Our cookbook of the week is Provençal by Alex Jackson, chef-owner of the acclaimed Sardine in London, England. Over the next three days, we’ll feature more recipes from the book and an interview with its author.
Ripe, weighty in-season tomatoes are a thing of beauty. Here, Alex Jackson more than does them justice in a savoury tart that puts them front and centre. “It’s one of the simplest recipes in the book and it’s quite easy to make it really delicious,” he says. “I don’t think you need to make your own puff; just normal, commercial puff pastry is delicious.”
As with many of the recipes in Provençal, the success of the dish hinges on the quality of the produce: The tomatoes are all-important. Jackson prefers “big, heavy, juicy bull’s heart tomatoes,” which he instructs you to slice a bit thicker than you think you should: “Not so thick that it makes the pastry too soggy but thick enough to make it the star of the show.”
TOMATO & TAPENADE TART
For the tart:
4 bull’s heart tomatoes
1 x 500-g (1 lb 2-oz) block of pre-rolled puff pastry
A handful of small Italian plum tomatoes, red and yellow if possible
1 bunch of basil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the tapenade:
100 g (3 1/2 oz) black olives, drained of any brine or oil and pitted
1/8 garlic clove, peeled and crushed to a fine paste
1/2 tsp picked thyme leaves
1 salted anchovy fillet, washed and patted dry
1 tsp salted capers, soaked well, washed and drained
1 tsp brandy
4 tsp olive oil
1 tsp red wine vinegar
First, slice the bull’s heart tomatoes into thick 1-cm (1/2-inch) rounds. Transfer to a strainer suspended over a bowl and season well with salt. Leave the tomatoes for a good half hour to allow the juices to drip into the bowl. This will prevent your pastry becoming soggy if the tomatoes hold a lot of juice.
To make the tapenade, put all the dry ingredients in a blender. Blitz well. Add the wet ingredients and blitz further until everything is fully incorporated. The tapenade should be very smooth.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
Next, roll out – or simply unfurl, if pre-rolled – the pastry to a rectangle to fit your largest, flat, heavy-based baking tray. Cut a rectangle of parchment paper to the same size, then place the pastry on top. Score a 2-cm (3/4-inch) border all around the edges of the pastry. This pastry border will puff up around the filling.
Put the baking tray in the oven to pre-heat for 10 minutes.
To assemble the tart, top the pastry inside the scored border with a generous smearing of tapenade. Arrange the sliced tomatoes in a single layer over the tapenade. Halve the small tomatoes, season with salt, and use them to fill any gaps. Drizzle the tart filling with olive oil and grind over some black pepper.
Remove the hot tray from the oven, slide in the tart on the parchment paper and return the tray to the oven. Bake the tart for 30 minutes, or until the pastry borders are puffed and crisp, the base is a light golden brown (lift the tart tentatively with a spatula to check) and the tomatoes are soft, squidgy and just started to take on a little colour.
Remove the tart from the oven, season lightly with a little flaky sea salt and black pepper, and scatter over the torn basil leaves. Allow the tart to cool on its tray, then slice into squares while still just warm. Drizzle with your best olive oil before serving.
Makes: 1 large tart (enough for 4 people for lunch or lots of small squares for a party)
Excerpted from Provençal: Simple Seasonal Southern French Cooking by Alex Jackson, published by Pavilion Books.