I’ve always avoided turning on the oven in the summer. Growing up in an old house in the north meant that we didn’t have air conditioning through the warm Pennsylvania summers and the heat from the oven was unwelcome in the kitchen. As a result, summers meant tons of pasta salads and meat off of the grill. Once I lived on my own in an even warmer apartment in New York my love of baking moved into the night, when I would whip up a batch of banana bread long after the sun had set, opening all of the windows and bribing my overheated roommates with fresh-from-the-oven treats.
Over the years my love of baking and my thrifty efforts to avoid higher air-conditioning bills have found a happy medium. I still avoid baking in the summers, but as soon as I decide to turn on that oven, I make sure to get the most out of it. I strongly believe that once the oven is heated and your kitchen already too warm for a summer evening, you might as well simply forge ahead. (I should probably also mention that cleaning up has never been my strong suit, giving me another reason to group all of my kitchen projects into a single oven-using, counter-splattering, pot-dirtying marathon that requires only one cleaning.)
And that was definitely the case last night. On deck: a tomato tart, a pan of roasted vegetables for dinner, and a double batch of cookies from my favorite Manhattan bakery’s new book, Milk & Cookies (NPR posted a recipe).
Our wonderful CSA has blessed us with what will more than likely turn into an overwhelming quantity of fresh, organic, heirloom tomatoes, so I was overjoyed when I found Bill Smith’s recipe for a Fresh Tomato Tart in his essential cookbook, Seasoned in the South. Corn meal, eggs, cheese, and herbs form the crust for the tart, which is then topped with sliced fresh tomatoes. The tart is baked for half an hour, then topped with some cheese, (The recipe called for grated parmesan; I had to make do with what I had, which was more sharp cheddar.) The result is a gluten-free vegetarian dish that makes for a perfect summer dinner paired with a side salad. (It’s also great for potlucks or picnics.) Plus, if you’re like me, it offers a creative solution to summer’s eternal question: “What am I going to do with all of these tomatoes!?”
–Katie Ford, Assistant Marketing Manager
Fresh Tomato Tart from Seasoned in the South
This recipe, like so many others, was born of the constant torment provided by being forced to come up with vegetarian main courses on an otherwise sensible menu. I have to admit that this is very good, especially when the tomatoes are ripe and you have all kinds of colors. It is very important to have all the ingredients assembled and prepared before you start to cook the cornmeal. It will set up quickly once you begin and you will not have time to stop and prepare more of anything.
4-6 ripe tomatoes, sliced as for a sandwich, salted and drained in a colander
1/2 cup rinsed, large-curd whole-fat cottage cheese, drained
2 large eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons chopped fresh summer herbs (such as basil or marjoram)
3 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup plain yellow or white cornmeal
2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese
1 small red onion, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup sour cream
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 11-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and set aside. Make sure you have enough tomatoes to completely cover the top like the rings of fruit on a French dessert tart.
Place the cottage cheese in a fine sieve and gently rinse under cool water. Set aside to drain. Whisk the eggs and 2 tablespoons of the herbs together well in a bowl and set aside.
Bring 1 1/2 cups of the water to a boil in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Add 1/s teaspoon of the salt. Once boiling, quickly whisk the cornmeal and remaining 1 1/2 cups of water together, then into the boiling pot. Stir without ceasing with a wooden spoon until the cornmeal pulls away from the sides of the pot in large, dry-looking bubbles. Sometimes this happens quickly and sometimes it doesn’t. The cornmeal is ready when you can tip the pan and have most of the mixture pull away dry.
Quickly stir in the butter until it is completely absorbed. Add the eggs all at once and stir rapidly so that they don’t become scrambled eggs. Next add the cheddar cheese, followed by the onion (you want it to remain crunchy), and the cottage cheese (you don’t wait it to melt away). Stir only long enough to combine. Quickly pour this mixture into the tart pan and spread it to the edges with a buttered teacup so you don’t burn your fingers. (Your wooden spoon will work okay for this, but the cornmeal will stick to it more.) You may have more than you need. The volume of this stuff varies mysteriously.
The cornmeal will begin to set at once, so quickly begin to layer in the slices of tomatoes, starting from the outside of the pan, in concentric circles like the rings of fruit on a French dessert tart. Dig the bottom of each slice into the cornmeal a little. This will cause the tart to thicken as you move toward the center. That’s okay. The rings of tomato slices should overlap a little.
Arranging the tomatoes
Sprinkle with the rest of the salt and the pepper and bake for 30 minutes. The tart may look a little wet at this point but it will set up as it bakes. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and bake another 15 minutes until the cheese is a little brown and crispy. Let rest for 10 minutes before unmolding and slicing. Mix the sour cream with the remaining herbs. Serve warm. This reheats beautifully.