It took me three years to admit it, but the rather large patch in my garden that we created specifically for tomatoes was dug in the wrong place! The plants just don't get enough sun, which explains why I'm harvesting the first truly ripe tomatoes now, at the end of September.
The tomatoes were awfully slow to turn red--so slow that most of them were eaten by the chipmunks, raccoons, deer and moles, who get to spend more time in the garden than I do--but, on a good day, that made them seem so much more precious. To celebrate our first harvest, we ate sliced tomatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner (I even had a tomato sandwich one day) and I made these pretty tomato tartlets as a starter for an outdoor dinner.
The tartlets are built on a base of puff pastry (homemade or storebought), which is baked between two cookie sheets in order to keep it from doing what it was created to do--puff. I know, I know, it's an act against the pastry's nature, but what you get is perfect: a layer of pastry that is shatter-at-a-touch flaky, but flat enough to serve as a palette for a pile of delicious ingredients.
The tartlets in the picture are made with tomatoes and mozzarella cheese (for my husband) and goat cheese (for me). Invisible, but providing a lot of flavor, is an underlayer of pesto. It almost goes without saying that once you've mastered making the little puff pastry rounds, you can play around with this construction almost endlessly, changing the toppings to match the seasons and your whims. And the same base can be used to make sweet tartlets, doubling both the possibilities and the pleasures.
Playing around: I'm sure you'll come up with your own variations, but here are a few to start you thinking. Use the tartlet base to make a type of Pissaladiere, topping it with a layer of caramelized onions, black olives and anchovies, or a version of Tarte Flambee, using crème fraîche, caramelized onions, and small chunks of bacon or pancetta; either should be warmed briefly before serving. Going sweet, you can spread a thin layer of lightly sweetened crème fraîche or sour cream over the dough and then top it with berries, or, my favorite, roasted figs; in both cases, a drizzle of honey would be the perfect last touch.
- makes 4 servings (but you can multiply the recipe ad infinitum) -
- 1/2 pound ready-to-use puff pastry dough (homemade or storebought) or 1 sheet Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry, thawed
- About 1/3 cup pesto (again, homemade or storebought)
- 4 or 5 ripe tomatoes, sliced into rounds
- 1 ball mozzarella or about 1/2 pound fresh goat cheese (or the cheese of your choice)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Olive oil, for drizzling
- Fresh basil, for garnish
Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F. Have two baking sheets and a large sheet of parchment paper at hand.
Bake the tartlet bases for 18 to 20 minutes, or until they are firm. Carefully lift off the top baking sheet and the piece of parchment and bake 3 minutes or so more, until the bases are well browned. Transfer the pastry rounds to a cooling rack and let
To finish the tartlets: Spoon a thin layer of pesto over the top of each pastry round, leaving a border of about one-half to one inch bare. Next, arrange alternating slices of tomato and cheese in a pinwheel pattern, putting a slice of
To warm the tartlets: Put the tartlets on a baking sheet and either run them under the broiler (keeping them about 5 inches from the heat) until the cheese just barely starts to melt, about 3 minutes; or warm them in a 425°F oven for