Tarted Up

17 Jul

I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but lately, there’s been a lot of talk around here about a lot of things that have had very little to do with food.

This is odd because this is, ostensibly, a cooking blog. I’ve talked about sounds and stillness and summer, about my neighbors and their bad eating habits, I’ve shared my secret place to hide-out from the heat, done some spring cleaning and vented, kvetched and complained. In fact, as far as I can tell, the last time I seriously talked about cooking was way back in the merry month of May.

And I’ve got a little secret about why it’s been this way. I’ve been in a cooking funk. An epic one by all accounts. Obviously I’ve been cooking; but to be perfectly honest, nothing I’ve made in a very long time, probably since that rhubarb bread, has really made me sit up and cheer. But! That has all changed.

South Street Seaport

On Saturday morning Isaac and I took a survey of the kitchen in an attempt to clear out some of the culinary driftwood we’ve accumulated. We settled on two areas in need of attention: beans and phyllo.

Since I learned to stop worrying and love the bean I’ve been hoarding them. I bought Yellow Indian Woman beans in Colorado, unknown yellow beans in California, dried lentils and ceci in Rome and Goat’s Eyes and “Little Horses” in Williamsburg (which sometimes feels like another country). I’ve also somehow accumulated three additional types of dried lentil.

And then there’s the phyllo. It’s been lurking in our freezer since January. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the box weren’t so big. It barely fits, and it’s hogging space that I’d like to have for preserving some of summer’s bounty; like tomatoes, beans, peas, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, peaches, strawberries, cherries and blueberries, to name a few.

So, it was settled. On Saturday we would cook the yellow mystery beans to ensure they’d be done and cool for a multi-bean salad on Sunday night, and then for Saturday dinner we would have a tomato and caramelized onion tart with phyllo crust and a fennel and olive salad. Or, at least that was the plan.

We went to the greenmarket in search of wax beans and snap peas for the salad to no avail. There was no fennel either. It was very mysterious, like everyone in the city had the same thoughts on the same day. So, we settled for some green beans and radicchio instead.

We got home and I put the mystery beans on the stove to cook, then I pulled the phyllo out of the freezer. It was around 5.30pm. I stood in the kitchen reading the directions: work quickly, keep the phyllo moist, brush the layers with butter, if frozen thaw for five hours before use… Sh*t.

No phyllo crust for us!

But I didn’t panic. Nope. I ran to the internet, to Martha. Martha and the internet always know what to do in situations like these! I looked up tomato tart, and to my great dismay they all called for butter crusts.

This was a problem for three reasons: 1. I had no non-special butter (I’m obsessed with this, but only for eating on bread), 2. I didn’t have time to let a butter crust sit in the fridge and 3. Isaac was on the phone with his mother while snapping beans in the kitchen so I didn’t want to run the food processor.

So I thought and thought and plotted and contemplated and cogitated and ruminated. And then I came up with an idea. Polenta. I ran back into the kitchen and whipped up a batch of instant polenta. When it was done I lined a pie plate with a medium-thick layer of it and popped it into the fridge to set up. Meanwhile I caramelized onions and bacon and glazed it all with balsamic vinegar.

I pulled the polenta out of the fridge, liberally dressed it with a flurry of grated Parmesan, poured on the onions and topped with slices of tomatoes. I looked down at the yellow and red tart and sighed with happiness. It was so pretty. So Martha, even!

As the tart baked it gave off the most delicate perfume of roasted corn, bacon and savory onions. It was torture waiting for it to come out of the oven and cool down enough to eat. But boy was it worth it! This tart might be the most delicious thing I’ve ever made.

The flavors are deep and sexy, yet light and fresh. And, except for the 25 minutes it takes to caramelize onions, it is fast and very, very easy. This tart would be delicious with that lemony fennel and olive salad for a dinner party, or with a radicchio salad, like we had, for a simple dinner or, if you really wanted to gild the lily, with a poached egg on top for a fancy brunch.

So I hope you enjoy this tart. I know I can’t wait to make it again in a few weeks when the summer’s tomatoes are at their peak of deliciousness.  Oh, and about those beans…

They, too, were delicious and maybe someday I’ll find the time to tell you about them, but until then, nothing can compete with this tart!

Head below the jump for the recipe for Ann’s Off-The-Cuff Tomato Tart

Tomato Tart With Polenta Crust and Agrodolce Onions

prep time: 10 minutes ~ cooking time 20 minutes + 30 minutes baking time

  • Instant Polenta
  • Olive Oil
  • 3 or 4 Onions, sliced
  • 2 piece of Bacon, cut into lardons
  • Salt
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Dried Chile Flakes
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Tomatoes, sliced

Make the instant polenta according to the package’s directions. Spread a layer, about one-quarter inch thick, into your favorite pie plate and place in the fridge to cool. Spread any leftover polenta into a storage container and put into the fridge. Cut up into strips and fried in a little olive oil, it makes a delicious, easy after-work dinner.

Add a glug of olive oil to a sautée pan over medium-low heat and add the onions. When they have softened, about 5-7 minutes, add the bacon. Allow to cook, stirring from time to time, until golden brown and very soft, about 20 minutes. Season carefully with salt (remember, the bacon may be salty).

Add a glug of balsamic vinegar and a pinch of dried chile flakes. Turn the heat up to high and cook until the vinegar has mostly evaporated, leaving a glaze on the onions. Turn off the heat and allow to cool 10 minutes.

Turn the oven on to 350°F.

Pull the pie plate out of the fridge and dust with a layer of grated Parmesan. Make sure to get some everywhere, including the sides, so they’ll turn golden and crusty in the oven. Pour the onions into the polenta shell and spread evenly. Arrange the tomato slices in a pretty pattern and slip the plate into the oven for 30 minutes.

Pull the tart out of the oven, and if you want a little more color on the tomatoes slip it under the broiler for a minute or two. Allow the tart to sit for at least 5 minutes before cutting into it.

Serve with coarse sel de mer and a little drizzle of very good balsamic vinegar. Enjoy

15 Responses to “Tarted Up”

  1. Adrienne July 17, 2008 at 8:02 am #

    That is such a brilliant idea. I have a log of polenta sitting in my cupboard right now – think it would work with the pre-cooked kind? I will have to try that soon… Thanks for the inspiration, and I’m glad your cooking funk is on its way out :)

  2. [eatingclub] vancouver || js July 17, 2008 at 9:02 am #

    What a fabulous idea, using a polenta for crust. I’m going to have to remember this: if life gives you frozen phyllo, make polenta.

  3. Ann July 17, 2008 at 10:49 am #

    Great save! I sometimes use thin rounds of potato lining a pie dish and pre-baked for about 12 minutes as an emergency crust, but I like the sound of your polenta crust even better. And is there anything better than a tomato tart in the midst of tomato season?

  4. Lisa (Homesick Texan) July 17, 2008 at 1:28 pm #

    Yay! I’m glad you’re out of your cooking funk. That isn’t to say, however, that I haven’t been enjoying your recent posts–I think they’ve been fab!

  5. Christine Tham July 17, 2008 at 6:07 pm #

    It is not bad to stray to other subjects other than cooking once a while.

  6. Christina July 17, 2008 at 11:10 pm #

    Doesn’t the best cooking happen when we’re forced to be creative? Sometimes when we have all the freedom in the world to do whatever we want, we don’t stretch.

    You needn’t worry about not writing so much about food; your posts have always been great, and frankly, a blog that only talks about cooking something (without the great backstory, sidetracks, and loose connections) is boring. Your blog is never boring.

    This looks like a gorgeous tart. If only I could imagine turning on my oven right now–I hope we get a cooler day soon.

  7. ann July 18, 2008 at 6:28 am #

    Adrienne — I think it would work just fine with a polenta log. It’s a really nice fix for when you find yourself craving tart, but feeling lazy ;-)

    Hello Vancouverian js! — Sorry, didn’t know what to call you :-) Thanks for stopping by. Love the site!

    Ann — I think you’re right, there might not be anything finer in all the world than a tomato tart. Seriously, it just captures the flavors so perfectly. Oh, but wait, no, I take that back, I think there might be one thing better, a tomato martini with pickled beets. But that’s just me!

    Lisa — Awh thanks! You’re so nice!

    Christine — I’m learning that. Thanks for the encouragement.

    Christina — I’m hoping we get a cooler day soon too. Last weekend was a fluke apparently because we’re right back in the middle of the hotness. Obviously I need to make some lemonade this weekend. Thanks for the kind words as always. :-)

  8. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) July 18, 2008 at 7:09 am #

    Sounds like you definitely found your cooking mojo! And those beans? Maybe mash them up and make another layer on the tart? Or soup, or put them back in the freezer….

  9. EB July 18, 2008 at 3:24 pm #

    Oooooh it looks so sweet and delicious! I’ve loved your latest posts however. Afterall… isn’t a cook truly inspired by her surroundings?

  10. izzy's mama July 18, 2008 at 9:01 pm #

    Keep the stories and recipes coming. Love the polenta crust idea. I remember eating the Moosewood polenta pizza long ago (made by a friend) and trying to recreate it to no avail. Perhaps it is time to give polenta crust a new try.

  11. Robin July 21, 2008 at 7:46 am #

    Love the polenta crust… glad you’ve been un-funktified.

  12. Susan in Italy July 21, 2008 at 8:40 am #

    I’ve never thought of making a polenta cristed pie bit really, how can you go wrong with polenta, onions and tomatoes? Glad you’re back on the cooking wagon!

  13. ann July 22, 2008 at 6:00 am #

    Lydia — Ooooooh the layer of beans on the tart it GENIUS!! That would be delicious, thanks for the idea :-)

    EB — You make an excellent point! And you’re right, that’s how I’ve always thought about it… Uhm, honest! ;-)

    Izzy’s Mama — Polenta pizza crust? Wow! That sounds awesome! I’ll have to look that one up. I’m also thinking now about adding fresh corn & green chiles to some polenta and making some sort of corn “bread” type thing. So many possibilities!

    Robin — Hehe, it’s like the opposite of James Brown was hanging out in my kitchen!

    Susan — I bet it would be anathema to generations of little old Italian grannies to use polenta as a tart crust, wouldn’t it!

  14. marisblogs July 23, 2008 at 7:49 pm #

    Love your pictures! What kind of camera do you use?
    Those tomatoes look fantastic!

  15. shelley July 30, 2008 at 2:39 pm #

    Ohh, what a pretty, pretty tart! I’m staring at a pile of heirlooms, wandering what to do before they all go bad. This is not only perfect, but pretty enough for company, too!

    Enjoy your trip! It is still stinking nasty hot here.

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