Saturday, May 23, 2009

It takes a little thyme

You wouldn't know that it's almost summer here in San Francisco. I know it seems like I have been obsessed with the weather recently, but the ups and downs in the thermometer are more than a native Southern Californian who spent five years on the Peninsula can handle sometimes. Don't get me wrong: I'm delighted that it was warm when JB and J and R were visiting from the East Coast last weekend, but did it really have to be over a hundred degrees in Napa when we ate lunch at Bouchon? And then did the high today in San Francisco, a mere six days later, really have to be fifty-four?

At least the produce in the grocery store and our CSA box is reflecting the warm weather and not the cold. Apricots and cherries are starting to share space with the ever-present citrus and apples in the fruit displays. The tomatoes, while lacking the intensity of flavor and juiciness of the midsummer specimens, have been quite serviceable. I've made these delicious pomodori al forno several times recently, and a simple caprese salad is on the menu for tomorrow night's dinner.

And tonight, before I trudge into the hospital for yet another night shift (I never know when to eat! And I feel like a zombie during the day! And I get confused about the date, which is problematic when I'm asking my patients orientation questions! And in the middle of the night I'm overly enticed by sale items on the J. Crew website!), we're having a tomato tart. I love a tart in general, and savory tarts are particularly under-appreciated. They make a beautiful appetizer, or I like to serve a slice with a garden salad for a light lunch or dinner. B likes to call this tart a "pizza pie," since many of the ingredients are the same, and he thinks that the origin of pizza might be in this very tart.

First, start with a basic pastry dough. I used to use (horrors!) a few tablespoons of vegetable shortening to complement the butter in my crust, which is based on Julia Child's pate brisee. But one day I ran out of Crisco, and loath to run to the store to buy more (I mean, who wants to be seen with Crisco as the only item in their cart?), I made it without. The crust was perhaps a little more brittle when cooked, and the dough wasn't quite as smooth to work with, but simple butter was enough fat to make a sturdy, all-purpose crust. I use this pastry dough for lots of applications: quiche crust (unadulterated), pie crust (add a tablespoon of sugar), and, with a teaspoon of thyme or your favorite dried herb, tomato tart.

This tomato tart is based on a recipe from Gourmet, but I've adapted it considerably. And you can adapt it further too, simply depending on your mood. Sometimes I dot the top with pitted olives and/or goat cheese; sometimes I use Gruyere instead of Monterey Jack; sometimes I add a smashed clove of garlic to the onions while they cook. Regardless of the variations tried, the flavor of the tomatoes concentrates and sweetens in the oven, and marries beautifully with the caramelized onions.

Make sure to serve the tart warm (reheat in the microwave or oven if necessary); it's really best that way. The basic recipe follows. Enjoy...with the New York Times or without!

Beginning-of-Summer Tomato Tart
Adapted from Gourmet, May 1995

Serves 6-8 as an appetizer
Time: 30 min active, 90 minutes total

For the pastry dough:
1 c. flour
1 t. salt
1 t. dried thyme, herbes de provence, or another savory herb
5 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 to 5 T. ice water

For the filling:
1 T. olive oil
2 small onions
1/2 lb. Monterey Jack cheese, grated
3 medium tomatoes, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1/2 t. dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 425. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, salt, and thyme. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingers until the texture is that of coarse breadcrumbs. Mix in just enough ice water for the dough to form a mass, and turn onto a lightly floured board. Use the heel of your hand to push the dough away from you on the board to blend the butter and flour together; repeat 2-3 times. Roll the dough out to a 12 to 13-inch circle and place dough in a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Fold excess dough over the edge to make the crust, and prick the bottom with a fork several times. Chill the dough for 10 minutes in the freezer, or overnight in the refrigerator. Then place a sheet of parchment covered with dried beans or pie weights inside the tart and bake for 12 to 15 minutes until edges just begin to brown. Remove parchment and pie weights, and bake for an additional two to three minutes.

While the crust bakes, heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Slice the onions and saute for 10 to 15 minutes until golden, stirring frequently.

After the crust is pre-baked, place the onions evenly over the bottom. Then cover with cheese, and arrange tomatoes in overlapping concentric circles. Sprinkle with thyme, salt, and pepper. Lower oven temperature to 375, and bake until cheese is bubbling, tomatoes are a deep red, and crust is golden, approximately 50 to 60 minutes.

P.S. Thanks to my mom for the inspiration to make tomato tart!

P.P.S. Guest blog from JB should be posted soon.


  1. yum. i just spent my afternoon between meetings reading every. single. post. ...instead of working. ;) so many delicious things i want to make! thanks for sharing - i can't wait to try some of these. p.s. i still think wistfully about your mom's jam :)

  2. Thanks for the comment, it means a lot! E and I love the lemonade!!!