Mama had a mess of heirloom tomatoes ripening on the counter and more kale in the fridge than she knew what to do with. Even I can’t eat that many kale chips. So she decided to make a tomato tart with kale pesto.
The first thing she did was lop off the top of a head of garlic. She laid it in foil, drizzled it with olive oil, scrunched it all up, then put it in the oven for about half an hour. Just until the garlic softened and started becoming golden. She told me this is a really yummy thing to spread over crostini, which she said I’ve actually eaten before, but my baby memory isn’t recalling that.
Meanwhile, Mama made the crust. She explained to me that she doesn’t generally like making crust in the food processor because then she has to clean the darn thing, but since she would be making pesto with it anyway, she figured why not? To the processor, she added her flour, oats, and salt. Then she added her butter and processed it just until little clumps formed.
She said you don’t want to process the butter so much that it melts–the cold butter is what makes for a flakey crust. Then she added the ice-cold water and processed it again just until large clumps formed and began pulling from the side. She tested the dough by squeezing a bit in her hand, and she saw that it held together. You don’t want to process it into a smooth ball, otherwise you’ve overdeveloped something called gluten, and your crust will be tough.
Once she had the crust chilling in the fridge, Mama moved on to the pesto. Ordinarily, Mama makes a pretty traditional pesto, which she first ate, ironically enough, at a friend’s mother’s house in Bad Bramstedt, Germany, back in the ’90s. When you use basil or other fresh green like arugula, you can make the pesto fresh from the garden. When you use something hardier, like kale, it’s better to first blanch the greens. Mama generously salted her boiling water (and I stayed far away from the burner) and blanched the kale for a minute or two, in batches. She then ran the cooked kale under cold water (she said she’s cheating because she really should be putting it in an ice bath…but there are only so many dishes she wants out of the cupboards at any given time). The kale went into the food processor, to which she added olive oil, more salt, pepper, fresh lemon juice, toasted pine nuts (you don’t have to toast them–they just develop a nicer flavor), some freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and the roasted garlic. When the cloves were cool enough to handle, a gentle squeeze popped them right out of their papery skins! She whirred the ingredients in the processor and stopped to taste. I reached in and grabbed a chunk of the pesto to try for myself. I was not happy with it. But neither was Mama! She added more lemon and more salt.
A tart is so pretty and sophisticated (like myself), but Mama had so many tomatoes that she decided to turn this into a deep-dish pie. I sampled many of the tomatoes to be sure of their ripeness, which is rather strange considering that I rarely eat raw tomatoes.
Then Mama rolled out the dough. I took my bitten tomatoes and stamped them on the dough to make pretty patterns. She showed me how to wrap the dough around the rolling pin to lay it into the pie pan easier. There was really a lot of dough, so Mama trimmed the edges and was sure to have leftovers. Then she spread some pesto along the bottom of the pie. She neatly layered some sliced tomatoes, then sprinkled some mozzarella on top.
She explained that if this were a shallow tart, she’d be done, but she continued with two more layers in the same manner. (The leftover pesto she put in the fridge for pasta, but it would also freeze fine.) She put the whole thing in the oven until the top was brown, about 30 minutes, then grated some asiago cheese on top. She could’ve put it back in the oven for another minute or so, but she didn’t.
I had a few bites, which tricksy Mama was trading off for bites of the crust, which I really enjoyed. She kept telling me that if it were horrible she wouldn’t be bartering, but I’m not so sure. I hear this pie tastes good cold, too. Guess I’ll find out for lunch tomorrow.
Heirloom Tomato & Kale–Roasted Garlic Pesto Tart
1 head garlic
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Pastry Crust (or, Pâte Brisée if you’re really interested)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (you can substitute whole-wheat, if you like)
1/3–1/2 cup ground rolled oats (optional)
1 tsp sea salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/3 cup ice water
1 large bunch kale, ribs removed and torn into rough pieces
Extra-virgin olive oil (about 2 swirls around the food processor)
Juice of a lemon (or more, to taste)
Kosher salt (to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper (a few grinds)
2 Tbsp toasted pine nuts (toasting optional)
3 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1–2 pounds ripe heirloom tomatoes (however many you need, depending on size & variety)
1–1½ cups shredded mozzarella
Freshly grated asiago cheese
To roast the garlic: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Trim the tops off the garlic bulb, place it (cut side up) in the center of a square of foil, drizzle with the olive oil, seal the top of the foil, then place the bundle in the center of the oven. Roast until the garlic is soft and fragrant, and slightly brown, about 30 minutes. (You can certainly make the pesto with regular ol’ garlic, too, without the roasting.)
For the pastry crust: Combine the dry ingredients in a food processor. (Mama already had ground oats, but if you don’t have them, grind them in the processor first.) Give it a few pulses to distribute. Add the butter and pulse about 10 times, just until the butter and flour begins to form pea-sized lumps throughout. With the machine running, add the water in a stream and process just until the dough starts to clump. Turn it out onto your counter, give it a few quick kneads to bring it all together, flatten it into a disk, and wrap it in plastic. Refrigerate for half an hour.
For the pesto: To blanch the kale, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Working in batches, if necessary, add the kale to the water and stir to submerge. Boil for 1–2 minutes, until the kale is bright green. Transfer with a slotted spoon or tongs to a bowl of ice water (or to a colander that you’ll then run under cold water in the sink). If using toasted pine nuts, toast them in a dry pan over medium heat for a few minutes, shaking every so often, just until fragrant. You can also put them on a piece of foil or on a baking sheet and stick them in the oven, since it’s on. As soon as you smell them, they’re done! Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until pasty. You might need to add a little more oil—you can even add some of the blanching water. Taste and adjust seasonings. (Mama notes that all these amounts are approximate.)
To finish the tart: Slice the tomatoes—about as thick as you would a sandwich tomato. Set aside. Take the pastry crust out of the fridge and remove the wrap. Generously flour a surface, then gently roll the dough. Lay into pie or tart pan, then trim the edges, fluting if desired. Spread a layer of pesto along the bottom. Arrange slices of tomato to cover, then sprinkle with mozzarella. Repeat layers, if desired, ending with cheese. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Shave additional cheese on top, then pop back in the oven until melted and browned, a few minutes more.
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