A few years ago, in the hot, hot summer, we had a big storm that knocked out power for over two weeks. They say it was a wind storm, but we all called it Hurricane Elvis. As it was summer, many people were away on vacation, had vacations planned, or just left town during the power outage. But I was a busy little event planner and had a wedding and a private event to plan and execute, so no leaving town for me. I lived in my hot, hot house with no lights and no air conditioning for the duration. My parents had two giant trees fall on their house, then breezily left for a planned trip overseas with the parting words “we expect the trees to be gone when we get back.” So despite the catastrophe, I was a busy little bee.
As it happened, this was the first year I had planted a garden in my newly constructed raised beds. I had carefully tended my tomato plants, and wouldn’t you know they all produced a bumper crop of gorgeous red tomatoes right during the storm. Now, I can only eat so many raw sliced tomatoes and I had way more than I could ever finish. Everyone I knew had left town, so there was no one to share them with. Under other circumstances, I would have made vats and vats of sauce and soup and frozen my bounty for the long winter. My gas stove worked, but of course I had no refrigeration and it was just too darn hot to slave over the burners. So the tomatoes wilted on the vine. After that, I decided planting tomatoes just wasn’t worth it.
But this year, I have re-entered the wannabe gardener world. My lettuce is magnificent, my radishes a triumph, and I am awaiting the zucchini. And I have planted tomatoes. I watch them carefully – one variety plant has already got some little green babies on it, the other plants are flowering. So barring any natural disasters, I hope to have another grand crop. But it is not here yet. So in the meantime, I am using the ripe, red cherry variety for my tomato fix. I find they are pretty tasty throughout the year, and pretty darn cute too.
I use a rectangular tart tin, but a round tin will work just as well. It may take more or less tomatoes.
1 sheet puff pastry, room temperature
45 round cherry tomatoes
1 ball fresh mozzarella cheese
2 bunches (about 1 ounce each) fresh basil
2 Tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 Tablespoons pine nuts
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil for drizzling
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Wash the tomatoes and pat them dry. Using a small, sharp paring knife, gently cut out the core of each tomato, scraping the inside lightly to remove seeds. I find a sturdy ¼ teaspoon measuring spoon helps with this job. Be carefully not to cut through the flesh or squash the tomato. You want to create a little cavity for the mozzarella to fit in. Place each tomato cut side down on a few layers of paper towels to drain for 20 – 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, on a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry to fit into a removable bottom 10 inch round or an 11 by 7 inch rectangular tin. Gently fit the pastry into the tin, using a small ball of pastry to press the dough into the corners and sides. Poke all over with the tines of fork
In a food processor (I like the mini one for this), pulse one bunch of basil leaves a few times until roughly chopped. Add the parmesan and pine nuts and pulse a few more times to chop the nuts. Add the ricotta and egg, a grind of pepper and a pinch of salt and process to a smooth paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl at least once. Using a small offset spatula (or the back of a big spoon), spread the filling in an even layer over the bottom of the pastry. Set aside.
Cut the mozzarella into small cubes to fit in the tomato cavities. Lightly press on cube of mozzarella into each tomato. If some seeds or juice squish out of the tomatoes, carefully wipe it away. Place the filled tomatoes in rows in the prepared tart, pressing lightly into the filling. Sprinkle pepper and salt lightly over the tomatoes.
Very gently brush the top of the tart with extra virgin olive oil and place in the oven. While the tart is baking, cut about 6 of the remaining basil leaves into a chiffonade (Stack the leaves up, roll them like a cigar, then cut very thin ribbons with a sharp knife or scissors). When the tart has been in the oven 15 minutes, remove it and sprinkle the basil over the top. Return to the oven and cook a further 15 – 20 minutes until the tomatoes are shriveled and the mozzarella is melted.
Leave to cool for 15 minutes before slicing and serving. Sprinkle additional basil chiffonade on top if desired.
Serves 6 – 8