Friday 24 January 2014

Buttery Tomato Tart

This intensely flavoured tomato filling contains a scandalous amount of butter, but it’s worth every calorie. You can use any creamy soft white cheese, but avoid pungent goat’s milk cheeses. Steer clear of rocket too, because its aggressive pepperiness will overwhelm the star ingredient.

Buttery Tomato Tart
Buttery Tomato Tart: an easy recipe, and no soggy bottom. Photograph
by Michael Le Grange, courtesy of Random House Struik.  

This easy recipe comes from my book Scrumptious: Food for Family & Friends, and it's one I make often when cherry tomatoes are in high season, as they are now in South Africa.

I have a few vines growing in my garden, but I have to say they are not a patch on the glorious sweet tomatoes spilling out of supermarket shelves.  I've tried growing many different varieties of miniature tomatoes over the years, under the most organic of circumstances, but every summer I'm disappointed by my crop because their skins are so leathery. Sure, they have a wonderful and mysterious grassy taste that is quite absent in supermarket tomatoes, but they're really not suitable for a dish like this because I'd have to peel every one of them. And who has time for peeling cherry tomatoes?

For this recipe, in order to prevent soggy-bottom syndrome, I pre-bake the pastry cases and pile in the filling  just before I serve them.  You can prepare both the filling and the pastry cases in advance - see my Cook's Notes at the end of this page.

Please don't skimp on the butter or cream in this recipe. They are the best friends of tomatoes.

Buttery Tomato Tart 

8 Tbsp (120 ml/120 g) butter
2 tsp (10 ml) olive oil
1 kg ripe, sweet cherry tomatoes
2 thumb-length sprigs fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 large clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped or grated
a pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
salt and milled black pepper
6 Tbsp (90 ml) fresh cream
2 rolls ready-rolled puff pastry, thawed
a beaten egg, for brushing

For the topping: 

150 g mild, creamy white cheese, such as feta, ricotta or proper mozzarella
a handful of fresh baby herb leaves: oregano, marjoram or basil

Heat the butter and oil in a large pan and add the whole tomatoes and herb sprigs. Cook, tossing often, over a high heat, for 5-7 minutes, or until the tomatoes have softened. Using a potato masher, lightly crush the tomatoes to release their juices.

Add the garlic and chilli flakes and season with salt and pepper. Turn up the heat and cook at a vigorous bubble for 5 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and reduced slightly. Stir in the cream and bubble for another few minutes. Discard the herb sprigs and keep warm.

Set the oven to 180 °C and heat two baking sheets. Unroll each puff pastry cylinder and roll out lightly to increase its size by about 2 cm on all sides.  Using a sharp knife, trim a 1-cm-wide strip off each edge. Brush the pastry with beaten egg and prick all over with a fork. Place the strips of pastry around the edges of the rectangle to form a raised border. Mark a chevron pattern on the border, using a knife. Brush the borders with egg.

Cut out two rectangles of foil exactly the same size as the base (measure by placing the foil over the pastry and running your thumbnail around the inside edge of the border). Place the foil on top of the pastry. Lift the pastry sheets, on their paper, and place them on the hot baking sheets (you may need another pair of hands for this). Bake for 10 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for a further 10–15 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and crisp. Don’t worry if the middle of the pastry puffs up; it will soon subside.

Peel off the foil and place the pastry bases on wire racks so the bottoms remain crisp. Just before you serve the tarts, spread the warm tomato filling over the bases. Scatter with nuggets of cheese and a sprinkling of baby herb leaves. Slice into squares and serve immediately.

Serves 8 as a snack.

Cook’s Notes
  • The pastry bases can be prepared, ready for cooking, up to 8 hours in advance and kept covered in the fridge. 
  • Once baked and cooled, the pastry bases will remain crisp for at least two hours at room temperature, depending on the humidity in your kitchen.
  • Bring the pastry up to room temperature before it goes into the oven. 
  • You can prepare the tomato sauce up to 24 hours in advance and warm it gently before spreading it over the pastry.

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Thursday 2 January 2014

Roasted Grapes with Blue Brie, and frozen grapes as a snack

Grapes are in high season here in South Africa, and for the past two weeks I've experimented with different ways of serving this glorious fruit.  Sure, the best way to demolish a bunch of grapes is to eat them very cold and fresh on a sweltering summer's day, but still I'd like to draw your attention to two lovely alternative ways of using grapes: slow-roasting them to a gentle collapse to draw out their perfumed juices, and freezing them to create crunchy little flavour bombs.

Oven-Roasted Grapes with Blue Camembert
Roasted Grapes with gorgeous Blue Brie from Dalewood Fromage. 

The recipe in the picture above - roasted grapes with blue brie - is inspired by a sublime dish of gently stewed sweet grapes with thick Greek yoghurt. My friends Michael and Michelle Karamanof, who own a house in Kythera, Greece, made this for me a few years back, and it's a dish that has stood out in my memory.

I've served this version with both the roasted grapes and cold fresh ones, for a pleasing contrast.

Oven-Roasted Grapes with Blue Camembert
Pressed Cheese with Roasted Grapes and Caramel-Dipped Fresh Grapes.
Plate by David Walters
In this second picture, above, I've whipped together crumbled blue cheese, mascarpone and chopped-up blue camembert, then pressed this sinful mixture over a layer of stewed grapes in a clingfilm-lined dish.The first time I made this, it was very tasty, but lacked texture, so in the second version I served it with fresh grapes dipped in a thin, brittle caramel. If I make this again, I will probably add some toasted macadamia nuts to either the cheese mixture or the caramel-dipped grapes.

Oven-Roasted Grapes with Blue Camembert
Frozen grapes: crunchy little flavour bombs. 
Finally, the frozen grapes. These have a wonderful, refreshing, sorbet-like texture, especially if you leave them to stand for five minutes after you take them out of the freezer. They are very good served piled on a platter alongside thin shavings of good Parmesan, or - if you are feeding children - with chips of dark chocolate.  This is an excellent way to preserve grapes for future fruit smoothies, and you can also use them instead of ice cubes to chill a glass of white wine in a hurry, without diluting the wine. In this picture I've rolled the grapes in sugar, because they were rather acidic, but this isn't necessary if you've chosen a nice sweet grape.

To roast grapes:

Heat the oven to 160 ÂșC. Place a few bunches of sweet seedless black or red table grapes on a sheet lined with two sheets of baking paper. Roast for 30-40 minutes, depending on the size of the grapes, or until they have just collapsed, are slightly shrunken, and the juices are running. Pick up the edges of the baking paper and tip the grapes and their juices onto a platter. Serve with cheese.

To freeze grapes:

Wash a few whole bunches of seedless grapes and set them aside until they're dry. Put them in a freezer bag or lidded plastic container and freeze for 3 hours, or until solid. Take them out of the freezer 5 minutes before you serve them, or they'll crack someone's teeth, but don't leave them on the counter for too long as they defrost and soften quickly. These keep well in the freezer for up to a month.

For the pressed cheese: 

Oven-Roasted Grapes with Blue Camembert

Wet a small mould and line it with a sheet of clingfilm, letting the edges drape down over the sides. Line the bottom of the mould with a single layer of roast grapes, and a little of their juice.  In a separate bowl, beat together equal quantities of mascarpone, crumbled blue cheese and finely chopped brie or camembert.

Season generously with black pepper and pack the mixture into the mould on top of the grapes. Flip the clingfilm edges over the top of the cheese and press down firmly to level the surface. Chill for an hour or two, or until firm.  If you'd like a (marginally) lighter mixture, use fat-free cream cheese instead of mascarpone.

For the caramel grapes:

Set a piece of baking paper on a board. Put a cup (250 ml) of caster sugar and a third of cup (80 ml) of water into a small, deep saucepan. If you have a saucepan with a white lining, use it, as this will allow you accurately to judge the colour. Bring gently to the boil, then turn the heat up a little and let the syrup bubble vigorously until it turns pale gold. At this point, watch it like a hawk, as caramel burns in an instant. Don't be tempted to stir - rather give the saucepan a gentle swirl. When the caramel is a beautiful rich golden colour, remove it from the heat. Don't wait too long: it will continue to darken by several shades after you take it off the heat, especially if you are using a thick-based saucepan that retains heat.

Stick a thin skewer deep into a grape, tilt the saucepan and dip the grape into the caramel. Now lift the grape high above the saucepan, allowing the caramel to run off and form a fine strand. Hold it there until the strand has hardened a little, then snip through it with a pair of kitchen scissors.  Place the grape on its side on the baking paper and repeat the process with the rest of the grapes.

If the caramel runs too reluctantly off the grape, you will need gently to rewarm it over a low flame. If it refuses to coat the grape or form a strand, you will need to cook the caramel for longer.

Serves 4-6 as a snack, with crackers

Oven-Roasted Grapes with Blue Camembert
Roasted Grapes with Pressed Cheese. 
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