Two-lane roads led us down to Pearl in the Grove, a small Dade City restaurant out in the middle of nowhere. Outside on the unpaved parking lot, the sky is bright with stars I can't see from my home closer to Tampa.
During our meal, the restaurant's owner came by our table to see how Danny and I liked the fried green tomatoes, roasted chicken, lamb and that little dark chocolate layer birthday cake made just for this table, but it was the slice of onion pie that really got our attention. He told us more about the pie, warm and soft with a buttery, biscuit-like crust underneath a layer of slightly caramelized and slightly sweet onions. He said the pie was their version of a recipe from English food writer Nigella Lawson.
Days later, and I couldn't get this pie out of my head. A quick search led me to a recipe on epicurious.com from the April 2001 issue of Gourmet magazine. The birthday dinner at Pearl led me to another birthday gift, a collection of more than 100 Gourmet magazines, including the issue featuring the onion pie with a scone crust. The collection was a gift from Danny, who tends to eat Chinese takeout and buy kitchen gadgets when I'm out of town for the weekend. But this time he also shopped eBay for one of my favorite presents ever.
Gourmet tweaked Lawson's recipe from her cookbook How to be a Domestic Goddess to better suit an American audience. The crust was lightened and the red onions, which apparently turn an unappealing pale purple when cooked, were replaced with yellow ones. I replaced the yellow onions with white onions and increased the count from 1 to 2.
One week after trying this pie, we spent a morning rolling out our own. It's not difficult to put together, and the pie is made mostly of simple ingredients. Cheese. Butter. Flour. Onions, which only need time and heat (and maybe a little butter) to soften into something so powerfully good it lures you into the kitchen to pick a slippery slice right out of the hot pan.
Don't hesitate on flipping the pie, though running a knife around the edges before doing so is a good idea. A few minutes to let the pie cool is all you need, and was about as long as I could wait for my slice. Those soft onions and Gruyere ease the pie right out of the pan with just an onion or two staying behind.
Eat it warm. Serve it to friends. And yes, feel like a domestic goddess.
Ileana Morales is a freelance writer who cooks in a small apartment kitchen in Tampa with boyfriend Danny Valentine, an education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. For more of their kitchen adventures, visit Ileana's blog, alittlesaffron.com. She can be contacted at [email protected]