Wednesday, 26 June 2013


The most-eaten vegetable in the world, according to a question on a trivia quiz I answered incorrectly on the weekend, is... the onion (I guessed potato). When you think about it, it makes sense. They're cheap, plentiful, available year-round and lend an amazing depth of flavour to so many different foods. They taste great caramelised, pickled, roasted, fried or raw, in soups and stir-fries, curries and casseroles, tacos and pastas and... tarts. Not sweet tarts, though onions themselves are wonderfully sweet. Which is why they're so perfect in the savoury kind. There's the traditional French onion tart of course, but in that the flavour of the onion is diluted with cream as well as cheese, and the rich, buttery pastry, built up around the sides of the dish as well as forming its base is, quite literally, a bit too much of a good thing. This simple, pizza-style Provençal tart is more my speed - a single layer of thin, flaky pastry (that you don't have to blind-bake), slathered with sweet golden onion and sprinkled with a salty punch of anchovies and olives. It's the kind of meal that works just as well in summer as a light lunch outside with a glass of white wine (though this is more the life of characters in French movies I've seen than my own) as it does in winter when you need something warm and comforting (that you can eat sitting on the couch under a blanket with the heater on - more familiar to me, especially right now). Onions! Of course.

Adapted from a recipe I scribbled down from a cookbook that belonged to someone I was sharing a house with when at film school, and stupidly didn't think to note the name of...

If you're making this at home alone or are immune to embarrassment, consider wearing a pair of swimming goggles while you chop the onions. It avoids the tears and allows you to see what you're doing, which is handy when you're wielding a sharp knife.

250g (1 2/3 cups) flour
125g butter, chilled, diced
40g (1/2 cup) finely grated parmesan
3 1/2 tablespoons cold water

60ml (1/4 cup) olive oil
5 medium brown onions, sliced
2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
ground black pepper, to taste
70g (1/4 cup) tomato paste
anchovies in olive oil, to taste
Kalamata olives, pitted, to taste

  1. Place the flour, butter, parmesan and water in the bowl of a food processor. Process til mixture just comes together (add a little extra water if necessary). Turn onto a clean surface and lightly knead to form a ball. Shape into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest.
  2. Meanwhile, to make the topping, heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and thyme, and stir to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until cooled to room temperature.
  3. Preheat oven to 200 deg C. Use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll the pastry out on a lightly floured surface to a 20 x 30cm rectangle. Transfer to a large baking tray. 
  4. Spread the tomato paste over the pastry and top with the onion mixture. Arrange the anchovies in a criss-cross pattern on top (you can slice each individual fillet in half lengthways if you find the taste too strong, or omit them altogether) and sprinkle with olives. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes or until pastry is cooked through and golden around the edges. Serve warm, cut into squares.


  1. Looks wonderful. What would we do without onions, they would have to be one of my favorite ingredients to cook with despite the tears.

  2. I think I would have liked to have photographed you while you are wearing your swimming goggles as you are preparing this amazing dish!