Tarte à l’Oignon

That’s French for onion tart (I’m a man of the world, don’t you know). In Alsatian there’s a different word for it. What, you mean they speak another language in Alsace? I thought it was part of France! Yes, that’s true, Alsace is technically part of France. I say “technically” because it’s always been something of its own animal on the European map. Not quite autonomous, but then not quite part of either France or Germany (the countries that it borders), it’s got an independent spirit — and a language to match. Alsatian is sort of a French-ified low German dialect, related to Swiss German and Swabian, dialects that few Germans, and even fewer Frenchmen, can understand.

Alsatians call their onion tart flammekueche, which sounds awfully German, does it not? And it means pretty much what it sounds like: “cooked” (baked) in “flames”. It gets that name because, just like Neapolitan pizza, it’s traditionally baked in a still-burning wood-fired oven at astoundingly high heat. And in fact onion tart is pretty much the pizza of Alsace. It’s eaten casually, often served in bars, and people eat and eat and eat it until until they basically pass out. Try one sometime and you’ll see why. It’s addictive in the extreme.

One of the things I like so much about Alsatian onion tart (or flammekueche, or Flammkuchen, or tarte à l’oignon, or tarte flambée) is that it’s one of the very few dishes in which the onion takes center stage. In fact, other than onion soup, I can’t think of any others. So that alone makes it special. It’s also rich, rich, rich…and of course I have a special place in my heart for things like that (specifically in my left ventricle, right next to a giant blob of arterial plaque). But, you only live once, am I right? And anyway this is the time of year for hearty winter fare. Let’s dig in.

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