First, let me say that, around here, we do generally respect the season, and do a pretty good job of buying local, seasonal food. But then, you see, we find ourselves smack in the middle of winter, in the midst of a snow storm nonetheless, and we perhaps have been yearning to consume something bright and, dare I say, reminiscent of warmer days? Something to eat which may give us a little hope that despite the snow that is falling incessantly...(beautifully, yes, but we're feeling the cooped-up-stir-crazy-thing now, thus incessantly do we deem it)...Something that may be considered downright naughty if we're trying our very damnedest to eat locally. Oh, hell with it. Sometimes it's too hard to be idealistic. Sometimes we have to throw caution to the wind, and enjoy a little guilty pleasure.
Yeah, I know. Tomatoes in January. I'm judging myself more than you can possibly be judging me. But we're going with it. At least in the flavor department, we'll come off alright. (Never mind the buying seasonal department. Some of us are desperate, alright?) Just how are tomatoes coming off anything other than bland and flavorless in January, you may be asking yourself right now. Well, I'll tell you. We are going to slowly roast those anemic, long-distance transports, until the oven pulls from them a rich, powerful depth of flavor. Reawakening their true taste potential. And perhaps reawakening some of our hope, that winter won't last forever.
I came upon this recipe for Gateau de Tomates d'Eté in Parisian Home Cooking, by Michael Roberts. It's an upside-down tomato tart, prepared in much the same way as a tarte tatin. Only instead of caramelizing apples into a tantalizingly sweet dessert, we're caramelizing tomatoes, into a scrumptious tart. Perfect.
Upside-Down Tomato Tart - Gateau de Tomates d'Eté - adapted from Parisian Home Cooking
-serves four to six
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
12 firm Roma tomatoes, or 8-10 on-the-vine tomatoes, about 3 pounds
2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp dried oregano, or 3 sprigs fresh, leaves only
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
Paté Brisée - savory tart dough, recipe follows
Combine the sugar and vinegar in a small saucepan, place over medium-high heat, and boil until it turns dark and syrupy, about 3 minutes. Set aside.
Core the tomatoes, and quarter them from tip to stem. Gently squeeze out the seeds. The kiddos are handy for this job. Be prepared for the inevitable jokes about guts, however.
Place the tomato quarters in a large bowl, and add the vinegar syrup, salt, pepper, olive oil, and oregano, and toss thoroughly.
In either a large, 7-10 inch cast iron pan (my choice for optimum caramelization), or a 2 inch deep non-stick pan, arrange the tomato quarters in a concentric rose-petal pattern, beginning from the outside, working your way inward, in a spiral.
Place in a cold oven, turn the heat to 375 deg F, and bake for one hour.
Near the end of baking time, roll your chilled pastry dough into a rough circle, large enough to cover the tomatoes. Remove the pan from the oven, top with the dough, and bake for another 30 to 35 minutes, until the pastry is golden.
Let the tart cool for 20 minutes, then invert it onto a plate. You may need to loosen the edges somewhat first, if you used a cast iron pan. If you like, decorate with fresh basil, and serve warm.
It is a rather modest looking tart, but trust me, the piquancy of the vinegar syrup, combined with the sweetly roasted tomatoes and herby oregano, makes for one delicious meal. A meal that will bring back your faith in warmer days to come.
Paté Brisée - Savory Tart Dough - adapted from Around my French Table
*Note* I made this tart the first time, using the dough recipe from Parisian Home Cooking, and wasn't satisfied with the flakiness of the pastry. That recipe called for a mere three tablespoons of butter, whereas Dorie's calls for six. After making this a second time Dorie's way, the dough was perfectly flaky and buttery.
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
6 Tbs (3/4 stick) very cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 large egg
1 tsp ice water
You may use either a food processor to mix the dough, or a pastry knife, or your fingers. I used a food processor, so I'll give directions for that method. It's the same method any which way, so adapt accordingly.
Put the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Scatter the bits of butter over the flour, and pulse a few more times, until the butter is coarsely mixed in. Beat the egg with the ice water, and pour into the bowl in 3 additions, pulsing quickly after each one. Don't overdo it! The dough won't form a ball in the processor. Your dough should hold together when pinched. If it's still a little dry, add a tsp of water at a time, being careful not to overmix.
Dump the dough onto a work surface, and gather it together into a ball, briefly kneading if necessary to bring it together. If you haven't overdone the mixing and kneading, you'll see bits of butter in the dough. That's what will give the crust it's flakiness. Flatten it into a disk, and wrap with plastic, and refrigerate for 3 hours, up to 5 days. (You can freeze the dough for up to a month.)
When your tomatoes are nearly finished with their one hour roasting time, roll out the dough, and continue on with the recipe above.
Enjoy your guilty pleasure! I know I did.