Four Allii Tart: An Onion Pie Fit for a King

Washington has its Walla-Walla, and Georgia has the Vidalia, but did you know that Hawaii also has its own sweet onion — the Ewa Sweet. More petite than its Mainland cousins, the Ewa (EH-vah) Sweet can be used in any way that you would use a Vidalia or Walla-Walla. Low-acid and natural sweetness make it an ideal salad and pickling onion. In season now until June, this sweet treat should be savored during its short season.

One of our rare favorite treats is a caramelized onion and chevre tart. The contrast between the sweetness in the long-cooked onions and the tangy goat cheese is wonderful, especially when chased with a crisp sauvignon blanc. We have this treat so rarely because cooked in the traditional way, the onions take up to 3 hours to fully caramelize. I wondered if we could achieve a similar sweetness with the sweet onions in a shorter cooking time. I wouldn’t want to actually caramelize sweet onions because I’m afraid their innate sweetness would become cloying and unpalatable except in very small doses (as in a jam). We wanted to cook them just enough to heighten their flavor. Local leeks, garlic chives and flat chives were added to lend some complexity. The dough for the pastry shell is a classic German Mürbteig — this water-less dough is easy to make and extremely forgiving, and bakes up to a crisp shell that can support a heavy filing like this one.

In the end, I’d say this tart was a winner. I especially liked the addition of the leeks. The flavor of the garlic chives was not discernible, but the flat chives lent some pleasing astringency to the mix. I think T would still prefer the caramelized version since he loves the sweet & burnt effect on any vegetable, but I prefer the flavors in this combination. Too bad the sweet onion season is so short!

The name of this tart is a play on the Hawaiian word for the ruling class, Ali’i (with one ‘L’). Onions, leeks and chives all belong to the plant genus Allium, Latin plural Allii. In future we’ll make the classic caramelized version and the Pfälzer Zwiebelkuchen, a custard leek tart, for comparison and contrast for Alliophiles everywhere.

THE 4 ALLII TART
(For a 12-inch tart tin)
For the Shell:
1-1/4 cup (125g) regular flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
5-1/2 TBL. (70g) unsalted butter, cut into small dice then chilled
1 extra-large (64g) egg, beaten

Sift together flour, salt and baking powder. Add butter pieces and blend well using your fingers or a pastry blender (or if you’re a glutton for punishment, two knives). If you live in a particularly warm or humid climate, you may want to return the dough to refrigerator for 10-15 minutes after this workout. To continue, add egg and knead well to moisten all the dough until you have a smooth pastry. Cover with wax paper or plastic wrap, and let dough rest for 30 minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 425F/215-220C)
Roll out dough to a 14-inch circle (for a 12-inch tin, or at least 2 inches larger than the diameter of your tin). Fit dough into tin, gently pressing sides and bottom to fit. Trim excess dough by rolling pin over the edges of the tin. Prick bottom with fork, cover with parchment or doubled-wax paper and fill with a single layer of rice, beans or pie weights. Bake for 8-10 minutes, then remove paper and weights, and bake an additional 2-3 minutes, or until pale tan in color. Remove tart tin to rack to cool.

4 Ewa Sweet onions (about 1 lb./225g), or equivalent weight of a Mainland variety
2 large leeks (about 1lb./225g)
small handful of flat chives, about 40 stems
20 garlic chives
1/4 cup olive oil
sea salt
1 tsp. caraway seeds (optional)

Prepare a solution of 1/4 cup vinegar in a half-gallon of clean water in a non-reactive container You are going to use this to wash all the onions/chives. (Why use vinegar to clean vegetables? Read more in the preserving lemons post)

First, wash both chives in this solution and rinse them with cool running water. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Save flowering heads of the garlic chives as a garnish. (I saved them but forgot to put them in the picture!)

Rinse whole leeks in clean water to remove surface dirt, then wash them through the vinegar-water. Pat dry and slice cross-wise, at a slight diagonal, through the white and light green parts. Fill a separate container with another hlaf-gallon of clean water, and place the sliced leeks in the bowl. Gently swish through and then leave for a 5-10 minutes. Lift the leeks out of the water into a colander to drain. DO NOT dump out the water and leeks into the colander! You will put back all the loose grit and dirt that has settled to the bottom of the bowl! (Save the dark green parts of the leeks in the freezer for your next soup stock.)

Last, wash the onions in the vinegar-water. (Why wash onions if you’re going to peel them anyway? Consider where they’ve been in their long journey to your kitchen. Putting an unwashed onion — or any vegetable or fruit — on your cutting board is contaminating your hands and board before you even start.) Pat dry and thinly slice.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add sweet onions and leeks, stir to coat with oil, then cover and reduce heat to medium low. Cook for 35-40 minutes, or until onions have become translucent (see photo). Add both chives, sea salt and caraway seeds, if using, and continue cooking for 10 minutes (when adding salt, consider that the goat cheese contains a fair amount of salt and adjust your salt here). Using a slotted spoon, remove onions from pan, leaving all juices behind. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before assembling tart.

To assemble:
1 log (60g) chevre, sliced into 8 pieces
ground black pepper

Pre-heat oven to 400F/200C.

Place bed of drained onions on pre-baked tart shell. Season well with pepper and dot with goat cheese. Bake tart for 15 minutes, or just until onions and cheese start to take on color.

Garnish with reserved chive flowers and fresh pepper. Serve slightly warm or cold. Serves 8 as first course, or 3-4 as a meal along with a crisp green salad and baguette.