There is something about the tart that has instant appeal. The French know this. Rarely do I visit one of my favorite bistros without someone at the table ordering a slice while the others look on in envy. There is no limit to what you can do with a bit of puff pastry or other similarly buttery dough, a thought that kept niggling at me when I was preparing for lunch guests a couple of weekends ago.
The thing about being a food blogger, a struggling-to-emerge food writer, is that people often have high expectations when you offer to cook for them. They think a passion for food and eating translates into genius in the kitchen. If you’re actually going to write a blog about cooking, you can likely find your way around the kitchen, but there are a lot of food writers out there that don’t cook and never have to.
When I began sending article proposals to editors, I never thought about learning to cook better. I was competent in the kitchen. Or at least I gave that appearance, as I had perfected a handful of dishes that I would rotate for my dinner guests. It wasn’t until I started blogging that I came face-to-face with how little I knew about cooking. How many foods I hadn’t even tried. Foods that some people would consider pretty standard, like artichokes and arugula. The purpose of my blog was to give myself a space where I could learn, expand on my knowledge, and in a way, go back to the basics and perfect my techniques.
In my very first blog post, I wrote about starting to use cookbooks. Even though I had amassed a collection of them, I hardly ever used them for anything more than inspiration. But I was tired of making something well and not being able to recreate it because I relied on mostly improvisation.
This still happens, of course, but I have learned a lot by taking the time to work through a recipe at least once before tweaking. On March 2nd it will be two years since I began this blog and I can say that I’m a lot better of a cook–and even baker–than I was in 2009.
I have to remind myself of this on the days–sometimes in the weeks–that I’m away from this space, distracted by work, friends and family, my novel and other projects that need my focus. I tend to beat myself up about it, thinking about the followers I have that might be disappointed to check back with me yet again to discover my silence.
Then I remind myself that I’m not in a competition, and as much as I don’t want to disappoint people, the reason I started this blog was to make that journey from an okay cook to a really good one. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t also want a lot of readers. No writer wants her words to lay empty.
But in this saturated market of food blogs, I think learning to cook and make people happy with your food is more than worth the effort. In fact, it’s a gift. Having a small but loyal following is the bow on top.
Now. I have learned to cook quite well (and am still learning) and those invited to partake in a meal at my table expect great things from me. Or so I fear. I cook for people more often than I used to–but not much. I have a sort of stage fright about what to serve and how, fretting about my timing issues and the Murphy’s Law that always has things turning out better for myself than they do for others.
It took a long time for me to recognize my tendency to get carried away in the kitchen. I have only recently learned the importance of keeping it simple.
Which finally brings me to this tart. Bacon, olives, and caramelized onions. Alongside a salad, it’s what I served my real estate agent for lunch when she came by for a visit. There’s nothing like a bit of bacon and puff pastry to encourage the idea that you are a culinary magician. I got the idea for this tart while flipping through a cookbook and stumbling upon a recipe for pissaladière, the Provençal-style pizza that can be found in every boulangerie in the south of France. In my anxiety about what to serve, even pizza dough seemed like too much work, and likely to produce a less-than-perfect outcome.
So I pulled puff pastry out of the freezer and made a tart.
Start with all butter pastry. It makes a difference. And good olives, butter, and fresh herbs. It goes without saying that your cooking is only as good as your ingredients and a simple tart is no exception.
If you’re a blogger, tell me … what has blogging done for you?
Bacon, Olive, and Caramelized Onion Tart
375g (13 oz) all butter puff pastry
1/3 cup sliced black olives
2 large onions, sliced
4 slices bacon, cut into lardons
1 tablespoon olive oil
60g (1/4 cup) butter
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
1 tablespoon rosemary leaves
fleur de sel, for garnish
1 egg, for wash
1) Preheat the oven to 400F/200C. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat and add onions, butter, and olive oil. Cook the onions for about 30 minutes, or until deeply caramelized. Add a pinch of sugar once they begin to golden to help the process along. Add salt and a large pinch of pepper.
2) Roll out puff pastry on a floured board into the shape of a rectangle 3mm (1/8 inch) thick. Transfer onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and put back into fridge until the onions are ready. In the meantime, fry the bacon until crisp. Drain on a paper towel.
3) Brush the pastry with 1 egg beaten with a teaspoon of water. Leaving a border of about 1cm (1/2 inch), top the pastry with the onion mixture, sliced olives, and bacon. Garnish with thyme and rosemary, pepper and a sprinkling of fleur de sel. Brush the border with more of the egg wash.
4) Bake for 20 minutes or until puffed and golden. Serve with an arugula (rocket) salad.