I write about food, local food, because I care about place. Mostly, I care about the connections that spring up between people and their places, the way that a caramelized onion and goat cheese and apple tart can make you remember the shape of a kitchen, the silhouette of a tree.
This tart reminds me of all my places at once. It reminds me of eating fried apples at my parents' kitchen counter, my mother leaning over their big black skillet on a winter morning sprinkling a pinch of cinnamon, tasting, sprinkling again. It reminds me of the Massachusetts goat cheese at our wedding, of the pickle and cheese buffet I never saw in the swirl of hugs and smiles and the feeling I just might burst. It reminds me of Vermont, of my time at Middlebury, of the crisp Octobers and the ruddy green apples in the dining hall and the first homecoming weekend my best friend and I spent picking McIntoshes in the rain.
The recipe for the tart is from one of my favorite books—Dishing up Vermont. It sits on my cookbook shelf right next to Dishing up Maine and Charleston Receipts, the cooking by place section, I suppose. The original recipe calls for cheddar cheese, but because I'm not just Vermont, because I've always been Maine and Cape Cod, now, too, I used Massachusetts goat cheese instead. It also calls for thyme, but I went with rosemary—the only herb alive and spirited still in our yard. It calls for green pepper jelly, but after digging through our cupboards, I used local cranberry, bright cherry red.
In the end, it felt like me—like a Maine girl gone to Vermont and now settled in to a little red salt box by the sea.
APPLE, CARAMELIZED ONION, AND GOAT CHEESE TART
In the tart you see above, I used a mix of McIntosh and Northern Spy apples, and I didn't peel them. The original recipe called for a more tart, crisp variety—Granny Smiths—with their skins off, and I regretted my choice of varieties. The apples don't have to be Granny Smiths necessarily, but they should be tart, firm, and peeled. Otherwise, you'll end up with apples that are a little too mushy and all tough around the edges. So long as you have the apples right, feel free to substitute cheeses and herbs and jellies as you see fit. I don't think you can go wrong.
dough for 1 bottom 9-inch pie crust
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
1 lemon slice, seeds removed
1 and 1/2 tart, firm apples, peeled and sliced into thin half moons
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
1/3 cup cranberry jelly, warmed up, and divided
4 ounces goat cheese
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough for the pie crust. Press it into a 9-inch tart pan, and pinch off any extra dough. Set the pan aside and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Melt one tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent, about eight minutes. Transfer the onions to a bowl and set aside.
In the same skillet, melt the remaining butter over medium-high heat and add the lemon, apples, and rosemary. Sauté until the apples feel tender when pierced with a fork, then turn off the heat and set aside.
Brush half of the warm jelly over the bottom of the pie crust. Sprinkle the goat cheese evenly over the jelly, and layer the onions on top. Carefully arrange the apples in two concentric circles over the onions. Gently brush the tops of the apples with the remaining cranberry jelly; if it has cooled, be sure to warm it back up. Bake the tart for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the apples are lightly browned. Serve warm.