Wednesday, September 14, 2011

So long, Summer: Mini Tomato Gratins and a Cheesy Tomato Tart

Oh, Summer. How I’ll miss you.

Early morning sunshine. Long, lazy days. Flip flops and summer dresses. Sand covered toes and salt soaked hair. The smell of fresh cut grass and barbecues blazing. The sounds of birds chirping and children playing. Cool sweet Gelato. Hot buttery corn. The biggest juiciest cherries and the world’s most perfect peaches. And the tomatoes. Oh, the tomatoes.

Summer, you came so late. And left us far too soon.

With the season being what it was, there wasn’t nearly as much beautiful summer produce as I remember there being in past years. But I still hit up the farmers market and brought home as much as I could possibly carry. 

I have a funny relationship with tomatoes. I think when they are good, they are SO good. I can eat a whole bowl of those little candy-like cherry tomatoes. Or cut a big orange heirloom beauty into thin slices, sprinkle with some course sea salt, and have at it. But when they are bad… I am not a fan. The tough unyielding skin? The mushy insides that lead to a slimy seed explosion in your mouth? No, thank you.  Those tomatoes get roasted to oblivion with garlic and onion. Or stewed over a low flame for hours on end. Anything to transform them into something more savory.  But late summer tomatoes are of the best kind. And after eating a few pounds of them fresh, I decided I should get creative.

One of these recipes was a huge success. The other, not so much. The first was inspired by this recipe from Heidi at 101 cookbooks (her new cookbook is my new favorite thing by the way. The pictures alone are breathtaking). But I kind of wung it (winged it? Is there a past tense of wing it???).

I layered some tomatoes with these cute little new potatoes and some basil. Dumped over some cream and parmesan. Stuck it in the oven. And waited. And boy was it ever worth the wait. These made a lovely little meal with a single poached egg perched atop each gratin. I could easily see a casserole sized version as a side dish for entertaining. Maybe along side a roasted chicken?  Either way, it’s the perfect thing to enjoy as the first hints of autumn set in. Warm and comforting, but with those wonderfully bright summer flavors.

Individual Tomato Basil Gratins

Makes 2 servings
As I mentioned, I kind of made this recipe up as I went along. For this reason, I didn't weigh the ingredients and I am sorry for this. It will surely make re-creating it a bit of a challenge. But I encourage you to be instinctive with this one. Do two or three layers of potatoes and tomato, whatever your gratin dishes will accommodate. Add whatever cheeses or fresh herbs you have on hand and have fun with it. A mandolin would also come in really handy here for slicing the potatoes, but I made do without one. Just be sure to slice the potatoes rather thin and evenly, and be careful!


3-4 cups small new potatoes, thinly sliced
8-10 oz. tomatoes, I used about 6 of varying sizes
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 bunch fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
About 1 cup of any freshly grated sharp cheese - Parmesan, Grana Padano, or Asiago
Butter to coat pans 

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease gratin dishes with a bit of butter. 
2. Thinly slice potatoes to about 1/8 inch thick. Place in a bowl with cream, salt, and pepper.
3. Use a knife to slice the tomatoes to between 1/4 and 1/2 inch. Slice basil and grate cheese. I use one of these and I love it.
4. Start with a layer of potatoes in the bottom of your gratin dishes, then tomatoes, basil, and cheese. Repeat until you reach the top and drizzle any remaining cream. Finish with a generous layer of cheese. Cheese makes me happy. 
5. Cover with foil and bake for 30-40 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes,  or until the top is browned and cheese is bubbly. 

The second dish seemed like a really good idea at the time, but I wish I had gone about it more thoughtfully. Using tomatoes in some sort of pie or tart had been on my mind for ages. This recipe from Simply Recipes  was a candidate. But this one, posted on The Kitchn but originally from David Lebovitz's blog, was the one I chose in the end. A decision I later questioned. 

Confession: I took these pretty little pictures. And then put the tart back in the over for another, oh, hour or so.

I had wanted to (for once) follow the recipe. A recipe which did not instruct me to par bake my crust. Maybe that had to do with the crust recipe provided in the original recipe? Or a temperature discrepancy? I don’t know. But me, wanting to take a shortcut on a Wednesday night, I used a store bought crust. I should have known better. I think cheats like using a ready made store bought crust can be great time savers, and usually don’t have much impact on the final results (I use the Pillsbury ones-in the refrigerator isle, not frozen-they are unbaked and come rolled up in a tube, and I think they are quite good. No I am not ashamed. Sorry Mom). But taking a shortcut usually means making some adjustments to your recipe. And as I learned here,  the crust should always always be par baked. Mom always told me to par bake the crust, why didn’t I listen?

By the time the crust was cooked through enough to eat, the tomatoes and cheese had started to burn.

And it was Late.

And I had filled up on chips and salsa.

Whatever the reason, this just didn’t look appealing to me anymore. And I certainly could not get The Boy to touch it. I took a few bites, and the rest sat in the fridge for a few days, until I no longer felt too guilty throw it out. What a sad fate these gorgeous tomatoes met.  

I did say we were here to learn together, didn’t I? The lesson here? Trust your instincts. Pay attention to what you know to be true, even if a famous chef says otherwise. 

And savor summer, because it will be gone before you know it.

Rain is predicted here in Vancouver tomorrow (back to our usual ways), and I have started to dream of pasta casseroles and baked potato soup. Of fuzzy slippers and cups of tea. 

But I am not in any hurry.



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