This week I happened to hear an interview with Chuck Close, considered to be one of the world’s greatest contemporary portrait painters.
I only ever listen to the radio when I’m driving and sometimes, just sometimes, I happen across something so riveting that I either forget where I’m going or I spend time at stop lights frantically making notes on whatever scrap of paper I can grab. Inevitably, I lose those scraps. But the mere act of writing things down seems to change something in my brain – to wire it in there so that I can remember.
That’s what happened when I was listening to Chuck Close. I forgot half my errands and I spent five minutes pulled over to the side of the road scrambling through my car to find a pen to make notes. Close suffers from a number of disabilities including dyslexia and a condition called face-blindness. And then in 1988, a spinal illness left him a quadriplegic. His father died when he was eleven-years-old. In the interview he said something to the effect that he would rather have had those eleven years with his father than a lifetime with most other fathers. (I’m working from memory here.) He also said getting over his father’s death taught him important lessons about getting over things and finding a way back to meaning and happiness. He talked about his art before and after becoming a quadriplegic.
Close also talked a lot about not really believing in waiting for inspiration. He’s on record as having said, “Inspiration is highly overrated… More often than not, work is salvation.” I love this idea – that work is salvation and I believe that buckling down and doing the work matters hugely.
But as for inspiration – perhaps it’s different in the kitchen where inspiration is everywhere. It often comes in the form of ingredients. A pot of basil growing in the garden, a bunch of fresh, organic kale , a loaf of sourdough bread, dark sweet cherries, really good chocolate, a wedge of cheese, the scent of rosemary, small wild apples, autumn squash. Sometimes inspiration comes from cookbooks and food blogs and food photography.
This recipe was inspired by the cookbook, My French Kitchen, which I bought after reading about it on the beautiful (and highly inspirational) Seattle-based food blog Cottage Grove House.
My version of a French Tomato Tart, inspired by but bearing almost no resemblance to the one in My French Kitchen follows.
You’ll need a good flan dish and a decent spatula. A flan dish works really well here because this is definitely a tart as opposed to a deep dish kind of thing like a quiche (which I also love). The ingredients are kind of spare. You want your crust rolled thin and you don’t need it to have high sides. And as for the spatula – they happen to be a happy little addiction of mine. I often take my own spatulas when I’m cooking at other people’s houses!
Classic Tomato Tart
- pastry for a 9 inch pie plate or flan dish
- 10-12 cocktail-size firm, ripe tomatoes (or double that plus a few for cherry tomatoes)
- 2 tsp anchovy paste – obviously optional and not for vegetarians
- 1 large onion, finely sliced in rings
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
- fresh basil, washed and torn
- 1/2 cup of whatever shredded, grated or crumbled cheese inspires you – Parmesan, old cheddar, chevre, asiago, fontina, feta, etc.
- freshly ground black pepper
Wash the tomatoes and slice in half. Place cut side down on a clean kitchen towel or paper towel to absorb any extraneous moisture.
Saute the onion in the olive oil and when nicely browned, add the garlic and continue cooking for another minute or two. Use a teaspoon of sugar if you want to get these nice and caramelized.
Roll out the pastry and place in flan dish.
Spread the anchovy paste in the bottom of the pastry using a spatula. Then add the cooked onions and garlic and distribute evenly. Place the tomatoes tops up on the onions. Sprinkle with olives, ripped basil leaves, cheese and pepper.
Bake at 350 deg F for about 35-40 minutes or until tart is lightly browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.