdoor courtyard feel, like in a secluded garden outside of an old house in New Orleans or Savannah), and the food is great.  The chef is doing fantastic things to elevate local ingredients and to help sustain family farms.  I'm really glad to see this one added to the neighborhood!