With so much at the market to choose from, it's not easy to pick a favorite summer fruit. Peaches, raspberries, cherries -- they're all candidates for top prize. But if I had to limit myself to just one, there would be no contest. It wouldn't be summer without the tomato.
Like berries, peaches and cherries, the tomato develops from the ovary of a plant, and contains that plant's seeds. Botanically speaking, it is a true fruit. And tomatoes are tart, (can be) sweet and juicy. I'm not suggesting that you substitute cherry tomatoes for cherries or plum tomatoes for plums in your summer pies and tarts. As the old saying goes, "Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad." So what are the wisest ways to take advantage of the tomato's fruitiness when making dinner?
Make a savory salad with tomatoes. Combine tomatoes with fresh mozzarella, goat cheese or feta, drizzle with olive oil and vinegar, and sprinkle with sea salt and herbs. Or combine with other un-fruit-like fruits, such as cucumber, eggplant and peppers, and top with a garlicky vinaigrette. Tomato, avocado and corn (all fruits, by the way) are another happy combination. Dress them with chopped scallions, chilies, lime juice, olive oil and a sprinkle of cumin.
Like fruit sauce on a sundae, tomato salsa adds interest to a plain dinner. Try chopped tomatoes, lime juice and fresh oregano on grilled chicken. Swordfish goes well with tomatoes, black olives, capers and parsley. Or serve grilled pork tenderloin with tomato, chopped fennel, garlic, basil, and lemon zest.
And then there is the classic -- a Margherita pie. Ripe sliced tomatoes make a perfect pizza topping whether you make your own dough, buy frozen, or use a pre-baked pizza shell. For the crispiest pizza, sprinkle your tomatoes with salt, let stand 15 minutes, and then pat them dry before using them as a topping, along with slices of fresh mozzarella (it won't hurt to pat dry the mozzarella, too). Grill or bake, and then sprinkle with grated Parmesan, chopped fresh basil and cracked black pepper.
More refined than a pizza is a tomato tart, with a flaky, buttery crust and a custard-like filling of cheese and eggs. The dough comes together in seconds in a food processor. I used cherry tomatoes in my tart, arranging them cut sides up so they could dry out and intensify in flavor in the oven without making the filling watery and the crust soggy. Goat cheese adds tangy flavor, but ricotta may be substituted for a milder taste.
For the crust:
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into bits
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup ice water
For the filling:
1 1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 cups fresh goat cheese
2 large eggs
1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Ground black pepper
1. Make the crust: Combine flour, butter and salt in the work bowl of a food processor and process several times until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle with ice water and pulse until the dough just starts to come together. Press into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.
2. On a lightly floured countertop, roll the dough into an 11-inch circle. Transfer to a 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Fit the dough into the pan and up the sides. Trim away excess dough by rolling a rolling pin over the top of the pan. Prick the bottom of the dough with a fork, then drape with plastic wrap, and chill for 30 minutes or up to 1 day.
3. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line the tart shell with a piece of aluminum foil and fill with dried beans (or, if you have them, pie weights). Bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake until pastry just starts to color, about 5 minutes more. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Turn down the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
4. Sprinkle the halved cherry tomatoes with salt and let stand on paper towels for 15 minutes. Pat away excess liquid with another paper towel.
5. Combine the goat cheese, eggs, basil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a blender and blend until smooth. Spread across bottom of cooled tart shell. Arrange tomatoes, cut sides up, on top of cheese mixture. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with black pepper. Bake until the filling is set and the crust is golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Remove sides from pan, slice, and serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 4 main-course servings, 6 to 8 appetizer servings.