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Making good things, like tomato and basil tart

February 24, 2011

Being in post-devastating-quake mode is exhausting, even though our flat has escaped incredibly lucky. I can’t imagine the horror that many are going through right now (especially those with lost loved ones). So far I have been selfishly trying to prevent myself from some sort of physical or mental breakdown. The sound of helicopters and sirens continues to remind us, in our relatively safe haven (ha, whoever though I’d say that about Riccarton?!), of a continuing nightmare. Reading and listening to the news is just depressing – the angle dominating most outlets is definitely not a hopeful one. It does nothing but fill you with despair.

What’s most surreal for me is the fact that, since I stocked up on lots of little foodie luxuries before the quake, some of my meals have seemed ridiculously fancy for a time that calls for cutting back (especially on water use) and going back to basics. I felt so guilty about being lucky that I started purposefully avoiding making things I had wanted to. Then I did some baking as part of the Christchurch Baking Army initiative, and that seemed to jump start something. Making something good felt so right, at a time where there’s not much to look forward to.

This morning I got up and finally decided to make the tomato tart I had been eyeing up all spring and summer. After all, letting good food go off isn’t going to help anyone, and it’s certainly wasn’t making me feel better. I shared this tart with my sweetheart and, staring out into the sunshine after two days of rain and sorrow, felt a little more hopeful. It has helped, making good things, and making sure friends and myself are nourished at a time where eating anything at all feels like a luxury.

This wonderfully simple recipe from The New Zealand Vegetable Cookbook is perfect, seasonally speaking, since my roma tomatoes are going well. Plus the upside-down aspect kinda of reflects the state of Christchurch right now. The main change I made was that, instead of buying pastry (which, at the moment, would involve quite a bit of queuing), I whipped up a flaky but not puff pastry in ten minutes. In future, I think I’ll try different vegetables as well, as delicious as tomato and basil is together (not exactly available year-round though). Mushrooms with thyme would be especially delicious. Halved tiny onions, red peppers, courgettes, and even cauliflower or broccoli would be delightful.

Upside-down tomato tart

makes one 8″ ish tart – but you can make it larger if you wish (the pastry will just be a bit thinner)


  • 50g salted butter, chopped into small pieces
  • 3/4c plain flour (you can use 1/4c wholemeal in its place if you like)
  • 2 Tablespoons cold water to start

Do not use a food processor for this, or it will not turn out flaky. Mix the butter and flour together in a bowl and smoosh the butter into the flour with a pastry cutter or a strong fork, until no butter bits bigger than a pebble remain. Add cold water and mix in, adding more a teaspoon at a time, until the mixture is all shaggy. With your non-mixing hand, scrunch together the shaggy bits until it comes together as a soft dough, adding more water if things are too dry to form a dough ball. Flatten into a disc, cover with a plastic bag or place in a container, and freeze while prepping the rest of the ingredients.

Or if you have some, frozen butter puff pastry cut into the right size would also work.

tart filling

  • enough roma tomatoes, halved lengthways, to fill the base of your cast iron pan (I used five).
  • about 1 tsp caster sugar
  • a little cooking oil, and salt and pepper to taste
  • about 10 leaves of fresh basil, sliced super thin (nothing packaged – basil really should come straight off a live plant that’s in soil). You could use fresh oregano or flat parsley, but my first choice would definitely be basil!
  • optional: a white cheese to crumble/serve on top, eg. chevre, feta, cream cheese, cottage cheese

Preheat oven to 200C (400F), with a rack centred.

Heat oil in you cast iron pan on medium (veering on medium low, since mine got a little burnt). Meanwhile toss tomatoes with salt, pepper and sugar. Add to the hot pan and cook five minutes, until soft and mushy. Meanwhile, dust a working surface with flour and your pastry disc, and roll out until it’s a size that will sit comfily on top of your tomatoes, covering them completely. I had to trim the edges off mine (keep these scraps in a container in the freezer and when there are enough of them you effectively have pastry in the freezer). Place pastry over the tomatoes once cooked, slit and immediately place in oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes until pastry is golden brown. Let sit for 15 minutes.

Place a plate at least 2″ bigger than the pan on top of the pan, hold on and turn the whole setup upside down, holding in that position for a few seconds. If it doesn’t come off, use a metal spatula to give it a little encouragement. My tomatoes all stuck to the pan since they were a little burnt, but I just scraped them off and spread them over the pastry. Whatevs, right?

Sprinkle over some of the basil, smushing the rest of it into the white cheese if using. Like so.

The original recipe also suggests lemon zest but I was too lazy and felt there was enough *zing* already (goat’s cheese is pretty strong). Lemon zest would work well with a mild cheese though. Sprinkle herbed white cheese over  the tart. Or schmear it on a piece.

It’s basically a super indulgent and quick pizza.

So full of acidity and *zing* and crispy and soft and moist and slightly sweet and salty and buttery and flaky and delicious. Makes up for the sub par noodle soup I just had for dinner. FYI. Cauliflower is not nice boiled, especially if  not pureed.

Hope everyone (even if you’re not in Christchurch) is taking care of themselves and their loved ones!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 25, 2011 4:42 am

    What a beautiful looking tart! It looks wonderful and I bet the taste was delicious ! Great job.

  2. February 25, 2011 11:47 am

    Thanks. The red and green from the tomato and basil should take all the credit for prettiness though!

  3. March 16, 2011 1:12 pm



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