Last night I drove the gentle hills of Irvine to get to a potluck given by a group of women from the synagogue who plan events throughout the year. Though I am too broke to take advantage of most of these right now, occasionally there is something I can do, like this event.
There are lots of good cooks among this sizable group, and I planned to lend my own cooking prowess to the lot.
For the occasion, I had saved a recipe clipped from the paper about a month ago, in anticipation of this dinner. The recipe was more a technique than anything else, for it gave me a versatile template I can use to develop other dishes.
This was a rustic tomato tart. The recipe for the crust was extremely valuable to me, as in the past, I have found pie crust hard to work with, but this variety, with a secret ingredient, was different. As usual, I erred by not reading the recipe through all the way long before the day when I was going to prepare the dish. It seems I was supposed to make the crust and let it rest in the fridge overnight, but it was very forgiving, actually. After an hour and a half in the fridge, even after breaking into hard pieces on the baking pan, it turned out fine. All I had to do was press the pieces together and slip the resulting disk onto the baking pan. The edges melded together, it was not hard to get the edges to fold over the filling.
The secret ingredient, added to the usual flour, stick of butter, 1/4 cup of shortening (in my case canola margarine), and ice water, was a tablespoon and 1/4 of cider vinegar, which made the crust easier to work with and stronger all around. Though the dough smelled strongly of this ingredient, it was not at all evident in the finished product.
A rustic tart is supposed to look home made, with the filling barely contained within a triangle of thick crust, folded over at the corner.
This particular tart contained the simplest of summer ingredients: thickly sliced tomatoes marinated in olive oil, with diced kalamata olives and garlic, fresh oregano,olive oil, and salt and pepper. The fruity taste of these ripe summer tomatoes came through beautifully. They didn't need anything else to shine, except a shower of fresh basil on the top.
But I was thrilled by the prospect of adapting the recipe, trying other fillings, like roasted vegetables (zucchini, asparagus, sweet yellow and red bell peppers, or several varieties of mushrooms).
I was glad I changed my mind at the last minute about the overly-fussy vegetable tart I had been planning to make, with its paste of artichoke and roasted garlic and whole wheat crust.
In all probability, it would have fallen apart.
Simplicity is best, as it bespeaks summer, when, in any case, the ingredients are at their peak and no fuss is truly necessary.
The tart disappeared almost immediately, as a series of eager women dug in to its still warm crust to excavate a slice. There were plenty of other tasty dishes at the event, but this one stood out. I will certainly be using the recipe again soon.