Jonathan Waxman is one of my favorite chefs. Credited with bringing California cuisine to New York City, he was a celebrity chef in the pre-Food Network era, little known to those outside the food industry and restaurant aficionados. Thanks to an exceptional run as a contestant on Season 2 of Top Chef Masters, he is finally getting some well-deserved renown from the general public.
On a recent summer evening, the roll-up doors to his West Village restaurant, Barbuto, were wide open and conviviality virtually poured out onto the sidewalk. Chef Waxman was overseeing the dining room and kitchen, a particularly refreshing sight at a time when several star chefs seem to have little to do with their establishments. While the space has an unfinished feel about it, it is quite deliberate and puts a spotlight on the rustic and beautifully crafted cuisine.
My friend Anne introduced me to his cookbook, and it’s a page- turner. It perfectly expresses my ideal culinary philosophy: Use few ingredients of the freshest and finest quality to create soul-satisfying food.
We had friends over for a late lunch on a particularly sweltering day. I wanted to serve something substantial but not hot, and so chose this tart. I prepared it in the cool of the morning and then served it room temperature with a salad. It is sweet, savory, tangy, and rich, and tastes awfully complicated for something that has only seven ingredients.
Warm Sweet Onion Tart
by Jonathan Waxman
from: A Great American Cook: Recipes from the Home Kitchen of One of Our Most Influential Chefs
© Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007
Serves 6 (or four as a main course with a salad -t)
– 2 large sweet onions, such as Vidalia
– 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
– 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
– Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
– 1/2 pound puff pastry, preferably an all-butter brand such as Dufour (or 1 sheet pastry from a 17 1/4-ounce package)
– 2 large eggs
– 1/2 cup heavy cream
– A few thyme blossoms or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Slice the onions crosswise as thin as possible. Place a large skillet over very low heat. Add the butter and when it melts, stir in the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, or until the onions are very soft and deep golden brown.
Add the vinegar to the onions and cook until it has reduced and slightly thickened, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool, then season with salt and pepper.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry 1/4 inch thick. Using a pot lid or a plate as a guide, cut the pastry into a 10-inch round. Fit the pastry into an 8-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Trim the edges of the pastry if necessary and prick it all over with a fork. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown on the bottom. (Don’t be afraid that the tart shell will burn later when it is baked again – the filling will prevent that from happening). Take the tart shell out of the oven and let cool on a rack for 10 minutes.
Whisk the eggs lightly in a medium bowl. Add the cream and thyme and blend well, then season with salt and pepper. Spread the onions evenly in the tart shell. Pour the egg mixture over the onions and stir gently with a fork so the custard mixture spreads evenly in the tart shell.
Bake the tart for 25 minutes, or until just set. Remove and let cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into wedges.