Donna’s Vidalia Onion Tarte Tatin

Posted in John's Current Blog on July 19, 2015

Savannah, Georgia; July 19, 2015 I’ve written about sweet onions on the blog before, but it’s been quite a few years since I made this marvelous tarte that my friend Donna contributed for my second book, The New Southern Cook. (My “son” Scot Hinson has signed copies at his General Store, PW SHORT, in Savannah. Phone 912 484-2840.) What inspired me was my new neighbor, who left this bag of Vidalias on my stoop. When he was moving in, I took him some beer and Coca-Cola. His father, it turns out, is the Mayor of Vidalia. Though you can store sweet onions tied up in panty hose, with knots between each onion, I went ahead and cooked them all. First, I made some relish (ground about 2 pounds with some red bell peppers, added a little sugar and a cup of vinegar and some spices and let it boil down thick before adding to sterile jars and processing them in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.)

Here’s what I wrote back in 1994, when I was working on the book (has it really been 21 years?!):

Vidalia Onion Tarte Tatin

You should see my red-headed friend Donna Skill on a bright spring day: she is the very essence of the season, sunny and cheery, befreckled and frolicsome. One lovely day in late April while I was working on this book, she dropped by to see me. “I’ve been making Tarte Tatin with Vidalia onions,” she told me. “Use frozen puff pastry from the grocery store and you’ll have housewives all over the country making it. It’s wonderful as a vegetable dish or as a first course now that the onions are in.”

Sweet onions are available throughout the country now in the late spring and early summer. They don’t have to be Vidalia or Wadmalaw from the South, but be sure to use a sweet hybrid. You’ll need to start this recipe several hours before you plan to serve it. Sweet onions are so much juicier than white or Spanish onions; it takes a long time for the juices to cook out. If you’ve got the time, you should really cut them the day before you plan to use them in this recipe to let them air-dry. Don’t worry if they turn a little dark; they’re going to brown in the tart anyway.

2-1/2 pounds of sweet onions such as Vidalias, Wadmalaws, Texas 1015s, Walla Wallas, or Mauis

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 sheet puff pastry (see text below)

1  teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

1/2 cup chopped scallions (white and green parts)

1 chopped shallot

Ahead of time if possible (as much as a day before), slice the onions in half vertically, then slice off the tops. Slice the bottoms,  leaving a hint of the tough base above the roots to help hold the onion together. Peel the onions. Place on a cloth or paper towel over some newspaper and allow to air dry. (Here’s a photo from my Instagram page.)

In a 10-inch cast iron skillet, melt the butter, add the sugar, and remove from the heat, stirring to mix well. Place the onions, root ends down and curved edges touching the outside of the pan. Shove the onions into the pan, cramming it full. You should have enough to tightly pack the skillet.

Place the skillet over medium heat and cook until bubbles appear. Turn down the heat a bit and continue to cook until most of the liquid has cooked out of the onions and they begin to collapse. It will take anywhere from 1-1/2 to 3 hours, depending on how juicy your onions are and how high the heat. You must not stir the onions, because you want them to stay in place, but it is okay to shake the pan a little bit. I turn the skillet around on the eye several times while it is cooking to be sure there are no hot spots. Remove the pan from the heat the moment that the remaining sugar in the bottom of the pan caramelizes. Tilt the pan slightly to be sure that there is no clear liquid left.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and take the puff pastry out of the freezer to thaw. Several manufacturers make a 17-1/4-ounce package that contains two frozen sheets. They take about 20 minutes to thaw. After they have thawed, remove one of the  sheets and wrap the other well in its original covering, then a layer of aluminum foil. Refreeze immediately.

Dust a counter and rolling pin well with flour and place the thawed sheet of puff pastry on the counter. Sprinkle the pastry with the thyme leaves and roll it out so that it forms a circle about 12 inches in diameter.

Sprinkle the chopped scallions and shallot all around the sweet onions in the pan, then lift up the puff pastry sheet and place it down on top of the onions. Let it sit for a moment, then press it down over the onions and down the sides between the onions and the sides of the skillet. I u, se a silicone spatula to slide the pastry down under the onions, working around the circle and letting the pastry fold under itself.

Place the tart in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove to a rack to cool.

To serve, invert a large plate over the skillet. Invert the skillet and lift it from the tart. Slice carefully with a serrated bread knife and serve.

Serves 8 to 10.

Debbie Recommends: A fruity white Côtes du Luberon will add an earthy touch.

P.S. You may note that the onions are VERY LARGE. Because we were only four for dinner last night, I cut the recipe by a third and used a 7″ skillet. It worked perfectly.

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