The last time I was in California, a dear friend spoke to me passionately about Judy Rodgers' cookbook, The Zuni Café Cookbook. This cookbook is the combination of classic Zuni dishes and Rodgers' fastidious attention and care when it comes to recipe testing and writing.
Rodgers provides all the steps necessary to recreate her inventive and accessible recipes, while also empowering readers to make the recipes their own.
"Recipes do not make food good; people do" Rodgers wrote in her chapter called "The Habit of Tasting and Finding Flavor Balance". In the same chapter she advises cooks to play with the taste of a dish by "tinkering" with it, "...trim off a few sips or nibbles into a separate dish and taste it", she writes. "Now add a little of anything you suspect is lacking (it's okay to guess), taste again, and ask yourself if you like it better."
Throughout her book, Judy Rodgers gives you the tools to really learn how to cook on your own, while remaining reassuringly present (when you reach the part in the recipe that refers to bringing chilled dough to room temperature you read, "...this will take only a few minutes in a warm kitchen" and you are instantly aware of the temperature in your kitchen and it's like she's there with you and a few minutes later, your dough is ready).
So it was in the spirit of Judy that I went rogue with one of my favorite recipes from her book.
I was in the Loire valley, where we were preparing for a picnic that would celebrate the almost-end of the pruning season and the birthday of an amazing lady that had been working hard in the vines for the past few weeks.
The fête was to be a BBQ, but then we realized there were vegetarians among us and needed a plan quick, because a potato salad alone wasn't going to cut it. I had planned on making Judy's Onion Tart with Apples and Bacon and reflected on how to go veggie with it. Luckily, I was in the land of amazing chèvre and an aged, salty goat cheese was just the thing to replace the crunch and smokiness of bacon.
The tart was a success, I think- though hungry vineyard workers will eat about anything. The BBQ was a success, c'est sûr- and I think Judy would've enjoyed the food and company.
I used my puff pastry recipe for this dish, because I'm used to making it and haven't gotten to Judy's yet, which is surely better- I'll count on any readers that are equally enamored with her to let me know what they think.
When making this recipe, be sure to choose a hard goat cheese, you don't want it to melt too much, just soften while in the oven.
Apple, Onion and Chèvre Tart
Makes enough for 4-6
For the puff pastry:
2 cups (250 grams) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup (240 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (120 ml) cold water
Sift flour into a medium mixing bowl then stir in salt. Break butter into medium sized chunks and combine them into the flour mixture with your hands. Continue to combine until the dough begins to stick together (there can be lumps of butter-these will get rolled out later).
Make a well in the mixture and slowly and water as you continue to pull the dough together. Try to form the dough into a ball. If it doesn't stay together, continue to add the rest of the water, or more if necessary (you don't want to mixture to be too wet). Wrap the ball of dough in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for a minimum of 20 minutes or as long as over night.
For the tart:
About 3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups (265 grams) thinly sliced yellow onions
Pinch of salt
1 bay leaf
Sprig of fresh thyme
2 small, acidic apples, cut into slivers
1 hard goat cheese, preferably aged
Preheat oven to 400°F/200°C
Remove puff pastry from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature. On a floured surface, roll out puff pastry dough into a large rectangle, until it is about 1/4 inch thick. Fold both top third and bottom third together to meet in the middle, then turn the pastry dough 180° to the left, flip over and roll out again, adding flour as necessary to prevent dough from sticking to the rolling pin. Repeat this one more time, then fold top third and bottom third together one last time, without rolling out, and cover with plastic wrap. Return to refrigerator to chill for another 20 minutes.
Heat olive oil in a skillet and add onions and salt. Cook over medium high heat for 3-4 minutes, then toss onions and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in bay leaf and thyme. Cook until onions are golden but still hold their shape, about another 15 minutes. Once done to your liking, remove from heat, take out the bay leaf, and let cool.
Remove puff pastry from the refrigerator.
Transfer cooled onions to a large bowl and return skillet to medium heat. Once the pan is heated, toss apple slivers for a few minutes, just until they start to soften.
Cut goat cheese as you see fit. Cubes, rounds, or any other slices will do- be sure that the pieces are chunky enough to stay somewhat firm throughout baking and to give a bit of a crunch to the tart.
Roll room-temperature pastry dough into a rectangle that's about 8 inches tall and 6 inches wide. Bend up edges of the pastry, squeezing corners together, to make a shallow yet sturdy tart. Spread cooled onions into the tart, followed by the cooked apples, which should be scattered evenly across the tart. Add the goat cheese and arrange the tart so that all ingredients are on display.
Bake about 20 minutes or until puff pastry is golden brown and onions have begun to caramelize.