I am by no means a vegetarian. The lard in the crust of my tart will give that away fairly readily. But one of my favorite cookbooks is called A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen by Jack Bishop of the Cook’s Illustrated family. There is no deprivation in this book. It is pure comfort and joy. It celebrates the seasons and presents beautiful preparations for the bounty of each of them. I have integrated many of the recipes and ideas into my cooking. His recipe for a tomato tart obviously does not include the use of lard. And he takes other clever turns with his dough recipe that I have not included. The following is my “go to” dough recipe. The tart is heavily inspired by Bishop’s recipe, though, and he deserves the credit for this simple but flavorful combination. Think about it. It is crust, goat cheese, tomatoes, salt and pepper, olive oil, and fresh basil. That is all. It is good ingredients assembled thoughtfully and executed simply with a lovely result.
Recipe for Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart: (8 servings)
1½ cups all purpose flour
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons leaf lard (shortening if you do not have access to fresh lard)
½ teaspoon salt (approximately…eyeball it)
4 to 6 tablespoons cold water (a little more if needed)
6 ounces of goat cheese
3 medium tomatoes (get the best…they are the star here)
extra virgin olive oil
salt and cracked black pepper
fresh basil leaves
1. An hour before starting the crust, cut the butter and lard into small pieces and place them into a bowl in the freezer. Measure the flour and place it into a bowl in the freezer, as well. (I measure my flour into a re-sealable plastic bag and put it in the freezer. Leaf lard has a very long life in the freezer, so you should already have it there, as well. A pastry cloth is not necessary, but I now use one.)
2. Place the butter, lard, flour and salt into a medium size bowl and work the flour into the fats with a pastry cutter or a fork, and then your hands. I sometimes use the food processor for a few pulses, but I always finish it up with my hands. Once the flour and fats are combined and you have worked the fats down to the size of peas, give or take, you can sprinkle the water on top and work it into the dough. When the dough is sufficiently moistened to hold together, stop. Wrap it in plastic wrap and shape it into a flat disk and put it into the refrigerator to rest for an hour or two. If you do not make pie dough often, consider reading the much more detailed instructions in my Quintessential American Apple Pie, Chocolate Pie with a Leaf Lard Crust, or Onion Tart post.
3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Find a 9” tart pan with a removable bottom, or just adjust your ingredients to a different size pan. A 10″ tart pan will accommodate up to 10 or so ounces of goat cheese. Changing diameter has a big impact on capacity.
4. Slice the tomatoes, core them if needed, and lay them out on paper towels. Lay paper towels on top of them and press down very gently. Leave the tomatoes this way for a few minutes. The paper towels will absorb a lot of moisture and seeds.
5. Meanwhile, remove the dough from the refrigerator. If it is too stiff to work, allow it to rest on the counter for a few minutes. Sprinkle flour on the counter or on your pastry cloth and roll out the dough to the approximate size, but a little larger, than the 10” tart pan. Ease the dough over to the tart pan and gently work it down into the corners (don’t stretch it). A handy way to cut off the excess is simply to roll your rolling pin across the top of the pan.
6. Poke several holes in the dough with a fork. Take the goat cheese and crumble it into the bottom of the tart pan. Remove the paper towels from the tomatoes and place the tomatoes on top of the goat cheese in a slightly overlapping pattern. Save your prettiest slices of tomato for the top and squeeze any little or less lovely slices into blank spaces. Lightly drizzle olive oil on top of the tomatoes, and season them with sea salt or kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper.
7. Bake until the edges of the tart are golden, about 45 minutes. Remove the tart to a wire rack to allow it to cool for a bit. Carefully remove it from the pan.
When the tart is to be served, adorn it with several fresh basil leaves. This can be eaten hot or at room temperature.
Note: My daughter, Lily, who does not like raw tomatoes, loves this tart. It is simple and basic. And, it is wonderful. It is also important to note that pastry can be a real pain sometimes. There are just days when it is not going to behave. Do not let the dough win. And, ugly tarts are good tarts, too. That is the entire reason behind the invention of the word “rustic,” I suspect. It means kind of homely, but really tasty. So if your dough is being rude…tell it that you are in charge. Wad it up and start over if you have to. Piece scraps of dough into torn spots. Throw it back in the fridge for a bit if it is getting too soft. But, do not throw it away or quit. Just make it work and move on down the road. It is GOING TO taste great.
Also, I cannot overstate the importance of letting the tomatoes drain a bit on the paper towels. If you don’t, you can end up with a soggy bottom crust. The next time I make this I’m also going to lower my oven rack to the bottom third of the oven to get the bottom crust just that much closer to the heat element.