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The ‘any kind of onion’ tarte tatin from In Praise of Veg

Servings: 6
If you’ve ever had a tarte tatin starring apples or pears, you might find yourself wondering what onions, leeks and shallots are doing in a dessert. And it’s certainly true that this dish, which originated at the Hotel Tatin in France over 120 years ago, was likely never intended as a savoury. But if you think of it as an open-faced pasty or upside-down vegetable tart, it starts to make a lot more sense. I love the way the puff pastry shatters into buttery flakes on your lips, while the onions, caramelised to an indecent level, are silky and slippery.


  • 350 g onions of your choice such as leeks, red onions or French shallots peeled and cut into 1 cm (½ inch) thick slices
  • plain flour for dusting
  • 2 frozen all-butter puff pastry sheets thawed
  • 110 g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp fortified wine such as sherry
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 50 g butter
  • ½ tsp ground white pepper
  • 2 anchovies in oil finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 handful thyme sprigs and/or fresh bay leaves plus extra to serve
  • crumbled marinated feta or goat's cheese to serve
  • purple basil leaves to serve


  • Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
  • Place the onions in a heatproof bowl and cover with just-boiled water. Leave for 10 minutes to soften slightly, then drain well and stand on a tray lined with paper towel to dry.
  • On a lightly floured work surface, stack both pastry sheets on top of each other. Using a rolling pin, roll the pastry out to a rough 26 cm (10½ inch) square. Transfer to a tray and chill until required.
  • Place the sugar and ¼ cup (60 ml) water in a 23 cm (9 inch) ovenproof frying pan or skillet over medium heat. Cook, swirling constantly, until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to high and leave to cook without disturbing for 5 minutes, or until you blink and it’s suddenly turned into a golden caramel.
  • Remove from the heat. Carefully – the mixture will sizzle! – add the wine, vinegar, butter, pepper, anchovies and herbs of choice. Return to the boil and swirl to combine.
  • Carefully arrange the onions over the hot caramel so that they are tightly packed, then place the pastry over the top, tucking the edges in to give you a cool rustic edge on the flip-side.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, then remove from the oven and cover with foil to prevent burning. Return to the oven and bake for a further 30 minutes, or until the pastry is cooked through and the caramel is bubbling.
  • Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 10 minutes.
  • To serve, place a flat plate over the pan, then carefully invert the tart. Scatter with salt flakes and cracked black pepper, some crumbled cheese and fresh herbs.

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