By Christine Salins.
Alice Zaslavsky wants people to eat more veg. And if anyone can get people to increase their intake of vegetables, it’s her – such is her energy, enthusiasm and persuasive charms.
A former high school teacher in Melbourne, Alice first came to public attention during a stint on MasterChef in 2012. Subsequently, she’s done a lot of work with the ABC (News Breakfast, Radio and ABC Life).
Wanting kids to learn about food in the same way they learn words and numbers, Alice created Phenomenom, a free digital toolbox that helps teachers slip more serves of veg into the curriculum. It attracts both industry and government funding.
She also created Nomcast, a podcast for families and kids to listen to in their car, looping parents into the program.
Her mission to reframe the way people see vegetables continues with the publication of a colourful, delicious and definitive kitchen companion, In Praise of Veg, published by Murdoch Books, RRP $60.
Ambitious and encyclopediac, this comprehensive volume profiles 50 vegetable varieties, uniquely organised by colour. More than 150 recipes show how to make the most of the vegetables featured, and while not all the recipes are vegetarian, they can all easily be made vegetarian.
They’re accompanied by kitchen lessons, tips on techniques, shortcuts, cooking methods and flavour combinations, and advice from some of the world’s best-regarded chefs.
If you’ve ever had a tarte tatin starring apples or pears, you might find yourself wondering what onions, leeks and shallots are doing in the recipe here, but Alice says if you think of it as an open-faced pasty or upside-down vegetable tart, it starts to make a lot more sense.
She suggests that once you get the hang of savoury tarte tatin, you should experiment with other vegetable options too. Among her suggested combinations are pumpkin and sage; zucchini, red onion, red capsicum and eggplant; parsnip, carrot and caraway seeds; beetroot and goat’s cheese; potato and rosemary; asparagus and parmesan; and tomato, mozzarella and basil.
The ‘Any Kind Of Onion’ Tarte Tatin
Serves 6 to 8
350 g onions of your choice (such as leeks, red onions or French shallots), peeled and cut into 1 cm thick slices
plain flour, for dusting
2 frozen all-butter puff pastry sheets, thawed
½ cup caster sugar
2 tablespoons fortified wine (such as sherry)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
50 g butter
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
2 anchovies in oil, finely chopped (optional)
1 handful of thyme sprigs and/or fresh bay leaves, plus extra to serve
crumbled marinated feta or goat’s cheese, to serve
purple basil leaves, to serve
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Place the onions in a heatproof bowl and cover with just-boiled water. Leave for 10 minutes to soften slightly, then drain well and stand on a tray lined with paper towel to dry.
On a lightly floured work surface, stack both pastry sheets on top of each other. Using a rolling pin, roll the pastry out to a rough 26 cm square. Transfer to a tray and chill until required.
Place the sugar and ¼ cup water in a 23 cm ovenproof frying pan or skillet over medium heat. Cook, swirling constantly, until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to high and leave to cook without disturbing for 5 minutes, or until you blink and it’s suddenly turned into a golden caramel.
Remove from the heat. Carefully – the mixture will sizzle! – add the wine, vinegar, butter, pepper, anchovies and herbs of choice. Return to the boil and swirl to combine.
Carefully arrange the onions over the hot caramel so that they are tightly packed, then place the pastry over the top, tucking the edges in to give you a cool rustic edge on the flip-side.
Bake for 30 minutes, then remove from the oven and cover with foil to prevent burning. Return to the oven and bake for a further 30 minutes, or until the pastry is cooked through and the caramel is bubbling.
Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 10 minutes.
To serve, place a flat plate over the pan, then carefully invert the tart. Scatter with salt flakes and cracked black pepper, some crumbled cheese and fresh herbs.
Tip: If you don’t have an ovenproof frying pan or skillet, you can use any frying pan to make the caramel. After stirring in the vinegar mixture, transfer the caramel to a (roughly) 20 cm baking dish or shallow tray (we used a shallow tray for the French shallot tarte tatin in the photo). Add the onions to this and continue with the recipe.
Shortcut: You could make individual little tartlets too, by using a pastry cutter slightly bigger than the onion or shallot you’ve chosen. Slice the discs of onion to soften and burnish in the pan with the caramel as per the recipe, then fish them out and pop puff pastry on top of each, baking for 20 to 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden.
Recipe and image from In Praise of Veg by Alice Zaslavsky, photography by Ben Dearnley. Murdoch Books RRP $59.99.