Posts Tagged ‘onion’

Jonathan Waxman’s Warm Sweet Onion Tart

August 9th, 2010
Warm Sweet Onion Tart Slice

Warm Sweet Onion Tart

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.

Sweet Onion Tart

Warm Sweet Onion Tart. Not as pretty as Chef Waxman would make it, I'm sure.

Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion

March 16th, 2010

Just three ingredients for the perfect tomato sauce!

Tomato sauce should be simple, don’t you think? At its root it is merely tomatoes that have been broken down, often using heat, to produce a sauce for pasta, vegetables, or meat, or used as an ingredient such as for simmering meatballs. But the food media has managed to impress upon us, as it often does, that the best tomato sauce should require a fifteen-step, ten-ingredient, five-hour-long recipe.

I am one of the easily impressed upon, and for years have tried to create a great tomato sauce which maintained the integrity of the tomatoes, while presenting complex flavor. Something bright yet rich, substantial yet delicate. I have begun with a sofrito, whole, or diced ingredients, and tried any combination of carrots, onions, garlic, peppers, celery, thyme, basil, sage, oregano, olive oil, ad infinitum, in a vain attempt to come up with a tomato sauce that would make people swoon.

Well, I have finally found the elusive recipe for the perfect tomato sauce. It has three ingredients (four, if you add salt), there is no chopping or sauteing, and takes just 45 minutes to cook. Seriously.

The recipe is attributed to Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, a book I owned, regrettably never cooked from, and as I can not find it on my shelves, has probably found its way to the library’s used book bin. I first read about this sauce in late January on Smitten Kitchen, who links to several other bloggers who have tried it over the years, from Amateur Gourmet (2005), to Rachel Eats (2010). It has appeared on the forums of Cook’s Illustrated, and on, twice. In fact, it has been reprinted so many places, I’m embarrassed it escaped my notice.

The fantastic flavor makes it seem like there must be spices or herbs among the ingredients. If you ask someone to guess what is in it, they won’t be able to. While the tomatoes hold their body, the binding is like velvet. It is rich without being overwhelming in the least. From now on, it is our house red.

Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onions
Attributed to Marcella Hazan, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, Knopf

– One 28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes (preferably San Marzano if you have them)
– 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
– 1 medium-sized onion, peeled and halved
– Salt, to taste

1. Place tomatoes, butter, and onion in a saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a simmer.

2. Cook, uncovered, at a slow, steady simmer for 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat separate from the tomatoes. Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon against the inside of your saucepan.

3. Discard the onion. Salt to taste. Keep warm while you prepare your pasta, and serve.

A few notes regarding the recipe:
– If that much butter alarms you, know that each tablespoon of butter is just slightly more than 100 calories. This recipe makes over 3 cups of sauce, or about 4 to 5 servings, so there’s not much to fear unless you are on a no-fat diet or going to eat this every day.
– Salt. This would make the fourth ingredient, if you use it. Unbelievably, I did not use any at all. I found no need for it. This, coming from a woman who may well beat Lot’s wife in salt content by body weight.
– Some posts mention to add Parmigiano cheese. I tried adding some after a few bites of pasta and plain sauce. I say go naked. The cheese nearly ruined it. Yes, I did just say cheese nearly ruined something.

Butter, onion, tomato. That's it.

Cooked for 45 minutes.


Napoleon of Crisp Potato, Goat Cheese, Roasted Red Pepper, and Caramelized Onion

March 4th, 2010

Potato, Red Pepper, and Goat Cheese Napoleon

A traditional napoleon is a luxurious dessert. Layers of puff pastry and custard or whipped cream, often interspersed with berries, topped with fondant or powdered sugar. It is meant to be admired before eating. Just looking at one brings to mind images of royal powdered faces with stained lips. The pastry gives some resistance and crackles as the side of one’s fork bares down to make the first cut, just before the pastry layers give way and the custard oozes from its trappings, making an orgasmic mess of the dish.

To the best of my recollection, in the early 90s, somewhere a chef decided to translate the napoleon into a savory dish and added the vegetable napoleon to their menu, sparking a glut of vegetable napoleons nationwide. Then came the napoleons with ragu or duck confit. There wasn’t a menu without a savory napoleon on it. Anything that was layered was now called a napoleon.

I instantly fell in love with vegetable napoleons, their flavors and variety; but after seeing them everywhere for several years, they became a little corny and passe. Though I still spy one here or there, it seems their time in the limelight has passed.

I was thinking of this the other day when I decided to attempt to recreate the layers of a napoleon with what I had on hand. The potatoes became the crisp layer, an herbed goat cheese the custard, and the roasted peppers and caramelized onion the fruit, topped with a layer of melted parmigiano cheese. These are classic flavors, and the assembly created that same orgasmic mess the dessert does. Of my two tasters, one commented that, while delicious, the instability of the layers wasn’t to his taste, while the other declared this was her new favorite dish. Personally I felt the experiment a great success. Served with a green salad with a balsamic vinaigrette, it made for a visually appealing and deliciously satisfying dinner.

Napoleon of Crisp Potato, Goat Cheese, Roasted Red Pepper, and Caramelized Onions

Makes 3 napoleons

– 2 red bell peppers
– 3 oz. soft goat cheese, room temperature
– 2 tablespoons sour cream
– 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil
– 2 tablespoons butter
– 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
– 3 small yellow onions, peeled, halved, and sliced thin
– 1 teaspoon sugar
– 2 large russet potatoes
– 2/3 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated

1. Preheat a broiler and place the peppers directly under the heating element, turning occasionally until the skin is black and blistered. Remove peppers from the oven and set aside to cool (you may wish to put a narrow cut in the top of the pepper to release the steam). Reduce the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them, keeping the flesh in large pieces.

2. While the peppers are broiling, cream together the goat cheese, sour cream, and basil, with a pinch of salt and a few grounds of black pepper to taste. Set aside at room temperature.

3. Melt the butter and one tablespoon of the olive oil in a skillet at medium-high heat. Add the onions and the sugar. Once the onions have wilted a bit, before they are brown, turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until brown and caramelized, approximately 45 minutes.

4. Slice potatoes no more than 1/4 inch thick. Place in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt, rubbing the oil and salt over the potato slices. Arrange 9 large center-slices on a baking rack on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes at 450 degrees. Once they are fork-tender, increase the oven temperature to 500 degrees. use a spatula to loosen the potatoes from the rack, and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes until lightly browned and slightly puffed. Remove the baking sheet from the oven. (I baked the remaining slices until crispy and ate them as chips. You can also use them to make more napoleons, if desired.) Set the oven temperature to broil.

5. In assembly-line fashion, working carefully (hold the potato slices with tongs if too hot to handle), working on the same rack the potatoes were baked on, spread three of the potato slices with a thick layer of the goat cheese mixture, one layer of pepper slices, and a heaping tablespoon full of the onions. Add another potato slice, and repeat the layering. Top the second layer with a potato slice, and then with a third of the parmigiano. Place the napoleons under the broiler just until the cheese melts and gets lightly brown. Keep an eye on them, they brown very quickly. Serve hot, along with a side salad with a vinegary dressing, or the napoleons may be served as a side dish to an entree.


October 19th, 2009

The past four days in the northeast have been particularly dreary. It has been overcast and wet, and much cooler than it should be in early autumn. Weather like this screams for comfort food that has been cooking for hours, filling the house with its fragrance and warming the soul, and what could be better on a Sunday than a rich, meaty Bolognese?

One of the most important things a good cook knows is how to build flavor. You’ll hear comments on this all the time on shows like “Top Chef.” How many times have we heard, “He doesn’t know how to build flavor,” or “I wish there was some acid,” or “This is the perfect balance of sweet and savory.” There are several ways to build flavor, often used in combination, such as reducing, salting, searing, and toasting. This Bolognese uses these techniques, but above all is the technique of browning. This should probably be called “Brown Bolognese.”

Chef Anne Burrell was one of my culinary school chef-instructors, and the best teacher we had when it came to technique and Italian cuisine. It is to her recipes I turn when I want to make great pasta. And so I used her recipe for Bolognese.

Bolognese Recipe:

I’ve edited this a bit from the original. Click here to see the recipe on the Food Network’s website.


  • 1 large onion or 2 small, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 ribs celery cut into 1-inch dice
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for the pan
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 pounds ground chuck, brisket or round or combination
  • 2 cups tomato paste
  • 1 750ml bottle (about 3.5 cups) hearty red wine
  • Water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch thyme and 1 rosemary, tied in a bundle
  • 1 or 2 rinds of Parmigiano cheese (optional)
  • 1 pound pasta of choice
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • High quality extra-virgin olive oil, for finishing


1. In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste. In a large pan over medium heat, coat pan with oil. Add the pureed veggies and season generously with salt. Bring the pan to a medium-high heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and they become brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt. Cook 15 to 20 minutes until beef is brown.

3. Add the tomato paste and cook until brown about 4 to 5 minutes, or however long it takes for the tomato paste to brown.

4. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4 to 5 minutes. Make sure it is reduced.

5. Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves, the bundle of thyme/rosemary, and the Parmigiano rinds (if using), and stir to combine everything. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. As the water evaporates you will gradually need to add more, about 1 to 2 cups at a time. Don’t be shy about adding water during the cooking process, you can always cook it out. This is a game of reduce and add more water. If you try to add all the water in the beginning you will have boiled meat sauce rather than a rich, thick meaty sauce. Stir and TASTE frequently. Season with salt, if needed. Simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

Note on pasta: When you cook your pasta, retain some of the pasta cooking liquid. Once you’ve added your pasta to the ragù, if you feel the pasta is too dry (it should be glistening somewhat), add a bit of the cooking water. The water you cooked your pasta in will have retained some of the pasta’s starch and will keep your sauce saucy, rather than watering it down. Drizzle a bit of olive oil and add Parmigiano-Reggiano on top. For this sauce, I’ve become fond of Barilla’s Campanelle. It has a lovely fluted shape that holds the sauce well.

How To Build Big Bolognese Flavor:

Beef: I strongly recommend rather than buying packaged “ground beef,” visit your butcher and ask him or her to grind particular cuts. It makes a difference in flavor and quality. For this recipe I used about 1 pound of ground bottom round and 2 pounds of ground chuck steak. One could also use ground bison or turkey. Some cuts have more fat, almost all have different flavors and textures. It’s worth exploring and discovering your personal preferences.

Herbs: In Chef Burrell’s recipe, she uses only thyme and bay. I add some rosemary simply because I like it. Some Bolognese recipes add nutmeg. It’s entirely up to the chef what flavors they want to add to their pots.

Wine: It is not necessary, but I like to use wine from the region of whatever region-specific dish I am cooking. One popular varietal from the Bologna region is Sangiovese, which is the main component of Chianti. Thus, I used Chianti for this recipe. This is merely a persnickety habit of mine, as I believe recipes from a particular region should use ingredients from the region. But whatever hearty, inexpensive red you can get your hands on will work just as well. Never break the bank buying wine you’ll be cooking with. Once you’ve concentrated the wine with the other flavors and cooked the alcohol out, you’ll barely be able to tell the difference whether you’ve used Italian Chianti or California Merlot.

Cheese Rind: Chef Burrell’s recipe does not note this, but I find that adding a rind or two of Parmigiano to a pot of soup or sauce adds a rich dimension. Nearly everyone who cooks has rinds floating around in the bottom of their cheese bins (and if they’re moldy, just cut the mold off). It’s not a crime if you don’t use it, but adding it is divine.


In step #1 you’ll be browning the aromatics. You’ll want a “crud” (or fond) to form in the bottom of your pan, thus you should use a steel or ceramic pan, not non-stick. The crud will darken until it looks nearly burnt. This is going to add flavor to your Bolognese! When browning the aromatics, take your time. For me it took nearly 30 minutes to get all the water out and get the vegetables to a deep brown color. You could keep a tiny bit of the vegetable paste uncooked to the side to see how the color changes over time. Remember, you want to brown the paste.

In step #2 you’ll be browning the beef. As the beef releases fat, you’ll be able to start scraping up the crud that formed earlier from the vegetables. Again, brown the beef, don’t gray it. It should be the color of something you’d want to eat, not something underdone.

In step #3 you’ll be browning the tomato paste. You’ll notice it’s a bright red when you add it (again, you could leave some raw to the side to get a sense of where you started). Brown, brown, brown. The tomato paste should not be at all red when you get to the next step.

In step #4 you’ll be reducing the wine. Reducing concentrates flavors. If you don’t reduce the wine, you’ll wind up with a very nice wine sauce with beef, but what you want is a meaty sauce with the richness of wine in the background. Again, this takes time. Depending on the heat of your pan and its depth, this might take four minutes or it could take longer. Don’t rush.

In step #5 you’ll add herbs and water, beginning the process of the long simmer, concentrating the beef, tomato, wine, and herbal flavors even further. Again, depending on heat and depth, you may wind up adding water more or less often, but make sure you add and reduce, add and reduce. Don’t add too much water. Chef Burrell’s recipe says you’ll add 2 or 3 cups at a time. I prefer to add less water more often, as I don’t want to boil the meat.

You’ll want the meat to be soft and unctuous and become the messenger of the sweetness of the aromatics, the acid of the tomato, and the earthiness of the cheese and herbs. Your house will be ten degrees warmer than the thermostat says, just from the aroma. I recommend eating while wearing pajamas and slippers.