There was a period of time a few years ago when I wished I was more of the kind of person who could fly halfway around the world at the drop of a hat or jump out of an airplane on a dare. As the years have passed, time has allowed me to feel much better in my skin and I care far less about my aversion to spontaneity. As Martha would say, it’s a good thing. Not only have I come to love my compulsion to organize and plan but it has served me well in all aspects of life — not least of which is in the kitchen.
Baking brownies from a box is my first memory of cooking on my own. I vividly recall my preteen furrowed brow as I scrutinized every word the back of the box — carefully measuring the vegetable oil, cracking eggs on the side of the bowl and wondering what in the world high altitude directions were for. My mom was a patient teacher and over time passed along countless tips and dinner ideas, but to this day when I cook anything on my own I keep the recipe instructions close by. “Reluctantly adventurous” would be a good description of my attitude toward cooking without a recipe (and probably my outlook on a few things outside the kitchen, as well). Whenever I am exhausted but still need to cook I wind up throwing something together that almost always surprises me with how tasty it is — I forget that you do not necessarily need a recipe to cook well.
And lo! this was how this tart was born. (Alright, I may have peeked at my favorite crust recipe to make sure I got the proportions right — I think you will be glad I did.) Bins of sad and withered vegetables at the market have left me depressed, and I felt the need to create something both beautiful and delicious with what seasonal produce was available. And then I added some Gruyere, because everything is better with a little Gruyere. Initially I planned to add it as a layer underneath the caramelized fennel and onions, but quickly switched gears because the idea reminded me too much of pizza. Apple pie with cheddar cheese came to mind and my mind started spinning with possibilities of flaky, buttery, cheesy crust. Turns out I need to move from “reluctantly adventurous” to “adventurous” a little more often. The crust was everything you hope crust will be — easy to handle, prevented the filling from leaking out while cooking and tasted exactly liked you hoped it would. Like Gruyere and butter. I added some flavor to the caramelized onions with fennel with a variety of alcohol, not least of which was Pernod, mounded everything in the center and folded the rustic crust in a lopsided circle. Sliced into 8 wedges, I savored each piece throughout the weekend, enjoying it the most the next morning for breakfast. Rebel I am not, but I think if Gruyere and tarts were involved I could easily be talked into becoming one.
fennel and onion galette with gruyere crust
filling inspired by Fennel Soup Gratin, Barefoot Contessa Parties! and crust adapted from Williams-Sonoma Seasonal Celebration Series, Autumn
yields one 9-inch galette
For the tart crust:
1-1/4c all purpose flour
1/2t Kosher salt
8T unsalted butter, cold
3oz Gruyere, grated
1/4c sour cream
2t fresh lemon juice
1/4c ice water
1 egg yolk, for egg wash
For the filling:
2T unsalted butter
1 large fennel bulb, core and tops removed, thinly sliced
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1t fresh thyme leaves removed from the stem
2t dry sherry
2t dry white wine
salt and pepper, to taste
To make the crust dough, add the flour and salt to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse about 3 times to combine. Add the cubed butter and grated cheese to the bowl and pulse until the size of the butter resembles small peas. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, lemon juice and water and add this to the butter-flour mixture in the bowl of the food processor. Pulse several times until the dough starts to hold together when pinched between your fingers. The dough may seem dry.
Lightly sprinkle flour on the counter and dump out the dough. Using a bench scraper, push the dough into a 12- by 4-inch rectangle. Using the palm of your hand, push the dough away from yourself. Once you have pushed out all of the dough, repeat the process. After the second round of pushing out, use the bench scraper to form a 4-inch thick round. Cover the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for about an hour.
In a very large sauté pan (12-inches) melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the fennel, stir to coat with the melted butter and sauté for 10 minutes. Add the onions and thyme and sautè for 25 minutes to an hour, until the onions and fennel are very tender and caramelized. Pour in the brandy, sherry and wine and deglaze the pan by scraping the brown bits off the bottom. When the fennel and onions are fully cooked, add the Pernod and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll out the dough on a piece of floured parchment paper until it is about 12-inches in diameter. Put the parchment and dough onto a baking sheet. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for about 15-20 minutes.
Take the dough out from the refrigerator. Mound the fennel-onion mixture in the middle of the dough, leaving a 2-1/2-inch border. Break off some of the fennel fronds and sprinkle over the top of the filling. Fold up the outer 2-inches of the dough over the filling, leaving 1/2-inch inside the fold free of filling. Brush the dough with the beaten egg yolk and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 50-55 minutes until the crust is deep golden brown and the middle of the filling is hot to the touch and lightly browned. Cool the tart on a rack for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the parchment and let the tart continue to cool on the rack for at least another 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.