This tart can work as a starter or the main course. It even works as a dessert, served with ice cream or sorbet. The recipe is flexible owing to the fact that you can cut the pastry bases to any size you wish. Use a cookie cutter to form many small tarts for a party, or roll out a whole sheet of puff pastry and make one large one for a family style meal. This recipe is four 4 individual tarts, 4 inches across.
2 large fennel bulbs, tops trimmed off, split and cored, and sliced vertically into 1/8 inch slices
2 medium yellow onions, halved through the root and sliced into 1/8 inch slices
1/2 cup vegetable stock or water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, or more as needed
4 tablespoons turbinado sugar, “Raw” sugar, or a fairly dry light brown sugar*
2 ounces balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Package frozen prepared puff pastry sheets
Cheese, such as Parmesan, gruyere, or a soft, mild goat cheese
Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of butter and melt. When melted add the fennel and toss to coat. Cook a couple minutes, and then add the stock or water, and cover the pan. Cook until the fennel is becoming tender, about 5-8 minutes. Remove the top and add the 3 tablespoons of butter.
Let the liquid evaporate and the butter melt. When the butter is melted, add the onions and toss to combine with the fennel and coat with butter. Cook, stirring to prevent burning, until the vegetables are well colored and tender.
Turn down the heat to medium-low. Make a well in the center of the vegetables, and add the sugar, shaking the pan to spread it out. Flip vegetables onto the sugar and spread out. Cook the sugar until it starts to caramelize. Toss the vegetables and cook until all the sugar has dissolved and is caramelizing.
Add the balsamic vinegar, and toss to coat. Cook, allowing the vegetables to color, but not burn, and become quite tender.
Season well, and taste. You should have elements of sweet, tart, earthy, and the vegetables should be meltingly tender. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
Heat the oven to 400°F.
Lay out the puff pastry and cut out 5 inch squares. Make cuts into the corners of each piece and fold in the edges a 1/4 inch to form a lip on each tart. If you want something less rustic, use left-over dough to form strips for the border and “paste” them on using whipped egg yolk. Once the borders are established, place the bases on sheet pans lined with parchment paper or non-stick mats. Divide the vegetables between the four tart bases, being sure to use a spatula to get all the liquid from the bowl, and drizzle it over the vegetables on the tarts.
Place in the oven and bake until golden and crispy, around 10-15 minutes. Be sure the base under the vegetables is cooked as well.
Remove from the oven and, if using cheese, scatter the cheese over the vegetables now. There is still enough heat to cause the cheese to melt, but not so much that the cheese liquefies.
Serve hot or room temperature.
- If you wish to make many small tarts for an appetizer, use a cookie cutter to cut out 1 1/2 inch circles from one sheet of dough, and then do the same to the other sheet in the box. Then use a 1 1/4 inch cutter to make circles in the centers of the second set of circles. Use egg yolk to “glue” the dough rings onto the base circles.
- If you like the idea of some meat on these, put some strips of prosciutto or pancetta on when you put them into the oven.
- You can also make the topping chunkier by cutting the vegetables wider, or slice them finely on a mandolin and cook to a jam-like consistency.
- Serve these with a salad of arugula and microgreens with some nuts such as almonds or hazel nuts for a great pairing.
- If you want to make a different sort of dessert, use a little more sugar on the vegetables, and dust the puff paste with a little sugar and powdered anise seed.
- Add a little vanilla to the sugar or vinegar for the vegetables, and then pair the tart with something like a yogurt or vanilla ice cream.
YIELD: 4 servings