Thursday, August 28, 2014

Using Caprese Flavors in Tomato Tartlets

Last Sunday I made appetizers to present at an open house for a beautiful home for sale here in town. One of the appetizers I created was Tomato and Mozzarella Tartlets with Pesto. Obviously, for anyone familiar with a Caprese Salad, the main components are fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese and basil. Once baked, these tartlets had not too much in common with a Caprese Salad, except for the ingredients. 

Tomato and Mozzarella Tartlets with Pesto, forefront
The other savory appetizers were raw items, since it is still summer and the tomato season has been in full swing. I filled cherry tomatoes with a Pesto Cream and I used lots of fresh herbs in making the Gorgonzola Cream I used in the fresh Belgian endive leaves. My basil has been growing like weeds, and I have made batch after batch of fresh basil pesto, which I freeze, so there is always some available in the long winter months. I wanted to make one appetizer that was baked, and my little Tomato and Mozzarella Tartlets with Pesto fit that bill.

The recipe is simple enough. I usually have pie dough in the freezer, making quick work of the tart shells. I dislike the mess involved in making pie dough, so when I do make it, I make my Never Fail Pie Crust, or my Even Better Never Fail Pie Crust. This recipe (made either way) yields enough for four 9-inch single pie shells or three 10-inch pie shells. Since I usually make 10 inch pies, I divide the recipe into 3 and freeze whatever isn't used. I happened to have 2 bags in the freezer so I used them to make the tart shells. All it requires is getting the bags of pie crust out of the freezer an hour or so before using so it thaws.

I did not measure the dough for the little tartlet shells, just eyeballing little chunks of dough to press into the molds. For this recipe, the little tartlet shells do not need to be blind baked (baked ahead of the filling), thankfully. In some cases, blind baking is a necessity, but again, this just drives me nuts, because it is nearly impossible to get a neat shell this way. The day before making the tarts, I pressed the dough into two tartlet pans, each with 24 wells. I placed the pans with the raw, formed dough back in the freezer. The next day, I chopped tomatoes and onion and cooked them with some garlic into a somewhat thick paste, allowed it to cool and added eggs and shredded mozzarella. To go with the caprese idea, I placed 1/4 teaspoon of fresh pesto into the bottom of each of the little frozen tart shells before placing the tomato mixture in. Parmesan seemed a logical topper, to create a pretty golden crust. 

Another thing often found in a Caprese Salad is balsamic vinegar. Sometimes it is sprinkled over as is, and sometimes it is made into a syrup. I went the route of a syrup, cooking down a cup of balsamic to about 3 tablespoons worth of balsamic syrup. I drizzled a little of this syrup over the tarts once baked. The pesto in the bottom was just enough to make the little tarts really pop with flavor.

Tomato and Mozzarella Tartlets with Pesto

makes 48

pie pastry for two 10-inch pies
1/4 cup fresh Pesto 
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/3 cup finely diced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper, if desired
1/2 cup finely shredded mozzarella cheese
3 eggs
1/2 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
1 cup balsamic vinegar

Divide the pastry dough into small balls and press these into the wells of 48 mini tart shells. Freeze the little shells at least 1 hour or overnight.

Heat a large skillet and add the olive oil. Saute the onions and garlic until very soft and golden. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper and cook on medium high for 15 or 20 minutes, until most of the liquid has cooked out, leaving a loose paste.  Allow the mixture to cool slightly.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (375 on Convection). Remove the tartlet pans from the freezer and place a tiny 1/4 teaspoon dollop of fresh pesto into the bottom of each well.

Pesto in frozen shells              |         filling and Parmesan topping in place        |                baked tartlets, cooling
Once the tomato mixture is no longer hot, add in the shredded mozzarella and eggs and mix well. Drop this mixture into the tartlet shells, on top of the pesto. Top each with a small pinch of the shredded Parmesan cheese. Bake the tartlets for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the filling is set and golden. Remove the tarts from the pans and set on a rack to cool.

Place the balsamic into a small saucepan and bring to boil, cooking until the vinegar has reduced to a scant 1/4 cup. Just before serving the tartlets, drizzle a little of this syrup over each tartlet.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.