(I am so proud of this post because it marks my first food article in the Herald’s revamped Sunday edition. My photo of my little roasted tomato tart was on the cover of the ‘mix’ section. For those that haven’t seen the new Sunday edition, that means the photo was the entire front of the ‘mix’ section. Yay! And a warning, this post is photo heavy! What can I say? I had a hard time paring it down.)
And now, back to the article.
I have an unabashed love of tomatoes. Meaty slices of them wedged between two pieces of buttered toast with a sprinkle of salt and pepper is my idea of comfort food. Roma tomatoes drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar and good olive oil make a simple side dish. And I love that burst of seeds and flavour that comes when biting into a plain cherry tomato.
I once bought a perfume called Tomato because it smelled like the aroma given off after brushing up against the green stalks of a tomato plant — that verdant scent of heat and summer. A few spritzes on my wrist could transport me back to being a kid and visiting my grandparents on one of the Gulf Islands where I sometimes helped in the garden.
Enclosed in chicken wire to protect it from ravenous deer, the garden produced sweet tiny carrots I ate straight from the ground after a quick rinse from the hose, grape vines that tangled their way along trellises, and rows of tomato plants.
I would use a plastic watering can to fill the coffee tins with water, from which my grandfather had removed the bottoms, nestled into the earth next to the plants — a trick that allowed the water to get right at the plant’s roots. And I would brush up against the stalks, filling the air with that distinct smell.
If any were ripe, I’d pull them sun-warmed from the dark green plants and eat them unadorned.
There is no taste like a vine-ripened tomato.
But sometimes I like to roast them to intensify their essence and bring out more of their natural sweetness.
Baking halved Roma tomatoes in the oven with a few unpeeled garlic cloves is an excellent base for a good tomato soup.
Cherry tomatoes, when roasted, shrink and wrinkle to softish pouches of concentrated tomato flavour. I’ve made simple pasta sauces like this, topped only with shaved Parmesan and a sprinkle of basil or parsley if I have them lying around.
I thought recently — after seeing a clamshell package of multicoloured cherry tomatoes at the farmers market — that they would make a good savoury tart, particularly if paired with a hearty crust.
When I began imagining a roasted cherry tomato tart, I thought there was potential in adding a few handfuls of Parmesan cheese to the dough to bring out a nice nutty, rich taste when baked.
A little research led me to realize I wasn’t the first person to think of this, but I didn’t love any of the recipes I came across. I am by no means a pastry expert, but was willing to give myself a chance to experiment.
Using ideas from several different recipes, I decided to create a hybrid pastry that used cream instead of water and a cup of Parmesan cheese, finely grated and blitzed with the other ingredients in the food processor.
The dough was easy to work with and resulted in a golden crust that played nicely against the sweet, soft tomatoes.
(This would likely work just as well, though, with a regular pastry.)
Because cherry tomatoes are so juicy, there was a lot of liquid bubbling away as the tart was baking. (Truth be told, I was a bit nervous about just how much I could see as I peered through the oven door.) Some of it did cook off in the process, but there was definitely a thin layer of tomato liquor when I pulled the tart out. Some may call it soggy; I prefer to think of it as tomato-infused pastry. Either way, the base of the tart pastry was crisp and I liked the taste of it.
A sprinkle of basil gave it a nice fresh taste when added as the tart cooled slightly. (And yes, you’ll want to let it sit for a few minutes because cutting into the tomatoes will likely cause some to burst. Ouch.)
Roasted Tomato Tart
- 1½ cups (375 mL) flour
- 7 tbsp (115 mL) butter, cold and cut into small cubes
- ½ cup (125 mL) cream
- 1 cup (250 mL) finely grated Parmesan
- pinch salt
- 1-1¼ lb. (500 to 625 grams) cherry or grape-sized tomatoes
- 1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
- 1 tsp (5 mL) salt
- ½ tsp (2 mL) fresh ground pepper
- 2 tbsp (25 mL) fresh basil, chiffonade (rolled like a cigar and cut into strips)
Add the flour and pinch of salt to the bowl of a food processor, then sprinkle the butter cubes on top. Pulse two or three times until the butter starts to break down, then add the Parmesan. Pulse until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is in pieces no larger than a pea.
Add the cream slowly while pulsing until the dough starts to come together. (It will bunch up and the food processor noise will change.)
Empty the contents onto a lightly floured surface and knead it a few times to pull the dough together.
Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or as long as overnight.
Preheat oven to 325 F (160 C).
Toss the tomatoes in a bowl with the olive oil, 1 tsp salt and pepper. Set aside.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough until it is about 1/3 inch to 1/4 inch (8 millimetres to 6 mm) thick. Press into tart tin (9 inch/23 cm round tin or a 14-inch/35 cm rectangular tin), stretching it as little as possible, and cut off excess. Arrange tomatoes in the tart tin.
Bake for an hour until tomatoes are soft and pastry is golden brown. Remove and let cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Roll basil leaves like a cigar and then slice them to make herb strips. Sprinkle over tart.
Serve while still warm.
Cook’s note: The amount of tomatoes will vary depending on how tall or fat they are and how well they fit together in the tart tin.
This story first appeared in the Real Life section in the Calgary Herald. For more delicious recipes, visit CalgaryHerald.com/life.