24 September 2008

There is a season

Fall has come with a snap. Not really a cold snap, mind you, but it is making itself known to the people. At first, it was like a tease: the days would start off cool, but then reach a sweat-inducing heat. But then the wind would blow over some cloud cover, make things gray, and then that scent of Fall, distinct but so ephemeral, started wafting over the city... And now we're fully converted. Cool mornings, sixty to seventy degree days, a slight chill in the evening. I've even pulled out long-sleeve shirts to sit outside to drink a beer.

And the rain. The rain, too, has arrived; we're now in the glooms of autumn. The sky is gray, fog comes and goes at will, and then there are the incessant puddles: on the street, in the gutters, in the subway stations. (Um, by the way, the puddles in the subway are by far the most foul around. Yeesh.)

Luckily for us, we still are getting a little bit of summer at the markets. We still get fresh herbs, tomatoes, and corn. On the other hand, baking weather has arrived, so why not make a tomato tart? You know you want to. I certainly did. The only thing that gave me pause was the fact that the tomato tarts that I've made have been soggy, sad affairs. So when I read about an inverted tart in the Times a few weeks ago, I was intrigued. The crust wouldn't have time to get soggy, because it faces direct heat. The tomatoes wouldn't weigh it down because they are small. Interesting. It would be a nice intermingle of flavors due to caramel and onions and olive. Very intriguing, indeed.

The end product was very tasty, indeed. Still soggy, though, since caramel insisted on, you know, being heavy and watery. But what a taste! And it was very beautiful, too. Enough sun to hinder the fall just a little bit longer.

Caramelized Tomato Tarte Tatin, adapted from the New York Times

1 box frozen puff pastry*
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 red onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup plus pinch sugar
1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/2 cup chopped Kalamata olives
3 cups cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon freshly chopped thyme leaves
salt and pepper to taste

*Note: be sure to defrost your puff pastry before beginning. If you are like me and forget this step, you will end up waiting longer than you want to even start making this, and then you will get hungry and cranky in the meantime. Prevent undue grumpiness! Defrost your pastry!

1. Preheat the oven to 425. Unfold and cut pastry into a 10-inch shell, cover and chill in the refrigerator.
2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and a pinch of sugar, and cook, stirring, until they are caramelized and golden. This may take some time. But it's worth the extra time over the stove to have melting, lovely onions. Add 2 tablespoons of water and cook off, scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Transfer to a bowl.
3. In a clean, ovenproof skillet about the size or smaller than your pastry, make your caramel. Combine 1/4 cup sugar and 3 tablespoons water. Cook over medium heat, swirling the pan gently (do not stir) until sugar melts and turns amber, about 5-20 minutes. Add vinegar and swirl gently. (Your vinegar will spit act like it's going to splatter all over you. If you give it half a chance, it will. Do this step with a long arm.) Take pan off heat.
4. Sprinkle olives over caramel. Scatter tomatoes, over olives, then sprinkle onions on. Season with the thyme, salt, and pepper. Top with puff pastry round, tucking in the sides into the pan. Cut several long vents into the pastry.
5. Bake until crust is golden, about 30-35 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edges to loosen the pastry from the pan, then flip onto a serving platter. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.

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