It’s tomato season, which means punnet upon punnet of gloriously colourful, suddenly cheap heritage varieties in shops, and beautiful gluts appearing in gardens in a week or two.
In fact, one of our plants is already churning out little cherry tomatoes from its very sunny window sill. They’re not going to last that long (as you can see from the picture below their leaves are already a little raggy), and they’re stubbornly, mouth-puckeringly sharp, but I love the scent their vines leave on my hands and in the air all around when I water the plant or cautiously try one of its tangy offerings.
Along with honeysuckle and suncream, the smell of tomato vines is the simplest evocation of summer for me. It reminds me by turns of my garden at home, where we’ve had tomatoes growing every summer as far back as I can remember; or the lovely, exotically fragrant suburban plot in steamy Tennesee that sprouted new sweetcorn, squash & tomatoes each morning to the delight of the kitchen garden-loving seven year old that had been tasked with harvesting the tomatoes every day of the holiday (me).
If it’s a cherry tomato plant, the smell might remind me of the sweltering, slightly fractious afternoon spent at someone else’s pool as a teenager with my sullen French exchange partner, our mutual distrust of one another sweetened momentarily by devouring most of a bushel of sweet, juicy cherry tomatoes together in the Orléans sunshine. Tomatoes are summer.
If you have a lot of tomatoes on your hands in the next few weeks, there are many different ways to make the most of the season’s bounty. You could make tomato sauce or chutney; you could confit the tomatoes in olive oil & herbs or you could cook up lots of pasta sauce to freeze. But if you have a mix of different colours, flavours and sizes, I think it’s nice to highlight and celebrate their variance, and this beautiful tomato tarte tatin does just that. With its glossy, colourful top and crisp, flaky base, it’s a real seasonal showstopper that will take pride of place at the centre of any summertime feast. Like all tarte tatins, this tomato version looks exceptionally tricky to make but it is actually a bit of a doddle once you get going. The only demand it makes of you is 15 minutes or so of hovering over a hot stove, which is fine once you have the windows thrown open and music on.
TOMATO TARTE TATIN
With its glossy, colourful top and crisp, flaky base, this tomato tarte tatin is a gorgeous way to elevate a glut of tomatoes into an elegant & eye-catching seasonal showstopper for a summertime feast.
This recipe makes a tarte tatin that is about the size of a lunch plate and serves two comfortably. If you’re feeding four just double the recipe and make a larger one, or make two smaller ones.
400g tomatoes (use a mix of colours & shapes; size-wise don’t go any larger than a small salad tomato)
1 sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry (you will only need about half a sheet per tart)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon of butter
Half a tablespoon of soft brown sugar
Sprigs of rosemary & thyme
Splash of olive oil
Preheat your oven to 220°c and remove the puff pastry from the fridge to bring it up to room temperature. Heat the olive oil and butter in a small ovenproof frying pan over a medium heat and add any cherry tomatoes whole. [Note: if you don’t have a small ovenproof frying pan, just fry the tomatoes in a regular pan as in the steps below and then transfer them to a small baking dish before adding the puff pastry covering].
Add the brown sugar to the pan along with the balsamic vinegar, herbs & a pinch of salt, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Halve the larger tomatoes & place cut side down in a single layer in the pan and carefully arrange so that there’s a random pattern of colours, shapes & sizes in the circle. The tomatoes need to be very tightly squeezed into the pan with no gaps (ie, they should be almost bulging out of the layer) as they will reduce in size during cooking.
Cook the tomatoes without stirring over a medium high heat for about 15 minutes, or until the juices have cooked down to a thick, jammy syrup, no deeper in the pan than about a centimetre of liquid – you may need to skim off a tablespoon or two to get it to this point. Taste the syrup to see if it needs a little more salt, sugar or vinegar at this point and adjust as necessary – the sweetness & intensity will vary from tomato to tomato. [If you’re using a baking dish instead of a frying pan, carefully transfer the tomatoes to your tin now and arrange them into a circular pattern].
Cut out a circle of the puff pastry to cover the tomatoes, adding an extra centimetre all around to ensure they’re tightly sealed in. Pack the pastry in tightly against the tomatoes by pressing & crimping it in slightly with your fingers. Use a fork to prick holes all over the pastry to allow the steam to escape. Place the entire pan (or baking dish) into the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the puff pastry is crisp & richly golden. To turn it out, hold a dinner plate over the top of the frying pan then flip the pan over & carefully remove as if you were making a sandcastle. Serve the tarte tatin either hot or at room temperature with salads, cured meats & torn buffalo mozzarella.