I've always been a fan of tarte tatin... so incredibly easy to make, yet so finger-lickingly good! I make this a lot for guests who turn up unannounced or without much notice - I keep a packet of puff pastry in the freezer, just in case, and I have apples at home most of the time, but have been seen to use other fruit as well, such as plums or pears.
This is my first attempt at a savoury tarte tatin, however. I found the idea in a very old issue of "Elle Bistro" food magazine the other day. The crispy pancetta, which I simply grilled in the oven, is added at the very last moment and if you are a vegetarian, just leave it out - if will taste just as delicious! The shallots are just like you'd find them on an Italian antipasti platter... they've lost all their bite in the cooking process and instead have soaked up the caramelised sugar and balsamic vinegar. Like in the traditional tarte tatin, the "caramel" sauce is thick and onctuous and will have you crying out for more!
Tarte tatin of caramelised shallots and crispy pancetta*
(serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a light lunch)
200 g puff pastry (from the fridge)
450 g shallots (peeled)
10 slices pancetta - optional
20 g butter
2 tbsp sugar
1 generous pinch of salt
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Lemon thyme leaves (to decorate)
Use a heavy-based pan, either without or with heat-proof handles - the pan has to go in the oven. If you only have pans with a plastic handle, wrap it carefully and thoroughly in aluminum foil, this will prevent the plastic from melting in the heat. Make sure the pan is small enough for the shallots to fit neatly, they should be back to back, only just fitting into the pan.
Heat the butter in the pan, add the shallots and cook until softening and starting to brown, turning them over repeatedly. Sprinkle with the sugar and salt, add the balsamico, then top with water until the shallots are almost fully covered. Cook until the liquid has evaporated, taking special care towards the end, to make sure that the sugar caramelises, but doesn't burn.
While the shallots are cooking, grill the pancetta slices until they're nicely browned on both sides, then leave to drain and crisp up on some kitchen paper. (Skip this step if preparing a vegetarian tarte tatin).
Pre-heat the oven to 200 C (fan).
Roll the pastry to ca. 2 mm thickness and cut it to be the same shape, but slightly larger than your pan. Lay the pastry on top of the shallots, tucking it gently in on the edges to form a smooth mould around the shallots.
Put the pan in the oven and bake for ca. 20-30 minutes until puffed and golden brown.
Cover the pan with a tight-fitting large plate, then carefully turn the pan with the plate using both hands - do it very quickly, to avoid any of the caramel running out burning your skin.
Break the pancetta (if using) into bite'sized pieces and tuck in between the shallots. Sprinkle with thyme leaves and serve immediately, with a salad on the side.
* based on a recipe in "Elle Bistro", March 2004