I wrote this piece during National Vegetarian week because I was saddened to read an article which claimed that over 70% of people would avoid inviting a friend for dinner if he / she was a vegetarian. I don’t really understand why people are afraid of vegetarian food – there are so many great, simple recipes to cook which don’t include meat but then I used to be a vegetarian myself so maybe I am biased.
These days I am a confirmed meat eater but I still cook vegetarian meals once or twice a week at home. It may just be a simple soup or stew served with crusty bread, roasted mediterranean vegetables with grilled halloumi, a rich, lentil heavy curry or a huge bowl of salad using whatever is in season plus some pasta or new potatoes. These meals are tasty and satisfying and also have the added benefit of being cheaper than meat. The saving I make on veggie nights allows me to buy really good quality meat when I am being a little more carniverous.
If you are still feeling in need of inspiration just type “vegetarian recipes” into your favourite search engine and browse – you are bound to find something that you want to make.
My inspiration today came from a quick trip to the village greengrocers where a box full of little, sweet red onions inspired me to make a red onion tarte tatin. I have been making this tart for years (I think the original recipe came from a Delia Smith book) and it’s a lovely savoury twist on the classic apple tarte tatin. This one uses shortcrust rather than puff pastry (I much prefer the short crispness) and it’s flavoured with cheese and thyme.
If you are making it for vegans just replace the butter with a soya margerine and either leave out the cheese (add a little more fat to the pastry) or use a vegan cheese alternative. If you are not sure what your guests do or don’t eat then ask them – it’s better than leaving them out.
2½ lb / 1kg Red Onions
1 oz / 25g Butter
1 tsp Caster Sugar
6 small Thyme Sprigs
1 tbsp Fresh Thyme leaves
1 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
Salt and Pepper
For the pastry
5 oz / 75 g Plain Flour
2 oz / 50 g Butter (softened)
1 oz / 25 g Cheddar Cheese (grated)
1 oz / 25g Parmesan Cheese (grated) plus a few extra shavings to serve
1 teaspoon chopped fresh Thyme Leaves
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / Gas Mark 4
Peel the onions and slice in half through the root (this helps them to stay intact during cooking).
Place a heavy based, oven proof frying pan on a medium heat. Add the butter and the sugar. When the butter has melted add the thyme sprigs and remove the pan from the heat.
Arrange the onions cut side down in the pan – bear in mind that the underside will be the top of the tart once it is turned out. Cut any left over onions into wedges and use to fill in any gaps between the onion halves.
Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, scatter over the chopped thyme and sprinkle in the vinegar. Return the pan to a low heat and cook gently for 10 minutes. Cover the pan with foil and place in the oven for 50 minutes.
While the onions are cooking, make the pastry. Rub together the flour and butter until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in the grated cheese and chopped thyme. Add enough cold water – about 2-3 tablespoons – to make a soft dough. Wrap the dough in cling film and put it into the fridge for 30 minutes to rest.
Remove the pan from the oven and check the onions – they should be cooked through but still offer some resistance.
Turn the oven temperature up to 200°C / 400°F / Gas Mark 6.
Put the pan back on the hob over a medium heat until the buttery juices are reduced to a very small amount of syrup.
Roll out the pastry to a circle about the same diameter as the pan. Place the pastry over the onions, pushing down and tucking in the edges all round the inside of the pan. Return the tart to the oven and cook for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden.
When the tart is cooked, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool for 20 minutes before turning it out onto a flat serving plate or board. If some of the onions are left in the pan just lift them out and replace them in the pastry case.
Serve the tart warm with a few shavings of parmesan and a side salad.