A labour of love – tomato tartlets tatin

As I scooped the seeds out of two punnets of cherry tomatoes I had to ask myself why. Why did I decide to do this? Surely life is just too short!

But I persevered, hoping that all this arduous, fiddly cherry tomato de-seeding would be worth it.

And was it?

Heck yes! More than worth it. A million times worth it. Because the little tomato tartlets I ended up with were quite possibly the most beautiful pastry-based creations I have ever eaten. I tried to savour mine, tried to eat slowly and make the pleasure last. I really did. But from the first mouthful in, I couldn’t help myself. The flavours were so intense – of the bursting in your mouth kind- so sweet and moreish, the crisp, buttery pastry base the perfect foil to the juicy, just verging on sticky tomatoes and caramelized red onion. This was heaven, in pastry form. And I was so excited to have stumbled upon it that I snaffled it all up greedily.

Then regretted it, when my encounter with food heaven was over in a flash.

But I have learnt my lesson.

Next time, make bigger versions of these tartlets, or just make more of them!

The recipe came form Béatrice Peltre’s La Tartine Gourmande, easily one of the most beautiful cookbooks I own. The photography is stunning, achingly so. And I love a cookbook with stories in, stories that bring a recipe to life, give it meaning, a history. This cookbook is full of these.

The tartlets are a novel spin on the traditional, sweet tarte tatin made with apples, baked upside down with the pastry on top and then inverted to serve.There is no getting away from it though, they are a labour of love. Béa suggests serving these tartlets as a brunch, which is what I did. And I would whole-heartedly second her suggestion to prepare the pastry, tomatoes and onions the night before, especially if you are anything like me and struggle with even the smallest of tasks before consuming food in the morning. De-seeding cherry tomatoes is definitely not something I am capable of while food deprived and still a little hazy from sleep. I’d most definitely throw a strop.  The only down-side to this night before preparation is that the caramelized onions and roasted tomatoes smell so delicious you’ll begrudge having to wait til the next day to eat them.

Not having the ingredients to make the brown rice, quinoa and buckwheat pastry, as Béa’s recipe calls for, (although I’m sure it would have made these tartlets even more spectacular) I made a basic shortcrust pastry. I also replaced the manchego cheese with cheddar.

View the tomato de-seeding as therapeutic, and know that the hard work will make you appreciate the tarts even more (if that’s even possible).

You will be rewarded. Believe me.

Cherry tomato tartlets tatin – adapted slightly from La Tartine Gourmande.

Makes 4 tartlets

You will need four 12cm tart moulds

For the pastry:

  • 225g plain flour
  • pinch salt
  • 115g unsalted butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • approx 2-3 tbsp cold water, as needed

For the tartlets:

  • 5 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for greasing
  • 1 red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 twigs thyme
  • 2 tbsp soft brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • 600g cherry tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tbsp chopped tarragon, plus extra to garnish
  • 8 thin slices of cheddar cheese (or another hard cheese of your preference) plus extra, finely grated to serve

You can prepare steps 1 to 5 the day before, keeping the pastry, onions and tomatoes in the fridge over night. If doing so, remove the pastry from the fridge thirty minutes before you roll it out the next day.

  1. First make the pastry. Sieve the flour and salt into a large bowl. Cut the butter into small cubes and rub into the flour until the mix resembles fine breadcrumbs. Beat the egg yolk with 1 tbsp of the cold water and add to the mix. With your hand held like a claw, work in the egg/water mix until a dough just begins to form. Add a little extra water as needed to bring the dough together but be careful not to add too much. Turn out the dough onto your work surface and knead very gently, just enough to form a smooth ball. Be careful not to over-work the dough. Flatten the ball into a disc,wrap with cling-film and refrigerate (for at least 30 mins or overnight).
  2. Preheat the oven to 160°C. Grease the tart moulds with oil.
  3. Halve the cherry tomatoes and de-seed, then, in a bowl, toss the tomatoes with the crushed garlic, 3 tbsp of the oil, 1 tbsp of the sugar, salt and pepper. Arrange the tomatoes, cut side down (the next slightly arduous task!) in a baking dish. Bake in the oven for about 30 mins until soft. Remove form the oven.
  4. Meanwhile, in a pan, set over a medium heat, heat 2 tbsp of the oil. When hot, add the sliced onion, bay leaf, thyme twigs and 1 tbsp of the sugar. Stir will to coat the onions with the sugar, reduce the heat slightly, cover the pan and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the vinegar to the onions, season with salt and pepper and cook for a further 15 minutes, this time uncovered. Remove the bay leaf and thyme and set aside.
  6. Increase the oven temperature (or preheat, if started the recipe the night before) to 180°C.
  7. Roll out the pastry to a thickness of roughly 2-3 mm. Using the tart moulds as a guide, cut circles out of the pastry roughly 1 cm bigger in diameter than the moulds.
  8. Arrange the tomatoes, cut side up this time, in the moulds. Top with a layer of the onions, a sprinkling of chopped tarragon and 2 slices of the cheese. Cover with a circle of pastry dough, tucking in excess pastry inside the edge of the tins . Prick small holes in the pastry with a fork. Chill the assembled tarts for 15 mins in the fridge or 5 mins in the freezer.
  9. Place the tarts on a baking tray and place in the preheated oven. Bake for about 30 mins until the pastry is lightly golden and feels dry to the touch. Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 5 mins before turning out. The best way to do this is to place a small plate over the tart and flip over.
  10. Garnish with a little chopped tarragon and finely grated cheese.
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