Before I get to today’s recipe, I’d like to mention two gifts: one for you, and one for me.
The second is a gift I received in the mail this week, from the amazing and incredibly thoughtful Johanna of Green Gourmet Giraffe. Johanna is a new mum who manages to cook several fantastic dishes a week and still finds time to blog about them, take care of her darling baby girl, maintain a household and (from the sounds of it on her blog) an active social life as well. I’m incapable of accomplishing even half of that in a day–without any children! (Well, some people say that having a dog is like having a three year-old, one who never grows up. Still, I was never that productive, even before The Girls!). I was so thrilled with my present that I could barely wait until I got the package inside the house to rip it open.
Here are the authentic Aussie goodies that I found inside:
[Left to right: Promite (or vegemite), similar to Marmite, something I've been dying to try out for ages; Tasmania Mountain spices; Oz Tukka spices (including wattleseed, which I cannot WAIT to use in some brownies or truffles!), Lemon Myrtle soap (smells absolutely heavenly), an incredibly clever Melbourne snow-dome (they don't really get snow in Melbourne, do they?), and, in the back, a lovely bag from the botanical gardens and an Australian linen tea towel embellished with adorable koala bears.]
Such a generous and thoughtful gift–thank you so much, Johanna! It made my day–nay, my week!
Until I can begin to cook with my native Aussie ingredients, I have a few Canadian-made recipes to blog about. Such as this tomato tart, which began its short life as a pizza–sort of.
All around me these days, I see gardens flourishing in the heart of tomato season. Heirloom varieties and beefsteak and plums and cherry tomatoes are all ripening on vines. Our neighbours to the north have tomato plants that look like something out of Little Shop of Horrors, with vines that threaten to climb over the six-foot fence separating our properties and encroach on our yard, halted only by the profusion of ponderous red fruit dangling from their branches, keeping them weighted toward the ground.
In my own garden, sadly, there is no similar abundance of these fruit-cum-vegetables. Is it because I didn’t use chemical fertilizers? Is it because I didn’t pull the weeds thoroughly enough? Is it because the HH refuses to start a compost bin and I couldn’t properly feed the soil (shameful, I know)? Or is it because I simply suck at gardening?
Whatever the reason, plants that should at this very moment be yielding dozens of plump, juicy tomatoes are instead tentatively offering me only four (four!) squat, pebble-like, green fruit. I can only hope that the sunshine we experienced today continues for at least a month so that my poor tomatoes can reach full maturity before they are plucked from their stalks to sacrifice their lives in service to my plate (and my palate).
Yearning fresh tomatoes, I decided to do what any reasonable person would do instead: purchase them. Our local market was showcasing Ontario tomatoes in varying autumnal shades from deep crimson to rust to mustard yellow. I decided to buy a few of each and create the quintessential late-summer dish: a tomato tart.
Actually, a tart wasn’t my first choice; I had originally intended to create a pizza. A couple of weeks ago, I attempted my first gluten-free pizza crust, mostly to see if I could (and I figured my own creation couldn’t possibly be worse than the stiff, glossy, linoleum-hard crust I’d been ordering at Il Fornello whenever we eat there lately).
After combining elements of several recipes I found on the web, I mixed my ingredients and patted the dough into the pan. I pre-baked it to avoid the soggy center syndrome, then topped with pesto, veggies, and some ground pine nuts. And while the pie was actually quite tasty, it couldn’t qualify as pizza. With its crisp, slightly flaky crust and tender crumb, it was just too much like a biscuit to work as a pizza dough.
Well, have you ever read Real Simple magazine? (it’s one of my summer-vacation indulgences, along with People). The magazine devotes an entire column each month to “new uses for old things,” or ways you can employ items in a completely different context from their original, intended, use. For instance, old cardboard rolls from paper towels can be used to separate and organize your computer cables (just string the cables through them one at a time). Rubber bands can be used to open jar lids. Post-It Notes can be used to clean your computer keyboard. Empty water bottles can be used as throw toys for Chaser, who will retrieve them indefinitely, or until she collapses on her pillow, whichever comes first. And so on.
Actually, Malcolm Gladwell talks about this same phenomenon in his latest book, Outliers. He cites a test of creativity in which people are asked to provide as many uses as they can for common items such as a brick. Aside from the obvious (“to build walls”), the most creative people came up with uses such as “To break windows for robbery. . . to use as ammunition, as pendulum, to practice carving. . . as a hammer, keep door open, footwiper, use as rubble for path filling. . . to prop up wobbly table, paperweight. . . to block up rabbit hole.”
Then there are the people who move to new and useful occupations after spending time in a previous incarnation: Julia Child, who became a chef and cookbook author after spending years supporting her husband in his diplomatic endeavors; John Grisham, who turned to writing best-selling suspense novels after a career as a lawyer; or Joaquin Pheonix, who made the transition from acting to singing rap last year (oh, wait, I said “useful,” didn’t I? Strike that last one).
Heck, “I can be creative!” I thought. “I can turn that pizza crust into a brick!” I decided to re-purpose the pizza crust as a savory rustic tart crust instead–one that requires neither rolling nor cutting, but only strong fingertips to pinch the edges high enough to enclose the filling.
(“Mum, that’s a great new idea for the pizza crust. But you could have just re-purposed it as dog treats, you know.”)
I covered the crust with thick slices of my tri-color tomatoes and hefty blobs of cashew goat cheese, which I’ve been eating lately by the boatload, it seems. (It’s piquant, creamy, and incredibly versatile in a variety of dishes, such as these daringly hot appetizers). Scattered with thin shreds of fresh, brilliantly green basil from our garden (at least something is growing as it should) and then drizzled with a tad more olive oil, this tart provided a flavorful, filling and aesthetically pleasing supper.
And so, what started life as a merely adequate pizza crust found its true fulfillment at last. Gladwell would be proud.
Freeform Tomato Tart with “Goat Cheese” and Fresh Basil
A lovely, easy weekday dinner, as long as you’ve got the cheese already on hand. This tart is also a perfect contribution to a brunch table, as it tastes just as good at room temperature.
1/3-1/2 cups ( g) brown rice flour
1/4 c (60 ml) whole bean flour
1/4 c (60 ml) chickpea flour
1/4 tsp (1 ml) xanthan gum (probably not necessary, but I had a bag in the freezer)
1/4 c (60 ml) finely ground flax
1-1/2 tsp (7.5 ml) baking powder
1/4 tsp (1 ml) baking soda
1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt
2 Tbsp (30 ml) natural smooth almond butter
1 Tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1/2 c (120 ml) unsweetened soy or almond milk, or vegetable bouillon
Cashew “goat cheese” (I used this recipe without the pepper crust; or use another recipe of your choice)
4 medium ripe but firm tomatoes, cut about 1/4″ (.5 cm) thick
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
3-4 fresh basil leaves, sliced into very thin strips
more extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, sift the brown rice flour, whole bean flour, chickpea flour and xanthan gum, if using. Add the flax seeds, baking powder, baking soda and sea salt and whisk to blend. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the almond butter and olive oil. Slowly add the soymilk and blend well. Pour the wet mixture over the dry and stir to blend. The dough will be very soft, but still hold together.
Using wet fingers, press the dough into a rectangle about 12′” x 7″ (30.5 cm x 18 cm), with a 1/2″ (1.25 cm) ridge along the edges. Bake 10-15 minutesin preheated oven, until the top is dry and the crust puffs just a bit.
Arrange the tomatoes evenly over the top and bake another 35-40 minutes, until crust is crispy and dry on bottom (cover the edges with foil if they begin to brown too much). Add the cheese during the last 15 minutes of baking time, and continue to cook until cheese is beginning to brown. Sprinkle with basil and drizzle with a little more olive oil just before serving. Makes 8 servings.
Last Year at this Time: So Long, Summer: Chilled Avocado Soup
© 2009 Ricki Heller
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