200 grams plain flour
a pinch of sea salt
2 teaspoons chopped thyme
100 grams butter, diced and chilled
1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon milk
24 small shallots
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
¼ cup Port, Madeira or Marsala
150 ml crème fraîche
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, crushed
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Pastry: Put the flour, salt and thyme in the food processor and pulse to blend. Add the butter and pulse again until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add the egg and milk to the flour and pulse until the dough starts to come together. Tip onto the bench and form into a flat disc. Wrap and chill for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 190°C.
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured board. Stamp out 24 x 7 cm rounds with a cookie cutter. Press into lightly greased mini muffin tins or other small tins and chill until firm. Bake blind for 12 minutes then remove the paper and beans. Reduce temperature to 175°C and bake for another 3 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Shallots: Peel the shallots and trim the root end. Do not cut them off as this holds the shallot together while cooking. Heat the oil and butter in a sauté pan and gently cook the shallots for 15 minutes. Add the vinegar, brown sugar and the Marsala and cook for another 20 minutes or until the shallots are tender and the liquid is reduced to a glaze. Set aside to cool.
To cook the tarts: Whisk the filling together and season. Pour into the tart cases and bake for 10 minutes or until the filling is just set. Cool.
To serve: Reheat gently until warm. Place a shallot on top of each tart and garnish with a tiny sprig of thyme or flat-leaf parsley.
The shallots can be made 3-4 days ahead and kept refrigerated. Rewarm slightly before using. Uncooked tart cases can be kept in the freezer for 4 weeks. Bake straight from the freezer. Makes about 24
Bake blind: Line a prepared pastry case with baking paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. The beans support the pastry as it cooks. Bake for the specified time before removing the paper and weights. The shell should now have taken form so reduce the temperature to 175°C and cook until completely cooked and golden.