Last summer, the always-wonderful Smitten Kitchen—who is probably my very favoritest food blogger in the whole world—posted a fascinating survey of her readers’ food phobias. People admitted to fears of risotto, yeast, phyllo, fried chicken, gravy, fish, souffles, and on and on. Until seeing that post, I’d never before been able to articulate that the reason I didn’t cook certain things was because of phobias. But I’d shy away from recipes involving yeast, for example. And deep frying. And steak. To name just a few. It wasn’t that I was afraid of millions of yeasty beasties attacking me while I slept, just a perennial fear that if I tried a yeast bread recipe, it wouldn’t work. And then I guess I’d feel stupid.
Smitten’s list was a call to face my food demons. I now succeed at yeast doughs more often than I fail, and I can almost deep fry like a true Southerner. I’ve made some amazing steak and produced such a juicy roasted chicken that I forgot that I don’t usually like chicken all that much.
And yesterday, I finally tackled one of my last major food phobias: pie crust.
A number of my friends bake astonishing, gorgeous pies—strawberry-rhubarb or chock full of berries or a beautiful nutmeg-maple cream—but pie crust has always been a mystery to me. All that butter, and it has to be kept super cold? And how do you transfer the dough? And what’s with pie weights? And what if the pie oozes everywhere? My mother claims our family is genetically incapable of making pie crust. But while there is no question that our family is genetically incapable of being tall, I can’t think of any objective reason why we should be unable to make pie crust.
In honor of the phobia-conquering occasion, it seemed appropriate that one of the savory tarts I’d been longing to make was Smitten Kitchen’s butternut squash and caramelized onion galette. Squash is one of my favorite things about fall, and I have a long history of draping caramelized onions on whatever bread-based platform I can find. It also seemed like maybe a more rustic, free-form tart would be an easier entry to the pie kingdom. This one’s been bookmarked for a long time. I was ready to conquer. I also figured that if my crust failed, I’d be perfectly happy eating the filling by itself.
Somehow, though, my luck held, and there was a crust. It wasn’t a perfect crust—maybe a little thick and lumpy, due to my terror of overworking it, and maybe with some hastily-smoothed-over tears—but it held together. And it was buttery, golden, and delicious.
I haven’t fully conquered crust yet, but I’m confident that I will. It might be time to start investing in butter futures, because there’s going to be a lot of butter in my future.
Butternut squash and caramelized onion galette
From Smitten Kitchen
For the pastry:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into
1/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup ice water
For the filling:
1 small butternut squash (about one pound) [I used acorn squash, since the store was out of butternut, and it worked fine]
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons butter (if you have only non-stick, the smaller amount will do)
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced in half-moons
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
3/4 cup fontina cheese (about 2 1/2 ounces), grated or cut into small bits
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage leaves
Make pastry: In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Place the butter in another bowl. Place both bowls in the freezer for 1 hour. Remove the bowls from the freezer and make a well in the center of the flour. Add the butter to the well and, using a pastry blender, cut it in until the mixture resembles coarse meal. [Note: I didn’t put anything in the freezer and cut in the butter in the food processor. It seemed to work fine.] Make another well in the center. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, lemon juice and water and add half of this mixture to the well. With your fingertips, mix in the liquid until large lumps form. Remove the large lumps and repeat with the remaining liquid and flour-butter mixture. Pat the lumps into a ball; do not overwork the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Prepare squash: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Peel squash, then halve and scoop out seeds. Cut into a 1/2-inch dice. Toss pieces with olive oil and a half-teaspoon of the salt and roast on foil lined (for neatness sake) sheet for 30 minutes or until pieces are tender, turning it midway if your oven bakes unevenly. Set aside to cool slightly.
Caramelize onions: While squash is roasting, melt butter in a heavy skillet and cook onion over low heat with the remaining half-teaspoon of salt and pinch of sugar, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly golden brown, about 20 minutes. Stir in cayenne.
Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Mix squash, caramelized onions, cheese and herbs together in a bowl.
Assemble galette: On a floured work surface, roll the dough out into a 12-inch round. Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet. Spread squash, onions, cheese and herb mixture over the dough, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Fold the border over the squash, onion and cheese mixture, pleating the edge to make it fit. The center will be open.
Bake until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, let stand for 5 minutes, then slide the galette onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm or at room temperature. Serves 6. [I think it serves 4. Maybe.]