Fall is officially here, but my tomato patch is still going strong, and one of the best ways to put the fruits of my summer labor to use is to make a tart. It's easy, delicious and perfect with a simple green salad and a bottle of bubbly. When this savory pastry, bursting with amazing tomato-y goodness comes out of the oven, your friends will declare you a culinary genius. Take a bow and let them toast you with a glass of champagne. Because you ARE a genius.
If you're aiming for stress-free entertaining, treats that can be made ahead of time should always be part of the plan. The tomato tart scores major points on this front since the dough and the sauce freeze well. In my fantasy life, where I am the perfect entertainer who has key staples at the ready, I'd always have a few balls of dough in my freezer. Sadly, that's rarely the case. However, I can flip to page 461 of The New York Cookbook by Molly O'Neil and whip up a foolproof dough that makes the world's flakiest crust. Many people are under the mistaken impression that pie crust is a hard thing to do well. It's not! According to O'Neil, this recipe is from the famous Algonquin Hotel bar that served apple pie in the '20s to the writer Dorothy Parker and her gang of Round Table literati. I've relied on it for over two decades, with every kind of filling, including savory, and it's always stellar. It only has a small amount of sugar which balances nicely with the acidity of the tomatoes.
2 cups of flour
1 tbsp sugar
Pinch of salt
1 stick of refrigerated unsalted butter
1/2 C Crisco
1/2 C ice water
Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Cut the stick of butter into small pieces and blend into the dry ingredients with a hand-held pastry blender or two forks. Next, cut in the Crisco. Once you've achieved a pea-like consistency, add the ice water. (I use my hands to mix the flour-shortening crumbs with the water until I have a dough ball that holds together. Caution: Don't overwork the dough. You'll still see chunks of butter, and that's OK because this is what makes the crust nice and flaky. Wrap the dough ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. (Or freeze until ready to thaw and use.)
OK! Now for the Sauce + Fixings.
One key thing to know: the proportions of the ingredients listed below make way more sauce than needed for the tart. (Trust me, that's a good thing. I'll get back to that toward the end of this post.)
1 medium yellow onion
1 C Cherry tomatoes
1/2 green pepper, diced
1 can El Pato tomato sauce
lemon zest from 1 small lemon
8-12 mushrooms, any variety (or more if you like super mushroom-y flavor)
5 pieces of Bacon or sausage
1/2 c grated Fontina cheese
In a large saucepan with tall sides, sauté a finely chopped onion until it's soft and golden. Add the green pepper and cherry tomatoes and sauté for 2 more minutes.
Add the El Pato tomato sauce. If you can't find this brand of sauce, which is a product of Mexico, don't worry. You can use any sauce that you enjoy. But what I like about El Pato is that it has a fiery kick, and it's not at all sweet. In my opinion, many commercial sauces have way too much added sugar. So at the very least, choose a sauce that goes light on the white stuff. (Tip: If you live in Seattle, the Red Apple on Beacon Hill carries El Pato.)
If you like things EXTRA spicy, you can also add a small can or two of El Pato salsa with Jalapenos. I try to use this product often because the cans make the cutest planters for cacti, which I sell in my shop. (Just be sure to punch holes in the bottom for drainage. A nail and hammer will do the trick.)
Let the vegetables-and-sauce mix simmer for ten minutes and thicken up a bit. Add the lemon zest. If needed, the sauce, like the dough, can be refrigerated or frozen. If you're making your tart right away, cook up your bacon (or preferred meat). It should be thoroughly cooked, but not too crispy or brown. Set aside the bacon and sauté sliced mushrooms in a few tablespoons of salted butter. When the mushrooms are nicely browned, remove from heat and drain on a paper towel.
Roll out the dough and place on a baking sheet. (Notice the pieces of butter in the rolled-out dough below: That's the key to getting a flaky crust that makes a pleasing crackle when you cut into it with your fork.) Mmmmmmm.
Spread sauce over the dough, layer on cooked bacon, sautéed mushrooms and grated fontina cheese. Fold over the edge of your dough and pinch. Bake at 450° for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 375° and bake for an additional 30 minutes, or until things are bubbly and the crust is golden brown. Be careful not to let the bottom of the tart burn. (It's helpful to move your baking sheet from the middle to the top rack halfway through your cooking cycle.) Let the tart cool for 15 minutes before serving.
Yum. How can something so easy be so good?
If this tart doesn't motivate you to grow tomatoes, I don't know what will.
Oh, and what should you do with the leftover sauce? My favorite trick is to cook some chicken thighs for an hour (or longer, if you have the time) on medium heat. Just drop your chicken in the sauce and it will cook up super tender and "marinated" with spice. I call it second-day stew. It's especially nice with fat chunks of bread to sop up the extra tomato sauce in your bowl. Of course, you can also serve the stew on rice. Or, make another tart. The choice is yours, but either way, it's going to be great.