It may seem crazy talking about Easter as we quietly start the dance with autumn but we’ve just returned from Italy and all I had in my kitchen was a pack of frozen puff pastry, some slightly bedraggled banana shallots and a half a bottle of Oloroso, the sweet robust fortified wine of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalucía. I dug deep into my memory banks for inspiration and, suddenly, a germ of an idea started to blossom. During holy week, the city’s cobbled alleys, plazas, baroque churches and bars are thronged with members of the 44 traditional brotherhoods of the region, each of them entirely covered by long robes and a high pointy hood. As they slowly walk through the city up to the Jerez de la Frontera Cathedral jostling for space alongside groups of fervent worshippers carrying huge religious effigies, they mark centuries of remembrance of the passion and death of Christ. It’s an incredibly solemn and moving tradition that blew me away when I first witnessed it because it’s a spectacle so far removed from our own culture. It is the ancient festivals such as this that sets Jerez apart from the smarter, more polished destinations of the region; that and its tradition of flamenco. Here, the flamenco spirit is everywhere; in the peñas, tabancos and, late into the night, across the plazas. The passion, the pride, the drama and the heartbreak, it is as much a part of Jerez as tapas and sherry and, in order to truly experience the unique culture of this southernmost tip of the country, I recommend that you sample them together. This is especially true at festival time when the dancers, musicians, singers and story-tellers walk many miles to come together to perform. That day, moving well away from the crowds, I made my way over to a tiny bar to sit for a while with a chilled glass of fino sherry and a couple of plates of tapas including some tiny white onions that had been slowly caramelised in a stew of sweet sherry, olive oil and fresh thyme. There I sat for several hours listening to a flamenco guitarist and watching the women as, one by one, they stood up to dance. It was a sublime experience, one I’ll never forget and, yesterday afternoon, it became the inspiration for this simple tart. Here, I’ve used lots of butter to add depth and replaced the thyme with rosemary because that’s all I had. The tart fell apart when I removed it from the pan because the shallots weren’t heavy enough to come out with the pastry but these things happen. It was nonetheless delicious; so much so that we polished it all off in one sitting. Just the two of us, listening to Radio Tarifa tracks, drinking wine and reminiscing about this wonderful summer.
1 pack of ready rolled puff pastry
10 banana shallots, peeled and halved (you can also use four small red onions)
100ml Oloroso sherry
Two fresh rosemary sprigs, cut into smaller sprigs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
How I make it
If using frozen pastry, allow it to thaw for an hour at room temperature.
Heat an oven to 180C.
Using your pie dish as a template, cut the pastry into a circle; I use a traditional tarte tatin pan because its deep sides allow me to tuck the pasty under which makes for a pretty edge when it’s cooked. Place the pastry base on a sheet of greaseproof paper, prick it all over (this prevents it from puffing up too much) and place it in the fridge to cool.
Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, melt the butter over a medium heat. Add the shallots cut sides down and allow them to caramelise gently for around 10 minutes until they are nice and golden.
Add the sherry, the sprigs of rosemary and season to your taste. Transfer the onions – cut side down – to your pie dish/tarte tatin pan and pour over the juices and rosemary. Cover with foil and place in the oven for 10 minutes until the onions are soft (allow 10 minutes longer if you are using larger red onions).
Remove from the oven and place the chilled pastry over the cooked onions tucking under the edges as you go.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden.
Remove the tart from the oven and allow it to cool in the pan for a few minutes before carefully – super carefully! – turning it out onto large plate.
Serve whilst still warm; this would be lovely served alongside a lemony salad or, even better, my endive and walnut salad with an orange and oregano dressing.