September 14, 2012
The Season Intervenes
On Monday, I already had Tuesday planned out. I would work on some writing, do a few kitchen tasks, a little sewing, finish the laundry, and go for a run before work at 4. Monday afternoon I was unexpectedly given a box of these- must-be-canned-now-before-they-perish tomatoes. Before I had carried them into the kitchen I had rearranged my mental to do list and schedule to accommodate this surprise urgent preservation project.
While I really like to plan each day, making lists and crossing things off, I also really appreciate spontaneity and the change in perspective that comes from something unplanned. My schedule is very full these days and I have just a little time to fit in all of the projects that I want to do when I'm not working for a pay check. I am constantly thinking ahead about how to organize my time. All of this planning helps me to stay focused and to enjoy the small creative processes within each task but an unplanned afternoon off or a weekend without anything I have to do hardly exists.
So I sincerely appreciate the gift of a ready to spoil box of tomatoes which forces me to let go of my schedule and respond to the urgency of the season. This time of year is so unpredictable, even as we settle into new fall routines, summer calls out with surprisingly warm days. One day it is cloudy and perfect for a cozy sweater, the next day reaches 96 degrees. This uncertainty nudges me to embrace what is here and now and realize that to do lists are not what makes life most wonderful. The satisfaction of crossing something off the list pales in comparison to enjoying the moment and making the most of it.
But of course when tasks are piling up it is hard to remember this. Again the season intervenes. All of my planning has lead to a shelf of full jars for winter but now is the time to enjoy fresh produce before the season ends. Colorful tomatoes and left over cream cheese inspired me to make this tomato tart. A celebration of the way summer and fall blend together as the seasons transition, it is the thing to warm the kitchen on a chilly evening and but is also easily portable for picnics and outdoor gatherings. Whether you're hunkering down or headed out, I hope you can enjoy the spontaneous and unexpected that comes your way.
Use whatever ripe tomatoes you have. It is fun to use different colored tomatoes but choose the best flavored ones above all. Almost all the elements of this tart can be made ahead and assembled and baked before eating. You can also make the tart ahead of time and refrigerate it for a day. In that case, let it come closer to room temperature before serving.
Tart dough or pie crust for one 9 inch tart (I used half of this recipe)
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, thyme, and oregano
Salt and pepper
3-4 ripe tomatoes
3/4 cup caramelized onions (recipe here)
Preheat the oven to 350'. Roll out your tart dough and arrange it in the tart pan, ready to bake. Prick the bottom of the tart with a fork several times and place a piece of parchment on the tart shell. Pour pie weights or dry beans (that you don't plan on eating but you can use again for baking tart shells) onto the parchment, making sure they don't have direct contact with the dough. Bake the tart shell for 10 minutes, lift the parchment and pie weights/beans out of the tart shell and set aside. Continue baking for 10 more minutes or until the tart shell begins to turn golden brown.
While the tart shell is baking, mix the cream cheese, herbs, egg, a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper until completely blended and nearly smooth. Remove the tart shell from the oven and place it on a baking sheet. Spread the blended cheese, herbs and egg on the bottom of the tart shell. Slice the tomatoes and place one layer over the cheese. Sprinkle the caramelized onions over the tomatoes. Arrange more tomato slices on top of the onions.
Raise the oven temperature to 400'. Bake the tart for about 30 minutes, until the tomatoes are cooked and the cream cheese around the edges has set. Cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.