Monday, August 9, 2010

Tomato Tarte Tatin

"Add heavy whipping cream to that list."
"What for?"
"The tomato tart."
"Whipping cream and tomatoes?"
"It's for dessert."
"It's a dessert?"
"Yes, it's a dessert."
"So, it's sweet?"
"Yes, lots of sugar.  There's a caramel syrup."
"Caramel and tomatoes... I don't know about that.  What do you serve it with?"
"Whipped cream, of course!  It's a tart!"
"Aren't you making a side dish for the salmon?"
"No, it's a dessert."
"Well, I think that sounds weird."

And so went the conversation as I explained the tomato tarte tatin to my mom as she made her grocery list for our dinner.  I'm sure she secretly put chocolate ice cream on the list too, in case the tomato tart indeed tasted weird.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, oh ye of little faith!  When have my oddball creations failed you?  Did we throw away my Avocado Bread?  Was there a single crumb remaining of my Chocolate Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake? When eyebrows raised as I painted balloons with white chocolate, did I not deliver on my promise of delicious panna cotta Easter eggs?

Of course, if forced to choose between no dessert and weird dessert, my family will always choose weird dessert.  So with grudging approval, I embarked on my tomato tarte tatin.  Given that a tomato really is a fruit anyways, and the recipe appeared in Bon Appetit, I was pretty confident that the dessert would be edible, and probably delicious.  Bon Appetit surely wouldn't devote an entire full-color page to a dessert that tasted like Hunt's on puff pastry!  The photo was what caught my eye in the first place- it showcased dark red fruits nestled in glossy pools of their own caramelized juices, appearing to be exotic plums on a bed of golden pastry.  I was surprised and excited to discover they were not plums, but plum tomatoes!

For some reason, I am endlessly delighted by even the smallest of coincidences.  Perhaps because I'm convinced there is no underlying theme to the ebb and flow of life, I've developed the notion that a happy coincidence should be savored.  You never know what will happen next time!  Morbid and exciting at the same time I suppose...  Anyways, when I saw the recipe for tomato tarte tatin, my eyes lit up.  Our garden had recently sprouted a ridiculous thicket of tomato bushes.  What a coincidence!

One could certainly argue that it wasn't really much of a coincidence... after all, we did plant those tomatoes in June for the express purpose of cooking and eating... but those spindly little plants could have succumbed to blight, been eaten by the army of squirrels camped in our yard, died from our frequent forgetfulness with the watering, or generally failed to flower and flourish.  Bon Appetit could have focused on cucumbers!  Instead, bushels of fat tomatoes had taken over the entire vegetable patch, rudely intruding into the space reserved for zucchini and peppers and burying the basil under gigantic fuzzy fronds.  And Bon Appetit printed a recipe for tomato tarte tatin.  A happy coincidence, I say.

The avant garde tart wowed the crowd and the skeptics were skewered again.
It tasted similar to a plum tart, but with an interesting tomato flavor that would have been hard to place had no one been the wiser.  The recipe called for plum tomatoes, but my bounty included plum, cherry, and heirloom so I used all three.  Served hot, dripping with tangy tomato-caramel, and smothered with sugared whipped cream, this weird dessert was irresistible.

Ingredients for the Tarte Tatin
1 3/4 lbs plum tomatoes
3T. softened butter
3/4c. sugar
1t. vanilla
1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed (I know, using frozen pastry is cheating, but making puff pastry is way too much effort and your puff pastry likely won't compare to the frozen kind, unless you're a professional pastry chef)

Whipped Cream Ingredients
3/4c. heavy whipping cream
1/2t. vanilla
2T granulated sugar

Bring a large pot of water to boil and prepare a large bowl of ice water.  Cut shallow cross-hatched slits in the bottom of each tomato, and drop them in the boiling water four at a time.  Leave the tomatoes in the boiling water until the skin begins to peel away from the slits, 15-30 seconds.  Use a slotted spoon to remove the tomatoes and plunge them immediately into the ice bath to stop the cooking.  Repeat with the remaining tomatoes, in batches of four.  Peel the tomatoes, discard the skins, and cut each in half crosswise.

Spread the softened butter over the bottom of a 9 inch cast iron skillet (or other ovenproof pan) and sprinkle the 3/4c. sugar over the butter.  Arrange the tomatoes, cut side up, over the sugar and butter.  Fill the skillet completely, nestling the tomatoes close together.
Place the skillet over medium heat and cook until the butter and sugar reduce to a thick amber syrup, about 25 minutes.  Watch the pan carefully and use a spatula to gently shift the tomatoes, and do not allow the tomatoes or the syrup to blacken.  While the tomatoes cook, preheat the oven to 425.

Remove the skillet from the heat, and drizzle the teaspoon of vanilla over the tomatoes.  Top with the pastry, and use a knife to tuck the edges of the pastry around the tomatoes.  Place the skillet in the oven and bake until the puff pastry rises and becomes a deep golden color, about 24 minutes.

Cool the tart in the skillet for ten minutes, then loosen the edges with a knife.  Place a large platter over the skillet, and using oven mitts so you don't sear your hands, hold the platter to the skillet and flip the whole thing over.  Carefully lift off the skillet, and arrange any tomatoes that have slipped out of place.  Let the tart cool slightly while you make the whipped cream.

For the whipped cream, beat the cream on high speed until soft peaks form.  Add the vanilla and sugar, and continue beating on low speed for a few more seconds, just to combine the sugar and vanilla with the cream.
Serve each bejeweled wedge of tart with a fat dollop of sugared cream.

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