Thursday, August 13, 2009

The taste of summer

August is whizzing by and to this child of the tropics, that can only mean one thing: summer is ending very soon - and with it, the wonderful variety in produce. I simply love the flavours of summer. Growing up as a child in India, that used to mean holidays from school featuring countless treats cooked up by my mother, and a plethora of tropical fruit - juicy mangoes, silken sapodilla, cool mangosteen. Here in the US, I no longer have access to those delights, but I thoroughly enjoy shopping at farmers' markets to make the most of summer's bounty.

A friend who visited yesterday brought me some just-picked cherry tomatoes from her garden. Though I had initially planned on a saintly(!) salad for my lunch today, those tomatoes were so delicious that I felt they deserved a better showcase. The basil in my garden called out to me, and I decided that it would have to be a tomato-basil tart. There is something about the combination of tomatoes and basil that makes my tastebuds sing a summer song!
I roasted the cherry tomatoes to concentrate their flavour, with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt and some of the fresh mint that was given to me with them. While they were roasting, I made the pastry for the base of the tart. I used Delia Smith's Quick and Easy Flaky Pastry, made with wholewheat pastry flour instead of regular all-purpose. In the past, I have made a sixth of the recipe (strange fraction, I know) and it turned out just right for one person; this time, I made the full recipe and froze the rest in individual portions. That way I get to make more tarts like this one before summer runs out!

The resulting tart had just the right combination of flavours and textures - crisp flaky pastry, fresh basil, sweet caramelized tomatoes and tangy goat cheese. I made a simple salad of baby arugula and shaved parmesan cheese on the side, and I just couldn't resist pouring myself a glass of chardonnay to go with it. A perfect lunch bursting with the flavours of summer!

Oh, and there is a sweet surprise at the end - this bite-size honey almond galette, made with the scraps of leftover pastry, sliced almonds and a drizzle of honey, cooked in the oven while I was devouring the tomato tart!

Tomato, basil and goat's cheese tart (Serves 1, but can easily be scaled up)
1/6 recipe of Delia's Quick and Easy Flaky pastry, or a 6" circle of ready-rolled puff pastry
Two large fistfuls of cherry tomatoes, halved
7-8 large basil leaves
1 oz. fresh goats' cheese
Extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350F, 180C. Toss the cherry tomatoes with a spoonful of olive oil, some salt and freshly cracked black pepper. I threw in some finely minced garlic and some chopped mint in there as well, but you could leave that out, or use any other herb of choice, or some balsamic vinegar. Spread on a baking sheet and roast till shrunken and caramelized around the edges, around 30 minutes. This can be done ahead - roast up a batch of cherry tomatoes when you have the time, store in the fridge and use in recipes as needed.
Turn up the oven to 400F, 220C. On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out to 1/8" thickness. Use a plate or bowl, approximately 6" in diameter, to cut around so that you have a neat circle. Transfer the pastry round to a baking sheet, pop in the oven and bake for 5-6 minutes.
Top the pastry circle with the basil leaves, leaving a 1/4" border around the edge. Then arrange the cherry tomatoes on top of the basil leaves and crumble the goat's cheese over. Top with a basil leaf dipped in olive oil, and return to the oven for 8-9 minutes. Use a timer - or you will end up with burnt pastry!
Enjoy warm or cold.
For the sweet treat, re-roll the scraps of pastry left from cutting the circle out into a circle 1/8" thick. Top with a tablespoon of sliced almonds, leaving a small border all around. Sprinkle with a bit of nutmeg and then drizzle a teaspoonful of honey over the nuts. Working quickly, fold the edges around the nuts to make a small bowl so that the honey doesn't run out. Bake while you are eating the tart, around 7-8 minutes. Cool a bit before eating as the caramelized honey can be very hot and burn the tongue.

About me

I am Maya, an Indian living in the US. I am an architect by profession, and I like to think this makes me more creative in the kitchen as well ;) Food is almost an obsession with me - I love cooking, eating, sampling new cuisines and browsing in ethnic markets for exotic ingredients. I am vegetarian by choice, and this is my first real attempt at sharing my culinary experiments with the world at large. Welcome to my kitchen; I hope you enjoy your visit!