Friday, July 16, 2010

Hot Tomato

It is that time of year when it is so hot that you run from your car to the air-conditioned house as fast as you can, trying and not succeeding to outrun the heat. And Texas is really hot. I am not from Central Texas and this is my first summer here, so I am now finally understanding the meaning of the word "hot." It is seriously, suffocatingly, hot. I'm tired just thinking about it.

The upside to all of this excessive sunlight and humidity is the wonders it does to a tomato. Sadly, I planted tomatoes in March, shortly after moving, not realizing that here in the south that is late. There I was thinking how early it was, being used to planting after Mother's Day. Anyway, my poor little tomato plants were too young to flower, so I have six cages of spindly, scraggly plants not doing much of anything, yet I can't bear to turn them over. Fortunately, all of this heat leads to mild weather in the fall, and you can plant tomatoes at the end of July. I hope to use cuttings from these plants so that, hopefully, I'll have something to show for my trouble eight or so months later.

But I digress. The point is that despite the heat, or rather, because of it, the tomatoes are wonderful. Plus, right now in Colorado I might have had some cherry tomatoes and maybe the first early German Striped or Russian Black tomato, but here in Texas, I have beefsteaks, summer sweets, Golden Boys, Brandywines, Green Zebras...the names alone are romantic and intoxicating!

If you've ever had a truly good tomato, you probably grew it yourself or at least talked to the person who did. If you haven't, seek out your local farmer's market and go there immediately. Here's the thing: good tomatoes don't need much. A little Olive Oil, a sprinkle of sea salt and some basil is all you need. Don't over think it. Don't work up a sweat in the hot summer. Just slice 'em and serve 'em. Some of my happiest food memories are of home grown tomatoes with my mom's Italian dressing and a sprinkling of torn basil. That's it. I could eat just that for every meal for as long as the crop lasted.

But if you must go to the trouble of turning on the stove to make something fancier, this is about as perfect as you can get while still being relatively easy. I found this recipe in Food and Wine Magazine this April, and unbelievably, I had ripe tomatoes at the ready. My mother in law was in town, and I wanted something special for her visit. Yet despite the time and money involved in the rest of the meal, this simple and inexpensive tart was by far the highlight of the evening. The crust is lightly sweetened by cream, in contrast to the tart burst of the oven roasted tomatoes. The texture and flavor of this dish are perfect, and I have no desire to alter this recipe at all.

Since then I have made this recipe a few times, and the only deviation was to make individual tarts rather than one large one. I like the decadence of having one's own tart; it seems so special, as though I made this for you, and you alone. But do whatever is easiest. It's hot, after all.

Tomato Tarts
This recipe originally appeared in Food & Wine, April 2010. It is perfect as is, but if you must fiddle, a drizzle of good quality balsamic vinegar or good Olive Oil is also lovely.

1 1/2 cups of flour
7 Tablespoons Butter
1/2 cup cold heavy cream
2 pints cherry tomatoes, preferably mixed colors and varieties
2 tablespoons shredded basil leaves

Butter a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, or four 4" tart pans. In a food processor, pulse the flour with a pinch of salt and the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the cream and pulse until the dough nearly comes together. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead a few times. Make a ball, then flatten it into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325°. Roll out the dough to a 14-inch round. Press the round into the tart pan; trim off any excess. Arrange the tomatoes in the shell. Bake for about 1 hour and 40 minutes for large tart or about an hour for smaller ones, until the dough is evenly browned. Let cool slightly. Season with salt, garnish with the basil and serve.

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