Tomato crostata, an open pie that looks like a very posh pizza and tastes unbelievable.
A pie has many faces
I’m completely in love with the tomato crostata.
It’s dangerous to fall in love with a pie. A pie is a real shape-shifter: the crust starts off closed, like in a classic apple pie or the English staple, steak and ale, with just a vent to let off steam.
Then it morphs into a lattice – with the cherry filling or the Linzer raspberry jam peeking flirtingly through.
Another shape, a pile of pastry cut-outs decoratively arranged over the dish, from hearts for the Valentine pie to stars and trees at Christmas. Crumb or streusel topping, and again all left to imagination, nothing on show.
But if we move in the French or Italian direction, with pies calling themselves galettes or crostatas, the cover is blown and the filling is on show – almost, with edges of pastry modestly shielding it a little. But watch it: it’s only a small, tiny step away from pizza – and the naked truth!
It’s dangerous to be in love with a pie, a galette or a crostata (let alone pizza). You can’t get enough of it, and it’s just crawling up and up onto your waistline.
Delightfully flaky pastry, with or without the sneaky cheese addition, is full of carbs, those floury devils. You take a look at your plate and all you see are virtuous tomatoes, chard or figs – but they are deviously resting on the pastry case, unarguably the best bit.
It’s dangerous to be in love with a pie – but love is blind, and it has extremely well-developed taste buds.
Recipe found in NY Times Cooking – and it was a coup de foudre.
It's a little involved, and all worth it
Why do all these complicated things to make the crostata? Could we not just roll out the pastry, slap some tomato slices over it and bake it?
Oh yeah? And end up with a soggy mess underneath watery tomatoes? All the steps in the recipe have their own purpose and sense.
Why salt tomatoes?
Salting tomatoes drains moisture from them. Obviously, if you live in the south of Italy and have tomatoes that are all bright ripe flesh with hardly a seed and no water, slice and enjoy them without the salting palaver.
But the rest of us, with our supermarket tomatoes grown in the Isle of Wight we have to make the best of what we have.
Thyme and garlic flavourings
The thyme syrup is simply divine brushed over the tomatoes. I usually make much more of it and keep it in the fridge to drizzle over all sorts: roasted vegetables, salads and cheese sandwiches.
The same goes for the garlic oil: make up a small batch and keep it sealed tight. A few drops added to scrambled eggs make them better than truffled.
How to make crostata pastry?
The shortcrust savoury pastry is admittedly the easiest made in a food processor or a standing mixer, but it's perfectly feasible to do it the artisan way: cutting the butter and cheese into the flour with a knife, then kneading lightly.
But it is beautiful and worth making up double the amount, storing half in the fridge for the next tart, pie or flan occasion. And in actual fact this is a combination of such great elements, you might as well just double or triple all the ingredients from the start!
That’s a joke but practically, making pastry is quite an enterprise so whenever I can and have enough ingredients in stock, I make twice or three times as much pastry. I wrap it in cling film in portions and – truth be told – sometimes forget to label it. So it does happen that an intended pizza turns by necessity into a tart.
But whether you make the precise amount, twice as much or a half, try this incredible pie at least once, as a weekend project or for a special dinner. It is magically delicious.
More magic tomato recipes
This is similar but more classically traditional: pastry and tomatoes, upside down, you guessed it: tarte Tatin. You can make it the quick and easy way, tomato Tatin with ready-made puff pastry. It’s thoroughly decent.
But for a special Tatin, a little more work will be fitting: plum tomato Tatin is a work of art.
Can you make butter from tomatoes? Yes, you can: tomato butter is really a very intense, concentrated condiment to spread on toast, potatoes or pasta.
When your tomatoes are abundant but not quite full of flavour, you can intensify that taste by making confit tomatoes: roasted with olive oil in low oven.
And of course they must be eaten fresh, too. Try them with figs in a salad, with crumbled blue cheese. Or serve with creamed sweetcorn in season – it’s another remarkably good combination.