Oh, people. I just had the most glorious weekend down in LA with my best girlfriend, while my husband dutifully (and might I add very successfully) took care of our offspring back home in San Francisco. And let me tell you—it was really something. 48 hours of food, drink, laughter, and lots of Southern California sunshine that makes dining al fresco the order of the day. As soon as I stepped off the plane, Sara and I got to work. We don't believe in the sort of ladylike lunching that involves a few lettuce leaves and a single prawn on an antique plate. No, our thing is more of a salad-plus-truffled pizza-plus-cupcakes-and-lots-of-wine-in-lieu-of-water sort of situation.
So now that I’m back to reality, I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite lunching with girlfriends dishes, which is to say the kinds of foods that only need a little pile of lightly dressed mixed greens and lots of well-chilled white wine on the side, and still leave room for some slightly tipsy, giggly cupcake sampling afterwards. These tomato, goat cheese and caramelized onion tarts fit the bill perfectly.
This recipe comes from the always awesome, rarely mark-missing Ina Garten. Oh, Ina. Why do your recipes and your delightful East Hampton estate (with an entire adjacent house dedicated solely to cooking and entertaining) have to be so flippin’ perfect? As my friend Lauren (a fellow Ina fan and trained chef in her own right) likes to say, “Okay, Ina, we get it. You have lots of special dishes. Golf clap.”
These tarts are another winner from Ina’s Back to Basics cookbook, also known as the thing I’ve keeping under my pillow for the past couple months. With a base of flaky store-bought puff pastry, there’s no other way to describe this recipe than having lovely layers of complex, fantastic flavors.
Edgy parmesan gives dimension to a pile of sweet, deeply caramelized onions scented with fresh thyme, creamy goat cheese is balanced with slabs of fresh tomato that become juicy and intense during baking, and ribbons of basil give the whole thing a bright finish. If you can think of a more heavenly combination, save for bittersweet chocolate and salted caramel, then please report to me.
If you’re not having girlfriends over for lunch anytime soon, these tarts would also make for an excellent light supper (call them fancy pizzas instead of tarts and they become more like dude food) or a perfect first course for a dinner party. However you serve them, just remember the bit about lots of white wine on the side—in all cases, it’s the right thing to do.
Tomato, Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onion Tarts
Adapted from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
Use whatever tomatoes look good in the market--I used a fun smaller variety from a local farm and put a few slices on each tart, but if you can only find big Beefsteak-type tomatoes, just put one thick slice on each tart.
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing
4 cups thinly sliced yellow onions, about 2 large
3 large garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers
Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons dry white wine
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
1 package (17.3 ounces) puff pastry sheets, thawed but still cold
1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
4 ounces goat cheese, plain or herbed
1 large tomato, cut into 4 (1/4-inch-thick) slices
3 tablespoons julienned fresh basil leaves
Position an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat and add the onions and garlic. Sauté for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are limp and the skillet is nearly dry. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, the wine and thyme and continue to cook for another 10 minutes, until the onions are lightly browned.
Unfold each sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and roll it lightly to an 11-by-11-inch square. Using a six-inch-wide saucer as a guide, cut 2 circles from each sheet of puff pastry, discarding the scraps. Repeat with the second sheet of pastry.
Using the tip of a sharp paring knife, score a circle 1/2 inch inside the edge of each pastry--be careful not to cut all the way through. Prick the pastries all over with the tines of a fork and place them on the sheet pan. Sprinkle a tablespoon of the grated Parmesan on each round, staying inside the scored border.
Place 1/4 of the onion mixture on each circle, again staying within the scored edges. Crumble 1 ounce of goat cheese on top of the onions. Place a slice of tomato in the center of each tart (or several if using smaller tomatoes, see note). Brush the tomato lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with basil ribbons, salt, and pepper. Scatter the remaining grated Parmesan over each tart. If the pastry has warmed up significantly during assembly, chill the tarts for 15 minutes in the refrigerator before baking. At this point, you can also wrap the sheet pan in plastic wrap and chill the tarts until you're ready to bake.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. Serve warm.