Heirloom Tomato Tarts
We’ve been having a most successful season for tomato growing compared to the past few years. Prior to 2013, every year I tried, failed and learned a few things; thus strengthening my patience. As a result of this long, time-consuming affair, plus the fact that we just had the driest July, I feel that we couldn’t have had a better harvest. We started eating the first batch in old-fashioned open face sandwiches, pastas, salads and, as you’ll find out in this post, we really enjoyed the tomato-infused baked treats. But before I introduce the recipe, I’d like to share a few pointers to help anyone who is planning to achieve his/her green thumb in the tomato business.
As I am not the most patient person in the world, I haven’t kept a detailed journal about this experiment, but hopefully this will give you some basic directions.
(Note that this list is for growing tomato plants in the ground as I do, but some tips may apply for container growing.)
1) Prepare the soil in the fall. Pick the sunniest spot in your garden with 8 hours or longer of sunshine. Layer with manure, a sprinkle of agricultural lime and rock dust, fallen leaves (maple work well) and seaweed. Cover with another layer of leaves or straw to protect the soil surface. This will create the humus rich-soil that tomato plants love. If the soil is heavy or consists mostly of clay, first add some sand and then proceed with the above layers.
2) Start with plump, healthy-looking seeds in the starter mix, 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date in your region; for me, it’s mid to late March. I use grow lights, but a bright windowsill works if available.
3) Sow a few seeds in a cell pack, and eliminate all except the strongest seedlings when they are about 2” height. It’s best to have extra plants in case of an unexpected event. Keep the plants moist.
4) Transfer the plants to larger containers with some compost (unfortunately, I skip this step often and end up with weak, spindly plants. If you use compost, you will have a better start).
5) When the night temperature stabilizes above 15C, transfer the plants outdoors. Do not turn the soil, but instead use the tines of a pitchfork or garden fork and gently wiggle to loosen the layered soil that you prepared during the previous fall. Add a sprinkle of organic fertilizer into individual planting holes. Plant each deeply, leaving about 6” above the soil. This will encourage the plants to anchor in the soil as they produce more roots. Water deeply after transplanting. Making use of a greenhouse is ideal, as this structure traps the heat to create a microclimate that mimics that of Mexico, from which tomatoes were originally sourced, and thus produces these fruits quite well. Alternately, cover loosely with a sheet of plastic, leaving some openings to allow for air circulation during the day.
6) Provide a structure about 7 to 8’ high from the soil surface that allows each plant to be trained upright with a single stem. Loosely tie a nylon string at the lower part of plants, and spiral it up to the other ends should be tied to a structure above. We have some tomato plants in a greenhouse so we’ve attached a 2 x 2 from one end to the other at 7’ high, and the strings are tied to it. As the plants grow taller, remove leaves at least 1’ from the ground so that water doesn’t splash back, as this situation can eventually attract diseases like blight.
7) Immediately remove any side shoots that emerge between the main stem and big leaves so that the plant can conserve energy to produce flowering shoots.
Water deeply every (second) day, trying not to wet the leaves and fruits.
8) Pinch off the top when the plant reaches 8’ or so. This will stop the growth of the plant and direct its energy instead into ripening existing fruits.
9) Keep up with ripened fruits by eating them! Pick all coloured tomatoes and conserve the plant’s energy for the next batch. Fruits will continue to mature even after being picked; for best results, leave them on a warm countertop.
10) If you are saving seeds, choose the healthy matured fruit. Take seeds out and smear against a piece of cloth or paper towel to remove the casing. Dry completely and store with a nametag in a cool dark place until the next seeding time.
Phew! Hope I didn’t miss anything that I learned from the last few seasons. One can always improve, however, so any suggestions are welcome here!
Heirloom Tomato Tarts
Makes 12 pieces
2 medium walla walla onions (or yellow onions), thinly sliced
2 heaping cups of mushrooms, sliced to ¼ inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
A few sprigs thyme
1 pack puff pastry (397g), thawed
1 egg yolk plus dash of water, beaten well
2 cups small ripened heirloom tomatoes, cut into ½ inch slices
½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
½ cup mozzarella cheese, grated
½ cup blue cheese, cubed to ½ inch pieces (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Combine the onion, mushrooms, garlic, maple syrup, oil, salt, pepper and thyme in a large bowl and spread onto a baking sheet. Cover with a piece of tin foil and roast until onions are nicely caramelized, for about 50 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool.
Flour the work surface and roll out the pastry dough blocks to a rectangular shape, ¼ inch thick. Cut each sheet into 6 pieces. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Spread the onion mixture, about 2 tablespoons for each piece, and place the tomatoes on top. Brush the egg wash to the edges (I found it easier to use a pizza cutter and draw lines ½ inch from the edges on each piece of pastry as a guide in order to contain the toppings). Sprinkle with Parmesan, mozzarella and blue cheese on top.
Bake in the oven at 350F until pastries are puffed and golden, and cheese melted, for about 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm.
Adapted from WHITE WATER COOKS at home.