On Saturday I put up a recipe for shortcrust pastry from my friend Lizzie’s book, The Book of Old Tarts. That post was really just a preamble to this most important of recipes. It is not just any old tart, it is the tart, or so it has come to be known in my household. Indeed for a long time it was the only tart I ever made, because although I was very tempted by other recipes, it was just so damn tasty I could not think of any reason to make something new. My sister loves it so much that she would brag about it to all her friends, but not a single one ever got to try it because I was not allowed to make it for guests; the tart was not for sharing.
Until this week, I had only made the original recipe once and I now feel rather guilty for having written it off so quickly. The first time I made Lizzie’s recipe I found it a little bland; this is probably because I did not season it well enough, but also because at the time I was a teenager with little appreciation for the less is more approach to cooking. Having made the original recipe for a second time, I can now appreciate that its simplicity is its most appealing quality, a perfect balance of flavours and textures. As Lizzie says in her introduction to the recipe,
Successful tomato recipes are those where the distinctive taste of the fruit surmounts the other flavours. I think this tart succeeds in this, but partly through its soft texture.
Indeed, this is a character that is lost somewhat in my recipe, which replaces the fresh tomatoes with sundried tomatoes and so loses a lot of the moisture. Nonetheless, old habits die hard and I have to admit to favouring the tart; my sister would probably disown me if I said otherwise.
Lizzie’s point about the flavour of the tomato is also important, because a tomato with the capacity to surmount the other flavours is harder to come across in these days of supermarket-dominated year-round mass production. I would recommend making Lizzie’s tart only if you can find really good quality, seasonal tomatoes which have this potential. In which case, perhaps I ought to recommend her tart for summer and my version for the rest of the year.
I have included Lizzie’s recipe followed by my own, although you will see that they are not vastly dissimilar. Even so, they are different enough that I think it worth providing a separate recipe for mine to make it as easy as possible to follow should you choose to make it. Try them both and decide for yourself; I would be interested to hear which you like best.
Elizabeth Hodder’s Tomato, onion and goat’s cheese tart
Line a deep 23cm (9 in) tart tin with the pastry and pre-bake blind. Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
Put the tomatoes in a bowl, cover with boiling water and leave for just over 1 minute, then lift them out with a slotted spoon. Skin and chop the tomatoes (it doesn’t matter if a bit of skin gets left on one or two), then drain them in a colander or sieve to get rid of excess juices and squeeze out most of the seeds. Put them to one side.
Fry the onions gently in the olive oil in a covered frying pan for 5-10 minutes or until they are just soft, stirring occasionally. Add the herbs and breadcrumbs and stir to mix. Turn off the heat.
Put the eggs into a bowl, add the cream, salt and black pepper. Add most of the Cheddar cheese, saving 2 teaspoons for the garnish.
Spoon the onion, herb and breadcrumb mixture into the pre-baked pastry case. Add most of the tomatoes, reserving just a few for the garnish.
Pour in the cream mixture, then break the goat’s cheese into small pieces and press into the cream mixture. Sprinkle with the remaining Cheddar, tomatoes and a little chopped parsley. Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes or until the pieces of goat’s cheese have browned around the edges (you may need to turn the tart around a bit once or twice during cooking).
Serve hot or warm as a main course with courgettes or green beans and some small boiled potatoes with their skins on, or as a starter with rocket, chicory and avocado.
Reading Lizzie’s recipe again I found myself wondering how on earth I was supposed to fit 6 tomatoes and 2 onions in a 9 inch flan tin along with all the rest. It was then that I noticed the word ‘deep’. My tin is only about 2cm deep, so I had to halve the quantities of tomato and onion to fit it all in. Even so, the egg and cream still overflowed, hence the strange black flood line around the edge.
Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Line a 23cm (9 in) tart tin with the pastry, then put in the fridge for 30 minutes before pre- or blind-baking. Reduce the oven temperature to 180C.
Heat the olive oil over a low heat in a medium saucepan or frying pan. Add the onions, stir and cover. When the onions are beginning to soften, add the breadcrumbs and cook for another minute, stirring to keep the crumbs from burning. Remove from the heat, add the herbs and stir to mix. Season with salt and black pepper, check for taste and make any necessary adjustments.
Put the eggs into a bowl and lightly beat together with the cream, more salt and black pepper.
Spoon the onion, herb and breadcrumb mixture into the pre-baked pastry case. Sprinkle the cheddar cheese evenly over the top and then pour in the egg mixture.
Add the sundried tomatoes, spreading evenly over the mix. Break off pieces of goat’s cheese and press into the cream mixture. Lastly, add the olives, again spreading evenly across the top.
Bake for 35-40minutes, turning the tart at least once during cooking.
A few differences you will notice between the two recipes, apart from the obvious ones relating to changed ingredients are:
- I do not finely chop the onions, because I prefer long slivers. This has more to do with aesthetics than flavour or texture.
- I season the mixture twice and would even go so far as seasoning the tomatoes as well in Lizzie’s recipe. It is true that I am a bit of a salt fiend, but I have also learnt through trial and error that an under seasoned tart is hard to rectify once out of the oven; sure, you can add a bit of salt to the top, but it does not really enhance the flavours in the same way as when it is properly seasoned throughout.
- I specify medium-flavoured cheddar, as opposed to mature or vintage, because when I have used a strong cheddar in the past I found it overpowered the subtle flavour of the goat’s cheese. I also add the cheddar straight to the tart case, this is because I find it easier to ensure it is spread evenly when done this way and also because…
- … I whisk the egg mix with the cream, salt and pepper; this means the tart rises slightly while cooking. It usually deflates somewhat when removed from the oven, but it still gives it a nice light quality.
I prefer to serve the tart hot or warm, as per Lizzie’s suggestion, but any leftovers (unlikely) are also good cold. I always accompany the dish with some kind of salad, usually with a French vinaigrette. Green beans and asparagus are also good accompaniments, either as part of the salad or separately.
Serves 4 (just).