While thumbing (figuratively of course) through the 50 or 60 uncompleted posts in my Drafts folder I came upon this proposed entry from last fall. Though it was written as fresh tomato season was coming to an end it is not inappropriate to the imminent arrival of the first home-grown tomatoes in the local market.
If muttering those words as I wandered through the produce section were a criminal offence I would have been arrested many times over! There is nothing more frustrating than being confronted by those pale reddish-pink balls of flannel that appear in most supermarkets here in Canada for what seems like ten months of the year. Nor is there anything more glorious than the multi-coloured displays – purple to yellow to orange to fire engine red – that greet the tomato lover at farmers’ market during the all too short growing season. Even the later rainbow display has only become the norm over the past fifteen years with the reintroduction of varieties into the market.
One of the joys of living in Italy was the constantly changing variety of tomatoes in the market. You never went shopping for just a tomato or without knowing what you wanted it for. There were tomatoes for sauce, tomatoes for roasting, tomatoes for stuffing, tomatoes for salads, tomatoes for soup, tomatoes for sun-drying, tomatoes for pizza toppings, and even tomatoes for hanging. Yes you did read that right – there is a tomato known as pomodorino del piennolo del Vesuvio (small hanging tomato of Vesusius) or simply pomodorino Vesuviano. Whole vines are cut and hung up in bunches in a covered but well ventilated area. They keep fresh for months, thanks to a thick skin and a strong attachment to their stalks.
When the tomato reached Europe from North America somewhere in the 16th century what the Aztec’s knew as xitomatl became tomatl. The French originally called the tomato, pomme d’amour (love apple) before calling simply it la tomate. Perhaps they changed the name when its claims to be a powerful aphrodisiac proved to be false advertising. In Italy it was pomi d’oro (golden apple) which today becomes il pomodoro. And of course it was shunned as being poisonous because of its close relative the deadly nightshade. However somewhere in Southern Italian someone noticed that it was being eaten by livestock with no noticeable rise in the mortality rate. It wasn’t killing the animals? Well let’s see what it does to Zia Giuseppina, she’ll eat anything! And eccolà!
So why all this ruminating about Solanum lycopersicum even as the (extended) season winds down? Well on a trip to the Farmers’ Market last week I saw what is probably the last of the season’s harvest and I thought I should buy and use them while I can. One recipe that I used I first came across back in Warsaw in 1998 and it became a fast favourite there particularly when a tasty amber gold plum tomato was in season. I think I may have got it from the Times of London back in the days when their young website was free. Note that the quantities are given in metric followed by an approximation in Imperial.)
Tomato and Arugula Tart with Polenta Crust
150g (5.5 oz) all-purpose flour sifted
75g (2.65 oz) fine polenta
100g (3.53 oz) unsalted butter diced
1 medium egg
extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
60g (2.12 oz) freshly grated parmesan
800g (1.39 lbs) vine-ripened tomatoes, thickly sliced, patted dry
100g (3.35 oz) arugula
Preheat oven to 400F.
Briefly process the flour, polenta and butter in a food processor, then add the egg and about 2 tsp oil – enough to bind the dry ingredients. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill briefly. Rollout to fit a shallow 28cm (11″) tart tin, prick the base all over and chill again.
Spread the mustard evenly over the base then top with the cheese. Lay the tomatoes on top in concentric, tight, overlapping circles, so they stand proud. Season well with salt and pepper. Bake for 45 minutes then switch off the oven.
Place 75g of the arugula in a processor with 5-6 tbsp olive oil and process until you have a thick but pourable puree. Drizzle this over the tomatoes and return to the oven for 15 minutes. Remove and cool for 15-20 minutes.
Just before serving season the remaining arugula with salt, pepper, and a little oil. Pile into the middle of the tart.
The recipe also suggested that a mixture of Gruyere and a mild goat cheese can replace the Parmesan. And when I discovered on my return to Canada that arugula, so readily available at our local vegetable stand in Warsaw, wasn’t always available in Ottawa I used Basel and it works beautifully.
July 18th is another one of those days we celebrate strange food combinations: Sour Candy and Caviar??? Talk about your “fusion” cuisine!