This is our most delicious post yet, combining two of my favorite things—poetry and food. We're going to share with you a few odes and a recipe, courtesy of Stephen Massimilla and Myra Kornfeld, from their new book, Cooking with the Muse.
Very recently published by Tupelo Press, the cookbook features seasonal recipes and culinary poems, as well as essays, lore, and notes on the poetry of food. Kornfeld is a chef, author, and cooking instructor, and Massimilla is an award-winning poet, artist, and scholar. (Disclaimer: he was also my freshman year Modern Poetry professor, and taught me most of what I know about 20th century poetry. Thanks, Prof. Mass.)
The recipe we've chosen is a spring onion tart. Mmm. Now is the perfect time to get spring onions, so run to the nearest farmer's market. But first read this delectable excerpt from Cooking with the Muse.
For it is every Cook’s Opinion,
No savory Dish without an Onion
—from Martial’s “Xenia 18,”
Jonathan Swift translation
You make us cry without hurting us.
I have praised all that exists,
onion, but to me, you are
more precious than a bird
with resplendent feathers,
in my watery eyes a celestial globe,
a platinum chalice,
the immobile dance
of the snowy anemone
and the earth’s fragrance lives
within your crystalline essence.
after an homage to Pablo Neruda
Spring Onion Tart
This is a dish that the ancient Roman author Apicius—who tells us to mix eggs with honey, milk, and cream and cook them over a slow fire to make a custard—would surely approve of. But there is a new development. Poet Naomi Shihab Nye refers to the onion as “one of nature’s small forgotten miracles” since it has traveled the world from Egypt to Greece to Italy, but in recent history has rarely played a starring role. This savory tart features what are known as “spring onions,” fresh onions that have not yet grown the papery outer sheath. All parts—from the tender red or white bulbs to the long green shoots—are edible, and they are all featured here. Even so, you could make a delicious version with more mature onions mixed with scallions.
You sweat the sliced bulb with garlic until juicy, then add the onion greens and cook until everything is caramelized. Mixed with egg yolks and a bit of milk and cream, then topped with a smattering of Parmesan, this custardy concoction is at once smooth, delicate and, yes, oniony. Pearly gold, softer, and lighter than a quiche, a perfect balance of sweet and savory, it dissolves in your mouth so fast that you’ll find yourself reaching for seconds.
Bake this in a 9-inch pie plate for best results. You’ll have two cups of caramelized onions, so set aside one cup for another tart.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for preparing the pan
6 cups thin sauté-sliced red onions (preferably spring onions; 1 3/4 pounds / 3 medium-large; see page 35 and the Cook’s Note)
6 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups thinly sliced spring onion greens or scallions
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
8 large egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (2 ounces)
1. Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the sliced onions, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; stir together and cover. Cook covered, raising the lid to stir from time to time, until the onions have become very juicy, about 10 minutes.
2. Uncover; add the onion greens and stir to combine. Cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the onions are completely caramelized.
3. Stir in the vinegar and honey. Transfer to a measuring cup. You should have 2 cups of the rich onion jam. Set aside 1 cup for another tart.
4. Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Lightly oil a 9-inch pie plate.
5. Whisk together the yolks, cream, milk, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl until well combined. Stir in 1 cup of the onions and combine well. Pour into the pie plate. Sprinkle the top with the Parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes, until set.
6. You can serve the tart right away. Or chill the tart for a couple of hours (or up to 3 days) and reheat in a 350˚F oven to serve.
The Traveling Onion
by Naomi Shihab Nye
“It is believed that the onion originally came from India. In Egypt it was an
object of worship—why I haven’t been able to find out. From Egypt the onion
entered Greece and on to Italy, thence into all of Europe.”
—Better Living Cookbook
When I think how far the onion has traveled
just to enter my stew today, I could kneel and praise
all small forgotten miracles,
crackly paper peeling on the drainboard,
pearly layers in smooth agreement,
the way the knife enters onion
and onion falls apart on the chopping block,
a history revealed.
And I would never scold the onion
for causing tears.
It is right that tears fall
for something small and forgotten.
How at meal, we sit to eat,
commenting on texture of meat or herbal aroma
but never on the translucence of onion,
now limp, now divided,
or its traditionally honorable career:
For the sake of others,