With their famous tart, the Tatin sisters began something special - and it's as delicious whether it's sweet or savoury.
A few years ago I twisted the classic upside-down tart recipe, "tarte des demoiselles tatin" - more commonly known as tarte tatin - by replacing the Pippin apples with pears and introducing parmesan to the pastry. It was a useful recipe, quickly made and proved popular, too. Other upside-down pastries followed (I was on a roll): a sweet fig tart for autumn; a pineapple version reminiscent of one of those upside down-cakes of the 1970s and, finally, a less-than-successful rhubarb version that spilled its juices and looked like roadkill.
Not wishing to let go of the Tatin sisters' great idea, I have just made a sausage and onion version where the onions were cooked until translucent and honey sweet, tossed with herb-flecked breakfast sausages from the butcher and a little sherry vinegar under a puff-pastry crust. Made for lunch, the tart had, unsurprisingly, elements of the sausage roll, but we relished the sweetness from the onions and depth and mellowness provided by the sherry vinegar. No sauce to speak of, but the quickest of accompaniments came from briefly simmering seeded mustard and cream.
Back on the sweet side, I have been reworking my banana-tatin recipe using a shortcake crust rather than puff pastry. Richer, sweeter and more tender, this fragile variation ended up as four individual tarts, the fruit embedded in thick vanilla-scented caramel. The small tarts are easier to turn out than a larger 20cm version, allowing us to use a seriously short and buttery crust.
The caramel for the base of a traditional tatin is sometimes a bit hit and miss. Much depends on the apples and the ratio of sugar to butter - you can end up with an amber-coloured sauce or the sort of caramel you need to bash from the tin with a chisel. I rather like it when the caramel turns to toffee and I can add it as an extra on the side. My own method is to use more than twice the weight of sugar to butter and stir continuously until you have a pan of toffee-coloured goo.
If a pudding is going to be sweet, then we might as well go for it.
Sausage and onion tatin
You could use shortcrust here if you prefer, or maybe an old-fashioned rough puff. I haven't tried this with rust-speckled chorizo or black pudding, but I can imagine them working very well. As always, this recipe will stand or fall on the quality of the sausages. Go for broke. Serves 4-6.
puff pastry 350g
butter a thick slice or a little oil
pork sausages 8
sage leaves 4
sherry vinegar 1 tbsp
Slice the sausages into thick rounds, then brown lightly in a shallow pan, adding a little butter or oil if needed. Remove the sausages and set aside. Peel the onions, cut them in half, then into thick segments, then melt the butter in the same pan and add the onions. Leave them to cook over a low to moderate heat, with the occasional stir, until they are soft and light gold in colour. Add the sage leaves, the sherry vinegar and a little salt and pepper then stir in the sausages. Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6.
Transfer the mixture to a deep tart tin or metal-handled frying pan. (I use the 22cm pan in which I cooked the sausages and onions.) On a lightly floured board, roll out the pastry to a diameter slightly larger than the tart tin. Push the pastry into the tin, tucking the edges down the sides as you go.
Bake for 30 minutes until pale gold, then leave to rest for 15 minutes. Turn out on to a large, flat plate (there will be some juices) and cut into quarters.
grain mustard 1 tbsp
Warm the cream in a small pan, stir in the mustard and season with salt and pepper. Serve in a small jug.
Banana shortcake, vanilla bean cream
You will need four individual metal tart cases about 10cm in diameter.Serves 4.
caster sugar 140g
bananas 4, slightly under ripe
For the shortcake:
caster sugar 75g
egg 1, small
plain flour 125g
For the vanilla cream:
double cream 6 tbsp
vanilla pod 1
For the pastry, dice the 70g of butter, put it into a food-mixer bowl with the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Blend in the lightly beaten egg followed by the flour. Mix to a soft dough, turn on to a generously floured board, then roll into a fat sausage. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
For the bananas, melt the 55g of butter and sugar in a nonstick frying pan over a low heat, stirring pretty much constantly. It will become grainy, then it might separate, but don't worry, keep stirring. You should end up with a buttery, toffee-coloured sauce. Pour it into the individual tart cases. Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4.
Peel and slice the bananas into rounds, then divide between the cases. Slice the dough into four discs then pat each out to fit the tart cases. They should be quite thick. Place a disc of pastry on top of each of the dishes on top of the bananas. Bake for 20 minutes until pale-biscuit coloured.
Run a palette knife around the edge of the metal tins, turn upside down and shake gently. If there is any toffee stuck on the base, remove it in small pieces and add to the top of each tart.
To make the vanilla cream, put the mascarpone in a bowl and stir in the cream. Slice the vanilla pod in half lengthways and scrape out the black seeds with the point of a knife, then stir gently through the mascarpone and cream. Serve with the warm banana tarts.
Email Nigel at firstname.lastname@example.org
The flip side: banana shortcake and vanilla bean cream. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer