Winter Onion Tart From Stonebridge Farm

This morning we finished seeding onions and leeks in our greenhouse, the first starts of our spring planting in preparation for the farm season to come. John already planted and covered Walla Walla Sweets in field beds last fall for spring onions, but this time of year we plant other less winter tolerant varieties in the greenhouse instead. Many farmers start onions as seeds or bulbs outdoors but we’ve found that seeding in flats in the greenhouse and transplanting in spring when the plants are about the size of a blade of grass works best for us. Seeding onions is cheaper than bulbs and easier than cultivating newly emerged alliums amongst exuberant spring weeds.

One of the varieties, Cortland, will provide the yellow storage onions that we’ll give to our CSA members in the fall because that variety keeps better than others. Here we are in January and we’ve still got Cortlands in our root cellar to take us through the next few months until we harvest Egyptian/walking onions (so-called because the flower heads lean over and plant themselves) and green onions in the early spring.

This week I got hungry for onion quiche, a recipe I’ve been making for 25 years that’s a kind of cross between French onion soup and quiche lorraine using onions instead of ham. The crust includes sesame seeds, which makes it extra hearty for a winter meal. We sliced and caramelized onions, grated cheese (we use Naked Goat from our local cheese shop), cracked eggs from our chickens just starting to lay again, and added some milk.

Even though I’ve made this quiche many times, this time the quiche came out even sweeter than ever. The Cortlands in winter storage had sweetened; the taste was something like onion marmalade on crust. We probably could have eaten the whole thing between the two of us but saved half for lunch the next day, when it was just as sweet, if not more so.

If you’ve got a few onions in storage, or even if you have to buy a few (preferably at a winter farmer’s market), try this hearty quiche for a warm and filling winter meal.

And what to serve with it? This time of year on our Front Range farm, “salad” is hard to come by, at least in the traditional lettuce sense. Because we’re rebuilding our season-extending “bluehouse” (named as such because it’s not the “greenhouse”), we don’t have our usual winter bed of kale and spinach. But we’ve got some small spikes of last year’s chard and fall-planted spinach out in the field under row cover that will do for now. I like those tiny leaves of spinach with grated carrot and tart green apple with a lime juice and lime-infused olive oil dressing.

Eating last fall’s onions for a winter dinner and starting next summer’s onions in the greenhouse in January bring the cycles of the seasons together. As one year’s harvest turns to the next year’s planting, we’re reminded that farming requires both looking back and looking forward, learning and planning and growing again with one eye to the weather and another to each other.

Stonebridge Onion Quiche
Filling: 2 large or 4 small yellow onions, peeled and sliced in thin half-crescents
3 Tbl butter
2 cups grated Swiss cheese or a hard goat cheese like Naked Goat
3 large eggs
1 cup half and half or milk
1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp nutmeg
Crust: 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or unbleached)
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut in pieces
1/4 cup cold water

Preheat oven to 450.
Melt 3 Tbl butter in a large pan over medium-high heat and add onions. Stir to brown evenly, about 15 minutes, until just beginning to caramelize.
Shred the cheese in the food processor and set aside.
While the onions are cooking, make the crust in the food processor. Mix flour, seeds, salt and baking powder until blended. Pulse in butter until pea-sized. Drizzle water through top of feed tube until dough forms a ball. It should be moist but not soggy. Roll out dough on pastry cloth and place in standard pie plate (8” diameter across bottom; 10” across top).
Place shredded cheese on top of the crust and top with cooked onions to cover the top evenly.
In food processor, mix eggs, half and half, salt, and nutmeg. Pour over onions.
Bake at 450 for 15 minutes; reduce heat to 350 and bake another 45 minutes. Let quiche sit 10 minutes before serving. Makes 4 2-piece servings.

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