About this time last year, I was editing the nearly 800 photographs I took while on vacation in Italy and as much as I can say that I enjoyed reviewing our trip in front of my Mac, one photo in particular stood out. It was taken the first day we were in Rome from the kitchen window of the apartment we rented. We’d visited the farmer’s market in the Campo di Fiori directly after arriving because I swore I was going to cook on vacation. The market was near closing time so the vendors were busy packing up their product when we arrived rushing to gather the ingredients for our dinner. Of all the items still displayed, the tomatoes caught my eye. Red, plump, shiny tomatoes. I recognized their shape as something I’d only seen on the label of cans in select stores until that time. More elongated than a Roma, definitely thinner in the center, and a deep, deep red. I knew they were San Marzanos, so of course I had to buy some for our pasta that evening.
Later in our trip while window shopping one morning in Sorrento, I saw packages of San Marzano seeds, but I resisted buying them. I pictured the passive-aggressive customs officers pulling them from my bags as if they were dangerous contraband, and glaring at me for my indiscretion, so decided to wait until I returned home to order them on line.
Procrastination is my middle name, so it wasn’t until this past March that I accompanied my good friend to Tomato-mania, an event held at the Quail Botanical Gardens in San Diego. While there, I chose five tomato plants: 1 heirloom, 1 yellow cherry, and 3 Super San Marzanos. My friend chose several varieties as well. Although I do consider myself a gardener, I’m a bit out of practice and have very little space to plant anything. Therefore, I knew the tomatoes I’d purchased would end up potted, and in spite of my better judgment, I decided to plant them all in one large pot. I knew the pot would be far too crowded, but the real experiment was to judge whether there was enough sunlight on the side of my house to actually grow tomatoes. I thought that if my experiment worked, then I’d be willing to pull out the perennials in one of my flower beds and plant tomatoes the next year. (Although this is somewhat true, I’ve decided it’s as good an explanation as any, and if you believe me, then I have swamp land in Florida you may be interested in.)
My tomatoes did grow as plants have a tendency to do if watered and fed occasionally, and the San Marzanos were the first to show fruit. Unfortunately they were also the first to show evidence of blossom rot, which is caused by over-watering, under-watering, over-fertilizing, under-fertilizing, or a combination of any or all above. I do appreciate that Andrea of Andrea’s Recipes who provided me with that information on a day when as much as I knew that the growing conditions for my tomatoes weren’t great, that having tomatoes that were plump and a gorgeous color of red did excite me until I saw the darkish bottom on several.
And then there were my friend’s tomatoes…
On July 4th, I finally picked quite a few to make two tomato herb tarts. My friend had invited us over for the holiday and so I thought it was the perfect appetizer to share before she said, “Don’t bring tomatoes.” This was actually code for I have a zillion trillion tomatoes coming from my gifted tomato plants and we’ve been eating tomatoes like there’s no tomorrow.
I did end up making my tomato herb tarts and if you’re like my friend who has so many tomatoes she gives them away, then this recipe is definitely for you. It’s extremely easy to make, you can make it ahead of time, it travels well, and I promise the shell won’t be soggy.
Tomato Herb Tarts
2 sheets purchased puff pastry
1 whole egg, beaten
1 c. Parmesan, freshly grated
4-5 San Marzano tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Remove the goat’s cheese from the fridge and warm to room temperature.
Chop the garlic and mix with about 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Slice tomatoes into 1/4″ rounds and place on several sheets of paper toweling. Liberally sprinkle with salt, then cover with more paper towels. Allow to sit for about 30 minutes, then gently press the tomatoes to remove any excess moisture.
While the tomatoes are sitting, lightly flour a work surface. Gently roll each sheet of puff pastry until each is even in thickness and shape. Using a rolling cutter, trim two 1-inch pieces from the short end of each rectangle. Next, trim two 1-inch strips from the long end of each rectangle. Place both rectangles on a parchment or silicone lined baking sheet and brush egg around the perimeter. Place the long strips around the exterior of the rectangle over the egg wash. Brush the strips with egg wash again and trim any uneven edges.
Using a fork, evenly pierce the inside of the pastry surface. Divide the Parmesan between the two shells sprinkling over the entire surface.
Bake 10-12 minutes then turn oven down to 350 degrees F and bake for an additional 10-12 minutes or until golden brown and very crisp. Remove from oven and transfer immediately to a wire rack.
If you’re ready to put the tarts together immediately, then turn the oven back up to 425 degrees F. Spread a thin layer of goat’s cheese over each tart shell. Place the tomatoes evenly over each and dab on the garlic oil mixture. Sprinkle on the chopped herbs and a bit more freshly grated Parmesan. Bake about 10 minutes. Allow to cool a few minutes before slicing to serve.
- I have made puff pastry only once and failed miserably. Yes, I’ll give it another go, but not quite yet, so in the meantime, I’m glad I tried Aussie Bakery’s Puff Pastry at Whole Foods. Lovely product — especially if you want to make a nice tomato tart.
- I used lemon thyme, basil, parsley, oregano, and green garlic from my very own little herb box that has managed to escape the bugs so far this year. After the tarts were done baking, I chopped some fresh sorrell, mixed it with a bit of olive oil and sprinkled that over the top.
- I baked my tart shells ahead of time and allowed them to cool completely. I packed up the dried tomatoes and herb oil with my softened goat’s cheese and assembled the tarts at my friend’s house — 5 minutes prep max.
- The shells were amazingly crisp even after sitting for a while after baking.
- This recipe was very loosely based on one from the August 2003 issue of Cook’s Illustrated, primarily for the tart shell and tomato preparation.
- My friend sent me home with about 6 lbs. of her tomatoes and because we were going on vacation, I popped them just as they were into the freezer. I thawed them at room temperature after we returned and made a tomato spinach soup which was quite yummy. In the process, I learned that after tomatoes thaw out, the skins come right off — no parboiling needed!
- My tomato plants are still producing, but only 4-5 at a time. Not exactly enough to make a sauce with, unfortunately. I guess I may have to pull out those perennials to get ready for next year, right? Otherwise, how will I ever be able to keep up with my friend and her tomato growing skills?