1/12/2006

La Tarte

All successful dinners are alike, but every unsuccessful dinner is a disaster in its own way. We hardly give it a thought if a meal plan goes well, but there are so many little ways that things can fall apart, so many mistakes to be made.

To understand why the meal was a failure you have to first understand what it was I was trying to replicate. I had a very simple meal at our friends Chrystèle and Pierre’s house. It was something Chrystèle whipped up while The Girl was playing with their daughters. Do you see how inconsequential this meal must have been for her? She had four children in her house (ages from about 18 months to six) and she served me an amazing dinner when I came to pick up my child.

The meal was basically this one, perfect savory tart. It had the bite of Dijon mustard; the tang of Gruyère cheese; squishy, baked tomatoes, all on a crisp little crust. It was incredible, and I had to stop myself from eating more than my share. And this part is especially neat: she served it with a plate of proscuitto and some cornichons. Brilliant, right?

As a cook, a hungry person, and a francophile, I found myself with two important goals: 1) I wanted to eat more of that tart and 2) I wanted to be the kind of cook who could whip up something so delicious and with so little effort.

My first mistake was to not write down the recipe. I wanted to be someone who could just get the gist of the recipe and then rely upon my years of experience and instinct to replicate it. I asked Chrystèle how to make the tart about three times over the course of a month or so, thinking about trying to make it. Once I went so far as to buy the tomatoes, but I still didn’t have the confidence and ended up using them for something else. After days and days I finally felt I was ready.

I made the tart; things went downhill from there.

It looked great when I put it in the oven. The tomato slices looked bright, making a nice contrast with the chiffonade of basil and drizzle of olive oil. But my certainty began to falter when the cheese started to melt out onto the baking sheet and the pie crust wasn’t really browning. I fiddled around with the temperature (lower? broil?), but the cheese kept oozing and the crust kept looking rubbery.

Finally, after about 25 minutes I called it done, slid it on to a beautiful plate and brought it to the table.

First bite: “How much mustard did you put in here?” asked The Husband. Yes, there was a really powerful wallop of mustard. I had slathered it on pretty thickly, but I like mustard. The French like mustard. Mustard is good.

Second bite: “What kind of cheese is this? Gorgonzola?” The Husband isn’t a big cheese fan, and I’m happy to say that our marriage survives despite this huge character deficit. I sneak cheese into food, and he always imagines that it’s Gorgonzola.

Neither The Husband nor The Girl ate any more of the tart. I slogged on with another slice or two out of pride. The Husband brought out a couple of containers of yoghurt.

As soon as dinner was over I got on the phone to Chrystèle. She said first you prick the pie crust (oops), then you spread a thin layer of mustard on the pie crust (oops). Then the tomatoes (oops), then the cheese (oops), then drizzle some basil and garlic (oops) in olive oil. Bake at 350F for about 30 minutes or so.

I’m not giving up. I’m going to try again, perhaps with some goat cheese though because that will go over better in my house.

3 comments:

SF Mom of One said...

Do you bake the crust first at all? Trying to get it all down, though the thought of constructing such a thing is daunting.

I figure if I keep reading your blog, I will get inspired.

I wonder: does Trader Joe sell crusts (for lazy Americans)?

Deb St-Claire said...

I used a pillsbury pie crust from a box! It comes all rolled up, you let it thaw for about 20 min, then you simply (but carefully) unroll it. You don't really use a pie pan for this tart, just build up an edge by rolling the crust over.

You don't have to bake it first.

SF Mom of One said...

Ahh, one of those kind --the very very cool free-form tartes. It does warm my heart to hear about the Pillbury, though, of course. There's hope for me.