Table ReadyBy Stephanie Rosenbaum
SHEEP, ACCORDING to the New York Times, are hip. In the lead story of a recent "Escapes" section, writer Suzanne Hamlin went so far as to dub them "the barnyard animal of choice" among the genteel weekend farmers along the Hudson River valley. The image is an undeniably delectable one: wooly, sweet-faced creatures, tucked into monogrammed L.L. Bean tote bags, hauled from feed store to lumber mill as the trendy accessory du jour. Actually, the whole thing would have been even funnier had I not, the very day before, been expressing a wistful desire for a little goat-and-sheep farm of my own. A little apple and quince orchard, some goats and sheep for milk and wool, one of Alan Smith's wonderful outdoor bread ovens like Brickmaiden uses, up in Point Reyes (which they inherited from the original bakery of Chad Robertson and Elizabeth Prueitt, now of Tartine fame), a picnic table under the wide-spreading branches of a big oak tree that's my get-out-of-the-city dream. I would learn to make goat cheese and sheep's-milk yogurt, I'd befriend the local beekeepers and get them to set up a few hives in some sunny corner, learn how to shear a sheep so the whole fleece comes off in one piece like a blanket before the sheep totters off, suddenly skinny, pink, and disconcerted.
I've been up close to goats, and while they were much less reeky than I'd expected, they certainly had a whiff about them not unlike that of the funky French section of a cheese display. Sheep, while less pungent (and less destructively omnivorous), do seem to lack a little in the personality department. So goats for goat cheese and entertainment, and sheep for sweetness and fleece. Then, of course, you need dogs to protect and herd the animals, and a few chickens scratching around for eggs, and before you know it, you're sitting up at 3 a.m. wondering how you're going to pay the vet bills.
My friend Melisa has run with the goat-farm idea, at least metaphorically. In fact, "goat farm" has become shorthand for "life-changing yet not unattainable dream." She's gotten her goat farm, to some degree, in the recent birth of her son. Sally, after years as a video producer, scrapped that life, went back to school, and now teaches fifth grade in Fremont. That's her goat farm. Everyone needs a goat farm, and everyone wants the sudden combination of drive, risk, luck, and capital that could make it turn from pie in the sky to goat-cheese tart on the table.
Feeding people myself, my friends, the family I envision milking the goats and picking the quinces is a big part of this little rural dream. This goat cheese tart recipe, of course, assumes you have easy access to good frozen puff pastry and a sunny herb garden filled with the scents of Provence. But why not? It could happen, and maybe soon, it will.
The amounts of the fillings for this tart are approximate. If you want a gooey, very goaty tart, use more cheese; if you'd rather have the onions predominant, then add just small dots of cheese. I love roasted figs much more than raw ones; cooking them brings out their sweetness and gives them a deliciously squishy, pliant texture. And when figs are no longer in season, you can substitute olives, capers, or halved and seeded plum tomatoes.
Onion and goat cheese tart
4 Tbs butter
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large skillet over low heat, melt the butter and sauté the onions until golden, adding a small amount of water if needed to prevent sticking and browning. Add salt to taste, depending on the saltiness of your goat cheese. While onions are cooking, roll out each puff pastry sheet. Cut into four rectangles, approximately 12 by 5 inches. With the extra dough, cut eight narrow strips (4 long, 4 short).
Place rectangles on a large baking sheet and pierce all over with a fork. Brush the tops of the strips with egg yolk, then press, egg side down, along the edges of the rectangles to form a raised edge. Bake until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Scoop the cooked onions onto the pastry, distributing evenly. Sprinkle with thyme, lavender, and freshly ground black pepper. Arrange figs and crumbled goat cheese over onions. Bake until figs and cheese are soft and heated through. If desired, drizzle lightly with honey before serving.