(Published in Flava, issue 2, 2014)
There’s so much more to the humble tomato than a tin of Campbell’s tomato soup or a dollop of Heinz Tomato Ketchup.
I love the winter season for two reasons; one, the cooler weather, which means that I no longer have to dash from one air-conditioned building to the next; and, two, the availability of locally grown produce, namely tomatoes.
If you haven’t been to one of the local farmers markets in Cayman (at The Grounds in Lower Valley on a Saturday morning and at Camana Bay on a Wednesday afternoon and Saturday afternoon) then you absolutely must. At this time of year the stands are stocked full with all manner of locally-grown produce, including leafy greens, carrots, eggplant, key limes and, of course, the star of the show, tomatoes.
A member of the nightshade family, tomatoes are in fact a fruit, but their wide use in savory, rather than sweet dishes, means that they are often classed as a vegetable and used predominately as such.
Deliciously sweet and gloriously juicy, a ripe, in-season tomato is a cook’s dream. Indeed, there’s a tomato for just about every culinary need – from large juicy beefsteaks bursting with delicious goodness, to dainty, bite-sized cherry varieties filled with sun-ripened sweetness. While the hundreds of varietals vary wildly in size and color, from bright yellow to deep purple, they all have a wonderfully sweet flavor when served either raw or cooked.
Tomatoes are not only nutritious – they are rich in Vitamins A, B and C, as well as the antioxidant lycopene – they are incredibly versatile too. Roast, pan fry or grill, purée into a sauce or a soup, add to a salad, bake in tarts and quiches, use as the base for a wickedly good Bloody Mary cocktail, or enjoy in a Caprese salad with creamy mozzarella, basil, a drizzle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of Cayman sea salt.
Maureen Cubbon, winner of the 2013 Cayman Cookout Cook-Off chef competition, has a recipe for tomato tarts that is simply divine and the perfect way to utilize locally grown tomatoes. They are so simple to make too, that even those not blessed with culinary prowess (such as myself) manage to cook these little tarts to perfection. Enjoy them straight out of the oven, paired with a farm-fresh salad for a light lunch or dinner. Sometimes, it really is the simplest of meals that shine.
Farmers market tomato tarts
Makes 6 small tarts or 1 large tart
1 large frozen pie/tart shell or 6 frozen small tart shells
6 farm-fresh eggs
1 cup of egg whites
2-3 tablespoons fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 pound grape sized tomatoes or large tomatoes, chopped
2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated
4-6 ounces good quality cured meat like Parma ham, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons of half & half
1 teaspoon of garlic salt
Fresh ground pepper
Good quality olive oil
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
Heat the oven to 350 F. Meanwhile, whisk together eggs, egg whites, half & half, fresh pepper and garlic salt and set aside.
Toss tomatoes with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, chopped basil, kosher salt and pepper and roast in oven for about 15 minutes until the skins of the tomatoes burst slightly. Cool off and set aside.
Prepare tarts by sprinkling the chopped cured meat, roasted tomatoes and cheese on the bottom of the tart. Pour in egg mixture into tart almost to the top of the shell. Cook in oven for 20-25 minutes, checking often to ensure the tart shell doesn’t burn. Cook until the egg mixture is set. Cool and serve.