You may say “Tomato” or even “Tomaahto,” but in New Orleans, they say “creoles.” For just a few weeks each summer these oddly shaped but beloved delta-bred, red natives come to market and they are incredibly good eating by themselves, in a great salad or as part of some to-die-for Creole concoction.
To welcome Creoles back to the tables of South Louisiana, and to cook up some New Orleans style fun, the French Market Corporation down on Decatur Street in the French Quarter throws a terrific little one-day party. No French Quarter event is complete until a parade passes by and the Creole Tomato Festival is no exception. The parade will make its way from Esplanade up Decatur to Canal then back down Chartres to Bienville. Then it's back across to the river to wind through the French Market some more. Carriages and vintage convertibles carrying dignitaries and the St. Bernard Tomato Festival Queen will roll amidst second lining Mardi Gras Indians, the Baby Dolls from Treme, Scull and Bones Bone Gang, the French Quarter Floozies, Storyville Stompers, Black Bottom Brass Band, and the walking, dancing Tomato Girls. During the day listen for more great music from Gospel to Jazz.
Food booths where samples of Creoles and Creole inspired dishes are served, will line the Farmers Market area. What's more, boxes and baskets of just-picked Creoles from the fields of Benny Becnel are for sale and French Market craft vendors and vegetable vendors offer all sorts of other treasures besides. There's a rumor that Creole tomato seedlings with a perfect pedigree will be available in the Children's area of Dutch Alley. Kids can decorate pots, plant the little beauties then take them home for a souvenir of another great day in the French Quarter. No matter how you say it or how you slice it, the French Market Tomato Festival is big red fun!
And that brings us to...
CREOLE TOMATO TART WITH HERB CRUST
Always cause for celebration, the arrival of the first Creole tomatoes of the season, which begins as early as March and peaks from May to June, is ushered in with marching bands at the old French Market. Following in early June, the annual French Market Tomato Festival features food booths and cooking demonstrations by local chefs. The locally grown beauties are prized for their sweet flavor. This simple tart lets their unique tastes shine through, although it could also be topped with any variety of vine-ripened tomato-or even heaped with hothouse cherry tomatoes to brighten up the day!
FOR THE PASTRY
• 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
• 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves
• 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
• 1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter
• 3 tablespoons ice water
FOR THE FILLING
• 1/4 pound fresh goat cheese
• 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, plus 1 sprig for garnish
• Fresh ground pepper
• 4 ripe tomatoes, such as Creole or beefsteak, cut into slices 1/4 inch thick
• Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
• Coarse sea salt for sprinkling
1. To make the pastry, in a food processor, combine the flour, Parmesan, rosemary, salt and pepper and process for about 30 seconds to mix and chop the rosemary. Cut the butter into 8 pieces and distribute the pieces evenly over the flour mixture. Pulse about 10 times, or until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle the ice water over the surface and pulse about 7 more times. The dough will still appear rather loose, but should hold together when pressed between your fingers. Shape the dough into a disk 3/4 inch thick, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight
.2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into an evenly thick round, about 12 inches in diameter and 1/8 inch thick. Roll the round loosely around the pin, then carefully unroll it into a 9 or 10 inch tart pan with a removable bottom, allowing the excess to drape over the sides. Press the pastry gently into the bottom and sides of the pan, then roll the pin across the top of the pan, trimming off the excess dough.
3. Prick the pastry evenly over the bottom with fork tines, then line with a sheet of parchment (baking) paper or aluminum foil. Fill the pastry with pie weights or dried beans and bake until the pastry has set, about 8 minutes. Remove the pie weights and parchment, return the pastry to the over, and continue to bake until pastry is tender and golden, 8 - 12 minutes longer. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
4. To make the filling, in a food processor, combine the goat cheese, 2 tablespoons of the chopped basil, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Process until smooth, about 30 seconds.
5. Spread the cheese mixture evenly over the cooled crust. Beginning at the outer edge, arrange the tomato slices in slight overlapping concentric circles on top of the cheese mixture. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper and the remaining 1 tablespoon chopped basil. Garnish the center of the tart with the basil sprig and serve.
Serve with an herbal white wine. Just for the taste, you see. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do.
Until next time, bona petite.