These are the perfect, easy individual tarts to make when tomatoes are at their peak. The ripeness and quality of the tomatoes are very important, so buy the best you can find. Similarly, good-quality puff pastry is a must. You can vary the topping as you like, perhaps adding your favourite pizza flavourings “ capers, roasted peppers etc.
The puff pastry rounds can be shaped in advance, placed on a baking sheet, covered and frozen or refrigerated.
Preparation: 20 mins, plus 30 minutes resting Cooking: 15 mins
Special equipment: peel (optional), baking stone (optional)
For the tart bases:
125g all-butter puff pastry1
For the filling:
½ medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
½ tsp thyme leaves
2 pinches of sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
About 30 cherry tomatoes2, halved
30g vegetarian mozzarella, thinly sliced
8 black olives, stoned and cut into thirds
8 basil leaves, roughly torn
To serve (optional):
For the pistou handful of basil leaves and stalks (30g)
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
100ml extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of sea salt
2 pinches of freshly ground white pepper
To prepare the tart bases:
Cut the puff pastry into two equal portions and shape into balls. Roll each one out on a lightly floured surface to an 18“20cm round, 2mm thick3. Place the pastry rounds on a lightly floured tray and freeze for 5 minutes4. Transfer the pastry rounds to a peel or flat tray lined with greaseproof paper. Trim to neat 16cm discs, using a sharp knife and a plate as a guide. Run the tip of a knife around the edge of the pastry about 1cm in from the edge, making a shallow indent, to create a border. Place in the fridge and leave to rest for 30 minutes while you prepare the filling.
To prepare the onion:
In a small pan over a low heat, soften the onion in the extra virgin olive oil with the thyme leaves, salt and pepper for about 8 minutes; do not allow the onion to colour. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary, then set aside to cool.
To prepare for baking:
Preheat the oven to 230ºC/Gas 8. Place a baking stone or baking tray on the middle shelf to heat up. To assemble the tarts Take the puff pastry rounds out of the fridge. Spread with the onion mixture, within the border, and top with the tomato halves, packing them tightly together and overlapping them slightly5. Brush the tomatoes and the edges of the puff pastry with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
To bake the tomato tarts:
Carefully slide the tomato-topped puff pastry rounds onto the preheated baking stone or tray in the oven6 and bake for 12 minutes. Remove the tarts from the oven and distribute the sliced mozzarella and olives over the tomatoes. Bake for a further 2 minutes to melt the mozzarella, then remove and set aside to rest for 5 minutes.
To make the pistou:
Plunge the basil into a pan of boiling water and blanch for 3 seconds only, then remove and refresh in cold water1; drain well. PurÃ©e all the pistou ingredients in a blender. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Keep in a sealed container in the fridge until required, unless using straight away.
To finish and serve:
Garnish the tomato tarts with torn basil and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil. Spoon over a little of the pistou, if serving, and hand the rest around separately.
1 You can now buy ˜all-butter puff pastry. Avoid pastry made with margarine or hydrogenated vegetable fats, which contain unhealthy trans fats. You can prepare many discs of pastry and freeze them ready to pull out and use as required. One standard block will make two tarts.
2 I find that cherry tomatoes are best for this tart, though the large Roma variety works very well too.
3 Ensure that the pastry is no thicker than 2mm, or it may be undercooked and soggy.
4 When you roll puff pastry thinly, it will become warm, elastic and more difficult to handle. Resting it in the fridge or freezer allows it to relax, cool down and firm up; it will then be very easy to cut.
5 Ensure that the tomatoes and onion mixture are arranged within the border of the puff pastry, otherwise the sides will not rise up to encase the tomatoes and their wonderful juices.
6 The hot baking stone or tray provides a direct heat which will seal and cook the base of the tart.
Photograph © Jean Cazals 2011