This is the wierdass part of aging: Things long ago forgotten come to mind. In this case: tomato tart. I remember the event where I first encountered a tomato tart, but I’ve never had one since then. But there it was in my brain: a tomato tart that I ate in the summer of 1976. Where did that come from?
I don’t remember anything about that tart, but that’s never stopped me from forging ahead. I would use my head and hands to imagine a tomato tart. Because — why not?
IMAGINED TOMATO TART
For the past year, I’ve been experimenting with ratios: baking by weight rather than volume. So this is Michael Ruhlman’s ratio for basic “pie” dough:
- 9 oz flour
- 6 oz butter
- t. salt
- 2-3 oz water (I overdid it with three)
- On a whim, I grated some Parmesan and Romano into the flour before I mixed that with the butter.
- Some bacon, cut in narrow, cross-wise slices, cooked crisp
- Sliced tomatoes
- two eggs
- couple of tablespoons or whatever of cream or milk
- salt, pepper
- some fresh basil
- cheese chopped in small cubes. I used what I had on hand, which was . . . I’m not sure what it was. Some of it was cheddar. I probably used three ounces
Oven to 375-400. I started out with a 350 oven and cranked it up to 400 about twenty minutes in.
Mix the flour and cheese with a big fork. Using hands/fingers, meld butter and flour. (If you’ve got a food processor, that works fine for mixing pie dough.)
When the two constitute a crumbly whole, add the salt, stir with the big fork. Then add water. I added the entire 3 ounces, which was, in my opinion, about a half ounce too much.
Let the crust sit in frig an hour or so. If you can’t, no biggie, but it’s easier to roll and work with if you chill it first.
In a bowl gently whisk the two eggs and a bit of cream or milk. I used maybe two tablespoons? I didn’t use much. I didn’t want a full-blown quiche.
I didn’t pre-bake the crust. (I’ve never tried it.) So, yeah, the final result had a soggy-ish bottom layer. (And its buttery mushiness was divine with the tomatoes and cheese.)
At the last minute, I decided to bake this in an 8” crimped tart pan (the kind with the loose bottom), but use any kind of dish you like. In my mind, this was a shallow tart, not a 9”-deep-dish thing. I almost went “free form” with it. After all, the egg mixture wasn’t much. A free-form crust would have worked.
Anyway, I laid the dough into the pan. Stabbed with big fork multiple times. Added the cheese. Add the bacon.
Poured the egg/cream mixture into the dough. Laid the tomatoes atop, and added salt, pepper, and fresh basil (because I had some on hand).
Oven: This is where it got weird. Because I was using a thin aluminum tart pan, and because the filling was so shallow, I assumed that the dish would only need about 25 minutes of baking time. Wrong. It needed more like 45 minutes which is almost as much as a deeper quiche requires.
Anyway… plan accordingly. It sat for only 6, 7 minutes before I cut it. Sublime. I'm certain it was better than the one I encountered so many years ago.
Imagining A Tomato Tart
Many years ago, I worked in New York City for a year as a nanny. Why any rational person would have hired me as a nanny, I can’t imagine. And, no, the woman who hired me wasn’t quite rational. She wanted to start working again after being a stay-at-home mom and after a nasty divorce. (It was the mid-1970s. Divorce than wasn’t like now. Plus it’s still traumatic, right?)
Anyway, she and her ex-husband owned a “weekend” house on Quogue, Long Island. As part of the divorce, they shared the house, alternating weekends. So on occasion that bicentennial summer, I ended up in Quogue, which was located, I was told, between the “Hamptons.”
Such exotica was lost on a kid from Iowa. Whatever. All I knew was there was an ocean nearby. To that date, I’d never been in an ocean. Never walked on a beach.
The ocean was the least of it. At every turn, sophisticated people were standing about talking sophisticated talk and wearing sophisticated clothing. I was a fish, gasping out of water. No doubt all of it was interesting, but I was too overwhelmed — and shy, awkward, gawky, and yes, intimidated —- to get much out of it.
One night, the woman who lived next to my employer’s summer house invited us for dinner. I’ve no idea what her name was. My mind holds a vague memory of what I’d already categorized as a typical East Coast type: short (of course. Everyone on the East Coast is short!), small-boned, dark hair, face lined by city and ocean air.
We sat at her elegant table — linen cloth, candles, heavy flatware and gleaming table wear. Elegant in its simplicity as only a wealthy, urban sophisticate can do. I’d not mastered the intricacies of east coast dining (food served in courses, salad last, etc.) and conversation was not part of my social skills.
The only thing I remember is that she served a tomato pie.
I was astounded (although of course I revealed nothing to my companions). Tomatoes in a pie? Really? I was from Iowa. I’d never heard of such a thing. (And in 1976, I’m not sure I’d ever heard of quiche.)
I’ve no recollection of eating it, let alone what it tasted like. My visual memory is nearly as vague. I remember a crust and blotches of red, yellow, and green. That’s it. No taste memory at all. I was too busy being overwhelmed, shy, gawky, awkward.
These days, I’m rarely intimidated. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a situation in which I might feed intimidated. Shy, yes. Awkward, yes. Intimidated? No.
I wish I could reach out and back and say to that young woman: “Eat the tart. Savor it. Remember it. It’s part of a new, big, interesting world. And you will be its master.”