This time of year I keep my eye out for ramps, a stunning wild and rare plant with a unique flavor all of its own. Ramps have two green leaves the color of spring green with an oniony stem that turns from green to purple to a creamy white at the bulb and root end. I believe they are as beautiful to look at as it is to eat, but I am a total fan of green and purple foods.
There are countless ways to prepare ramps, but my favorite way is to grill them. When grilled, the harsh garlicky bite turns sweet and compliments the smoky flavor from the grill. If you have never tried them before, grilled ramps are simply delicious and the perfect introduction to their unique onion flavor. All you need are a couple of grilled ramps to pair with your favorite grilled fish, meat or vegetables with a side of potato salad for a memorable spring BBQ feast.
Likewise, grilled ramps make an excellent hors d’oeuvres. Mix them with fresh ricotta cheese and lemon zest then smear it on grilled French bread. The ricotta tones down the sharp bite from the ramps but is makes a creamy garlicky lemon blend that tastes great on grilled toast. Only use fresh ricotta cheese and not the commercial brands. The ricotta flavor of these toasts stand out with the ramps and commercial ricotta just doesn’t sing the way homemade or freshly bought ricotta does. Seared toast with a smear of ricotta cheese and grilled ramps are a crowd-pleasing appetizer at any cocktail party, graduation party, or picnic in the park.
If you want to have a more potent grilled ramp flavor, omit the ricotta just add 1-2 grilled ramps per slice of bread. Chop them up and arrange them decoratively on each slice then add a squeeze of lemon juice right before serving.
Ramps are a member of the Allium family with a harvest season of only three weeks in May/June. The taste is like a cross between garlic cloves, scallions and leeks yet has its own unique garlicky-oniony flavor. Often ramps are referred as wild leeks or spring onions, ramps are neither. They are simply and uniquely ramps.
Because they are rare and only grow in the wild, people get ecstatic when they spot them at the farmer’s market or out in the wild. Like a lot of rare food finds they have a devoted following among chefs, home cooks, and foragers. But their popularity has led to some problems. As I was researching ramps for my post, I learned that ramps are on the protected plant list in Quebec Canada and on the watch list along the eastern continental United States.
The reason for the protection status is because of over harvesting combined with the length of time it takes for ramps to make seeds, germinate seeds and grow mature enough for harvesting. Like a lot of wild plants, it takes several years. Because of the slow germination period, as explained in this article in Epicurious, only 10% of a single crop should get harvested over the course of the season. Unfortunately, as with most trendy wild foods, they are in high demand and command a high price. The higher the price the greedier foragers get and pull up more ramps than the regulated amount and the plant cannot sustain its life cycle.
Eat Ramps Responsibility
Once I learned about ramps protected status in Canada and being on the watch list in the US, I felt very guilty not only for buying them but posting a recipe with ramps as the main focus. I take these concerns very seriously. Yet, I believe if we eat ramps as a special treat and not excessively then the ramp population can sustain itself. It is the consumer’s responsibility to demand responsible behavior from the farmer and not support foragers and markets that do not follow the guidelines for foraging ramps. If we get greedy and take more that is sustainable and buy from individuals not following the rules, there is a strong likelihood ramps will get protected status list as it is in Canada. Hopefully chefs, and especially celebrity chefs, will take action and help protect ramps like they have done in the past.
More Ways to Cook with Ramps
Add fresh ramps as a substitute for chives in Cheese and Chive Herb Bread.
Replace the leeks with chopped and sautéed ramps then add to Leek Asparagus Risotto.
Mince then sauté ramps then add to the Farro with Mushrooms and Rosemary.
Use sautéed ramps to replace the garlic in Garlic Bread.
Grilled Ramps, Two Ways
Grilled Ramps are delicious hot of the grill or minced into fresh ricotta cheese and smeared on toasted French bread.
Serve hot grilled ramps with your favorite grilled meat or fish like Arctic char or with other grilled vegetables. Or, mix them up with fresh ricotta cheese, lemon zest and mint then smear on toasted bread for a crowd-pleasing appetizer. Perfect for a cocktail party.
Substitute grilled or braised leeks for the ramps with one clove of roasted garlic.
The toasts are best eaten as soon as they are make or the bead will get soggy and stale.
- 16 ramps
- 1 Tb Extra Virgin Olive oil
- 1 pinch of Kosher Salt
Grilled Toast with Grilled Ramps and Ricotta
- 12 slices of French baguette cut thin on the diagonal
- ½ lb. fresh ricotta cheese
- 16 grilled ramps
- Zest from half a lemon
- 5-6 small mint leaves chiffonade
- Kosher Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat your grill, gas or charcoal to up high with the charcoal pushed to one side.
Clean, dry and trim off the root from each ramp. Cut away any soggy parts of the leaves, if any. Place the ramps on a rimmed sheet pan and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil then sprinkle with Kosher salt. Toss the ramps about using your hands to get the olive oil and salt evenly distributed over the ramps.
When your grill is hot, lay the ramps in a single layer over your grill and away from the coals to cook with indirect heat. Turn them over after a couple of minutes and grill the other side until charred and beginning to get soft.
You can also grill ramps indoors with a grill pan on a burner. Depending on the size of your grill pan, you will need to grill the ramps in batches.
Remove from the heat and enjoy hot or make into an appetizer. If serving as a side dish figure on 2 ramps per person.
Crispy Toast with Grilled Ramps and Ricotta
Toast both sides of your bread until browned on your grill or under the broiler. Set aside.
Place the ricotta in a small mixing bowl. Cut the green leaves off the ramps and mince the ramp bulbs . Add them to the ricotta.
Set aside a few, about 3, ramp leaves for garnish. Chop up the remaining leaves and add to the ricotta.
Grate the lemon zest into the ricotta and add the chiffonade mint. Stir everything together and taste. Correct the seasoning with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Spread a spoonful, about 1 tablespoon, of the ricotta and ramp mixture over each toasted slice of bread. Garnish with thin strips of grilled ramp leaves and lemon zest. Serve immediately.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Guacamole is one of my all-time favorite foods, ever. I loved it since I was a child and have never stopped. My love affair with guacamole comes from an even greater appreciation for avocados. They are on my desert island list of food that I can’t live without. It is just so hard to imagine what life would be like without them. Avocados remind me of California and eating them is one way I stay connected to my home town.
For most of my lifetime, I have made guacamole and never look at it as a recipe, but something that is fluid and develops into a moment depending on place and time. There is a foundation to build on, but each time I add or omit an ingredient whenever I see fit. Over the years, my guacamole recipe is the one food that people always ask me, “What is my secret for making delicious guacamole?” My answer is not one they expect or want to hear but, I feel like I am stating the obvious. The secret to good guacamole is, making it with perfectly ripe avocados.
Ripe Avocados make the Best Guacamole
Ultimately, guacamole is only going to taste as good as the avocados you make it with. So, it pays to learn how to identify when they are ripe. It is rare to find them ripe at the market so, it is important to let your avocados ripen to that sweet spot at home. Too hard and the flesh will look pale in and taste bland. Too soft, and the avocado gets gray veins and has bruises on the flesh and tastes over ripe.
The sweet spot is when there is some firmness in the body, but also has some yield when you press on the north and south poles of the avocado. It is like Goldilocks, looking for the right chair to sit in. One that is not too hard, or not too soft. Just right. With experience it gets easier to identify that perfect state of ripeness and learn which store sells the best avocados.
Living in New York, avocados travel long distances to reach our markets and usually are as hard as a granite counter top. Typically, when I buy avocados I let them rest on my window sill for 2 days before I use them. On occasion, they need more time, sometimes less. First, remove them from any bag, even the mesh bag, but especially a plastic one. Then place them in an area where they will get some sun and air circulation. Never put avocado in the refrigerator unless they are cut open. Check them daily and handle them carefully so they do not bruise.
My kitchen windows do not get a lot of direct sunlight, and two to three days usually is enough time. If your kitchen streams with sunshine all day, your avocados may take less time. None of the tricks, like putting them in a paper bag to quickly ripen avocados, work. Time, warm air and sunlight are essential for ripening avocados.
How to Make Guacamole Without a Recipe
When your avocados are ripe, begin making guacamole with the foundation ingredients, avocados, garlic, lime juice, pinch of salt, and minced cilantro. As you make guacamole remember this rule, start with less and add more if needed. It is a lot easier to add seasoning then take away. My preference for guacamole is create a nice balance of all the ingredients to enhance the flavor of the avocados without any one flavor coming on too strong. There are other traditional ingredients in guacamole like white onion or chopped tomatoes, but I prefer a smoother guacamole. Plus, I am not a big fan of raw onions. Feel free to add a couple of tablespoons of chopped white onions or tomatoes if you wish.
Once you get the foundation mixed together, taste and assess what the guacamole needs if anything. With perfect avocados it doesn’t take much to make good guacamole. Sometimes, the avocados lack some flavor and need some boosting. The easiest way to boost up the flavor is by adding a tablespoon of salsa, either tomato salsa or tomatillo salsa. Also, a small spoonful of mayonnaise helps make the guacamole creamy. Even a scant amount of Dijon mustard can offer the right amount of tang when the guacamole needs some acid to brighten it up. However, be careful not to add too much because you don’t want to taste the mustard or mayonnaise, these flavors should be in the background.
Extra Tidd-Bits for Boosting Guacamole Flavor
Just like adding a spoonful of salsa to your guacamole, you can achieve the same effect, if not better if you roast a tomatillo, jalapeño or serrano pepper, and garlic then add them to the guacamole. Personally, I love adding these roasted vegetables to guacamole, especially the garlic. The roasted garlic becomes sweet, and the harsh bite disappears. These roasted vegetables bring a slight tangy smokiness to the guacamole that just fits, like bacon and eggs.
A couple of years ago, I discovered how fresh fruit like strawberries is delicious with guacamole. Either serve strawberries on the side or chop some up and mix in the dip. You may need to add more salt and adjust the other seasoning, so taste and build the flavor as you go.
How Many Avocados?
3 avocados are a good place to start. It should make enough guacamole for 5-6 people. However, if your family is like my family it will disappear in less than 5 minutes and you will feel like you did not make enough. Avocados are expensive, at least in NY, so buy as many as is within reason. The most avocados I ever used to make guacamole are 6-7 avocados. It was for a decent size party of 15 or more people. However, if there are several appetizers in addition to the guacamole, there is no need to make so much.
Keep in mind, guacamole does not keep well. No matter how much lime juice is in the guacamole, eventually it turns gray from being exposed to the air. The oxidation also effects the flavor. Guacamole is a dip to serve right away and at room temperature.
Family Favorite Guacamole
The secret to delicious guacamole is using perfectly ripe avocados. Avocados are ripe when they are still firm but there is some give in the top and bottom of the fruit. I find it is best to buy avocados a couple of days in advance and let them ripen on a sunny windowsill.
This is a foundation recipe to build your guacamole as you make it. Adjust any amount of your preferred seasonings to enhance the flavor of your avocados.
This is not a recipe to make in advance. Guacamole is best served at room temperature and immediately after it is made. Serve with corn chips or some fruit like strawberries and vegetables such as jicama, carrots, cucumbers or bell peppers.
- 3 avocados
- 1 -2 cloves garlic peeled and green germ removed
- 1 lime
- 1/2 tea Kosher Salt
- 2 TBS chopped cilantro
- 1 roasted jalapeño chili optional
- 1 medium roasted tomatillo optional
Cut each avocado in half by holding the avocado in one hand and with the other hand make a slice with a 6-inch chef's knife though the top of the avocado towards the middle until you reach the pit inside. Rotate your knife around the perimeter of the avocado. Set down the knife and hold the avocado in both hands then twist the avocado halves in opposite directions until they separate. Pull apart the avocado halves.
Securely hold the avocado with the pit like it is resting in your palm and the pit is facing up. Make sure your fingers are away from the edge of the avocado. Carefully, but firmly, take your chef knife and hit the sharp edge of the blade in the center of the pit until the knife sticks. With the knife blade secure in the pit, twist your knife counter-clockwise to loosen the pit from the flesh. Lift your knife with the pit still attached and remove the pit from the flesh. Whack the side of your knife against the edge of your cutting board, or the rim of a garbage pail, to loosen the pit from the knife and falls off. Repeat until all the avocados are cut in half and pits removed.
Use a soup spoon and scoop out the avocado flesh. Run the spoon around the inside edge of the avocado to loosen it free from the skin. Scoop out the avocado flesh and place it into a mixing bowl. Repeat until all the avocados are scooped out.
Mash the avocados with a fork until all the flesh is mixed together but still chunky. Add lime juice from half a lime. Stir to mix with your fork.
Mince or press the garlic and place into the mixing bowl. Add a pinch (less than 1/2 a teaspoon), of Kosher salt. and the cilantro to the avocados. Stir to mix.
Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Too bland add more salt or garlic. Needs more acid add more lime juice or tomatillos or salsa. Start with less and add more if needed.
The roasted tomatillo, process in a food processor first then add it to the guacamole.
The chili peppers, remove the stem and scrape out the seeds and white pith according to how spicy you want the guacamole.
Instead of the roasted tomatillo or chilies, add a spoonful or salsa verde or tomato salsa.
For extra creaminess, add a spoonful of mayonnaise. For extra tang, add a half teaspoon of Dijon mustard.
Sliced fresh grape tomatoes for garnish or in the dip.
Cover with plastic wrap until ready to serve. Best eaten immediately with corn chips or cut up vegetables and fruit.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
During the 70’s and 80’s, Deviled Eggs was a popular appetizer. Many cocktail parties had a tray of these creamy bite size egg nibbles politely passed around on a tray for your convenience. Of course, I was a teenager then, but during my teenage years I made money as a hostess helper where I prepped, cooked, served, and cleaned up at people’s parties. I loved the job because I got to see what people where serving and how they entertained.
For some reason Deviled Eggs lost some popularity in the 90’s. I believe it was because people believed eggs were unhealthy. Fortunately, eggs have made a comeback, and with that so have Deviled Eggs. I love Deviled Eggs and based on the reaction I hear from people outside my home, so do a lot of people. I believe they are a perfect appetizer for a cocktail party. One that is not too rich, are easy to eat while holding a drink, and provide some needed protein to help fill one’s appetite. In general, I believe eggs are comfort food and just like egg salad, deviled eggs have that creamy wholesome comfort I crave.
How to Cook Hard Boiled Eggs for Deviled Eggs
The key to making good deviled eggs is making perfect hard-boiled eggs. Ones that are not rubbery, with cooked but tender yolks, have an even oval shape, and have a shell that is easy to peel off. What I discovered is there are almost as many tricks as there are recipes, with most of them providing inconsistent results. Over the past couple of years, I discovered two techniques for making hard-boiled eggs that are consistently easy to peel and do not get over-coked. No technique is entirely foolproof, but these two techniques are very reliable.
First, according to Food52, warm up the eggs in hot tap water while you wait for the water to boil. Putting eggs straight from the refrigerator into a pot of boiling water causes the shells to crack and give the eggs a misshapen appearance. Warming the eggs for a few minutes helps the egg whites set into their natural oval shape and prevent the shells from cracking.
Second, if you only adapt one of these techniques, this is the one to do whenever you cook hard-boiled eggs. Shock the cooked eggs in ice water for 15 minutes or more just when they finish cooking. In layman’s terms, this technique causes the egg whites to constrict and pull away from the sides of the shell. With everything else being a constant, this one technique produces hard-boiled eggs that are easy to peel.
Also, the myth about younger fresh eggs being hard to peel is true. Older eggs like store-bought or farm fresh eggs that are at least 2-weeks-old are much easier to peel. Other than the shock from the ice bath, the age criteria is the only “egg lore” I found to be consistently correct. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of the best techniques for cooking hard-boiled eggs, read this article from Serious Eats.
If you are making hard-boiled eggs for deviled eggs, make more than you need so if you get a couple of eggs that don’t peel easily or are misshapen, you have extra to choose from. Use up the extra eggs for egg salad or chopped and sprinkled over asparagus with some olive oil.
Deviled Eggs Four Ways
There are endless ways to personalize this classic appetizer and I have provided four variations for you to choose from. First off is the foundation recipe which all the other recipes are a variation from. Each recipe is proportioned using 4 hard-boiled eggs, giving you a total of 8 deviled eggs. The recipe is easily adapted to doubling the amounts. With the egg yolk filling, I look for a smooth consistency with a very slight amount of grain, and a creamy balanced flavor between the mayonnaise, mustard and egg yolks.
From the foundation recipe I built two other variations. The first I made Pickled Deviled eggs with cornichons, a couple of the onions from the bottle, and pickling liquid to the foundation recipe. This added a subtle pickle flavor complimented with some heat from a light sprinkle of hot paprika. If you can’t find cornichons use sweet gherkin pickles or relish
For decadent deviled eggs, I used either white or black truffle oil and slightly adjusted the foundation recipe. If using white truffle oil, it will have a subtler flavor, but it is still delicious. The egg filling gets a double dose of truffles from truffle salt and truffle oil, which I am lucky enough to have both on hand. However, if you only have truffle oil, you will still have the truffle essence, albeit a subtler one. If you are fortunate enough to have a real truffle, mince up a sliver and add it to the egg yolks or use as a garnish. Italian truffles are not available now (early Spring), but usually become available for a couple of months in the summer, and in the winter.
The recipe for spinach deviled eggs is from Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything. He made them sound so good I just had to try them out. He is right they are delicious with a great flavor of spinach and Romano cheese. The filling has a dark green color which was different from what I expected. (I thought they would have a pale green color.) Yet, I believe they will surprise and delight your guests as something delicious and unexpected.
His recipe calls for Parmesan Cheese, but I prefer the sharpness of Romano Cheese. If you wish, use Parmesan cheese, but make sure it is the Parmesan Reggiano from Italy.
Pair Deviled Eggs with any of these Appetizers
Deviled Eggs are a timeless appetizer perfect for a cocktail party. The foundation recipe is a traditional recipe made with mayonnaise, Dijon mustard and some hot paprika. All the variations start from this traditional recipe with some tweaks. Listed below are four variations to choose from to suit your mood and preference. All of them are delicious.
The Spinach Deviled Eggs is from Mark Bittman's cookbook, How to Cook Everything.
Deviled eggs are best eaten the day they are made. Assemble right before serving.
- 4 hard-boiled eggs
- 2 ½ TBS mayonnaise
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- Pinch of Kosher salt
- A few rounds of fresh ground black pepper
- A couple of dashes of hot paprika to taste and garnish
- Dill for garnish only for the foundation recipe
Use a sharp paring knife, cut the hard-boiled eggs in half lengthwise. To make a clean cut, wipe off the knife between each egg. Scoop out the yolks and place into a small bowl. Reserve the egg whites. Mash the egg yolks with a fork until they look like small pebbles and almost a paste. Add the mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper and mix and mash together with your fork until it gets as smooth as you can make it by hand. Taste the mixture and adjust with any of the ingredients to get the consistency you wish. Sprinkle a couple of dashes of hot paprika, or sweet paprika if you do not want the spice.
Spoon or pipe the egg yolk filling into the body of the cooked egg whites. Garnish with a tip of dill and a dusting of paprika and black pepper.
Serve immediately or refrigerate covered in plastic wrap until needed. Deviled eggs are best eaten soon after they are made.
Cornichon Deviled Eggs
Follow the directions of the foundation recipe for deviled eggs. Once the egg yolks are mixed and add 4-6 diced cornichons and two diced pickled onions from the cornichons jar. Add about a half teaspoon and up to 1 teaspoon of the juice from the jar of cornichons. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Spoon the deviled egg filling into the body of the hard-boiled eggs and garnish with sliced cornichon and a dash of smoked paprika.
Poor Man’s Truffle Deviled Eggs
Use the foundation recipe, except use only 1 ½ tablespoons of mayonnaise and add one tablespoon of white or black truffle olive oil. Use the same amount of Dijon mustard, but add a pinch of truffle salt instead of Kosher salt. (Optional, add 1 TB of butter.) Mix until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Pipe or spoon the egg yolk mixture into the egg white bodies. Garnish with fresh ground black pepper and drizzle with truffle oil.
Spinach Deviled Eggs
Steam 3 oz (81 g) of fresh spinach (cleaned and stems removed) for 5 minutes. When cool plop into a flour sack kitchen towel and squeeze out as much water as you can. Or put in a fine mesh strainer and press out as much liquid as possible. Place the squeezed spinach on a cutting board and mince several times over. In a small bowl mash up the egg yolks and add the spinach, 1 ½ TB mayonnaise, and 1 TB extra virgin olive oil, 1 TB of slightly softened butter, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, less than a ¼ tsp. Mash everything together until smooth. Add ¼ cup, (65-70 ml) finely grated Romano Cheese and stir to completely mix. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Pipe or spoon the filling into the hard-boiled egg whites. Garnish with thinly sliced pickled peppadews.
Hard Boiled Eggs
- 1-6 eggs
- 3 quarts (3 liters) water
Fill a pot large enough to hold the eggs without crowding them with 3 quarts of water. Turn on the heat to high. Bring the pot to a boil.
While the water is heating up on the stove, add the eggs to a bowl filled with hot water. Let the eggs warm up in the bath. This step help prevent the egg shells from cracking as they cook and maintain an oval shape.
Carefully, add the eggs one at a time to the pot of boiling water. A large slotted spoon or spider are great for this job, and cook for one minute. Turn down the heat to a simmer and cover the pot. Cook for 10- 12 minutes. 10 minutes will give you eggs that are cooked but have a slightly soft middle spot in the yolk. 12 minutes will give you eggs where the yolks are cooked but not dried out.
Just before the eggs finish boiling, fill a large bowl part way with ice then fill it with cold water. Set aside.
When the eggs are finished cooking, immediately remove them from the pot and add them into the bowl with the ice water. Use a slotted spoon to lift the eggs out of the hot water before you add them into the ice water. Let them cool in the ice water for 15 minutes or longer, adding more ice if necessary to keep the water cold.
To peel the eggs, gently tap the egg against the side of the sink to make cracks all over the surface, then roll the egg back and forth on the counter’s surface. Starting at the wide bottom end of the egg, peel away the shell under cold running tap water. Repeat until all the eggs are peeled. Place the peeled eggs in a bowl of cold water and keep in the refrigerator uncovered until needed.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
For the past few months my ideas and inspiration for making new meals gravitated towards baking. Either sweet or savory, it did not matter as long as my hands are touching dough or mixing batter. My excuse is the winter weather and the need to feel warmth even if it comes from a 350 degree oven. But the truth is I love to bake. I can’t lay it all on the winter chill. Whether it is savory, like my beef empanadas, or something sweet like lemon syrup saffron cake, I get immense satisfaction stirring, whipping, kneading and baking. Now, all I want to do is bake bread and make this irresistible onion tart.
For the past month or so, I put this savory tart on the back burner. Actually, I waffled between making French onion soup, a classic French flat bread Pissialadière, and a creamy onion tart. Every time I saw a photo of caramelized onions topping a savory crust or custard on social media my hunger resurfaced. Clearly, I craved the taste of slowly browned and fragrant onions. It was time to give in.
I have Mom’s recipe for Quiche Loraine that I have made for years, but I wanted to try something a little different. With the premise of testing a new recipe from Deborah Madison’s cookbook, Vegetable Literacy, I forged ahead. It is a big tease looking through a vegetable cookbook in the middle of February. All these tantalizing photos of bright spring and summer vegetables dancing off the pages as I look out my window and feel the chill of the snow-covered landscape. Yet, in between my day dreams of freshly harvested greens and succulent sweet tomatoes, I kept returning to the chapter on onions and this fragrant onion tart made quite an impression.
Pastry Crust for an Onion Tart
There were two things that caught my attention, the first one being she makes a 100% whole wheat pastry crust. Often, I add some whole wheat pastry flour to my flour mix when I make pie dough. It adds a nutty flavor and more texture. It is my experience, a pie crust made with nothing but whole wheat flour is often dry and heavy. In all my years of testing Deborah Madison’s recipes I never experienced a heavy or dry recipe. Her cooking is not the vegetarian cooking of the 70’s, it is much more refined. Though I am sure her whole wheat pie crust is a good one, I did change the recipe slightly by substituting some whole wheat pastry flour with the whole wheat flour. There is less gluten in pastry flour, so I knew it would help create a lighter crust.
Fillings in Onion Tart
Additionally, I was surprised that she uses white onions in the tart not sweet onions like Vidalia onions. The only times I see white onions in a recipe is for Mexican food. White onions are less sharp than yellow onions, therefore your eyes will not sting as much when you mince them. That makes a big difference when you must dice 3 large onions. A good sharp knife helps as well because it makes a cleaner cut.
The onions are diced and cooked in butter until light brown. This process takes some time but be patient. It won’t take as long as caramelizing onions. The subtle difference between browned and caramelized onions is noticeable here with a light onion flavor that is delightfully sweet. I love caramelized onions, but I have never tasted onions so sweet before. Also, the sweet browned onions are very fragrant which compliments the onion tart nicely.
Instead of bacon, I quickly fried sliced prosciutto and added it to the filling. The smokiness of bacon tastes great with cheese and eggs, but I wanted to keep the flavor on the delicate side to compliment the sweet onion flavor of the tart. If you ever have more prosciutto than you need, this is the perfect recipe to help use up a couple of slices.
Onion Tart for Days
After making this onion tart I still crave that luscious sweetness and fragrance of slowly cooked browned onions. It is just too good to eat once in a while. Fragrant, sweet, and irresistible onion tart is perfect for a light supper, luncheon, brunch or appetizer. They are perfect cut into small bites for a cocktail party or as part of a brunch with friends. This is a meal for any season or any time of day and a real crowd pleaser.
Irresistible Onion Tart
- ¾ cup plus 2 Tb (123 g) Whole wheat flour
- ¼ cup (38 g) whole wheat pastry flour
- 6 TB (106 g) cold butter, cut into small pieces
- ½ tsp Kosher salt
- 3 TB ice water
Onion Tart filling
- 1 TB olive oil for frying the prosciutto
- 2 thin slices of prosciutto or 2 pieces of bacon (optional)
- 2 TB (7 g) butter
- 1½ lbs (725 g) white onions, diced
- 2 tsp fresh thyme or rosemary minced
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup (125 ml) milk
- ½ cup (125 ml) crème fraîche or heavy cream
- 1 cup (70 g) aged or smoked Gouda cheese, grated using the large holes on a box grater
Make the pie dough
Make the dough by hand or use a stand mixer.
By hand: Add the two types of flour and Kosher salt to a large bowl. Add the butter and mix the butter and flour with your hands. Press down on the butter between your thumbs and fingers to break up the pieces and press into the flour. Continue to do this until the butter and flour are mixed together and looks like pebbles.
Add the water and mix together with your hands. Add more water if it looks and feels dry, about a teaspoon at a time.
Gather the dough and turn it out onto the counter. Press together and form a flat disc in the shape of your tart pan, about an inch (2.5 cm) thick. A circle, square or rectangle shape.
Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour or more. The tart dough can be made 3 days in advance and kept wrapped in the refrigerator.
By stand mixer: Add the flour to the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the pieces of butter and mix the butter and flour on low until the flour looks like pebbles. Add the water and stir on low speed until just mixed together. Add more water if the pastry dough looks dry. Be careful not to over-mix the dough. Turn the dough onto a counter and shape into a flat disc into the shape of your tart pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour or more.
Make the tart filling
Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C. If you have a baking stone place it in your oven on the middle rack. For a crispy bottom crust, you want to heat the stone in the oven for an hour before baking.
If using the prosciutto, add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to a skillet and turn the heat to medium high. Slice the prosciutto into strips, about a 1/2-inch (1 cm) wide and not longer than 2-inches (5 cm) long. When the skillet is hot, add the sliced prosciutto and cook until the strips are brown and crispy. Stir occasionally to prevent the strips from sticking and burning. About 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and spoon the prosciutto slices on a plate. Set aside.
If you are using bacon add the two pieces of bacon to a hot and dry skillet and cook the bacon until they are brown and crisp. Turn the pieces over every now and then for even browning. Remove the bacon from the pan onto a plate lined with paper towels and pat dry. When the bacon is cool, crumble them into bite size pieces. Set aside.
Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel. Turn the heat to medium and add the butter. When the butter is melted and stops sizzling, add the diced onions. Stir to coat the onions with butter. Add the thyme, a pinch of Kosher salt and a couple of grounds of fresh black pepper. Stir to mix.
Cook the onions on medium to medium-low until they are very soft and lightly browned, not caramelized, but starting to go in that direction. This is a slow process, about 25 minutes. The onions will be very soft and translucent with an even light brown color. While cooking, occasionally stir the onions for even browning and prevent them from sticking and burning. Taste for seasoning and add more thyme, Kosher salt or black pepper if needed. Turn off the heat and cool.
Remove the tart dough from the refrigerator and let it rest on a lightly floured work surface for 10 minutes. Pound the dough with your rolling pin a few times to relax and shape the dough. Roll the dough in the shape of your tart pan to about a ¼-inch (.5 cm) thickness, and large enough to fit the shape of your tart pan with a slight over hang. For a 9-inch (23 cm) round tart pan the diameter should be around 12-inches (30 cm).
Drape the dough into your tart pan and trim the edges to an inch (2.5 cm) overhang. Fold the edge of the dough inward and press along the sides and bottom of the pastry to fit the dough into the pan. The height of the tart is equal to the height of the pan. Place the tart pan on a rimmed sheet pan and loosely cover the tart with plastic wrap. Chill the tart in the refrigerator for 15 - 20 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and crème fraîche.
When the onions are cool and just before you want to assemble the tart, add the grated cheese, onions and prosciutto if using, to the egg mixture. Stir to mix.
Remove the tart from the refrigerator and add the egg mixture. Even out the filling and place in the oven. Bake until the tart is golden brown and set in the middle, about 45-50 minutes.
Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature. Remove the side of the tart pan by resting the tart on top of a large can, (like canned tomatoes), and slide the side rim down. Make sure the crust is not sticking anywhere along the rim before you slide it off.
Serve warm or room temperature.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
I find it amazing that I can talk about my history and memories not just in a couple of decades, but in several decades. Over a half century to be exact. That sounds old to me, but I don’t feel that old. It is a momentous feeling to think about a friendship that is over 50 years old or remember an experience that happened 30 years ago. Even my food memories hold a place in my archives situated between remembrances of day-to-day life and momentous occasions. One such food memory that stands out is the first time I ate beef empanadas over 30 years ago.
It couldn’t be any clearer than if it happened yesterday. The sweet and savory flavors of the beef filling warmed my heart and surprised me. At the time I was pregnant with my first child, so this might anchor my taste memory. The sweet raisins made the savory meat filling come alive with each bite. I’ve had braised beef filled with raisins before, like in braciole, but raisins in beef empanadas are an addictive combination. I love it and often crave this Mediterranean flavor. Unfortunately, finding beef empanadas with the sweet and savory meat filling is more difficult than you’d think.
Finally, to satisfy my craving for sweet and savory beef empanadas, I decided to undertake the task of making them at home. What I learned during this process is, just like pot sticker dough, corn tortillas, or pie dough, the process of making the dough is easy in theory and practice. Yet, getting the dough’s texture just right takes some additional practice and helpful suggestions from experienced hands. Fortunately, there are two options: you can make empanada dough or buy it ready-made and shaped.
I tested both options and feel confident recommending buying the empanada dough if you don’t want to make it. I also believe buying pastry might be the difference between making empanadas this weekend or placing it on your bucket list. Believe me I get it, after-all it has taken me 30 years to finally make empanadas for myself. According to my recipe from Bon Appetit, Goya is the recommended brand. Find frozen empanada dough in the frozen food section with other frozen Goya products. They come in packages of 10 pre-cut pastry discs. Another bonus is they are vegetarian/vegan friendly.
Don’t let me stop you from making empanada dough if that is your desire. Click, this link for a recipe at laylita.com. Included with the recipe is a helpful video showing how to assemble the empanadas. I made this recipe by hand, with butter and with a flour mixture of 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour. Empanada pastry is different from pie dough in that it is not flaky, and is supposed to absorb the juices from the filling keeping a crumbly texture.
As for empanada filling, anything goes. There are many traditional fillings from South American and Central American countries, and within these countries each region has another variation. I am not sure of the origin of my favorite beef, raisin and Spanish olive filling so I feel at liberty to play around with the seasoning. The warm spices like cumin and cinnamon give the beef a lot of depth of flavor. Feel free to substitute it with ground pork, ground lamb, ground turkey, or shredded chicken. If you want a vegetarian empanada, substitute the beef with the filling from Swiss Chard and Feta Stuffed Pastry, or make this stuffed pastry as an option. I wonder how my Ratatouille made with Fennel and Chickpeas recipe would taste encased in empanada pastry?
My empanada recipe is slightly adapted from Argentinian Beef Empanadas from Bon Appetit, February 2017. I added additional spices and slightly adjusted their technique.
Where did the time go, and why did I wait so long to make beef empanadas? Beef empanadas are delicious either using homemade or purchased pastry dough. I know Joe is excited about having a freezer full of beef empanadas at his disposal. They make great snacks, appetizers, picnic food, or to eat for any meal of the day. Serve them plain or with chimichurri sauce.
3 Tips for Making the Perfect Beef Empanadas
- To ensure your empanadas have a tight seal and don’t explode in the oven, assemble the empanadas when the filling is at a cool room temperature or chilled. When the filling is cool there is less liquid oozing over the pastry.
- Second, when assembling the empanadas, make sure the filling stays compact in the center and does not roll out to the edge. Making a tight seal along the edge is important to ensure the empanadas do not leak.
- Third, once the empanadas are all assembled, cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, and up to an hour. This chilling time allows the dough to relax and secure the seal. Of all the tips to remember, chilling the empanadas before you bake them is the most important.
Sweet and Savory Beef Empanadas
- 3 TB olive oil divided
- 1.5 lbs (750 g) ground beef
- 2 onions chopped
- 2 red bell peppers chopped
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 3 TB ground cumin
- 2 TB sweet paprika
- 1 TB dried oregano
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground clove
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) chicken stock
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt plus more for seasoning
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) raisins
- 1/2 cup Spanish green olives pitted and rough chopped
- 3 packages Puff pastry dough for Turnovers/Empanadas* preferably Goya or homemade empanada dough
- You will need 2-3 large rimmed sheet pans. If you only have 2 sheet pans bake the empanadas over two batches.
If you are making homemade empanada dough , make it first then refrigerate it while you make the meat filling.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a12-inch (29 cm) skillet (or Dutch Oven), at medium-high heat. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the meat and cook until browned with no visible pink spots. While the meat cooks, break it up using the side of a wooden spoon. Season with a pinch, about ¼ tsp, of Kosher salt and stir to mix.
Remove the ground beef using a slotted spoon and place on a plate and loosely cover aluminum foil. Reserve for later.
Lower the heat to medium then add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the chopped onions and bell peppers. Stir to evenly coat and cook until the onions and peppers have softened, but not browned, about 15 minutes. Stir frequently so the vegetables do not stick to the bottom of the pan.
Add the minced garlic, stir and cook for about one minute.
Add the browned meat and any juices, bay leaf, cumin, paprika, oregano, ground cinnamon, ground clove and cayenne pepper to the meat mixture and stir to evenly mix. Cook for about one minute.
Add the chicken stock, sugar and a 1/2 tsp of Kosher salt, and several rounds of freshly ground black pepper. Stir the mix, scraping along the bottom of the pan with your spoon to loosen up any browned bits. Cook for about 15 minutes or until the liquid is evaporated.
Stir in the raisins and olives then transfer the mixture to a medium mixing bowl. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper or sugar if needed. Remove the bay leaf. Allow the filling to cool down to a cool room temperature or cover and refrigerate for about an hour or more. The beef filling can be made up to 3 days in advance and kept in an air tight container in the refrigerator.
Assemble the Empanadas
Remove the defrosted purchased dough, or homemade dough, from the refrigerator and let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.
For the homemade dough, follow the instructions given with your recipe.
Pre-heat the oven for 375°F / 190°C and place the racks in the upper and lower third position in the oven. Line two large sheet pans with parchment paper.
Fill a glass or small bowl with water and keep at your work area.
Place 6 pastry discs on a work surface. To prevent the pastry from sticking to your work surface keep the paper divider under the empanada pastry.
Add 2 tablespoons of filling in the center of each disc. Dab your finger in the water and paint the edge of one pastry with water. Bring the two sides together by picking up the center points of the top and bottom of the pastry circle making a half moon shape. Starting at the center, pinch the edges together and move your fingers down both sides, pinching along the way to seal the edges.
Lay the empanada flat on the work surface and run your fingers over the mounded part of the pastry to work out any air around the filling. Press down to secure the edges. Crimp the edges with the tines of a fork.
Place the empanada on a parchment paper lined rimmed baking sheet and continue until all the filling is used up. Loosely drape the assembled empanadas with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel, so they do not dry out.
Each sheet pan holds about 12 empanadas. When one sheet pan reaches capacity, loosely cover the empanadas with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to an hour. Continue assembling the remaining empanadas and refrigerate for 30 minutes – 1 hour.
Remove the empanadas from the refrigerator and baste each empanada with an egg yolk and water wash. Bake for 25-35 minutes, rotating the sheet pans front to back and top to bottom, half way through. The empanadas are done when they have a nice golden brown color and slightly darker around the edges.
Do ahead note: Unbaked empanadas will keep for 3 months in the freezer. Freeze them on a sheet pan until they are frozen solid, then transfer them into freezer bags and keep in the freezer.
Goya makes puff pastry dough for turnovers/empanadas. They are found in the freezer section of your grocery store with other Goya products. This product should not be confused with puff pastry dough found in the dessert freezer section of the store.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.