In the early days of August, when the cherry tomatoes begin to ripen and you can pluck them off the vine and eat them, still warm from the sun with the grit of dirt felt on your tongue, it feels like there aren't enough fresh tomatoes to feed your summer hunger.
But then you turn around, take your eyes off of the garden for one day, and suddenly, you've got more tomatoes than your largest sauce pot can hold.
There is nothing I love more than a fresh tomato sandwich on white or sour dough bread with a slather of mayonnaise and a sprinkling of Kosher salt and fresh black pepper. And I always freeze a few gallon bags of quartered tomatoes to be used for homemade sauce in the early fall, when I start to miss my grandmother and the smells of her kitchen from meatballs simmering in a giant pot of fresh sauce all day.
But in the early days of quarantine, I planted a lot of tomatoes. I mean, a lot. And then, I miraculously had tomato plants pop up in the middle of my herbs and cucumber plants, from seeds that must have been buried last year and never emerged. We're only two weeks into August and my family is growing tired of my quick sauteed tomatoes and zucchini with olive oil over anything — pasta, rice, Quinoa or salad greens.
My tomato game needed a little spice, a little shakeup for our evening barbecue dinner on the deck. Dare I say, a little drama off the vine.
Enter my newest obsession: anything baked in tart form. Call it a galette, a tart or a "fancy pie" as my 5-year-old son does, no matter what it's a delicious vehicle for any ingredient you're trying to use up. I found a recipe for a Caramelized Tomato Tarte Tatin by Melissa Clark that calls for making a briny, caramel topping that holds fresh cherry tomatoes together in a blanket of savory flavor over a puff pastry. Her original recipe called for fresh thyme and to just load it up with fresh tomatoes halved. But, my garden is also bursting with basil and after reading the comments I realized this recipe, while it appears to be a fussy show-stopper of a summer dish, is infinitely adaptable to whatever you have, or like to serve with your tomatoes.
A few tips: Tomatoes are naturally juicy, so making this without getting out some of the juices will result in a messy tart that won't give the puff pastry a fighting chance of holding the flavors in. Take the extra step and roast your tomatoes beforehand to let some of the juices escape and to give them a rich, more concentrated flavor. Also, to help reduce moisture, I sprinkled about a tablespoon of dry cornmeal on the mixture before putting the puff pastry on to help absorb more juices. Don't worry, even with all these extra precautions, the tomatoes are anything but dry. Instead, they meld with the brine of the olives and vinegar and caramelized onions to create a jammy, slightly sweet yet savory topping that is a slice of summer heaven on a puff pastry.
This dish also has a big reveal wow-factor moment. After letting it rest for 5 to 10 minutes, call your family in to watch you flip it over onto a plate, revealing the caramelized topping that was hiding under the pastry in the oven. Don't worry if a few tomatoes stick to the pan, just plop them back on top, or eat them before anyone can see you do it. You won't want to leave a single, jammy orb of this tomato goodness behind.
TOMATO TARTE TATIN
One 14-ounce package puff pastry
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 red onions, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 cup plus a pinch of sugar
1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar
1/4 cup chopped pitted Kalamata olives
1 1/2 pint (about 1 pound) cherry or grape tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon cornmeal
1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
Preheat oven to 400 F. Slice cherry tomatoes in half and roast in the oven with drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper for about 30 minutes, until tomatoes have begun to burst and juices are escaping the tomatoes. Set aside to cool once done roasting.
Unfold puff pastry sheet and cut into a 10-inch round; chill, covered, until ready to use.
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and a pinch of sugar and cook, stirring, until onions are golden and caramelized, 15 to 20 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons water, or white wine, and let cook off, scraping brown bits from bottom of pan. Transfer onions to a bowl.
Preheat oven to 425 F.
In a clean, ovenproof 9-inch skillet, combine 1/4 cup sugar and 3 tablespoons water. Cook over medium heat, swirling pan gently (do not stir) until sugar melts and turns amber, 5 to 10 minutes. Be careful not to burn the caramel, it can happen quickly. Add vinegar and swirl gently.
Sprinkle olives over caramel. Scatter tomatoes over olives, then sprinkle onions on and then the fresh basil. Season with salt and pepper. Then sprinkle cornmeal all over the mixture to help absorb liquids while baking. Take the puff pastry out of the fridge and brush 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard on the side that will go down on top of the tomato mixture. Top the mixture (with Dijon mustard down) with puff pastry round, tucking edges into pan. Cut several long vents in top of pastry.
Bake tart until crust is puffed and golden, about 30 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes, then run a knife around pastry to loosen it from pan, and flip tart out onto a serving platter. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.
Make it your own: Add in any herbs you'd like, or maybe some soft goat cheese or crumbled bacon to the layers before baking.