How sweet it is …

Some of you will be thinking of the song by the same name by James Taylor – at least I hope some of you will!!  (If you don’t know the song, you can listen to it here.)  I know that once you know the subject of this week’s blog, some of you will be thinking, “But they don’t love me”!

So here it is – this week’s post is about sweet onions :)!  More precisely about the sweet onions grown in the little village of Citou, near Caunes Minervois.  I know that some people do not do well with onions – so my apologies if you happen to find that onions do not love you!

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Sweet onions are grown in many parts of the Languedoc, and the onions of each locality have their own character, a result of what the French call terroir.  The village of Citou celebrates the sweet onion each year with a fete in early September.  To reach the village means driving along a sinuous road, climbing high into the foothills of the Montagne Noire.  Knowing the road and the parking situation in Citou (there isn’t much), I decided to take the free shuttle bus, which left from outside the cooperative winery in Caunes Minervois.

After a scenic journey, I arrived just in time for the opening of the fete – well, that was what the plan had been.  The assembled dignitaries were waiting for someone to arrive, and when that person finally arrived, the cordless microphone stopped working :D.  There then ensued a bit of a rush to find new batteries, and when it became clear that the microphone was not going to work after all, the speeches were given without amplification, and everyone stood a little closer to the speaker!  While all this was going on, the local band entertained the waiting crowd – it was charming – they were so bad it was great!!  After the pictures there is a brief video of the band for you (e-mail subscribers, you’ll have to visit the site to watch the video).

http://youtu.be/qG3ILK5zd5Y

The main part of the fete was a market of about 30 stands, with a variety of local produce.  Top of the list were the locally grown onions and apples.

The Oustal de Citou restaurant had tables set up outside, in addition to their regular inside tables, for a special meal.  The menu looked very tempting, but unfortunately all the places were already reserved.

There was, however, plenty of food available at the stands for a picnic lunch:  goats cheese, breads of various kinds, tarts, AND ice cream!  For some reason I only have pictures of the ice cream 🙂 – I wonder why?

After lunch I took a little stroll to explore the village.  It is not very large, but holds a few interesting things:

The lavoir was built to commemorate the revolution, and dedicated in 1889.  I have never seen such an ornate spout!

High above the village sit the ruins of the castle – it was a hot day and the climb just a little too arduous, but I made it close enough tot take the above picture!

 

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Numerous fountains are found throughout the village, all running continuously.  There is certainly no shortage of water.

The vegetable gardens were a joy to behold – all neat and orderly!

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The village church held some beautiful pieces of marble – though I’m not sure what the significance of the lion’s foot is in connection with an altar.  Any ideas, anyone?

On the way back to the shuttle bus stop, I had a chat with Mr Fabre, who is one of the onion and apple growers in Citou.  He told me that the onion seeds are sown into seed trays in February, and when they are the size of a pencil the seedlings are trimmed and re-planted, generally in May.  Regular watering is required during the growing season, until about two weeks before the onions are due to be harvested.  The period without water allows the onions to consolidate, and is important for the keeping qualities.  The onions are then pulled up and dried, before being trimmed and prepared for sale.

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I brought some onions back to make a Pissaladiere, a kind of onion pizza originally from Nice.  I looked through several recipe books until I found one which used pie crust, rather than the bread dough most other books specified.  Since I’m a lazy cook – and the pie crust suited my schedule much better than the bread dough – I decided to give that a try.  I made my pastry with 150 g of flour, a pinch of salt, and 3 tbsp each of butter and duck fat.  You could use lard instead.  I rubbed the fat into the flour until it resembled coarse breadcrumbs, then added 3 tbsp water until the mixture held together.  I chilled the pastry, wrapped up in tinfoil, in the fridge, overnight.

I also prepared the onion topping that same evening.  Four very large, sweet onions (about 800 g), peeled and sliced, and cooked very slowly with a generous amount of olive oil – about 60 ml (4 tbsp).  The cooking time is approximately 30 minutes.  I cooked the onions, with a pinch of salt, in a deep non-stick frying pan, with the lid on for the first 15 minutes.  Regular stirring is required.  By the end of the cooking time the onions will be very soft and golden.  I left the onions to cool and stored them in the fridge overnight, along with the pastry.

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The following day I rolled the pastry out thinly to line a large round baking dish.  Since the filling is not very runny you don’t need much of a rim.  The onion puree is spread on the pastry and then you add anchovy fillets in a lattice pattern.  I cut my anchovy fillets in half lengthwise.  I find that otherwise you need too many anchovies, and they will overpower the onions.  Each diamond is garnished with a black olive, and the whole is baked at 220 Celsius for 20 minutes.  Serve warm with a salad of mixed leaves, and a few cherry tomatoes.  If you enjoy onions and anchovies, this could be absolute heaven for you!

Feel free to try this tart with the traditional bread/pizza dough, and vary the garnishing.  I’ve seen tomatoes and even cheese added to the topping.  Bon appetit!!

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