Onion Tarte Tatin

By Christina De La Rocha

As with everyone else currently bunkered down trying not to catch Covid-19, knowing that by the time local people start coming down with symptoms, the virus will have been circulating here already for weeks, we’re avoiding the grocery store. Not at all costs, but as much as possible. Because, from our typhoid Mary of a neighbor aside (the super friendly elderly one who catches everything and then insists on giving you a big wet smacker every time she greets you and then again when she takes her leave), the grocery store, being the place where we are most likely to get sneezed on or to handle packages or cart handles that someone has sneezed on, is the most likely place for us to catch the virus. Which means not only have we stocked up on 6-8 weeks of canned, ,dried, and frozen goods, pet food, and soap, toothpaste, and TP just in case we get stuck at home for a while, we also stocked up on 2 weeks’ worth of food the last time we were at the grocery store. A once every two weeks shop seems like a reasonable compromise between virus-avoiding seclusion and the need to eat reasonably fresh food.

But we have a European-sized refrigerator, as opposed to an American-sized one, which would have double to triple the volume, so eating fresh food for two weeks without dipping into frozen stores requires creativity. Plus there is only so much (garage temperature storable) cabbage and Brussels sprouts a human being’s digestive system should be expected to endure now that the Middle Ages are over. So we bought some winter squash because, like pumpkins, they can sit on a kitchen counter for months. But a soul can also only eat so much pumpkin/squash, and for us that’s about one a month. So what did that leave us???

Onions! Because after last year’s prolific harvest of cold, wet, not terribly sunny climate tolerant vegetables from our garden, neither Spouse nor I can yet bear to shake another stick at a leek, beet, or parsnip. But, happily, onions can make for a main dish, for example, as a leek and onion quiche, which is fantastic, especially still warm, if you don’t mind eating lots of cream and eggs. But we’ve been feeling increasingly appalled by the truly horrific treatment of the calves produced to keep dairy cows producing milk, so I at least have been trying not to eat dairy products (and I’ve been succeeding about 99% of the time). That leaves me one option (that I know of) in the onion as main dish department: onion tarte tatin. The bonus here is that it can be made without using a single one of the top ten crops the human race over-relies on, stripping soils of nutrients and needing to use way too many petrochemicals to wipe out the pests that therefore build up in the soils. Plus… it’s yummy! Even more carnivore than omnivore Spouse gave it a big thumbs up.

Onions sliced in half and frying in a pan

Onion Tarte Tatin

For the onions:

  • 500 g (~ 1 lb) sweet onions, red onions, or shallots
  • ~20 g butter, margarine, or vegetable oil (~3 Tbsp)
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (higher quality b.v. works better here than the super cheap stuff)
  • a few good pinches of dried thyme
  • salt and pepper

1. Peel onions and cut in half from top to bottom.

2. Melt the butter (or warm the oil) in an oven-proof pan then pack onions in an appealing pattern in the pan, cut side down. The onion halves can be packed tightly together, shoulder to shoulder, or given some breathing room, your call. 

3. Sprinkle in the salt, pepper, thyme, and balsamic vinegar and cook gently for 10 minutes or so without disturbing the onions. Longer is OK, but hotter is not. The key to this dish is caramelizing the onions, which means cooking the hell out of them without burning them.

4. Cover pan with foil and bake at 170°C (340°F) for 1 hour.

5. While you wait, make the pastry:

Either a normal pie pastry or a puff pastry will do. I personally don’t like a light, fluffy crust in tarte tatin, so here’s a recipe for a normal pie crust made with spelt, which is an older, more nutritious, lower gluten type of wheat that gives wheat fields a break from the demands of modern wheat farming.

  • 75 g (1/3 cup) coconut fat (or lard or butter)
  • 100 g (1 cup) spelt flour 
  • 1.5 g (1/4 tsp) salt 
  • cold water added by the tablespoon

Using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut fat into spelt and salt. When the mixture is reasonably crumbly, bind the dough together by adding cold water one tbsp at a time until you can roll the dough into a ball. Then roll it out on a floured surface to just a little bit larger the area of the pan you’re baking the onions in.

6. Remove the pan from the oven and, to avoid doing the dumb thing I always do (I’m still icing my hand as I type this), immediately put a pot holder on the handle so you will not give yourself second degree burns by grabbing it with your bare hand. If the pan seems too full of liquid, put it on a burner for a few minutes to reduce the juices.

7. Turn oven up to 205°C (400°F).

8. Drape pastry over onions, tucking the ends under around the sides and return pan to oven. Bake 20-30 minutes, or until crust seems done.

9. Now for the acrobatics! Without burning yourself , shattering a plate, or disturbing the perfection that is your onion tarte tatin, invert the tarte tatin onto a serving dish. 

Serving suggestion: eat alongside a green salad and chili or baked beans.

Dairy option: crumble feta over the tarte tatin or add slices of goat’s cheese before serving.


Complete onion tatin, glistening cooked onions atop a crispy base
Onion tarte tatin