Food has always been a big part of my life, but this is how I became to be what everyone calls a foodie…
A few years ago, my “about to be” good friend Cheryl Gray invited me to a tomato class at the Good Earth in Beamsville, Ontario, Canada. Just out of the blue… she was new to our company, and stopped by my desk to invite me. “It’s a tomato class”, she told me, and thinking that it sounded fun, I agreed to go. I had no idea what I was about to experience, but then again, knowing Cheryl, I never know what I’m in store for, I just know that it is always going to be quirky and fun! (Kind of like the Iron Chef competition that she held at her house a couple of years ago!)
As we’re driving along an old country road in Beamsville, Cheryl says.. “We’re here”. Now from where I was sitting, all that I saw were some trees in an orchard. There is nothing like that first element of surprise in any situation, and this one was no different. We pulled onto a long dirt driveway that was in the midst of the peach orchards, and at that point, I’m thinking to myself…what on earth am I doing here? But, in an instant, I knew what we were doing, and I knew that we would be doing this for many years to come. Nestled among peach orchards and grape vineyards, sat a charming little cottage, surrounded by flowers and trees, and an outdoor kitchen…and to my delight, she told me it was the cooking school. Inside the cottage is just as charming, filled with everything imaginable that a cook might dream about.
Needless to say, I was enamored, and the only way I can explain myself and my love for the Good Earth, is that I am truly in a good place when I am there. There is no doubt that food, friendship, and laughter are the foundation to a happy mind, body and soul. So for me, the dishes that I plan to re-create from my life experiences are truly comfort food to me, and I hope will be for you too.
On that day, the class featured a few different tomato dishes, one of them a tomato tartlet. That particular tartlet was made with a puff pastry, and highlighted heirloom tomatoes, and gorgonzola cheese. It was truly memorable. Delicious. That day, I made a very good friend in Cheryl, and a new love for savory tarts.
Simple, rustic, and delish. Life is good.
Rustic Tomato Tartlet
Ok, this might look ominous, but don’t let the long recipe scare you away. It is truly a simple recipe, a little time consuming, but totally worth the effort!
Make it fun when you’re choosing the tomatoes for this recipe! Although I bought red grape tomatoes today, I usually like to buy the yellow, orange and red cherry tomatoes. They just make for a prettier tart.. and.. don’t be afraid to dabble a bit with fresh herbs either. While I tend to use fresh basil as the topper; fresh sage, thyme, oregano, or whatever other herb that tickles your fancy will be just as lovely! Be sure to use a high quality aged balsamic vinegar. You won’t be sorry, it’s sweet, it’s syrupy, it’s glorious nectar!
While I use Pink Himalayan salt in this recipe, don’t feel like you have to. I tend to like that salt because it is very mild. It just doesn’t have that sharp bite that regular table salt, or some sea salts have. If you can find it, then go for it. You’ll love it. If you can’t find it, don’t stress! Use your favorite sea salt or Kosher salt!
The tartlet pans that I use have a removable bottom. I own thirty-six of these pans because I like to have them when I’m making these tartlets for a crowd. My friend Jim Baker (he built and owns Chateau Niagara Winery in Newfane, NY) asked me one time why I had so many; when all I had to do was reuse the pans after each tartlet was baked. My reply was that “I NEED them”. He came back with, “You don’t NEED them. You WANT them”. Of course, he’s right…you only need a couple of these pans and can reuse them over and over again. I promise you, you will want to share these delectable beauties, so my suggestion is to at least have six pans, so that you can make the complete recipe in one swoop. The one pictured here is Wilton, 4.75” pan that I purchased on Amazon for about $17 for six.
Because the crust likes to bubble up during the initial baking, I have a bunch of empty tuna cans filled with dried beans that I’ve converted into pie weights for my tart pans. They fit perfectly, and keep the crust nice and flat. Be sure to give them a spritz on their bottoms with cooking spray so that they don’t stick to the crust after baking. I keep the beans in a zip lock bag in the freezer when I’m not using them so they don’t get buggy. And since I promised to share my shortcomings with you, I need to find a new home for the tuna cans, because I can’t tell you how many times they fall out of the cupboard when I’m pulling out a baking pan. And every single time it happens, I’m completely annoyed, but instead of doing the right thing and moving them, I go ahead and pile them right back into the same cupboard, knowing full well it’s going to happen again!
And on to the tartlet…
Balsamic Roasted Cherry Tomatoes:
3 pints cherry or grape tomatoes (sliced and placed on paper towels to dry)
Balsamic Vinegar for drizzling
Olive oil for drizzling
Himalayan Pink Salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 350 degrees, and spray two non-stick baking sheets with olive oil cooking spray. Place the tomato slices on the baking sheets and drizzle liberally with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Don’t be shy with the vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes or until the tomatoes are tender and caramelized. Set aside and let cool.
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup shortening
½ tsp salt
½ cup milk
1 tbsp vinegar (I prefer cider vinegar, it tends to give the crust a good flavor, and a very tender flake)
In a small bowl, mix the milk and vinegar together. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, blend the flour, shortening, and salt together until mixture is in pea size crumbles. Pour the milk and vinegar mixture into the flour mixture and stir. The dough will be sticky.
Use plenty of flour, and roll the dough into a ball. Cut the dough ball in half (each half makes three tart crusts) and again, using plenty of flour on your rolling board, roll the first half to 1/8 inch thick. Take the bottom of one of the tartlet pans, and place it on the dough. Using a paring knife, cut a circle out of the dough about a ½” wider in diameter than the bottom of the tartlet pan. Press the circle of dough into a tartlet pan, and fold the overlapping dough back down the inside of the pan to make the sides of the tartlet sturdy. Place a pie weight onto the dough. Repeat with the remaining dough. To make it easier to handle the tartlet pans, place them on a baking sheet, and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove the pie weights and let the crust cool in the pans. Set aside. Do not remove the crust from the pans at this point!!
Don’t toss the pie dough scraps. We’ll talk about some little pastries after this recipe!
2 egg yolks
¼ cup heavy cream
½ tsp Himalayan Pink Salt
¼ tsp Fresh ground pepper
A Pinch of Cayenne (or more, depending on your heat preference)
In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks, heavy cream, salt, pepper and cayenne until creamy. Set aside.
The rest of the ingredients:
½ pound thick sliced bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces.
2 large Spanish onions, sliced
6 cloves roasted garlic
8 oz package baby bella mushrooms (I admit to using double that, just because I love mushrooms)
2 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
2 tbsp of your favorite steak sauce, such as A1
6 tsp whole grain mustard
8 oz parmigiano reggiano, grated
8 oz mozzarella, grated
Himalayan Pink Salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Fresh basil leaves
In a large frying pan, cook the bacon until crisp, remove from grease and drain on paper towel. Sauté the onions in the bacon grease until golden brown. Remove from pan, and set aside. In the same pan, sauté the mushrooms for a few minutes, and add the onions back to pan. To the mushroom and onion mixture, add the worchestershire and steak sauces, and season with salt and pepper. Taste it, and if you think it needs more seasoning, then by all means, add more of the sauces, salt and pepper until it’s to your liking.
Now it’s time to layer the tartlets:
Be sure to leave the tartlet crusts in their pans on the baking sheet before you begin layering. Spread one teaspoon of whole grain mustard on the bottom of each crust. Sprinkle with parmigiano reggiano and mozzarella. Add the bacon as the next layer, and be generous; there is plenty of bacon for all six tarts! Place a generous amount of the mushroom and onion mixture on top of the bacon. Break one clove of garlic into pieces over the top of the mushroom and onion mixture. Sprinkle with parmigiano reggiano and mozzarella.
Pour 2 tablespoons of custard over the top, it will seep down through the layers, creating that creamy goodness that we all love.
Handling them carefully (they’re pretty fragile at this point), begin layering the tomatoes on top of the custard, starting around the edge of the tart, and overlapping them in a spiral design until they meet up in the middle.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, or until the tartlets are golden brown and bubbling. Remove from oven and let rest for ten minutes. Remove the tartlets from their pans by placing the tartlet pan on top of a soup can, and let the rim fall to the counter. Carefully remove bottom of the pan from the tartlet, and place the tartlet on plate. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and a chiffonade of basil. Oh, so pretty!
These tartlets are delicious either hot or cold served with a peppery arugula salad and a crisp glass of your favorite white or red wine. I indulged in a glass of Chateau Niagara’s Gerwurztraminer with mine!
Cinnamon Swirl Pastries
While I’m still in comfort food mode, let’s talk about these little cinnamon swirl pastries that my mom always makes with her scrap pie dough, and now I do too. So simple…and it’s a “you can’t eat just one” type of thing. I’ve often wondered why I don’t make up a whole pie dough recipe and make a ton of these. Maybe they wouldn’t be the special treat that they are. You only get a few out of the scraps. If you’re lucky, you’ll get as many twenty!
I can’t even begin to tell you how delicious these little pastries are. The cinnamon and sugar melt together to have this little crunchy thing going on the bottom of the pastry, while the top is sweet, melty glaze, and the center is cinnamony, flaky and tender.
Pie Dough Scraps
1 tbsp Butter (or more, depending on how large your dough circle turns out to be)
½ cup confectionary sugar
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp milk
¼ tsp vanilla
Roll out your remaining pie scraps into one last circle. It doesn’t matter how big it is, but you want it to around 1/8” thick. Spread the butter all over the dough circle. Sprinkle cinnamon all over the butter. Sprinkle sugar all over the cinnamon. Use as much or as little as you like.
Starting on one side, roll the circle into a long rope, as pictured here. Cut off the uneven ends. Using a sharp knife, cut the rope into ¼” slices, so that they are cinnamon-sugar swirl rounds. Place them on a lightly sprayed cookie sheet, and bake at 350 degrees for about 10-12 minutes, or until they are golden brown.
Mix the confectionary sugar, butter, milk, and vanilla until well blended. While the pastries are still warm, spoon a dollop of glaze on top of each one, and they will do the rest. The glaze will melt over the top and down the sides. It will harden as they cool, if they even last that long!