I’m just going to say this: there’s something downright sexy about roasted tomatoes. I think it’s a combination of their concentrated intensity; their meatiness; their blood-red color; their dripping juices. Whatever it is, they just feel somehow decadent and lusty. So does the fact that I bound them into these neat little tarts make me a prude?
Lest you get the wrong impression, I would generally concur that the ideal way to eat roasted tomatoes is warm from the oven, with some good crusty bread and maybe a little cheese alongside. But if you have some left over, these tarts rank a close second. If you’ve never had slow-roasted tomatoes, I beg you to try them. They couldn’t be easier to make, and if you’re really feeling lazy you can even buy them at some fancy grocery stores (sold at the olive bar). I’m later than I wanted to be in getting this post up, and I know tomato season is quickly coming to a close, but in a pinch you can get decent results using grocery-store Roma tomatoes year round.
However or whenever you get your hands on some roasted tomatoes, this is a wonderful way to showcase them. I made a cornmeal-rosemary crust, filled it with these gems, poured a simple custard over top and finished it with a little microplaned Grana Padano. Rien de plus simple. Pair with something green (a simple green salad, or some garlicky sautéed spinach) for a light supper, or some crispy bacon and a little fruit salad for brunch.
Have I convinced you yet? If only a photo could convey aroma, texture, and of course, flavor, we’d be all set. But while we’re waiting for Apple to pioneer the iSmell, you’ll just have to take my word that these little tarts are one of the best things to come out of my kitchen in a long time.
Little Roasted Tomato Tarts with Cornmeal-Rosemary Crust
You can, of course, make one large tart, but for some reason I was compelled to put these in individual tart pans. Yes, there is a “cute factor”, but also I wanted to be able to bake a couple at a time so as not to have soggy leftovers.
1/2 recipe Cornmeal-Rosemary crust (recipe follows)
about 1 1/2-2 cups roasted Roma tomatoes (recipe follows)
herbes de Provence or other herbs of your choice, if tomatoes are plain
3-4 eggs (see notes)
3/8-1/2 cup light cream (see notes)
salt & freshly gound black pepper
Grana Padano or Parmesan for grating
6 small (5-inch)tart pans or 1 10-inch tart pan
Notes: I am using the custard ratio from the book Once Upon a Tart- 1 egg to 1/8 cup cream- so if you don’t have enough, you can make more based on this formula. The book calls for light cream, which I approximate by cutting heavy cream with a little milk. If you make your tart in a single tart pan, or if you don’t pack the tomatoes in, you may find you need a little extra. If your tomatoes have been kept in oil, blot them well with paper towel so you don’t end up with a greasy tart.
Directions: Preheat the oven to 400º. Roll out your dough and press it into the tart pan(s), putting them in the fridge as you go. Let rest in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes. Prick the crust with a fork. Set the tart shells on a cookie sheet, line them with foil and dried beans or pie weights and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and weights and bake until golden brown all over, about 10 more minutes. (If you’re using a single tart shell, you may want to take it out when it’s about 75% cooked. For the small tarts, they cook pretty quickly, so it’s better to have the crust fully cooked first.)
Reduce the oven temp to 375º. Fill the tart(s) with the roasted tomatoes, cut side facing up. If your tomatoes are plain, you can sprinkle a pinch of herbes de Provence or other herbs of your choice over the top. Whisk together the eggs, milk and cream, adding a couple dashes of salt and pepper. I like to do this in a Pyrex measuring cup for easy pourability. Drizzle the tarts with the custard mixture, making sure to fill the gaps in between the tomatoes. The upturned tomato halves will serve as little “cups” that will catch the custard as well. You’ll want to stop a little shy of the crust’s rim, so your custard doesn’t overflow when baked. Grate some cheese over the tops.
Place tarts in the oven and bake until puffed and golden, about 15-20 minutes (but peek in on them after 10). If you’re doing a full-sized tart, it’ll probably take closer to 30 minutes. When done, place on a cooling rack, removing from the pan as soon as they are cool enough to handle. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Roasted Roma Tomatoes printer-friendly version
Perhaps you’ll recall that I had mentioned a few weeks ago that I was going to try these? They didn’t disappoint. All I can say is that if I’d realized that 1 large box (1/2 a bushel, I think) would shrink down to a mere few cups, I would have bought at least twice as many. Live and learn, I suppose. I made three different “flavors”- one with thyme, rosemary and marjoram from my backyard (herbes de Ferndale?), one with coriander (as per Molly’s recipe) and one with smoked paprika. I put the latter two in some olive oil and into the freezer to enjoy later when the weather turns unfriendly and I need a reminder of the sun on my face (yes, tomatoes can do that). The tomatoes with the herb mixture went into the aforementioned tarts.
In reading up on the tomato-roasting method, many people recommended a much longer, slower roasting time (10-12 hours as opposed to the 6 suggested by Molly & Luisa). I decided to try this so I could do it overnight rather than heating up the house during the day. It would have been fine except my oven didn’t get down to 200º, it was more like 250º, so a few of the tomatoes around the edges of the pan had to be pitched. However, I do think there is something to be said for the slower roast. Judging by the photos, I think my tomatoes were a bit more concentrated than the 6-hour version; their flavor approached that of a sun-dried tomato but retained a little juiciness. I would say, start taste-testing them after 6 hours and see what suits you. If you’re using them in a sauce, you may choose to leave them a little juicier since they would be cooking down further in the sauce.
Roma tomatoes, the more the better, as they cook down quite a bit, and you can freeze leftovers (you’ll need about one tightly-packed cookie sheet’s worth to make the tarts)
herb(s) or spice(s) of your choice
Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise, removing the little stem end, and place on a rimmed cookie sheet. Brush or lightly drizzle with olive oil. Using your fingers, sprinkle with a little sea salt and any herbs or seasoning you wish to use. Remember that the flavors will become very concentrated, so less is better than too much. Place in a 200º oven for 6-10 hours according to your preferences. To store, you can keep them in the fridge for a couple weeks covered in olive oil, or freeze until hard on the cookie sheet and then transfer to a sealable freezer bag (this will keep them from clumping together).
Makes enough for two 9″ or 10″ tart shells. Half a recipe will make 6 individual 4″ tarts.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
3 Tbs semolina flour (cornmeal)
1 tsp salt
12 Tbs (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ cubes (I stick it in the freezer for a few minutes after I cut it up)
3 Tbs cold solid vegetable shortening
1 Tbs chopped fresh rosemary
glass of ice water
When I made my last batch of this, I didn’t have any shortening on hand so I used all butter, to no ill effect.
Directions: Place the flour, cornmeal and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and shortening and pulse the processor in brief bursts until the mixture is sandy and there are no more visible chunks of butter. DO NOT overprocess or your crust will be tough!
Dump the crumbly mixture into a bowl and stir in the chopped rosemary. Sprinkle with ice water, one Tbs. at a time, coaxing the dough with a wooden spoon until it begins to come together. You want to add just enough water to allow this to happen; you don’t want it to be so wet that it becomes sticky or has white spots. If you’re not sure, go slow.
When the dough starts to come together, use your hands to gather it up and form it into two balls, taking care not to over-handle it. Wrap each half in plastic and flatten them into disks with the palm of your hand. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before rolling out.
In Ferndale, my hands-down favorite breakfast place is the Fly Trap. Problem is, it’s the favorite breakfast place of many people, and on the weekends, the line usually spills out onto the sidewalk. Unfortunately, there aren’t many other good breakfast options in Ferndale worth mentioning. And please don’t say, “But what about Toast?” Sure, they have cute décor, but mediocre food, abominable service and high prices, and after my last experience there (it was a Monday and the Fly Trap was closed), I don’t think I’ll ever go back.
So what’s a gal to do on a weekend morning when she doesn’t feel like cooking and is too hungry to wait in line? Two words: Café Habana.
Café Habana is in downtown Royal Oak and is part of the Bastone/Vinotecca complex on the corner of 5th and Main. It’s relatively small, yet is never full on weekends despite its tasty (and cheap!) brunch menu. They score points over the Fly Trap and other breakfast places for ambiance- they have Cuban music on the stereo, and sitting amongst the exposed brick and wrought-iron chandeliers, it is a pretty pleasant place to relax and read the Sunday paper. The service is laid-back and friendly, not frantic, and you never get the impression they are trying to turn a table.
If you’re more the type to seek a “standard” breakfast menu with pancakes, eggs, bacon and the like, this probably isn’t the place for you. But for the more adventurous eater, Café Habana has some exciting offerings. Marvin and I have eaten here several times and our favorite dish is the Huevos a la Flamenca. The eggs are served in a tomato-based sauce that has little pieces of carrot and peas as well as ham and sausage. It’s served with a potato croquette that is browned and crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Another dish I like is the Huevos Habana, two eggs with a pork and plantain hash and poblano hollandaise. If I’m not in an eggy mood, I go for the Arepas (cornmeal pancakes), which you can either get sweet, with cream cheese and fruit, or savory, with herbed goat cheese, sautéed spinach and pico de gallo. Coffee is above average here, but if you’re not a coffee drinker, they have a good freshly-squeezed limeade, or you can order drinks from the bar at the adjacent restaurant, Bastone.
Café Habana can also be recommended for lunch and dinner- I’ve had the Flank Steak with Chimichurri and it was pretty darn good- but for some reason when we end up there, it’s usually for breakfast. Fly Trap, we still love ya, but on the days we sleep too late to beat the crowds, you can find us in a booth at Café Habana, divvying up sections of the New York Times and enjoying a leisurely meal.
Sometimes it’s lovely to live alone. No one to bicker with over a stray sock left on the bedroom floor, or to question your kooky choice of paint color for the bathroom, or to be bothered when your basement band practice runs later than usual. A nice, quiet house when you’re in the mood to curl up with a book and a cup of tea. No one to fight with over the remote when you want to watch something ridiculous on TV. Although I do appreciate these and other perks, living alone doesn’t feel to me to be a “natural” state of affairs. I grew up in a large-ish family, and had lots of roommates throughout my college years. And while there are definitely things I don’t miss, like my sister reading my diary or “borrowing” clothes, or a roommate filching all the quarters from my change jar to buy cigarettes, sometimes I just want some company. This feeling seems to surface the most when I’m in a cooking mood, since it seems so strange to make something special or out-of-the-ordinary just for myself. (For more on the subject, see this post about eating alone/ cooking for one…)
So, with that in mind, when the mood struck last Saturday to make a luxurious breakfast, I texted my friend Kate: “Are u up yet? Want to come 4 breakfast in a bit?” She didn’t waste any time in replying that she would be over shortly. (So shortly, in fact, that I was still in my sweatpants and hoodie when she got here!) We sipped coffee and kvetched about our jobs and significant others while I fried up bacon and stirred the eggs. The idea for the egg dish had been rolling around my head for the last couple days- I knew I wanted to use up some scallops, and scrambling the eggs in a double boiler seemed like the perfect textural backdrop. Bacon is a natural partner of both scallops and eggs, so it was the logical third component. Nowadays I’m at the point where I usually trust my culinary instincts, but I did google the combination, partly to compare notes and partly to validate myself (lame, yes, I know!). Here’s a similar recipe I found online, although I didn’t follow it. It was enough just to know a “real” recipe writer had come up with something very similar.
Here’s my version, which will make a sumptuous breakfast for two ladies. Call a girlfriend and indulge. If you’re really being decadent, Prosecco or mimosas would be an excellent beverage choice.
slow-scrambled eggs with scallops and bacon
5 large eggs
1/4 cup half and half, or milk mixed with heavy cream
1 small shallot, minced
3 slices bacon, cut into 1-cm strips
about 1 cup (8 oz) scallops (I used some frozen scallops from Trader Joe’s and used about 6 per serving)
something green- I only had parsley on hand, but I think a little fresh thyme would work well here, or some minced chives
Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Once it’s hot, add the bacon- I just take my kitchen scissors and snip it right over the pan. Give it a stir, and reduce the heat to medium, stirring occasionally. When the bacon is done to your liking, remove it with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel to drain (I like it mostly crispy with just a little chew left). Pour most of the bacon fat off, leaving just enough to coat the pan. Return the pan to medium heat and cook the shallot in the bacon fat. When it begins to soften, turn the heat up a smidge and add the scallops to the pan. Cook undisturbed for 2-3 minutes (depending on the size of your scallops), and then turn and brown on all sides (another 2 minutes), taking care to remove from heat as soon as they are opaque in the center.
Meanwhile (assuming you can multi-task), put a large, shallow pot of water to simmer on the stove. Whisk the eggs and cream together. If you have a metal bowl, you can use the same bowl to mix and cook the eggs, or put the eggs in a smaller saucepan that you can fit inside the pan of water (if you have a double boiler, even better, but I don’t). Place the pan or bowl containing the eggs in the simmering water and cook gently, stirring with a wooden spoon, until eggs are still moist but cooked through. They will have an almost custardy texture. Stir in the bacon, scallops and shallot, leaving on the stove a moment more if necessary to re-warm the scallops. Divide between two plates and sprinkle with the fresh herb of your choice. (If using thyme, add it to the eggs as they are cooking so it can release its flavor.)
One of my favorite foods for its sheer versatility is the egg. Whenever the fridge is bare and I’m at a loss for what to cook, I can always count on eggs to be there for me. Take Monday night, for example- I was staring at a fridge full of not much, wondering what the heck I was going to eat. I had a bunch of eggs to use up that were left over from my Daring Bakers cake (I couldn’t use them because one of the yolks had broken into the whites) but no veggies or anything to make an omelet. I remembered when I was a kid, my mom used to make egg drop soup a lot, but I had never tried making it myself. I thought, how hard could it be; you just simmer a broth and then whisk the eggs in, right? I didn’t have any stock though so I used miso. I grated some carrot into the soup, smashed a garlic clove and threw that in there too, and cut up a couple sheets of nori to add something green. Pretty soon I had a soup that (I’m not gonna lie to you) looked sort of like vomit, but tasted really good. I used a lot more egg than I think would be typical, which gave the soup this unctuous, velvety texture. I stirred a little hot sauce into my bowl and dug in. I did not take any photos because it was seriously kind of scary looking but now that I know how tasty and easy it is to throw together, I plan to come up with a proper recipe that will use less egg and consequently (I hope) look more presentable.
The other egg dish I present to you was much more photogenic! Last Friday Marvin invited some friends over for dinner and made a delicious veggie ”lasagna” that used slices of eggplant in place of noodles. (It turned out really well, by the way.) The next morning, I made eggs, incorporating a bunch of leftover odds and ends from the previous night’s dinner: fresh locally-made ricotta, some spinach, roasted red peppers, and best of all, these luscious oven-roasted tomatoes he’d picked up as part of an antipasto course. Imagine tomatoes with super-sweet, concentrated flavor, marinated in olive oil with herbs… somewhere between sundried and fresh. I could have eaten them all single-handedly, but restrained myself. [Update: check out this post for a recipe for roasted tomatoes and a roasted tomato tart.] Anyway they were great in the omelet because I just chucked them in the pan, marinade and all, and used that as my cooking oil. I made the omelet quasi-fritatta style, where the veggies were cooked in with the eggs and then the whole thing got folded around a filling of ricotta, a little parmesan and some basil. I make omelets quite frequently and never bother to write about them, but those marinated tomatoes and the fresh ricotta turned this into something special. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
I’m working on some other projects at the moment that are keeping me out of the kitchen, but hopefully I’ll be able to post some new recipes soon. I’m planning on re-creating the chicken enchiladas from El Azteco, a restaurant in East Lansing where I worked in college. I went there the other night for dinner and it stoked my craving for their chile verde sauce!