2015-08-27 / From The Garden

Sweet and Savory Tomato Tatin

By Cynthia Gibson

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Many have heard of the glorious tarte Tatin, the upside-down French apple pie. A tomato Tatin is an equal match, if not better tasting. Tomatoes, technically classified as fruit, are both sweet and acidic—similar to apples and peaches. When you treat a tomato as such, the results taste like dessert. To make a sweet tomato Tatin, add sugar; for one that is more savory, omit the sugar and add herbs. The best tomato Tatin mixes the sweet and savory for the best tastes of both cooking worlds.

For those with backyard pots and gardens, this is prime tomato season and the perfect time to make a Tatin. It can also be interesting to make individual tarts using different types of tomatoes. It is always visually appealing to take advantage of the different color choices we have in tomatoes today. The heirloom varieties provide the best colors.

What is a Tatin? Explaining its origin with a tale of Gallic culinary resourcefulness, “Larousse Gastronomique” does a wonderful, mouth-watering job of setting the story straight. “How the Tatin girls accidentally invented the famous tart,” the tale begins, “involves a small sally into French social history.” The venue is the forested Sologne region along the Loire River, in the small village of Lamotte- Buevren (near Joan of Arc’s city of Orleans). A destination for hunters, the area is known for its small family owned inns, all of them boasting superb game cooks.

The story continues: “Auberge Tatin has been owned by the Tatin family for almost 70 years. The most famous cooks in the family were the Tatin sisters, Marie and Jeanne. As well as their game specialties, they had a dessert that was quite popular with regular visitors. You might call it a kind of deepdish one-crust fruit pie. They made it in a copper pan about nine inches across and three inches deep. They neatly filled it with circles of fruit cut, covered it with a single pastry crust, put a lid and baked it by sliding it under the glowing wood embers in the huge hearth. One day, Marie dropped the pan. The pie stayed in the pan, but the crust cracked badly right across its center. Since there was no time to bake another, her sister quickly ran a knife around the edge of the crust and overturned the pie onto a serving platter with the cracked crust underneath. The fruit, now on top, looked very neat, but a bit pale. In a heavy iron skillet, they caramelized some butter and sugar and then dribbled the shiny golden syrup over the fruit. When Marie carried the newly invented upside-down tart into the dining room, it was received with acclamation. Within a few months, it was being copied all over the Sologne region. Within a few years, it was a favorite all over France. For the rest of their lives, the Tatin sisters basked in the glory of their tart.”

A culinary mistake it was, but a delicious tart it is!

The basic recipe is so superb that it translates well to the tomato.

Tomato Tatin

Serves 8

8 individual ramekins

1 box of Pepperidge Farm
puff pastry
3 lbs. fresh summer tomatoes
(preferably heirlooms),
about 12-15
1 tsp. sea salt
16 basil leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil spray
Shallot mixture
4 shallots, peeled and coarsely
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. hot paprika
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
Caramel mixture
1/2 cup white sugar
4 tsp. still water
1/4 tsp. freshly squeezed
lemon juice
1/4 cup of freshly and
roughly grated Parmigiano-
Reggiano cheese


Thaw dough and roll out onto floured counter to spread a bit. Cut out eight circles of dough with a three-inch round cookie cutter to fit over the ramekins. With a fork, prick the pastry. (The pastry rounds can be prepared up to eight hours in advance. Cover and refrigerate.)

Core tomatoes and halve crosswise at the middle. Arrange tomatoes, cut side up on a baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with salt and spray lightly with oil. Place baking sheet on center rack of a pre-heated 275 degree oven and bake until the tomatoes have shrunk by about one-third, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. This is an important step to condense tomato flavor and reduce moisture. (The tomatoes can be baked up to one day in advance, stored in an airtight container, and refrigerated.)

Prepare shallot mixture

In a small saucepan, combine shallots, oil, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir to coat. Sweat – cook, covered, over low heat, stirring frequently, until the shallots are soft and translucent – about 5 minutes. Add the paprika and vinegar. Increase the heat to medium high and cook until the vinegar has evaporated, but the mixture remains moist. Taste for seasoning. (The shallots can be prepared up to one day in advance, stored in an airtight container and refrigerated.)

Prepare the caramel

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook undisturbed until sugar begins to caramelize, about 1 minute. Pay close attention, as the caramel will deepen in color quickly at this stage. Swirl the pan gently and cook until the caramel is a deep amber color, about 1 minute more. Spoon a generous tablespoon of the caramel into the ramekins and tilt the ramekins so the caramel evenly coats the bottom.

Arrange the caramel-coated ramekins side by side on a baking sheet. Place 2 or 3 tomato halves, cut side up, into each ramekin. Press down on the tomatoes so that they fit snugly into the ramekins. Spoon the shallot mixture on top of the tomatoes. Place 2 basil leaves on top of the shallots. Sprinkle with the cheese.

Place a round of chilled pastry on top of each ramekin and tuck the dough around the tomatoes. Place the baking sheet in center rack of oven heated to 350 degrees. Bake until the pastry is puffed and golden and the tomatoes are bubbling around the edges, 25 to 35 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer the ramekins to a rack to cool for at least 2 minutes.

Invert each tatin onto an individual salad plate. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, garnished with basil leaves. (The tatins can be prepared up to eight hours in advance, stored at room temperature.)

This recipe is by Patricia Wells, famous food writer and owner of the best cooking school in Provence. This recipe is worthy of the time it takes to make it.

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