I don’t actually like raw tomatoes very much. Something about their flavour makes me shiver down to my bones and leaves a nasty aftertaste on the very fibre of my being. I guess it’s a bit what eating a soul would be like.
If you’re as much of glutton as me, it becomes almost a matter of shame not to like any ingredient. I used to hate fish but have slowly come round to it, though I will still only eat it when I have a blocked nose. People would serve it to me and I would blush as I stammered out some godawful excuse for a polite refusal and then tuck into the undercooked potatoes and nuclear-boiled peas that always seem to come with fish with all the appropriate appreciative noises.
Tomatoes have never been quite so bad as all that because when they are cooked, tomatoes change their character completely. Their bitterness becomes sweet and a little smoky, they soften and melt into a beautiful sauce. Sundried tomatoes rank close second to olives as a snack and most of my simple staples depend on tomatoes.
This one was a bit of a stretch though, because of the psychological block of eating something that still definitely looks very much like a tomato. Tinned tomatoes are basically just a red juice with bits in and sundried tomatoes look like the socks that you forget to hang up to dry, so there’s no problem there, but in this tart the tomato is staring you right in the face.
It’s also bloody delicious, though. It’s a bit like when I was in Switzerland and ate head-meat. As far as I could tell from our host’s description, it was basically a head, minus skull, which had been squashed into a pate. I’m not sure how far Peter could be trusted though, given that he was an alcoholic teacher who mostly sort of hovered around Ghent in bare feet. But knowing that I started picking out all the little details – like tongues. It was tasty but somehow didn’t seem right that it should be so.
Anyway, now I’ve whetted your appetite with all this talk of tongues and alcoholics, let’s eat.
Tomato and ricotta puff pastry tart
- One sheet puff pastry.
- Two big bull tomatoes or the equivalent in smaller ones. The smaller the tomatoes, the sweeter.
- Ricotta – enough to crumble over the area of the pastry
- Olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- One garlic clove, crushed
- Salt and pepper
This one’s ridiculously easy, really. Preheat the oven to around 220ºc. Slice the tomatoes width-ways. The slices shouldn’t be floppy but the thicker they are the less cooked they’ll end up. Lay the slices in a dish without overlapping. Fill a mug about halfway with olive oil and then add one part of balsamic to four parts olive oil. Scrunch up some thyme and tear two sage leaves and add to the oil & vinegar mix. Season with salt and pepper and mix in the crushed garlic. Pour the mixture over the tomatoes and allow to sit.
Put down tinfoil on whatever grill or dish you intend to cook the tart on and brush the foil lightly with olive oil. Lay the pastry on top of the tinfoil before crumbling ricotta onto the flat pastry, leaving a good inch of pastry around the edges. Try and get a good covering, but don’t worry if there are gaps. Remove the tomatoes one by one, allowing excess oil and vinegar to run off, and layer over the ricotta, keeping the border uncovered. It doesn’t matter if the tomatoes overlap on the tart. Scatter more thyme over the tart and season with salt and pepper before sliding into the oven.
It should take about 25 minutes, or until the pastry crust is puffy and golden and the tomato itself is soft and starting to brown. Eat as soon as possible, whilst the tomatoes are hot and tender and the pastry is crisp and flaky. As with the black olive, cherry tomato and halloumi tart, I recommend something low in alcohol and light.