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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tomato Chips?

The winter farmers' market was hopping last Saturday morning. It buzzed with students from UK's Writing, Rhetoric, and Digital Media program talking to vendors, gleaning information, and collecting memories for an on site image digitizing session. They were everywhere. The atmosphere didn't quite match  the frenzied hysteria of the outdoor market on a warm summer's day, but it was electric and great fun.

When shopping at the winter market, I usually chat and visit with all the vendors, but I'm always drawn in by the offerings from Elmwood Stock Farm. They have a knack for bringing something new, special, and surprizing to the market. Last week, they had ground corn meal, popping corn, dried beans, watermelon radishes, baby kale, organic chicken, ground turkey, and winter squash.

I was particularly smitten with tiny bags of dried tomatoes. They were gorgeous.Thinking the dried tomatoes might be similar to ordinary sundried tomatoes, I grabbed a bag. After biting into one, I knew there was nothing ordinary about them. They weren't chewy or leathery.  They were delightfully beyond crisp, crackling  with intense tomato sweetness. Tomato chips. Score.

I could have eaten the entire bag of tomato chips as a snack, but restrained myself because I had plans for them. Tart plans.

With that in mind, I had a blast tarting around the kitchen.

Using one of many standard pie dough recipes, I sifted 2 cups of flour into a food proccessor before adding 2 sticks of cubed and chilled unsalted butter, a pinch of salt, and 1/4 cup of ice water. I pulsed the ingredients until they combined before tumbling the loose dough onto a floured surface, forming it into thick round disc, covering it with plastic wrap, and sliding  it into the refrigerator to chill.

I wanted the tart dough to have a savory bent, so I clipped a few stems of snow-kissed fresh thyme from the back deck and scattered the leaves over the dough before rolling it out.  After buttering a rectangular tart pan, I snuggled the dough into the pan, trimmed the dough around the edges, lined it with parchment paper, weighted it with dried beans, and blind baked it at 350 degrees for 20 minutes before pulling it from the oven to cool.

While the tart shell cooled, I bounced around  ideas for a filling base.  Ricotta cheese? Didn't have any. Goat cheese? Had some.....tossed it.  Greek Yogurt? Uh, nope. Although I wasn't shooting for quiche, I settled on an egg base.  A thin egg base.  After cracking 3 large organic eggs into a mixing bowl, I whisked them together with 1/4 cup heavy cream, a tablespoon of minced fresh parsley, salt, pepper, and a pinch of grated nutmeg.

After scattering minced green peppers and shallots over the cooled tart dough, I carefully covered them with a thin 1/2 inch layer of the egg custard.   I smothered the eggs with a  cup of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and nestled the tomato chips onto the cheese. To gild the lily, I dropped  bits of fresh mozzarella cheese over the tomatoes before finishing with tiny leaves of fresh thyme.

I baked the tart for 35 minutes at 350 degrees, pulled it from the oven to rest for 5 minutes, sliced it into wedges, and served it alongside baby arugula lightly tossed with a simple meyer lemon vinaigrette.

For some ridiculous reason, I fully expected the tomato chips to float on top of the thick layer of parmigiano cheese and remain  crisp. Nope. As the cheese melted into the herbed-seasoned egg custard, it bubbled up around the brittle tomatoes, rehydrating them until they exuded an insanely concentrated tomato essence throught the tart. Bathed with oozing  mozzarella and nutty parmigiano cheeses, the transformed  tangy sweet tomato chips exploded with flavor, awakening sleepy sweet memories of summer garden fresh tomatoes. 

Happy accident.


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