In the popular television series Game of Thrones, the phrase, “Winter is coming” has multiple meanings, but it generally means the residents need to be prepared as something bad is going to happen in the land of Westeros. Luckily for us, summer is here in the land of Napa Valley and that means something good is happening: The tomatoes are coming!
A few years ago, a friend’s daughter in her early 20s had come to Napa from southern France to live and work for the summer. One long weekend, we asked her to house and dog-sit for us. We will never forget the welcome we received when we returned home from the trip.
As we approached our front door, heady scents of pie crust, thyme, cheese and chocolate were wafting through the windows. It was as if we had arrived at a villa in a small village in the Languedoc. It was magical.
As we walked through the front door, she explained in her sweet French accent that she wanted to give us a proper welcome home. There on our dining table was a beautiful loaf of crusty bread, a fresh green salad and chocolate cookie desserts. We could not believe our eyes. Then she walked to the oven and pulled out the most beautifully prepared tomato tart with goat cheese.
Tarts are not considered special-occasion fare in France, but this savory tart took the simplest of ingredients and elevated them into something spectacular. Leave it to the French.
I’m pleased to see beautiful tomatoes at the Napa Farmers Market and have been indulging in some delicious heirlooms from Gavel Farms.
As these ripe, red fruits continue to fill the vendors’ stalls and my own garden, I will definitely be making a French Tomato Tart.
It’s a simple way to take a quick vacation in your own kitchen. As a bonus, it’s also vegetarian and a great dish for a simple al fresco lunch or dinner with friends. If I’m really in a rush, I’ve been known to use store-bought pie dough.
French Tomato Tart
Adapted by David Lebovitz (davidlebovitz.com) from “A Culinary Journey in Gascon” by Kate Hill.
For those of you with tart dough “issues,” you can make this tart either free-style or in a fluted tart ring with a removable bottom. To make a free-style tart, roll the dough out to about 14 inches across, then transfer it to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat. Top with the filling, leaving a 2-inch border, then fold the border over to partially enclose the filling.
1-½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
½ teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into cubes
1 large egg
2 to 3 tablespoons ice water
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Dijon or whole-grain mustard
2 or 3 large ripe tomatoes, cored and sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Two generous tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as thyme, chives, chervil or tarragon
8 ounces fresh or slightly aged goat cheese, sliced into rounds
Optional: 1-1/2 tablespoons honey
Make the tart dough: Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the butter and use your hands or a pastry blender to work in the butter until the mixture has a crumbly, cornmeal-like texture. Beat the egg with 2 tablespoons of the ice water. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the beaten egg, stirring until the dough holds together. If it’s not coming together easily, add the additional tablespoon of ice water.
Gather the dough into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, use a rolling pin to flatten the dough into a circle large enough to cover the bottom and sides of a 9- or 10-inch tart pan, adding additional flour only as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the counter. Roll the dough around the rolling pin, then unroll it over the tart pan and press it into place. “Dock” the bottom of the pastry firmly with your fingertips a few times, pressing in to make indentations.
If making a freestyle tart, simply transfer the dough to a prepared baking sheet (see recipe introduction); no need to make indentations.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spread an even layer of mustard over the bottom of the tart and let sit a few minutes to dry out. Top with tomato slices in a single, even layer. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with some of the chopped fresh herbs, then arrange the slices of goat cheese on top. Add some more fresh herbs, then drizzle with honey, if using.
Bake until the dough is cooked, the tomatoes are tender, and the cheese is nicely browned, about 30 minutes. Check halfway through and reduce the heat slightly if the top is getting too dark too fast. If the cheese doesn’t brown as much as you would like, broil the tart briefly until it’s just right.
Makes one 9- or 10-inch tart.
Kids activities at the Napa Farmers Market: Bring your youngsters to the market’s Education Station on Tuesday and Saturdays for Story Time at 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. There might be coloring, matching games or other fun activities, too.
On the KVYN Music Stage: On Saturday, July 13, Bruno Grassi will be performing. On Tuesday, July 16, Stuart Degner will be our guest musician.
Harvest of the Month: Through July, enjoy comparative tastings of plums and pluots and sample sweet corn at the market’s Education Station at 11 a.m.