Pissaladière-inspired tomato tart

P9190430.JPGSummer is officially over, but a few juicy red tomatoes who don't want the party to end can still be found hanging about the greenmarket. This is the perfect time to bake something with them now that temperatures have cooled off a bit. That's why my recent attempt at making a pissaladière one Sunday afternoon started looking more like a tomato tart. They were simply stealing the show. Just because the calendar says the season has officially changed, does not mean that everything on our plates has to instantly turn over as well. I actually hate when people rush the seasons. Christmas decorations in the drugstore for sale right after Halloween are just as silly to me as being served pumpkin soup on a balmy 84 degree day in September. That's why I suggest you ease into the season, even if you're as excited for Fall as I am. Make sure you search the market for any last summer produce, cause you should use what's left of it while you still can. Last weekend, in an effort to think of a fun football watching snack, I decided I was going to try to make a pissaladière, which is a type of "pizza" from the South of France (actually I think that without cheese or tomatoes calling it a pizza is a stretch). Pissaladière sometimes is made into a tart shell  and I had prepped the shell about a month ago for such a purpose and left it in my freezer. I took the shell out of the freezer and blind-baked it while I prepared the filling. The recipe I was following was from the Rose Bakery cookbook that had a modern take on the dish. However, just to compare, I pulled out a Cook's Illustrated magazine a friend had given me with a recipe for pissaladière, done the more traditional way, on a pizza-type of dough, free-formed and with anchovies, not tomatoes. I was really tempted to go traditional, but I figured I had all winter to make one that way. I found gorgeous tomatoes at the market on Saturday, and ate a good portion of them with nothing more than a sprinkle of sea salt, while the juices dripped down my hand. The rest were destined for this dish.

The filling is pretty simple to assemble once you cook the onions down until they are caramelized and jammy. That takes about 30 minutes, meanwhile pitt and chop some olives and slice your tomatoes. I actually took some hints from the Cook's Illustrated on cooking the onions, figuring someone probably got paid to figure out the nuances of the best method of cooking them down, and I loved the addition of brown sugar. After all was said and done, and the tart was filled and baked, it was an exciting flavor combination with the sweet onions, the briny olives and the bright flavors of the tomatoes. It was a beautiful presentation too, perfect for a side dish at a Sunday dinner perhaps, or an ideal lunch. For football, maybe I should have gone with the pizza-dough method, rather than the tart, because football food should be finger-food, even if it is French inspired. picnikfile_nVR_iH

Pissaladière Tomato Tart Adapted from Rose Bakery and Cook's Illustrated. If you don't feel like making a shortcrust tart dough, try the filling on a pizza dough stretched into a long rectangle and adjust baking times.

1 blind baked tart shell (use any shortcrust pastry dough you prefer) 3 tablespoons olive oil 2 lbs. yellow onions, sliced about 1/4 inch thick 1 garlic clove smashed (not chopped or it will burn) 1/2 teaspoon of salt 1 teaspoon brown sugar pinch of ground cinnamon (optional, but adds something interesting) 1 tablespoon water 1 handful olives, pitted and chopped (black olives are traditional, but I used a mixture) 2 tomatoes, sliced few sprigs of fresh thyme

Prepare tart shell, if using by blind baking while you prepare filling.

Slice the onions, and heat olive oil in a large saute pan until hot, but not smoking. Add onions, garlic, salt, brown sugar and cook on med-high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring often. They will look wilted at that point and be starting to brown. Reduce heat to low and cook, until onions are jammy and golden brown, about 20 minutes longer. Take off heat and add the cinnamon and water and stir til incorporated.

While onions are cooking chop and pitt olives, slice tomatoes, and pull prep thyme. (Stretch the pizza dough on a sheet pan, if you're using that instead of tart shell.)

Fill tart shell or cover pizza dough with onions once they're cooked. Lay the tomato slices in on top and sprinkle the whole thing with the thyme leaves and the chopped olives.

Bake the tart at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 minutes, or until tomatoes look wilted a bit. If using pizza dough, bake until crust is cooked.

Madeleines for GrandmaMa's Day

Mother's Day for me is all about "Ma." She's been filling in for missing mothers in my family for more than twenty years now. As the years have gone on, she's taken on even more "children." Being a mother, is what she does best. She never had a professional career, although she would have made a hell of a teacher / bookkeeper / nurse / psychologist / personal assistant. I know because she's been busy playing all of those roles to an impressive amount of "children" consisting of her kids, grand-kids, great-grand-kids, nieces, and neighbors, for all these years. She isn't a grandmother like ones that you always hear about, cooking big meals from scratch of recipes from the old-country (she prefers the ones on the back of the box), or one with tales from a glamorous past from days long ago. She's sweet and simple, unfussy almost to a fault. She's wise and strong, and has only gotten more so with age, but she's also hysterical, and someone who can make you feel instantly comfortable. If she had a culinary equivalent it would be the Madeleine... even if she doesn't know what they are. Madeleines are little tea cakes that you can serve at breakfast, brunch, tea time or dessert. If you are like me and my Ma, you'll think most times are acceptable for a little something sweet. They are well-known as being associated with Marcel Proust's writings on involuntary memory. (More about that here). However, despite their fancy little shapes and associations, they're actually a snap to make, if you get yourself the proper pan. (I normally wouldn't advocate buying a one-trick pony pan, but these little cakes are great for party favors and all sorts of occasions, that I think you'll get a lot of use out of it). The traditional flavoring is a little lemon zest and vanilla. That is how I normally make them. In honor of Ma, I wanted to try to flavor them with strawberry, which turned out very nice too. The jam I used did nothing to change the color of the cake, so I cheated with a bit of pink food coloring. I know, I know, but pink seemed so much more festive. It was only a drop too. If you can find strawberry extract that might eliminate the need for the food coloring. I checked three stores, but I couldn't find it. I think the flavor from using jam is probably preferable anyways.

Bake these and give them out as Mother's Day gifts to friends or family, if you won't be celebrating with your mom. You pretty much can't mess these up, unless you over-bake them, so watch them towards the end. They're a classy choice, making it seem that you went to the extra trouble to think about someone other than yourself. Exactly what the best Mas in the world do naturally.

Strawberry Madeleines Adapted from Bon Appétit.

2 eggs 2/3 cup sugar minus 2 teaspoons 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 2 1/2 tablespoons good quality strawberry jam Couple of drops of pink liquid food coloring (optional) Pinch of salt 1 cup of all-purpose flour 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour madeleine pans well.

Melt butter and set aside to cool. Beat eggs and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer till blended. Beat in vanilla, jam, and salt. Beat in food coloring if using till batter is desired color. Add flour and beat until just blended.

Gradually add cooled melted butter to mixture, beating until just blended.

Spoon one tablespoon of batter into each cake shell. Bake until puffed and edges are lightly golden, about 12-15 minutes. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and finishing cooling on a wire rack.

Apricot Clafouti pour moi

Apricots are a gamble. They look to me to be a tiny, tasty smaller cousin of a peach. When I saw them in the farmer's market on Saturday, I assumed they would be as sweet as the fruit they were sharing the table with, cherries and plums. But, as Nigel Slater wrote about apricots in The Kitchen Diaries, "their eating quality depends more on luck than good judgement." Although this statement made me feel a bit better about my purchase, I still had a basket of gorgeous, but very tart, fruit on my hands. Personally, in the summer when fruit is as juicy as it is right now, I hesitate to bake it into anything. Sweet fruit is a dessert all on its own. Sunday night was a different story. I wasn't going to let my apricots go to waste. I took Nigel's advice and decided to "tease out their flavor with warmth" (why paraphrase when he says it better than I could?). I decided to go with a classic French dessert, the clafouti. Clafoutis are traditionally made with cherries, but many different types of fruit would work well. For instance, Julia Child gives different variations using plums, pears or blackberries (although she didn't mention apricots, maybe it is not traditional). I took my recipe from the San Francisco Chronicle cookbook (my favorite favorite cookbook of all time). It is essentially a pancake-type of batter poured over fruit. Some variations (I checked quite a few) use more cream than others and some seem more custard-y than others. Regardless, this was my first clafouti, so I guess I have plenty of room to try others. It did remind me of a Dutch-pancake, something I used to make for brunch sometimes, which is also a batter poured over fruit that puffs up as it bakes, and deflates quickly as it cools. I think in the end my clafouti was satisfying, although the apricots were still quite tart even after baking. The batter was lighter than a cake, but more egg-y tasting than a pancake. If I replicated this dish, I think the apricots could benefit from marinating in some kirsh and sugar, a Julia Child suggestion from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I'll admit I probably should have had another basket of apricots to place in the cake to sufficiently cover the pan. But, then again, sometimes home cooking is about making due with what you have, and I only had one basket of apricots. Looking at the positives - I liked that it wasn't as heavy as a cobbler would have been, had I done that instead. I even think the leftovers could make an acceptable breakfast, and what's better than dessert for breakfast?

Fresh Apricot Clafouti Adapted from a recipe by Georgeanne Brennan in The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook. I noted where I substituted ingredients, but if I set out to bake this again, it would be preferable to have the full-fat dairy ingredients.

1 cup milk (I used reduced-fat only cause that's all I had) 1/4 cup heavy cream (I used light cream) 1/4 cup brown sugar 3 eggs 1 tablespoon almond extract (I used vanilla) 1/8 teaspoon salt 2/3 cup all-purpose flour apricots, halved and pitted (enough to cover most of the pan)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a deep baking dish. Combine all the ingredients, except for the apricots in a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until frothy. (Alternatively, mix all the ingredients in a blender if you prefer).

Pour just enough batter into the pan to cover the bottom with a layer about 1/4 inch deep. Put the pan into the oven for 2-5 minutes, or until just set.

Remove pan from the oven and arrange apricots face down evenly around the pan. Pour the remaining batter over the apricots. Bake until puffed and brown, about 30-35 minutes. It is done if a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Serve warm and sprinkle with powdered sugar.