To take a leaf from Game of Thrones, winter is coming…
Autumn is my favourite time of the year for so many reasons and telltale hints of the changing season are in the air.
When just a few weeks ago I was leaving the house after sunrise, there is now only a faint glow of dawn at the edges of the sky as I wait for the train. There’s a nip of coldness too, a bracing morning wake-up when I step out of the front door – a promise of what’s to come.
Baking of course lends itself perfectly to the cooler months and this recipe is a prime example of the transition to warmer, comforting, more indulgent inclinations.
It’s based on an onion quiche eaten during a visit to our friends in Narrogin, which has stayed in my mind thanks to the very distinct and rather unique addition of whole cumin seeds.
I know it’s very unusual to see cumin in a dish outside of its usual oriental repertoire – but pairing it with the sweet richness of caramelised onions and salty, savoury feta is just genius.
I used spelt flour rather than going the traditional route for shortcrust pastry, which gave me a rather more robust wholemeal crust. However, you can certainly substitute plain flour in the pastry recipe below.
But please please don’t go omitting the cumin just because it sounds strange – trust me, the flavours of this irresistible tarte will stay with you long after you’ve gone back for seconds and scraped every last crumb from your plate… Just as it did with me.
caramelised onion & feta tarte
spelt shortcrust pastry
200g spelt flour (plus extra for dusting)
1 tsp fine sea salt
150g chilled unsalted butter, chopped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
ice cold water
1 tbsp olive oil
2 brown onions, peeled and sliced
4 – 5 eschallots, peeled and sliced
1 cup pouring cream
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp brown sugar
300g feta, crumbled
Begin by preparing the spelt shortcrust pastry.
Combine the flour, salt and butter in a food processor, blending on low speed for 10 seconds until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
Add the beaten egg and process again for a few seconds until the dough comes together.
Pastry consistencies may differ depending on flour blends, the size of eggs used or discrepancies with weight measurements, so you may need to adjust your dough at this point if it is too dry or too wet.
If the dough is too dry, add a little of the ice cold water one teaspoon at a time and process again in short pulses until the dough comes together.
My dough happened to be rather sticky and wet at this point, so I added more flour – one tablespoon at a time – until I had a nice firm consistency.
Turn out your dough onto a lightly floured surface and gather it into a ball, avoiding kneading it too much in the process.
Press the dough into a slightly flattened disk, wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes (or up to 24 hours if need be).
For the caramelised onion filling, heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Add the sliced onions, eschallots, salt and brown sugar, and cook for several minutes, stirring regularly, until the onions are lightly golden.
Cover, turn down the heat to low and cook for 45 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the onions are very soft and starting to break down.
Turn the heat back up to medium, remove the lid and cook for another 5 – 10 minutes, stirring until most of the liquid has evaporated and the onions are almost ‘jammy’ in texture.
Remove the spelt dough from the refrigerator and let it sit for 10 minutes or so, until the dough can be rolled without cracking. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Sprinkle a large, clean surface lightly with flour and rub your rolling pin with flour to stop it sticking.
Lightly grease a tart pan with olive oil. Roll out the dough until it’s about 0.5 centimetres thick, according to the shape of your tart or quiche pan (I used rectangular but alternatively you could use a 25 centimetre circular pan).
Transfer the dough sheet to the pan and carefully press into the grooves, pushing out any air trapped underneath.
Trim any excess dough from around the top, prick the base all over with a fork and bake for 7 minutes until lightly golden. Remove from the oven and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and cream. Fold in the caramelised onion and eschallots, cumin and half of the crumbled feta. Season with black pepper but not with salt, as the feta will be salty enough to balance the flavour.
Pour into the tart shell (being carefully not to overfill), sprinkle with the remaining crumbled feta and bake for 30 minutes until the top is golden and the centre is still slightly soft.
Turn off the oven and leave the tart in the closed oven for another 10 minutes until just set.
Serve warm, with a side of a simple green salad.