Sunday, November 18, 2012

Little luxuries

Surprise Tatin
About two weeks ago, a couple of good friends of mine here in Chicago became parents! This, for me, anyway, is still a little mind-blowing. I feel as though, still being in my mid-twenties and a grad student, I only act like a real grown-up about half the time. Sure, I have obligations. But most days, I don't have to be anywhere at any particular time. I can work at home, curled up in an armchair, barefoot, hair still a mess. I can ease my way into the day with a good cup of coffee and buttered toast, when most people are already shuffling off to work. I can pull together a loaf of sourdough pretty well every week, even mid-week, midway through the day, if I want. So I don't quite feel like I live a particularly grown-up life with grown-up responsibilities. And the thought of having that change anytime soon, of giving up little luxuries like late breakfasts and weekly bread-baking--well, let's just say that I think my friends are brave, brave folks.
So with all this in mind, when I heard that my friend had given birth to a beautiful baby boy, one of my first thoughts was that I should make some good, nourishing food for the new parents. With a tiny, helpless, newborn to care for, I thought, they probably had their hands full. (I might have been thinking of this post.) But I didn't know what to make. What do new mothers eat? Do they crave particular foods after those nine long months, those first sleep-deprived days? I really didn't have a clue. But I knew that my friends and I had at least one cookbook in common between our two kitchens--Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty. So I asked them to pick something from it that they'd been wanting to try out.
Roasted tomatoes and caramel Rough puff
My friends chose well, really well. Ottolenghi's Surprise Tatin is something truly spectacular, a crown jewel for the dinner table. It, much like its sweeter namesake, involves a puddle of dark caramel and pillowy puff pastry. But instead of the usual apples tucked beneath that buttery lid, it's roasted cherry tomato halves, itty bitty potatoes, sweet onions, and semi-firm goat's cheese that bubble away together in the heat of the oven.
One of the things I enjoy most about tarte tatins is the anticipation--the moments leading up to the end of baking and then the big reveal when you turn the tart out of its skillet. I'm the sort of girl who can't keep away from the oven window, even if there isn't much to see. So though those forty minutes or so of baking feel impossibly long, though they keep me in suspense--heady, tantalizing smells, puff pastry ballooning--they make the end all the more worth it--that moment when you finally get to slip on your oven mitts and get your first peek at what's been happening beneath that flakey dome. And in this case, it might just take your breath away. The onions will have reduced to sticky-sweet ribbons. The caramel and tomato juices will have seeped into the potatoes, leaving them ruby-tinged. The tomato halves will gleam, bright and candy-like. Like I said, a real crown jewel.
Potatoes in a sea of tomatoes Onions added Goat's cheese and puff pastry
And this tart tastes every bit as good as it looks. With each bite you get something a little different. But each is its own discovery--different textures and flavours, harmonizing together in different ways. Sometimes, what you'll get is the sweet-tart intensity of the tomatoes balanced against the richness of the pastry and the gentle creaminess of the potatoes. With other bites, it'll be goat's cheese and the potatoes--salty, earthy, comforting. My favourite sort of bite is one where the sweetness of onions melts into that of the tomatoes right at the edge of the tart--tangy and sweet with just a little crunch from the pastry.
The process of making this tart, admittedly, is not one that you can just breeze through. The tomatoes, onions, and potatoes all need separate preparation before they get nestled together in their skillet. There's also the caramel to cook and the cheese to slice--all that prep can add up. (But once assembled, you can leave the tart in the fridge until you need it--for up to 24 hours.) And you might end up with a sink full of dishes. But this is another reason why I think my friends chose so well. Elaborate and impractical meals are a bit of a luxury on most nights, and with a newborn to care for, my friends, I thought, could use a little luxury. (Plus, I just wanted to drop something off for an excuse to see the baby.) Likewise, if there's someone in your life that deserves a little pampering, you might want to consider this tart. 
Inverted tart

Surprise Tatin
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty
Note: About the puff pastry. If you're feeling really ambitious, consider making your own "rough" puff. I like this old Gourmet recipe. It makes enough for two of these tarte tatinsAbout the potatoes. Tinier potatoes tend to make for a better presentation here, I think, but I used what I could find--a mix of red-skinned new potatoes and a variety called German Butterball. About the goat's cheese. My go-to is goat gouda, but feel free to branch out.

150 g cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling over the tomatoes
Salt and pepper
500 g new potatoes, really tiny ones, preferably
1 large onion, peeled and sliced thinly
45 g sugar / 3 tablespoons sugar
10 g / 2 teaspoons butter
1 sprig fresh oregano, picked, or a few big pinches of good-quality dried oregano
100 g aged goat's cheese, sliced
1 sheet (about 250 g) puff pastry, rolled thinly

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F. Halve the tomatoes and place them skin-side down on a baking sheet. Drizzle with some olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in the oven to dry for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 25 minutes or until easily pierced with a knife. Drain and let cool. Trim off a bit of the top and bottom of each potato, then cut into 1-inch-thick discs.
Sauté the onion in olive oil and a little salt for 10 minutes, until golden brown.
Butter a 9-inch cake pan or heavy-bottomed skillet and line the base with a circle of parchment paper. In a small pan cook the sugar and butter on high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until you get a semi-dark caramel. Pour carefully into the cake pan and spread out evenly over the bottom. Scatter the oregano on top.
Stand the potatoes close together in the bottom of the pan. Press onions and tomatoes into the gaps, season well with salt and pepper, and cover with goat's cheese. Cut a puff pastry disc that is 1 inch larger in diameter than the pan. Layer the pastry lid over the tart filling and gently tuck the excess around the potatoes inside the pan. (At this stage, you can chill the tart for up to 24 hours.)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bake the tart for 25 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F and continue baking for 15 minutes, or until the pastry is thoroughly cooked. Remove from the oven and let settle for 2 minutes only. Hold an inverted plate firmly on top of the pan and carefully but briskly turn them over together, then lift off the pan. Serve the tart hot or warm.
Serves 4.


  1. Katie, the tart looks gorgeous and sounds amazing. My grad school semester ends in 3 weeks (but who's counting) and I will be making this the first spare moment I get!

  2. babies are CRAZY! completely mind blowing. That whole, one minute it was in and the next it was out, continues to boggle my mind. A lot of my friends here have babies (5babies in the past year!) and it just never gets old. I've stuck with a pretty simple pasta, broccoli and chicken casserole for each new parent meal delivery. But don't worry, I also bring a chocolate cake, because I've heard chocolate is good for babies (and moms) as it is very soothing. You are so nice to take the time to make this BEAUTIFUL tart. I am so glad to see that of all the recipes in Plenty that you are featuring this one! It caught my eye right away, but the prep and the ingredient list sort of threw me off track. I definitely want to try this. It looks like you made 2 - one for you and one for your friends? is it something you'll make again?

    I love quiet moments on the couch! I spent the whole day on the couch today. Heaven!

    1. Hm, I should get this casserole recipe from you! Part of the reason I ended up asking my friend what I should make her is that she has a few dietary restrictions that make the more practical meals from my usual repertoire unsuitable. But this casserole sounds like something she'd be able to eat, and I'm sure my friends would welcome more food.

      I did make two tarts, one for me and Octavian to keep. I figured that it wouldn't be much trouble to make a second one, since I was already doing prep for one. I'd definitely make it again. You just have to be prepared to dedicate a morning to it (realistically, my morning doesn't really start until 10 am - waking up and eating breakfast can take a while).

  3. this is STUNNING! what a showstopper. i'm a teacher and off for thanksgiving this week, so i'm going to try to squeeze this in amidst my thanksgiving cooking! thanks for sharing!!!

    1. Thanks, Marie. If you find the time to make it, I'd like to know how it turns out!

  4. I love this tart, we have made it before and it is just beautiful. And I might just make it this week with the purple potatoes I bought yesterday.
    When it comes to babies, I can totally relate, I am not fully grown up either. I dont know how many times I have heard that you are never truly ready for a baby, but I am just not ready. Not that anyone thinks it was time for me to have babies now, but still.

    1. Purple potatoes on this tart would be very pretty--I can just see it!

      I just found out that another friend, one of my oldest friends from childhood, just gave birth a few days ago. So many babies! I'm definitely not ready, but I'm happy to have the excuse to roam around Etsy looking for cute baby stuff again.

  5. Wow... I'm with you there about feeling out of place when people you know have babies! Crazy!! My older sister is now 26 and every so often I think of how her age group is a big baby-making period. So strange! But it must be so exciting to experience it as a friend (probably best enjoyed from a distance, anyway). And another wow: your friends have such good taste! This tart looks SO awesome. I really want to get into baking tarts with savory flavors--roasted tomatoes with cheese and tart pastry sounds incredible, but I'm usually too committed to sweets when I make any pastry. Maybe I just need newly-parented friends to kick me into making it...

    1. Yeah, I'm definitely excited that my friends are having babies. I grew up as one of the youngest in my extended family, so I don't really have much experience with young kids. Holding my friend's baby was exciting and scary and amazing...and I'm super-glad that I don't have to change his diapers every few hours.

      My friends do have good taste, don't they? I had a version of this tart bookmarked from Ottolenghi's old column at The Guardian, but I'm pretty sure I never would have gotten around to making had it not been for them.

  6. Woooooow. WHAT a tart. Spectacular Katie :).

  7. I’m new to your blog and I just love it. This looks delicious! Thanks for all the inspiration :) – Jessica

  8. what a thoughtful idea!
    at first, i thought you were headed toward feeling you should make a baby of your own. then you made a tatin.
    MUCH more up my ally. ;)

  9. This is one of the best dishes I've ever made!

    1. Glad you liked it, Ashley! Thanks for the feedback!

  10. Just found your blog, what a great one.
    I am putting this tatin on the menu for next week. It looks killer.

  11. This looks incredible! Do you think you could make it the night before, and serve it for morning tea the next day?