"A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins" - Laurie Colwin
I really think, I would be in serious depression, if you took away tomatoes from me. Oh I know, there are many a dish that needs none of the acidity of a tomato. But, taking away tomato from me is like refusing an Italian, basil. The number of tomatoes we go through in a week is a constant source of wonder for our grocer! On the whole, I think a world with this sweet and tart vegetable is a whole lot sunnier than without! :)
Anyway, the other day, when the husband and shopping-dampening-frown were away, I decided to visit the cake supply store here in NYC, New York Cake Supplies (very original, I know). As soon as I stepped into the dungeon-ish store, I felt like a kid in a candy store! Here were shelves overflowing with baking supplies; from pans and moulds of every size made of glass, metal, silicone to every conceivable pure extracts to palettes full and beyond of food colors to many more things I do not even know the purpose of!
So, ofcourse, I indulged my heart and bought a few necessary items and few I-would-really-love-to-have-this-one-surely-it-is-useful stuff. One of the former was a 9 inch tart pan, the standard size mould with removable sides that is a must-have for any baking enthusiast.
Bursting with glee, I dreamt of all the wonderful stuff I was going to make with my new purchases and put them all (almost) to use immediately. The very first thing that popped into my head was a simple Tomato Tart.
Having learnt the lesson the hard way about boxed pie crusts, I decided to make them from scratch. You won't believe how surprisingly easy it was! It really is the simplest thing to make once you get past the frustration of cutting cold butter into the flour with a pair of forks. (No, I don't have a Cuisinart mixer and refuse to buy a pastry cutter). Incidentally, I found out that a quick 5 second pulse on a standard blender helps the process along quite a bit.
Once, the dough was cooled enough to roll out, the next thing is to roll the dough to fill the mould. Being a novice and in my enthusiasm, I rolled it out a bit too large. The recipe I used was for one 9" shell but I managed to get a 9" tart and a 4" pie (I'll write about that another time) out of it! But, honestly, it was no loss. The shell was still sufficient and flavorful.
Then came the tricky part. Transferring the dough into the mould. A note of caution here: If you are using the removable bottom mould,handle the pan ONLY using the sides. Do NOT touch the bottom. I did that and almost lost my perfectly fit dough!
Phew! It was finally done. Since my filling was not going to need much oven time, I blind baked the shell before filling it. Meanwhile, I caramelised some sweet Vidalia onions. Yes, the Vidalias really do make a difference. I was a sceptic till I tried them but I am now a sworn aficionado! They are wonderfully sweet and soft and balance the tartness of the tomatoes perfectly.
I layered onions, Wisconsin sheep milk cheese and fresh tomatoes on my partially baked shell and popped it into the oven for about 30 minutes. Topped with a bit of basil, the tart looked as delectable as it tasted!
Something about the bright red and fresh green just makes you want to jump in and devour the whole thing instantly! :)
Tomato and Vidalia Onion Summer Tart
(one 9" tart)
1-1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 stick very cold butter (frozen is even better but a bit more work)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
3-4 T ice water
1 Vidalia onion julienned
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
3 roma tomatoes sliced thin horizontally
1/2 - 3/4 cup grated medium aged sheep milk cheese (depends on how much cheese you like. I like mine cheesy!)
2 T fresh basil chiffonade
1 T fresh grated parmesan
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
To make the Pâte Brisée:
In a large bowl blend the flour, salt and sugar. Cut in the cold butter until the mixture resembles meal. (here is where a blender is useful!). Add ice water one tablespoon at a time and toss the mixture until the water is incorporated and the dough forms into a ball. Knead the dough lightly with the heel of the hand (coldest part of hand) against a smooth surface for a few seconds to distribute the fat evenly and re-form it into a ball. Dust the dough with flour and chill it, wrapped in wax paper, for 1 hour. You HAVE to work very quickly with this dough to prevent the butter from melting.
To blind bake:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
On a very well floured surface, roll out the cooled dough into an approximate 10 inch circle. Roll the dough over your rolling pin. Transfer the dough onto the mould, starting from one edge and rolling it out to fit the mould. Do NOT stretch to fill the mould, it will collapse while baking.
If needed, place in freezer for a few minutes to firm up the shell. Cover the shell with aluminium foil and fill with pie weights or beans making sure to gently press them to the sides. This will help the sides to maintain shape. Bake for 12-13 minutes till the edges are golden brown.
Remove the weights and foil, poke the base with a fork and bake for another 3-4 minutes. If you are fully baking the shell (for cold desserts or tarts that need no cooking) let the shell bake for 8 more minutes or until fully done.
Meanwhile, caramelise the onions in oil over low heat and season with the dry herbs, salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar.
To assemble the tart. Spread the onions at the bottom of the tart in an even layer. Next add the cheese. Finally, top with the tomato slices arranged decoratively. Season with salt, pepper and a dash of balsamic vinegar.
Lower oven temperature to 375 degrees. Pop the tart back in and bake for 25-30 minutes until the crust is light brown and flaky, cheese melted and the tomatoes are starting to shrivel but not fully cooked.
Rest on rack for a few minutes. Sprinkle the fresh parmesan and basil all over. Slice, bite and relish!