My brother texted me yesterday to tell me he’d just eaten the best apple of his life. It was a Honeycrisp. This year everyone’s all about the Sweetango but I find they have little to offer other than overwhelming sweetness. Plus, it’s hard to take yourself seriously when you’re eating something called a sweetango.
The Bartletts need a bit of time to ripen, and I need to figure out what type of plums those are. Italian prune plums, I think, in which case they’re going to become a tart. Or this delicious-looking thing. Probably both. There’s plenty of plums.
From my boss, the Obi Wan Kenobi of fruit: “No mystery. . .they are Stanley prune plums, the most commonly grown plum in Michigan.” And evidently you can just eat them. I tried one. It was pretty, um, common.
I’m not exactly sure where September went. It was here, all crisp and vivid with Indian summer sunlight, and then the light softened and the air grew chill and it was October, a month squarely on the other side of summer. I spent September at work writing a holiday catalog, which may not sound particularly taxing, but is. Like, really. At night, after all the writing, I’d come home ravenous and addle-brained and stand in front of a refrigerator stocked with little more than a handful of fancy cheeses and—honestly—six kinds of homemade pickles. These are not the sort of ingredients with which one can reasonably cobble together the only meal of the day.
Instead, I lived on tomatoes. (And wine. Lots and lots of wine.) There are a handful of things that I make for dinner when I can’t be bothered to figure out what to make for dinner, but this cherry tomato gratin is by far the best of my default dinners. You toss a pint of cherry tomatoes in a shallow baking dish and scatter a handful of breadcrumbs, fresh herbs and Parmesan over them, leaving just a hint of round redness peeking out here and there. Then you slip the dish into a hot oven until the bread is crisp and golden and fragrant and the tomatoes have just begun to go all slumpy and warm. With each bite you get the hefty crunch of cheesy toasted bread, the vivacious freshness of summer herbs, and the exhilarating burst of intensely sweet roasted tomatoes. Which is exactly the sort of thing you need when you’re feeling all sapped and addle-brained and like whoever invented sentences is a real jerk.
I don’t know if tomatoes are still in season where you live, but we have another week or so here along the 45th parallel. That’s at least five nights of cherry tomato gratin— spooned over thick slices of fresh mozzarella or grilled eggplant, tossed with capellini, or served alongside roast chicken. On the other few nights, I think we’ll just go back to September and serve it simply with wine. Lots and lots of wine.
1 pint cherry tomatoes
4 oz. ciabatta or rustic Italian bread, torn into coarse crumbs
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
kosher salt and ground white pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400°F. In a medium bowl, combine bread, Parmesan cheese, thyme, and garlic; drizzle with olive oil and toss to combine. Season with coarse salt and ground pepper.
Place cherry tomatoes in a shallow baking dish; scatter bread crumb mixture over tomatoes. Cover baking dish tightly with foil and bake for five minutes. Remove foil and bake until crust is golden and crisp and tomatoes are soft, 10 minutes more.
Serve over fresh mozzarella, grilled eggplant, pasta, grilled fish or roast chicken.
It was pouring at the market this morning! And it’s supposed to be crappy all weekend– a good weekend to spend in the kitchen.
corncob wine (no, really)
Marcella’s tomato sauce (to freeze)
oven-dried tomatoes (with the Juliets)
basil preserved in salt
and I’ll probably end up canning some of those Romas, because that’s a hell of a lot of tomatoes for just sauce.
And then there’s this:
One goes in gin and the other gets bourbon.
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.
I’m showing remarkable restraint at the market these days, y’all. Remarkable. Restraint.
We’re having 15 people over for dinner on Tuesday night. Obviously I’m planning on feeding them herbs and tomatoes. I think I need more tomatoes. . .
Also, you should not make pinky swears and home improvements at the same time. The bathroom’s still not quite done, but it’s fully functional and a hell of a lot prettier.
At some point I’m actually going to tell you about something I made with all the produce I’ve been buying. We’re in the midst of renovating our only bathroom, and every spare second is devoted to returning the room to a semi-functional state. Next week, an actual recipe. Pinky swear.
Oh, you’re probably wondering what Shunkyo radishes are. They’re an heirloom variety my favorite farmer grows. I didn’t need two types of radishes, but he tucked them into my basket as a freebie. I think I might pickle them.