“In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love” … and, for me, chives. The new spring brings the promise of much new food, a promise of much love for a foodie … but it brings very little in the way of actual food. However, it does bring chives.
So when I was challenged by the most recent theme of The Canadian Food Experience Project (CFEP) to write an “experience related to gardens,” I was stumped for a good while at not only what to write about, but what recipe could I possible create in the first week of May — in Canada! — that was true to the theme and true to spring. And so on Saturday, as I ran my errands and saw the garden centres beginning to open with their spring plants, the inspiration started to come to me: herbs (you read my essay on “Herbs: A Gateway to Abundance” here). Still, it wasn’t until Sunday morning that I was able to translate the vague notion into a concrete recipe — and as I looked out my backyard at a lonely window box on the ground, the paint which I’d applied a decade ago peeling now off, I saw the sprouts of my spring chives filling out the mossy bed of the box, and inspiration arrived.
I played around with a number of ideas in my head that could be a vehicle to showcase this sure symbol of spring before I landed on the idea of creating a tart, or tartelette to be exact. To be fair, I’m not sure if Tennyson was a foodie … but if he were, he’d have written more occasional verse about such ingredients and fare, I’m sure. Perhaps I’ll have to write Ode to a Spring Tart one afternoon.
This hasn’t been the first CFEP creation produced out of thin air. Cooking a new recipe for hundreds of people, even online, is like walking the high-wire … and it’s like cooking without a net as the deadline approaches and I’m not sure if the recipe will come together as hoped, not sure if it will communicate the theme and further the conversation. All this might sound like “stress,” but really, I thrive in that environment … and it’s what I call fun!
The inspiration, pure and simple, came from a grilled cheese sandwich I concocted a few weeks ago when I sprinkled some diced green onions between a few slices of Gruyere: it was heaven. I mean it was really, really good. So I knew the tartelette was going to be focused on these two ingredients: everything else would be the supporting orchestra. The cheese would give sharpness and mouthfeel and the chives would provide a strong taste of spring … if they were in balance. That was the key because fresh, young, still sprouting chives, would be strong in flavour, that I knew. So I opted to caramelize a red onion to add sweetness and filling to the tart. I threw in some crisped up double-smoked bacon for salt and smoke, to pull the cheese and chives together. And I added some egg and milk to bind it all. My challenge in creating this recipe was going to be getting the proportions right; and it was going to be a real trick since I was making this up as I went along. My real concern was in using the caramelized onions to round out the flavour of the chives and ‘fill’ the tart … but I didn’t want this to taste like an onion tart: I wanted to taste like chives. Similar, yes, but very different. I can’t tell you how relieved — and then thrilled — I was in the end when I took that first bite!
Ultimately, this another very easy recipe … that is, if you’re comfortable making pastry dough. If not, you can buy it frozen and roll it out … or buy unfilled tarts and fill them with with recipe below. Other than making the pastry dough and lining your tart pans, the prep for this is really the time it takes to caramelize the onions … and the only trick to this is cooking long and slow, stirring regularly to prevent burning. It’s also worth noting that my quantities below had enough left over for another 3-4 tarts which I used instead to produce a mini-quiche, as seen here. It was extremely delicious too but required an additional 20 minutes of baking.
The verdict? After four taste tests, four sets of gleeful smiles, four people who loved the fresh taste of chives, it was clear: spring has arrived.
Prep time: 10 minutes (plus time to make and roll out pastry dough)
Cook time: 25 minutes
Bake time: 25 minutes
Total time: 60 minutes (plus 30 minutes to make and roll out pastry if not on hand)
Servings: 12+ tartelettes
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 large red onion, slivered
- 1/4 cup (60mL) spring chives, coarsely chopped
- 3½ ounces (100g) medium Gruyere, finely grated
- 3½ ounces (100g) double-smoked bacon, thickly sliced and coarsely cubed
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1/2 cup (125mL) 2% milk
- 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon (1/2 mL) ground mustard
- Butter or cooking spray for tartelette pans
- Equivalent dough for 2 pie crusts about 1lb (450g) or 8-10oz (250-300g) each
→For Gluten-Free Pastry Dough, see my recipe here
- Preheat oven to 375ºF (190ºC) and grease one tartelette pan. If using a ‘fluted’ pan, I’d recommend using an olive oil spray if you have one.
- In medium-large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat.
Sliver the onions and add them the pan. Reduce heat to medium low and continue to sauté, stirring regularly to prevent from burning. The onions will cook down and start brown. The process to caramelize them should take 20 minutes — if you do it faster, they’ll ‘look’ browned, but they’ll be crispy and full of water still. The point of this is to cook them ‘down’ and reduce their volume while maximizing the natural sweetness and sugars in the onions. All to say, if they start browning to fast, reduce your temperature even more.
After 20 minutes or so, the onions should be ready. Remove from heat and let cool.
Meanwhile, while the onions are reducing, do your other prep. Coarsely dice the chives.
Grate the Gruyere using a medium-fineness microplane.Break the two eggs into 1-cup graduated measuring cup and beat them well. They should measure about 1/2-cup in volume. Top up the rest of the measuring cup with milk to measure 1-cup. Add in the salt, pepper, and dry m
- Layer a sheet of plastic wrap on your counter, place pastry dough on it, and layer a second sheet on top … and roll out out your pastry now to about 1/8″ (3mm) thickness.
Use something that measures 3.5″ (9cm), e.g. a glass or cookie cutter, cut circles in the dough.Remove the dough between the circles (which you will re-roll later), and then, using scissors, cut the plastic wrap between the rounds. Now, grasping the plastic wrap, you can easily transfer the pastry rounds to your tartelette pan. Gently fit them into their cups … then set aside the pan.
- Once the onions have cooled, remove them from pan; then add the chopped bacon to the pan and, over medium heat, fry until just slightly crisp.Drain bacon drippings off and then spread the bacon on a paper towel to absorb additional fat while the bacon cools.
- Prepare the tartelettes now by placing in each a good-sized heaping teaspoon of caramelized onions.
Add to this a ‘pinch’ of bacon. Don’t go crazy.
Sprinkle a few chives on top now …
Then top up with tablespoon of Gruyere in each. It should fill the rest of the tart now.Evenly sprinkle over top of the Gruyere the remaining chives for some final colour.
Whisk the egg-milk mixture again and carefully fill each tart now, careful not to overflow or pour egg down the sides of the tart.
Voila — you’re ready to back these babies.Bake for 20-25minutes, until the pastry crust is golden and crisp and tarts have “swelled” or risen … and when an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Remove from oven, let cool for 5-10 minutes before carefully removing them from pan to a cooling rack to cool a bit more before serving warm.