Bittersweet. I think that's probably the first oxymoron I learnt at school and I remember thinking that the name oxymoron was entirely apt. What kind of moron would describe something as both bitter and sweet at the same time (ah, the logic of the teenager!). It's only later in life that you begin to understand exactly what the word means.
The sweetness of a love affair mingled inextricably with the bitterness of its ending. The excitement of a new house mingled with the sadness of leaving behind the happy times in the old one. The joy of a celebration tinged with the sadness of somebody's absence.
As some of you already know, I am currently at home in South Africa following the sudden death of my father a week ago. It is wonderful to have an unexpected two weeks at home in the warm weather, surrounded by the love of my oldest friends and family. At the same time, I am weighed down by sadness. Sadness that I will never hear my father's familiar voice again; and that the house where I grew up now seems like an empty shell, with the last of its old familiar inhabitants now gone.
But somehow I still canot think of bittersweet as a negative term. It is as if the bitterness both balances and enhances the sweetness. The sadness I feel at the loss of my father serves to highlight how much I love the other important people in my life. Suddenly I hug my nephews closer and more often; I tell my friends and husband how much they mean to me; I try to appreciate what a blessing it is to be surrounded by all these wonderful people. I'm not one of those doom-mongers who believes that there can be no sweetness without bitterness, but I do believe pretty fervently that there is no bitterness in life without an edge of sweetness.
These olive and onion tartlets by Nigella that I recently made illustrate perfectly the bittersweet paradox. The bitter edge of the olives makes the perfect foil for the sweet, sweet onions and the tart really would not succeed if you removed one of them: it's the contrast that makes it work. The secret lies in long, slow cooking of the onions; flavourful olives; and the most buttery pastry you can muster. Although Nigella's original recipe features tarts with lids, I prefer open tarts, hence the modification.
NIGELLA'S OLIVE & ONION TARTLETS (serves 6)
Enough short crust pastry to fill 6 small fluted tart tins (one readly rolled 375g sheet is plenty)
6 medium to large onions, sliced thinly
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 bay leaf
2 tso dried oregano
1/4 tsp salt
3 tsp sugar
30 pitted black olives, halved (I used semi-dried olives)
2oz Parmesan cheese, shaved
Roll out the pastry and line 6 loose-bottomed fluted tart tins. Place the lined tins in the fridge while you prepare the filling.
Melt the butter and olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until the mixture foams; add the onions, bay leavf, oregano, sugar and salt. Turn the onions once or twice and then reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook for 20 minutes.
Turn up the heat to medium and cook for another ten minutes, stirring often, until the onions are golden brown. Remove from heat, discard the bay leaf, mix in the halved olives and set aside.
Preheat oven to 180C. Remove the tart tins from the fridge and blind bake for 10 minutes. Remove beans and cook for a further 5 minutes.
While tart cases are still hot, fill them with the onion mix and top with the cheese. Bake for a further 15 minutes, until the cheese bubbles and becomes golden brown. Serve with a mixed leaf salad and a dry white wine.
I am submitting this as my entry into Forever Nigella, the event run by my good friend Sarah. The theme for Forever Nigella #3 is Ciao Italia and I figured that the olives made these italian enough to qualify