How to do right by summer’s bounty of luscious tomatoes
If you’re like me, you believe that a fresh, ripe tomato is one of the best things about summer. And this tart is an ode to the tomato in season — and a lesson about how to make the most of it.
Let’s start with how to choose the best tomatoes. First, pick up your candidate, smell the stem and confirm that it smells strongly like a tomato. Next, figure out if it is juicy by hefting it. You want a heavy tomato; if it’s heavy, it’s juicy.
On the chance that you buy more tomatoes than you plan to eat right away, store the extras on a counter away from the sunlight. Do not put them on a sunny windowsill, which can make them rot. Likewise, don’t put them in the refrigerator, which can kill their flavor if they’re not already ripe and make them mealy after a few days.
If you bought a few tomatoes that weren’t quite ripe and you want to speed up the process, put them in a brown paper bag with a banana. The ethylene gas given off by both the tomatoes and the banana will do the trick.
Do not seed the tomatoes. Once upon a time we routinely seeded them, a nod to the French ideal of finesse, which decreed that seeds were crude. Years later, I read a story in Cook’s Illustrated magazine that persuaded me that discarding the seeds is a mistake. Apparently, the seeds and the jelly surrounding them are the most flavorful parts of the tomato. And — bonus! — you save a bunch of prep time when you don’t bother to remove the seeds.
One of the main reasons we love tomatoes in season is because they’re so juicy. That’s great when we eat them raw, not so great when we’re making a tomato pie. How to keep juicy tomatoes from turning that pie into a watery mess? By slicing and salting them ahead of time. The salt delivers a one-two punch, draining the tomato of its excess liquid and concentrating its natural flavors.
Though tomatoes are terrific all by themselves, they also get along famously with a cornucopia of other ingredients, starting with virtually every herb under the sun and moving on to just about any cheese you care to name. This recipe calls for Gruyere, but you’re welcome to swap in sharp cheddar, mozzarella or even feta. Point is, feel free to experiment with different herbs and cheeses that melt. Make this recipe your own.
Tomatoes are so meaty and satisfying that I’m sure everyone — even die-hard carnivores — will be happy to see a slice or two of this pie set down for lunch, maybe with a simple green salad on the side. And picnickers take note: This tart happens to be as scrumptious served at room temperature as it is hot right out of the oven.
Summer’s End Tomato Tart
Start to finish: 2 hours 55 minutes (30 minutes active)
All-purpose flour, for rolling out the dough
1 pie dough (recipe below) or 12 ounces store-bought pie dough
1 1/2 pounds large tomatoes
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated Gruyere cheese
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as mint, basil, thyme, chives, tarragon or a mix
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pie dough until 1⁄8 inch thick. Transfer the dough to a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, easing the dough into the pan and pressing it into the corners. Trim off any excess dough hanging over the edge. Prick the dough all over with a fork, then chill it for 1 hour.
Heat the oven to 375 F.
Line the pie shell with foil and fill it with pie weights, dried beans or rice. Bake in the lower third of the oven until it is opaque throughout, about 25 minutes. Carefully remove the weights and foil. Return the shell to the oven and bake until light golden, about another 8 minutes. Transfer the tart shell to a rack and let it cool 15 minutes.
While the tart shell is baking, slice the tomatoes 1⁄3 inch thick, sprinkle them liberally with salt, then arrange them on a wire rack to drain over the sink or a rimmed baking sheet.
Increase the oven temperature to 400 F. Spread the mustard evenly over the bottom of the tart shell, then sprinkle the cheese over it. Pat the tomatoes dry and arrange them over the cheese in one overlapping layer. Bake on the oven’s middle shelf until the pastry is golden brown and the tomatoes are very soft, 35 to 40 minutes.
In a small bowl, stir together the olive oil, garlic and herbs. Sprinkle the pie with this mixture while it is still hot, spreading the mixture gently with the back of a spoon. Serve the pie hot or at room temperature.
Nutrition information per serving: 370 calories; 230 calories from fat (62 percent of total calories); 26 g fat (14 g saturated; 0.5 g trans fats); 60 mg cholesterol; 570 mg sodium; 24 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 9 g protein.
Start to finish: 1 hour 15 minutes (15 minutes active)
Make 1 batch pie dough
1 1/2 cups (6.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 to 4 tablespoons ice water
In a large bowl, stir together the flour and the salt. Add the butter and, working quickly, use your fingertips or a pastry blender to mix the dough until most of mixture resembles coarse meal, with the rest in small (roughly pea-size) lumps. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of ice water evenly over the mixture and use a fork to gently stir until incorporated.
Gently squeeze a small handful of the dough. It should hold together without crumbling apart. If it doesn’t, add more ice water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, stirring 2 or 3 times after each addition until it comes together. Be careful: If you overwork the mixture or add too much water the pastry will be tough.
Turn the dough out onto a work surface. With the heel of your hand, smear in a forward motion on the work surface to help distribute the fat. Gather the smeared dough together and form it, rotating it on the work surface, into a disk. Wrap the disk in plastic, then chill until firm, at least 1 hour.
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