It’s no secret that I love tomatoes. Sadly, that’s been one of the unfortunate tradeoffs to living in Mexico: it’s hard — if not impossible — to find tomatoes other than the common (and to me, blah and flavorless) saladitas.
Lately, the big-box stores are carrying a few other varieties: mostly cherry tomatoes in different colors and sometimes round “Early Girl” type slicing tomatoes or bigger Beefsteak impersonators that are always disappointing. Rarely do they have that distinctive tomato aroma, what to speak of flavor.
They’re grown elsewhere, then packed and shipped. They’re so far from the vine-picked tomatoes in my mother’s garden or just-picked heirlooms at California farmers’ markets that, well, I just look and lament. They just don’t taste like tomatoes to me, and the texture is all wrong.
Luckily, though, right now, Mazatlán’s organic farmers’ market is full of all kinds of tomatoes, and I’m in heaven.
While Sinaloa is the biggest tomato-growing state in Mexico, all the Green Zebras, Black Cherries and other flavorful, delicious heirloom varieties are mostly exported. I count my blessings that some of the small local farmers and one bigger organic grower, Vida Verde Vegetales, are growing a variety of interesting and delicious tomatoes and selling them locally.
Those of you in places with actual farmers’ markets are probably experiencing the same bounty at this time of year, before the summer rain and heat begin.
Last week, after a few days of happily admiring the big bowl of oddly shaped red, yellow and green tomatoes on my counter, it was time to do something with them, something that would do justice to the panoply of colors, flavors and textures before me. I’d been wanting to make this tomato-feta tart for more than a year, and now seemed like the perfect time.
This recipe puts aside the classic Italian flavor of basil in favor of the more subtle summer-meadow taste of fresh herbs like thyme, mint, marjoram and oregano. Use fresh if you can; otherwise, be gentle with how much dried herbs you add. You want to accent the tomatoes, not overwhelm them.
The crust is made in a food processor and is incredibly easy and wonderful. Follow it exactly, even when your mind rebels. (Yes, there’s a bit of sugar, but it works! And, yes, bake it for an hour — an actual hour — at 400 F.)
I made the whole pie crust recipe and froze half for later use. I didn’t have a pie pan, so I used a 9-inch springform pan instead.
Eaten hot out of the oven, this tart is fabulous in every way — pretty to look at and scrumptious to eat, with a rich, flaky crust and a savory, satisfying filling. It’s kind of like a frittata but not; without the eggs and cheese, it’s lighter, with brighter flavors.
Leftovers, even straight from the fridge, work because of the slight mustardy taste and tang of the feta. Serve with a green or arugula salad, and you’re set.
Use as many colors of tomatoes as you can find! The better the ingredients, the better the finished product.
- About ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
- 1½ lbs. sliced ripe beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes (2–3 large)
- ½ lb. cherry tomatoes, halved
- ½ recipe Easy Pie Dough (see below)
- 2 Tbsp. whole-grain mustard
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for finishing
- 1½ Tbsp. minced fresh oregano, marjoram, parsley, mint and/or thyme leaves
Place tomato slices and halved cherry tomatoes in a single layer on baking sheet lined with two layers of paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. Season with salt. Set aside for 15 minutes.
Blot excess liquid with more paper towels.
Carefully roll out cold pie dough and transfer to pan. Chill in freezer 5 minutes.
Remove crust from freezer. Using the back of a spoon, spread mustard evenly over bottom surface. Layer in tomatoes, fitting them tightly together. Crumble cheese over top; season with paprika and black pepper.
Drizzle with 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Sprinkle with fresh or dried herbs. Bake about 1 hour, until edges are well-browned and crisp and top is sizzling, with tomatoes and cheese lightly browned and most liquid evaporated.
Remove from oven; cool to room temperature. Drizzle with a little olive oil and serve.
Easy Pie Dough
Chilling the dough at different stages is essential — don’t skip those steps.
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour, divided
- 2 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2½ sticks unsalted butter, cut into ¼ -inch pats
- About 5 Tbsp. cold water
In a food processor, combine two-thirds of the flour with sugar and salt. Pulse twice to incorporate. Spread butter pats evenly over surface. (They will overlap.)
Pulse until no dry flour remains and dough begins to collect in clumps, about 30 short pulses.
Using a rubber spatula, spread dough evenly around bowl of food processor. Sprinkle with remaining flour; pulse until dough is just barely broken up, about 7 short pulses. Transfer to a bowl.
Sprinkle with the water. Using a rubber spatula, fold and press dough until it comes together into a ball; divide in half. (Dough will be soft and somewhat sticky.)
Form each half into a 4-inch disk. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate for at least 2 hours. When ready to bake, set one disk on a well-floured work surface; sprinkle top with flour. Roll dough into a circle, lifting and rotating to get an even shape and thickness.
Carefully fold dough in half and lay over a pie plate. Press into bottom; tuck overhanging edges and flute or crimp. With a springform pan, place rolled-out dough in pan and press tightly into edges and about an inch up the sides. — Adapted from www.seriouseats.com
Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Facebook.