Thursday, August 5, 2010

Recipe: Tomato Tart with Cornmeal Crust

I love tomatoes, and when the first ones come ripe, I want to just eat as many as I can in their pure, unadulterated form--just gulped down, sprinkled with salt, or maybe sliced on white bread with just a little mayo. A BLT, maybe. I eat them for almost every meal, in some form. And when I've satisfied my yen for just plain tomatoes, I start cooking them. I love fresh tomato sauces for pizza and pasta. Favorite quick fix: halve tomatoes and put them skin side down on a blazing hot grill. When the skins blister, slip them off of the tomatoes. Chop or puree, mix with roasted garlic and fresh basil, salt and pepper, and eat--on pasta, on pizza, or just scooped up with fresh crusty bread. But this isn't that recipe.

This is a recipe for a tomato tart. Really, it's barely a recipe--more of a preparation. I think I originally got this dish from Linda Blair (my dear friend and colleague, not the actress famous for spitting pea soup and spinning her head around), but lots of people make some version of it. It's a juicy, flavor-filled tart, good hot, cold, or room temperature, a meal on its own, but even better with a grilled steak, charred on the outside and red on the inside, sliced thinly and releasing its juices along with the tomato tart's. Maybe a simple salad dressed with a balsalmic vinaigrette on the side. I used a cornmeal crust, because it's more substantial and has a better texture to soak up the juices of the tomatoes. But you could easily use any crust, or even a store-bought pre-made one, and this would still be great.Cornmeal Crust (you might want to get the real recipe for this from Joy of Cooking if you don't make pie crusts often--after you've made a few, you get a sense of how they should feel and you can wing it. These measurements are approximate at best--I just threw stuff in my food processor until it looked right.) This makes enough for two regular sized pies or one big (11 x7?) tart.
  • 1 1/2 cups cornmeal (yellow makes it prettier)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 TBS salt
  • 1 stick butter, cut into small pieces
  • 6 TBS cream cheese, cut into small pieces (freeze it first)
  • 5-6 TBS ice cold beer
First, be sure all these things are chilled--put the bowl and blade of your food processor in the freezer for a while, and make sure everything else is cold too--you can even freeze the butter and cream cheese. The idea is that you want the fats to stay cold and not melt while you mix the crust. That way, the little pieces of fat will melt during baking, creating little pockets and making your crust tender and flaky.

Toss the cornmeal, flour, and salt in the bowl of your food processor and whir it a few times to combine (we do love the verb "to whir" at WCN!). Add the small pieces of cold butter and cream cheese and pulse until the mixture looks like small crumbs. If you squeeze a handful together, it should hold. Again, when you've made a few crusts, you'll know how it should look and feel at this point. Humidity, moisture content of the meal and flour--all these things can make a difference, so I think it's better to learn how it should feel and then you can adjust the ratio of fat to flour/meal. Drizzle in the cold beer (I used beer for the first time last night on the show because Jonathan told me that using alcohol retards the formation of gluten, resulting in a tender crust, and I had a cold beer in my hand, and I believe everything Jonathan tells me. About food, anyway...). Add it a tablespoon at a time, while you pulse the processor, until the dough just starts to hold together and form a ball. Gather the dough and press into two disks. Wrap them in plastic and put them in the refrigerator for about a half hour (or up to one day).

When you're ready to make your pie, take the dough out and put it in the center of your pie pan (or a tart pan with a removable bottom). Use the palm of your hand to press the dough into the pan. Try to press it evenly, using the heel of your hand, but don't worry if it's not perfectly even all over. It should be fairly thin but not transparent (you may have too much dough, in which case you should pinch some out, repress the crust, and use the leftover dough to make little black bean and salsa hand pies--just press it into rounds, put a tablespoon of filling in, fold over, and crimp with a fork. Bake on parchment paper so it won't stick). Prick the bottom with a fork and bake in a 375 degree oven until it's just starting to brown around the edges and feels dry to the touch. Fill with whatever you want (besides tomaotes, this is a great crust for just about any savory tart or quiche) and bake until the bottom and sides are brown.

For the Tomato Tart (2 regular pies or one big one)
  • sliced tomatoes, enough to make about two layers in your tart
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • freshly chopped herbs, as much as you want, from a TBS to a quarter cup or so (basil, oregano and parsley are nice. I also like thyme or tarragon--anything that's good with tomatoes)
  • 2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 jar mayonnaise
Sprinkle grated cheddar cheese over the bottom of the crust in a thin layer--the idea is that the cheese will melt and form a barrier to keep the tomato juice from making the crust too soggy. Slice tomatoes, not too thinly. A mix of colors is prettiest. Layer them over the cheese, salting and peppering as you go (I used porcini mushroom salt for a little added flavor boost, but just regular kosher salt will do) to taste. You want about two layers--more than that, and it tends to get too soggy. Sprinkle the chopped herbs over the tomatoes. Mix the mayo with the remaining cheese and spread it over the top like a delicious white-trash meringue. Bake at 375 degrees until the crust looks done and the topping is nicely browned--about 20 minutes or so. Let cool for about 10 minutes, then slice and serve. Don't expect this to sit in pretty wedges--this is a loose and juicy tart that wants to spread itself out on your plate to mingle with the other flavors there--the juice from a steak, maybe. If you have any, the leftovers are perfect for lunch the next day--or yummy eaten with a fork standing in front of the open refrigerator door for breakfast. Enjoy!

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