Recipe: Tomato Torta with Crème Fraîche, Parmigiano, and Thyme
Once or twice a year I make a summer tomato tart. It happens when Barbara Calamari arrives at my apartment with a big bag of the Italian heirloom tomatoes she grows each year at her upstate palazzo (except for last year, which was a complete bust because of a tomato blight—so sad). This year, with all the heat, she’s had an especially sweet, rich, early crop. She usually plants a large Neapolitan cherry tomato that I really love in salads or just sprinkled with salt, but when she gives me enough of them they go into my tart, simply cut in half, lined up in circles in my pastry shell, baked to just withering, with a burst of juice still locked into each one. This year she gave me plenty.
I create a different tomato tart each year, inspired by the kind of tomatoes I’m using and, uh, I’m not sure exactly what else—although this year I can say for a fact that the tart was inspired by stuff I had in the refrigerator, which was fresh thyme, a half tub of crème fraîche, some Niçoise olives, a small chunk of Parmigiano, and a few eggs. It tastes a lot like a pizza.
You’ll want a nine-inch tart pan with a removable bottom for this.
Tomato Torta with Crème Fraîche, Parmigiano, and Thyme
(Serves 4 as a lunch or light dinner, or 8 as an appetizer)
For the crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
5 large thyme sprigs, the leaves lightly chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
1¼ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
¼ cup cold white wine, maybe a bit more
For the filling:
⅓ cup crème fraîche
2 large eggs
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
A drizzle of whole milk
About 6 big scrapings of nutmeg
1 small garlic clove, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
A handful of Niçoise olives, pitted and cut in half
5 thyme sprigs, the leaves very light chopped
About 2 dozen cherry tomatoes, cut in half
A drizzle of olive oil
Put the flour, thyme, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse briefly to blend. Add the butter bits, and pulse quickly two or three times, just to break them up. Drizzle on the white wine, and pulse once or twice more, just until you can squeeze a bit of the dough with your fingers and it holds together. If it’s still dry, add a tiny drizzle of wine or cold water, and pulse again. You don’t want to pulse until it forms a ball; the texture should be crumbly and loose. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, and bring it together into a big ball with your hands. Give it a quick two kneads, just to make sure it’s holding together. Cover it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Take the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it, and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Give it a few whacks with a rolling pin to flatten its surface. Now roll it out, adding a little more flour if it starts to stick, until you have a round about 2 inches wider than your tart pan. Drape the dough into the pan, pressing it into the sides. Run the rolling pin over the top to cut off excess. Build up the sides a bit, so that the dough extends slightly over the edge of the pan. Give the bottom a bunch of light pricks with a skewer or pointy knife. Stick the tart shell back in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes, or until the oven heats up.
Now you’ll want to blind bake (pre-bake) the tart crust. Cover the tart crust with a big piece of aluminum foil, and on top of that put dried beans or those little ceramic thingies some people buy just for this purpose. Bake for 20 minutes. The edges should be very lightly golden. Take the tart shell from the oven, and let it sit on a rack for a few minutes to cool off.
Whisk all the ingredients for the filling together in a bowl.
Line the tart shell with cherry tomatoes, cut side up, working in a circular pattern. Slowly pour the filling over the tomatoes, making sure none of it seeps between the pan and the dough. Place the tart on a baking sheet, and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the top is set. Let the tart rest for about 30 minutes before slicing and serving.