For a 9-inch tarte, built in a 9-inch cast iron skillet, serving 8
You are essentially making a tomato cornbread upside down cake here. It is not very sweet, but it has some sweetness from the caramelized sugar and the tomatoes. The batter has no added sugar.
After multiple experiments and some eater feedback, we have adjusted this recipe so the tarte portion is not quite as thick as the one shown in the picture above. The ratio of juicy tomato/caramel layer to cornmeal cake layer seems best when the cake portion is about 1 inch thick.
Prepare the Tomatoes
Prepare about 8 large, completely ripe, flavorful heirloom or beefsteak type tomatoes.
- Either blanch and peel them, or peel them with a knife, or, if you prefer, simply leave the skins on.
- For each tomato, cut a slice across the top to expose the seeds in their little gel sacs. Turn the tomato upside down over a bowl or sieve and squeeze gently, so most of the gel and seeds leave the tomato. Close enough is good enough: you do not need every last seed or bit of gel to come out.
- Dig out and discard any hard green core.
You want enough prepared tomatoes to crowd into your nine-inch skillet and fill it completely. It takes more tomatoes than one might think. Set the tomatoes aside.
About the gel and seeds: you can drink the mixture straight down if you need to add to your day's vegetable count, or strain the mixture to get plain juice for any use that appeals to you, or throw the seeds/gel/juice away.
Prepare the Caramel
- Place 2/3 cup sugar (organic or white cane) in the skillet.
- Over low heat, allow the sugar to melt and caramelize.
- Shake the skillet as needed to keep hot spots from burning the sugar past good taste.
Prepare the Onions
While the sugar is caramelizing, prepare one large or two small onions.
- Peel the onions, and remove the thick stem at the center of the bottom.
- Slice in half from top to bottom.
- Lay each half on its side and slice the onion half into thin half circles.
Merge the Caramel, Tomatoes, Onions, and Seasonings
- As soon as the sugar has all melted and is a lovely caramel brown, CAREFULLY sprinkle half the onions into the syrup, standing back to avoid spatters.
- Lower the tomatoes into the bubbling syrup, rounded bottoms first, so the cut side faces toward you. There will be more bubbling and sizzling, so you may want to use tongs, but after the first three or four are in place, the skillet cools some and you can work with more ease.
- Force all the tomatoes up against each other to make a nice tomato mass.
- Sprinkle the remaining onions on top of the tomatoes.
- Sprinkle the mixture with sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper.
- If you like thyme or rosemary flavors, add one teaspoon of either of these herbs, or a mixture, finely chopped.
- Put a lid on the skillet, and cook over medium low heat for 20 minutes. Verify that simmering is going on in the skillet.
As the tomatoes and onions soften and get married in and to the delicious caramel, make the tarte batter.
Prepare the Tarte Batter
Move a rack to the bottom third of the oven, and preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Set 1/2 cup water to boil.
In a large mixing bowl, stir the dry ingredients together:
- 1 3/4 cup stone ground unbolted white cornmeal (Weisenberger's Unbolted White is perfect)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
Add the following to the dry ingredients:
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup drained cottage cheese
- 1/3 cup grapeseed or olive oil, or pan drippings (bacon fat, for example)
- 1/2 cup sweet corn kernels (optional)
- 1 cup buttermilk
- Stir together well.
- Consider the consistency of the batter. Aim for a thick milkshake texture that does not drag heavily against a wooden spoon -- not runny, but also not too thick. If you have it, great. No adjustments needed; you will not use the hot water you prepared.
- If the mixture is so thick it can hold up a wooden spoon, thin it with 1/4 cup of boiling water. Stir. Add more hot water, if needed, to get the batter to semi-thick milkshake consistency. Stir well.
- Carefully pour out the batter on top of the hot, bubbling tomato-onion-caramel in the skillet. Smooth the top if you want. There may be a couple of spaces where the juicy bottom contents bubble through. That is fine.
- Put the skillet on the oven rack that is in the bottom third of the oven.
- Bake 30 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden brown. Poke in the center with a toothpick if you want to be sure the batter has cooked through. (Don't poke all the way through to the tomato layer, because that will simply confuse things.) If needed, continue cooking, checking for doneness at five minute intervals.
- When the tarte is done, let it rest a minute, and run a table knife around the outside of it, just inside the skillet wall, loosening any stuck bits.
- With plenty of pot holders and caution, place a heat-proof platter over the skillet and squeeze these two objects together firmly. It is awkward! Flip the skillet upside down so the tarte can release onto the platter. Sometimes a second person can find a way to help with this task, making it easier. If the flip is too daunting, never mind. Simply serve the tarte within its black iron protectress.
- Serve immediately, or at room temperature.
- Cooled completely and covered closely, the tarte stores well in the refrigerator for up to one week, and reheats well in a microwave, regular oven, or toaster oven.