Jeff and I agree on a lot of things food related but the one thing we don’t see eye to eye on is out of season tomatoes. During the nine months of the year when fresh, sun-ripened tomatoes aren’t available without an air shipment he won’t eat them. Picks around them in salads, takes them off his sandwiches on the rare occasion he forgets to say “no tomatoes”. Me on the other hand, I still pick up cherry tomatoes in December. I don’t worry about eating light pink tomatoes in March (hello March!)
For the most part, out of season tomatoes aren’t anything to get excited about. They aren’t particularly sweet or juicy like their summer counterparts. But it’s winter tomatoes that are made for cooking. Their charm takes a bit more coaxing – it requires slow heat and caramelization – but the payoff is sweet. The tomato flavor concentrates, it becomes something else entirely from its unripe beginnings. What started out as a pile of hard pink tomatoes ended in an unusual tart tatin.
The funny thing is, I’ve never made the traditional tart tatin, with apples and a thick caramel sauce. It’s been on my to-bake list for years but it wasn’t the apples that ended up tempting me. It was the tomatoes.They emerged from the pan with deeply browned tops and a rich flavor, caramel-like on top and soft and melty inside. I’m sure there’s a lesson here about every tomato being delicious in its own way. But whatever, I’m too busy enjoying my March tomatoes.
Tomato Tart Tatin
2 tbs olive oil
1-2 onions, halved and finely sliced
6-8 tomatoes, halved
2 tbs fresh thyme
½ cup stock or water
1 tbs soy sauce
Salt to taste
1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed
SAUTE onions and olive oil in an 8-10 inch nonreactive skillet (i.e. not nonstick or cast iron) over medium heat until lightly caramelized, about 25 minutes. Season with up to a teaspoon of salt. Don’t increase the heat too much or the onions may burn before they caramelize.
ADD the tomatoes to the pan, face down along with the thyme, stock, soy sauce, and another 1-2 teaspoons of salt, depending on if your stock is low sodium or no salt.
PREHEAT oven to 375F.
SIMMER tomatoes without stirring for about 20 minutes or until the liquid has mostly disappeared. If the liquid all bubbles off before the 20 minutes are up, reduce the heat to low and keep cooking.
UNFOLD your fully-defrosted puff pastry and trim the corners to make an (approximately) 10-inch round.
COVER the tomatoes with the puff pastry when they’ve finished simmering. Then slip the whole pan in the oven.
BAKE for 20-25 minutes, until the pastry is puffed up and golden brown.
INVERT the tart onto a clean plate. Start this by running a spatula under the tomatoes in the pan to loosen them a little (don’t worry if the pastry cracks a little). Then put a clean plate upside down on the tart and using oven mitts or pot holders, flip the pan upside down so that the tart is tomato side up on the plate.
The best course of action is to serve the tart as soon as possible – the puff pastry will get soggier the longer the juicy tomatoes sit on it. If you want to make this ahead, invert the tart onto a plate. Put a buttered piece of parchment paper into the pan (or into a 10-inch pie dish that you plan to use to transport the tart) and replace the tart, tomato side down, into the pan now lined with parchment. Let it cool completely and then cover it. When you’re ready to eat it, reheat it in a 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until it’s hot and crispy and then follow the steps to invert it onto serving plate.