Sunday, September 16, 2007

Torta Margherita!

About a month back, Nina over at Sweet Napa posted about a tart she'd made with peeled cherry tomatoes. Ever since, I've been wanting try something like it. So this evening I made a sort of tart version of Pizza Margherita.

I'd picked up some cherry tomatoes at the farmers' market on Thursday, but they didn't weather the three day wait very well, and I ended up with three dollars' worth of compost. Cherry tomatoes, it would seem, don't have quite as much patience as their larger cousins. So I picked up some even smaller grape tomatoes, along with some other ingredients, at New Seasons today and set about my task.

The first step was to peel the tomatoes. I blanched them for about a minute, and shocked them in ice water for another minute. Given the size and amount of the tomatoes, this was a bit labor intensive. The orange tomatoes peeled pretty easily, but the red ones more often than not required a little work with the paring knife. It was well worth the effort though, as these tomatoes are an entirely different animal without their skins. Once they were peeled, I set them aside and began work on the dough.

I used Shuna Lydon's All Butter Pie Crust recipe. This being a somewhat savory tart, however, I cut the sugar by half. Pie dough is notorious for being difficult, but if you have a decent stand mixer, it's really not that tricky. The key is to keep everything cold. Freeze the butter. Put your mixer's bowl into the fridge for a while. Turn the heat in your house down. Pie dough, particularly when made with butter instead of shortening, likes it cold.

After the dough had come together, I kneaded it for a minute, rolled it out, set it into my tart pan and put it into the freezer for a half hour. While the shell was getting its chill on, I pre-heated the oven to 350F. I then mixed about 8 oz. of ricotta with 1/2 tsp of dijon mustard and some chopped oregano and marjoram (about 1/2 tsp of each). I set this aside with the tomatoes.

Once the oven was up to temperature, I took the shell out of the freezer, I docked it (that is, poked holes in the bottom with a fork to allow for airflow), lined it with parchment, threw in some dried beans and set it into the oven to blind bake. Blind baking basically amounts to pre-baking a shell when the filling doesn't need to cook for as long as the dough. It shouldn't take more than 15-20 minutes for the dough to take on a light golden color, according to my Internet sources. I hadn't rolled my dough quite thin enough, however and mine took upwards of 45 minutes. It also shrank quite a bit. Rolling the dough thinner, and perhaps baking at a higher temperature for less time, might have allowed it to keep its shape a litte better (Pastry chefs, feel free to weigh in with your two cents here...). But it turned out well enough in the end, if a little underdone.

I let the shell cool for a while, then spread a 1/4 inch layer of the ricotta mixture on the bottom. I put the tomatoes in with enough space to pack some fresh mozzarella in between them. I added some sliced kalamata olives as well (I know, dijon and kalamatas are a departure from the traditional Margherita, but hey, I like dijon and kalamatas) and put the whole thing back into the oven until the mozz began to melt, about 15 minutes. I took it out, sprinkled on some chiffonaded basil, and voila! Torta Margherita!

Buon Appetito!


Nina said...

Woohoo -- The peeled cherry tomato revolution is on!

Nina said...

Oh, um, and grape, too :)

Julie Ann said...

Your foodtography is getting good!

What's your Dijon brand of choice?

tommy said...

Vive la rivoluzione!

Hey, thanks! One trick I lean pretty heavily on is to get in close with a nice big wide angle lens, go down to my biggest aperture and focus in about a third of the way. This basically puts the nearest bite/serving into focus, while leaving the far edge of the food blurry to create a sense of depth. I have yet to get serious about lighting my subjects, but I'm a geek, so I probably will eventually. The hot dog from the last post, incidentally, was shot in the dark with my friend Greg's iPhone and was illuminated with a camping headlamp!

Why, Grey Poupon, of course! Kidding... I usually go with Annie's or the Wild Oats brand. Both are organic and have a nice dijony tang. I'd bet Trader Joe's has a decent offering as well...

Trisha said...

I love grape tomatoes! They are even better, I believe, than regular cherry tomatoes.

tommy said...


I totally agree with you!

Now go try your hand at this, and let me know how it turns out...