Call Suzanne Goin, executive chef of Lucques, the vegetable whisperer. She claims to walk through farmers’ markets, past rows of endive and bins of artichokes, divining information, which, like the sibilant whispers of nattering spirits, is beyond the ears of us mere mortals.
Each vegetable, she explains, speaks to her, telling her what it wants her to do with it. It’d be tempting to dismiss Goin as just another chef with an appetite for hallucinogenic mushrooms, if it weren’t for the sublime and utterly original things she coaxes out of such chatty produce.
Take cipollini, her most recent experience in vegetable voodoo. Most chefs would be content to toss them in olive oil and roast them to bring out their natural sweetness. But on a recent visit to Santa Monica farmer’s market, Goin encountered a basket of the flying-saucer-shaped onions that demanded something far greater of her.
She was haunted by them until she created what can single-handedly wipe the collective smirk off the faces of Europe’s finest chefs: her Cipollini and Bleu de Gex Tart. Nestled in buttery pastry, which is so delicate any cook who has ever bragged about the crumb of her crust should hang her head in shame, is a smooth and rich custard dotted with herb-roasted cipollini and layered with the AOC-designated blue cheese. But why not ordinary onions? Or Vidalia, for that matter?
“Nothing came to me when I saw them,” she says with a laugh. “Cipollini have a depth of flavor that can hold up to herbs and assertive cheeses.” Hence, the tart. She’s also an admirer of the onion’s shape—which feathers out when quartered and roasted — making it look like Art Nouveau crenulations.
When she’s not channeling cipollini, she’s can often be found chatting up nearby fruits and greens, which is how she was inspired to serve the tart with roasted grapes and a dandelion salad.
“When people hear roasted grapes, they get a confused look on their faces,” she says. “But it’s really simple. Just toss a bunch of grapes still on the stems with olive oil and bake them in a 400-degree oven for a few minutes until they start to pucker.” As an alternative, fresh grapes can be sliced in half and tossed with the salad.
Goin also offers home cooks some advice to help get that luxe Lucques look: “It’s important when trimming the roots from the cipollini not to remove too much, otherwise they’ll fall apart when roasting.” She’s very particular, too, about making sure the onions peek though the layer of Bleu de Gex just so.
If Goin has this kind of rapport with vegetables and fruits, just imagine the Dolittlian conversations she must be having. Maybe that’s why her beef cheeks are so good.
Mine didn’t turn out great. Crust seemed soggy and underdone on the bottom. I think I’ll pre-bake it next time. Would love to hear from others on this. I made it last minute and didn’t have time to find the specified cheese so I substituted a regular supermarket blue. It made the tart astringent and a little greasy, so I think it’s important to find a blue that’s more dry and firm, like the Blue de Gex or a Stilton.
JD Georgia, I’m so sorry it didn’t turn out well. This is a staple at our house. A few things come to mind:
1. If the cheese was fattier, it will certainly make the crust soggy.
2. If the pastry isn’t rolled thin enough, it can also cause the crust to be soggy.
3. Your oven temperature may be off. At times mine has been off as much as 50 degrees. That will cause the crust to be under cooked.
One of the things that I do to get a cooked crust on tarts and pies is to slip a baking sheet into the oven then preheat the oven. By the time I bake the tart, the baking sheet is so hot it helps cook the bottom crust. I also bake the tart on the lower third of the oven–sometimes even lower. Then to get some color, I move the tart or pie to the top third of the oven.
I made this recipe a few years ago, when it was first published on LeitesCulinaria.com. It was complicated and kind of pricey, but incredible. Bought Goin’s book after test driving this recipe and highly recommend that as well.
You’re right; the roasted onions make it look like a piece of art! But not enough to stop me from eating it. I vow to make this for Christmas eve brunch.
A friend was raving about this dish to me just last week and I was planning to make it soon — very soon now after reading this. Chef Goin, the vegetable whisperer, makes me happy to be an Angeleno.