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Eric Akis: That French tart’s got taste

Home gardens and farmers’ markets are beginning to fill with a bounty of ripe, aromatic and flavourful tomatoes. That makes this the perfect time to offer two splendid ways to use some of them.
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Summer Tomato Tart features ripe tomatoes baked with sautéed onions, cheese, herbs and olives.

Eric AkisHome gardens and farmers’ markets are beginning to fill with a bounty of ripe, aromatic and flavourful tomatoes. That makes this the perfect time to offer two splendid ways to use some of them.

In my column on Sunday, I’ll offer a recipe for fresh tomato pasta sauce that will be rich with other vegetables and herbs. Today, I’ve baked up a fantastic tomato tart for you to try.

The latter is a French-style dish made in a false-bottom tart pan, which has a removable bottom that makes it easier to unmould the tart once baked. If you don’t have one, you can buy one at a store offering a good selection of kitchenware.

While you’re at it, you may as well pick up two of those pans. That way, you can double a recipe and make two tarts. And you’ll probably want to do that with this recipe. Every time I serve it, many of my guests ask if they can have a second slice.

The process of making the tart begins by lining the pan with pastry bolstered with egg yolks. The yolks give the tart crust a rich and appealing golden hue and further enhance its already flaky texture.

Once in the pan, the crust is chilled, which will cool down the fat in it again and help prevent the crust from shrinking during baking. You can prepare the crust many hours before needed and cover and keep it refrigerated until you’re ready to make the tart.

The same holds true for the tangy cheese you need to grate, and onions you cook and cool for the tart. Both those items could be readied and kept refrigerated many hours before needed.

When it is time to make the tart, distribute the onions and cheese evenly into the crust. Then add a tight spiral of ripe tomato wedges. For visual appeal, use two or more different coloured types of tomato. For today’s tart, I used three types — red, orange and yellow.

The tomatoes then get topped with salt, pepper, niçoise olives and herbs de Provence. Small, black niçoise olives have a mellow, almost sweet, nutty flavour that pairs well with tomatoes. You’ll find them for sale, in tubs or in bulk, at supermarkets and delicatessens.

Herbs de Provence is a French-style blend of dried herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, lavender, basil and savoury, sold in bottles, tins or bags at most supermarkets and specialty food stores.

The tart is now ready for the oven and as it bakes, the flavour of the tasty tomatoes concentrates even more and they become infused with the taste of the herbs and olives. The tangy cheese beneath the tomatoes melts and creates a barrier that helps trap the juices seeping from the tomatoes, preventing the crust from becoming soggy. The cheese, and the onion, of course, also pair well with the taste of the tomatoes.

Bake the tart for about an hour before serving, as it will take about that long to set and be ready for slicing and serving at room temperature. For a divine late summer lunch or dinner, serve slices of the tart with a simple green salad and some rosé.

 

Summer Tomato Tart

This French-style, savoury tart features a flaky crust deliciously filled and baked with sautéed onions, tangy cheese, ripe tomatoes, herbs and olives. This recipe can be doubled to yield two tarts — something you’ll want to do if you have hearty eaters who might want more than one slice.

 

Preparation: 40 minutes plus chilling time

Cooking time: About 67 minutes

Makes: six servings

 

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening

2 large egg yolks mixed with 2 Tbsp ice-cold water

• vegetable oil spray

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus some for drizzling

1 large white or yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced

100 grams Swiss, aged Gouda or other tangy cheese, grated

5 to 6 ripe small to medium tomatoes, (choose a mix of at least 2 colours), cut into 1Ú2-inch wedges

1/4 cup niçoise olives, pitted (see Note)

1 tsp herbes de Provence (see Note)

• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place the flour and salt in a bowl. With a pastry cutter, two forks or your fingertips, work the shortening into the flour until thoroughly blended in. Add the egg yolk/water mixture and gently work it in until the dough sticks together. With lightly floured hands, gather the dough into a ball and press into a thick disk. Wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Spray a nine-inch (23-centimetre) tart pan with a removable bottom lightly with vegetable oil spray.

Unwrap and set the rested dough on a floured surface. With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough from the centre out into a 12-inch (30-centimetre) round. When rolling, turn the dough an eighth of a turn after each roll; this will help create a round shape. Sprinkle additional flour on the rolling pin and under the dough as necessary.

Carefully fold the rolled dough in half and lay it across the centre of the pan. Unfold and gently nestle it into the pan. (If the pastry tears during this process, simply press it back together.)

Fold over any pastry hanging over the pan to make double-thick sides. Go over the tart pan with a rolling pin to cut off the edges. Chill the tart crust in the refrigerator for one hour.

Meanwhile, heat the 2 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet set over medium to medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until quite tender, about five to seven minutes. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

When the tart crust has fully chilled, preheat the oven to 325 F. Spread the onions into the bottom of the crust. Top the onion with the cheese.

Fan the tomato wedges in a fairly tight, overlapping spiral on top of the cheese. Disperse the olives on top of the tomatoes. Now sprinkle the tart with herbes de Provence, salt and pepper.

Bake the tart in the middle of the oven for one hour. Cool on a baking rack to room temperature. Carefully unmould the tart, cut into wedges and serve with extra virgin olive oil on the side so diners can drizzle some on the tart.

Note: Small, black niçoise olives are available at most supermarkets and delicatessens. Herbes de Provence is French-style blend of dried herbs in sold in the bottled herb and spice aisle of most supermarkets.

Eric Akis is the author of The Great Rotisserie Chicken Cookbook (Appetite by Random House). His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.