Distributed by New York Times Special Features
Having grown up with the tradition of the perfect New Jersey tomato planted firmly in my skull by my father -- a tomato grower of some repute among local backyard growers -- I have a standard by which I grow and judge tomatoes. This standard applies to size, shape and color, but most particularly for me, to taste and texture.
Our garden on Elm Place in Nutley was organic, the soil enriched with composted everything. It was not uncommon for us to compare Dad's "Super Beefsteak," Burpee "Big Boy" and heirloom Italian plum tomatoes, and we always weighed the monsters on my grandfather's scale, which, not infrequently, tipped to 3 or even 4 pounds. The "Big Boy" -- that special hybrid introduced in 1949 -- was Dad's favorite. Its uniformity of shape and intense red color and excellent taste appealed to all of us. For me, it was not deposed until "Better Boy" was introduced in 1975. I also tried the new "Early Girl" and "Supersonic" and "Spitfire" and "Jet Star," ultimately settling in for years of experimentation with 20 or so of the hundreds of varieties of heirlooms and hybrids that are available in scores of good seed growers' catalogs.
Tomatoes are versatile and delicious. I enjoy them whole with coarse salt; hollowed out and filled with lobster or crab salad or tuna or couscous or pasta; baked, oven-dried or dehydrated; pureed in sauces; peeled and sectioned in salads; and cooked in soups. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to pick numerous types and sizes and use them to make one of my favorite summer lunches: a savory tomato tart.
The original recipe was given to me by John Barricelli, senior food editor at Martha Stewart Living magazine. I have altered it a bit, sometimes using Gruyere or goat cheese instead of fontina, sometimes using cherry tomatoes, or a mixture of big tomatoes and cherries, or an assortment of colorful sliced heirloom varieties. The larger the tart, the more impressive. If you have a generous paella pan, you can double or triple the recipe and bake as big a tart as your oven can hold. The only thing to keep in mind is to bake it fully so that the crust will be crisp and golden brown all the way to the center of the tart.
(Serves 10 to 12)
1 garlic bulb
3 Tbsp. olive oil
All-purpose flour, for dusting
Pate Brisee (recipe follows)
5 oz. Italian fontina cheese, grated (about 1 c.)
3 lbs. firm, ripe tomatoes (about 6 medium), cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Fresh basil leaves, cut into very thin strips, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350. Put garlic on a piece of foil. Drizzle with 1 Tbsp. oil. Fold foil over garlic to seal; transfer to a baking sheet. Bake until garlic is very soft and golden brown, about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly. Squeeze cloves from skins into a small bowl; discard skins. Mash garlic with a fork; set aside.
Raise oven temperature to 450 degrees. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Roll out dough to a 16-inch circle, 1/8-inch thick. Brush off excess flour with a dry pastry brush. Carefully roll dough around rolling pin, and lift it over a 14-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Unroll dough over pan, pressing it into corners. Place pan on a baking sheet. Trim edges of dough to 1 inch using kitchen shears. Fold edge under, so it extends 1/2 inch beyond pan. Crimp edge using floured fingers. Chill 30 minutes.
Spread roasted garlic evenly over chilled crust using a small offset spatula. Sprinkle with 1/2 c. cheese. Arrange tomatoes on top of the cheese in a circular pattern, overlapping them slightly. Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with remaining 2 Tbsp. oil. Bake 30 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Reduce temperature to 425. Bake until crust turns golden and tomatoes soften, 20 to 30 minutes. (Cover edges with foil if crust browns too quickly.) Let cool slightly on a wire rack, about 20 minutes. Garnish with basil.
(Makes enough for one 14-inch tart)
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme or other herbs (optional)
2 sticks (8 oz.) cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 c. ice water
Pulse flour, salt and thyme, if desired, in a food processor until just combined. Add butter. Process until mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 seconds. Add 1/3 c. ice water, and process just until dough comes together, no more than 30 seconds (dough should not be sticky). Squeeze a small amount between your fingers; if dough is crumbly, add the remaining water, a little bit at a time. Turn dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap; flatten into a disk. Wrap in the plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour (or overnight) before using.