Last Tuesday we attempted to have a dinner party. We invited 15 people, four of them rather small, over for dinner. On a school night. We planned a menu. We made special trips to our favorite farms to pick up produce at its very freshest. We stayed up into the wee hours of the morning making twice as many potato tarts as we really needed to. We borrowed chairs and set two long tables on the deck, using linens from last summer’s wedding. And then, a few minutes before our guests were due to arrive, it started to rain. A lot. We scooped up dishes and glasses and tablecloths and stood, dripping and defeated, in our tiny living/dining room. One of us said some very bad words.
Then we opened a couple bottles of wine, pulled tarts from the oven and steak off the grill, pushed the living room furniture to the edges of the room, dragged our 9′ Ikea patio table inside and just generally made do. And you know what? It was great. I mean, it wasn’t the dinner party I’d envisioned, but maybe it was better and truer than any party I could have orchestrated. Everyone had plenty to eat, none of the munchkins spilled cranberry juice on our grown-up stuff, and there was an amazing potato tart that we’re all still talking about more than a week later.
It’s a tart that, around midnight last Monday night, I made Chris promise not to ever let me make again. But that was before I’d tasted it (and also, he is not the boss of me). This tart is actually not at all complicated unless you’re making it for thirty people, and it’s just the sort of thing to serve a small crowd. It’s substantial without being heavy— a blanket of sliced new potatoes and roasted cherry tomatoes scattered with fresh herbs, settling into a thin sheet of goat cheese atop a bed of flaky puff pastry. At a late summer dinner party it’s the perfect partner to grilled flank steak with parsley sauce, but it’s equally at home next to a simple green salad on more humble occasions.
It’s the kind of tart you want in your repertoire, even if you only pull it out once a year on the night you cram fifteen hungry, happy people into your 12′ x 20′ living/dining room during a thunderstorm. It’s the kind of tart that prompts a handful of those fifteen hungry, happy people to email you a few days later and tell you that your dinner-party-gone-wrong felt like Italy. And I’ve never been to Italy, but “felt like Italy” is pretty much the hallmark of success in my book. Even if once you sit down there’s no way in hell you can get back out to grab seconds.
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
salt & pepper
1 lb. small new potatoes
1 large onion, thinly sliced (about ¾ cup)
3 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. butter
4 sprigs fresh oregano
6 sprigs fresh thyme
4 oz. hard goat cheese, sliced (Cypress Grove’s Midnight Moon or Beemster Goat are both good options)
2 oz. crumbled goat cheese
1 sheet puff pastry, rolled thin
Preheat oven to 275° and place tomatoes skin-side down on a baking sheet. Drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil, sprinkle generously with salt & pepper, and roast for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add salt and potatoes and parboil for 15-18 minutes, until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a knife but are still somewhat firm. Drain and cool. Slice potatoes into1” thick discs, discarding ends for a prettier tart (or use them, if you’re not making it for company).
While the potatoes cool, sauté the onion over medium heat with a little salt for about 10 minutes, until golden brown.
To assemble the tart, brush a 9” cake pan* with olive oil and line with a circle of parchment paper. (You’re basically assembling the tart in reverse order, and then inverting it once it’s baked.) Cook sugar and butter in small pan over high heat, stirring constantly, until you have a semi-dark caramel. Pour the caramel into the pan quickly and tilt the pan to spread the caramel evenly. Pick the oregano and thyme leaves off their stems and scatter generously over the caramel.
Fill the pan with potato slices, placing them snugly cut-side down. Tuck tomatoes and onion carefully into gaps and season generously with salt & pepper. Scatter the crumbled goat cheese evenly over potatoes and top with sliced goat cheese. Trim puff pastry sheet to 1” larger than the pan and lay it over the filling, tucking the edges down inside around the potatoes.
Whew. Have a glass of wine. At this point, you can refrigerate the tart for up to 24 hours. Or not.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400°. Bake the tart for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350° and bake for an additional 15 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. Remove the tart from the oven and let it settle for at least 5 minutes. When you’re ready to serve the tart (and not before, or the pastry will get soggy!) hold an inverted platter or cutting board firmly on top of the pan and quickly flip them over together, then lift the pan off the tart. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
*If you want to double the recipe for a crowd, it fits perfectly in a half-sheet pan.