Tarte Tatin, like many classic French desserts is simple, yet tastes complex; and it’s made during the height of fall, when apples are at their peak. A large cast iron pan is placed over medium heat. Sugar and butter are cooked to a caramel and then apple slices are tightly packed into the skillet. A pastry is placed on top and the whole shebang is baked until golden brown and flaky. When cooked, the entire pan is inverted over a plate or platter, revealing a slightly crisp bottom crust and translucent apples coated in the most delicious dark caramel. More modern interpretations use puff pastry, but other than the method for making the pastry, it hasn’t changed.
And it’s easier than apple pie. No, really.
There’s no thickening agent, no additional spices. No crimping or latticing of crusts, nothing. It is, at it’s simplest, five whole ingredients (including the pastry): Apples, Sugar, Butter, Flour and Water. Maybe a pinch of salt somewhere in the pastry, if you’re feeling un-French.
Why should it be that this glorious cooking method be left to only Apples? Or greater yet, only sweet items? It’s not, and shouldn’t be.
I had the idea to make a Tomato Tarte Tatin earlier this year and went hunting. I was able to find a recipe, but felt it needed some tweaking. I think my changes elevate the recipe and enhance the flavours, bringing out an intense tomato flavour.
Tomato Tarte Tatin
1kg (2.2lbs) fresh, ripe roma (plum) or san-marzano Tomatoes
Puff pastry (regular unsweetened pie pastry does fine in a pinch)
46.7g (3 tbsp) granulated sugar
15mL (1 tbsp) aged balsamic vinegar
45mL (3 tbsp) white wine vinegar
30mL (2 tbsp) light olive oil
2 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped or grated (no jar stuff!)
0.3g (1/4 tsp) dried oregano
0.6g (1/2 tsp) dried basil
3.7g (3/4 tsp) salt
1.7g (1/4 tsp) fresh ground black pepper
fresh basil for garnish (optional)
butter for greasing
Non-Food items needed:
4 6-8oz ramekins
1 cutting board
1 large bowl
1 rolling pin
plastic wrap (optional, see note below)
1 baking sheet, big enough to hold four ramekins.
1 large, oven-proof skillet
1 pair kitchen tongs
1 spoon (wooden or otherwise)
1. If you’re making your own puff pastry, you should have done that hours ago before you started into this recipe. Alright, go do that now. I’ll wait. Otherwise, go to the store and get some. For what it’s worth, making your own isn’t hard, just time consuming. Oh, and preheat an oven to 135°C(275°F).
2. Wash, dry and cut tomatoes in half lengthwise. Using a paring knife, cut out the white core of the tomatoes. Taking out the cores isn’t absolutely necessary, but it produces a better product.
3. Using a small spoon, remove seeds from tomato halves. Any other blunt-tipped instrument—like a lobster pick or a small finger (preferably your own)—should do just fine.
4. In a bowl, toss the tomatoes with salt, pepper, oil, garlic and herbs and then set them aside.
5. Into a large oven-proof skillet over medium heat, add sugar and shake the pan several times to spread it out. Without any stirring or additional shaking, let the sugar melt and eventually it will begin to turn golden.
6. When the sugar is the colour of dark honey, remove pan from heat and add vinegars. It will likely steam and sputter, but this won’t last long. Place back on heat and with constant stirring, the sugar will eventually dissolve.
7. When the sugar is dissolved, remove the pan again from the heat. Pack in the tomatoes cut side down. If they won’t fit, make them fit, dammit. Put them in the oven until the tomato skins begin to wrinkle (about an hour).
8. While the tomatoes are baking, roll out the pastry dough to roughly 1/4″ thick. Using a round cookie cutter with a press and twist motion, cut out discs of pastry and set them aside in a cool place.
9. Butter the ramekins and pack them with cooked tomatoes, placing them skin side down and tight together. Try to get as little liquid in the ramekins as possible. If the tarts are to be cooked immediately, raise the oven temperature to 220°C(425°F).
10. Once all tomatoes have been packed into ramekins, place the pan over medium high heat and reduce the liquid to a thick syrup consistency, almost like molasses. Spoon the syrup over the tomatoes, diving equally between the ramekins.
Note: at this point, you can wrap up the pastry discs (with layers of cling film, wax or parchment paper between them) and the ramekins, put them in the fridge and hold off baking them for up to 48 hours.
11. Gently place the pastry discs on top of tomatoes. Avoid pressing down on them. Put the ramekins into the 220°C(425°F) oven for 20 minutes or until the top of the puff pastry has a nice light mahogany colour. Allow to cool for several minutes before proceeding.
12. Run a knife along the inside edge of the ramekins, loosening any pastry or tomatoes that may be stuck to the sides. While holding the pastry down with one finger, tip the ramekins lightly and check for liquid. If it seems excessive (i.e., will leave a huge freaking puddle on the plate) tip off any excess. Using all your speed and dexterity, flip the ramekins over onto individual plates. Allow them to sit upside down for a few seconds before unmolding.
Serve warm with parmesan cream spooned over top and some nice dressed summer greens or vegetables. Now would be a good time to garnish with some fresh basil, whole or chopped.
Some might balk at the use of dried herbs, but in a situation where long cooking times are concerned, many of the bright flavours that fresh herbs offer are volatile and lost upon application of sustained heat anyhow.
250mL 35% cream
45g (about 1/2 cup) finely grated parmiggiano reggiano or grana padano
salt to taste
1. Pour the cream into a small sauce pan and place over medium heat. Reduce it to 1/2 the original volume. Remove from heat.
2. While still hot, sprinkle in grated cheese. Stir until it’s fully incorporated.
3. Season to taste with salt and keep warm until it’s time to use it.
If you’ve followed directions, you should have something that looks like this: