Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Cherry Tomato, Ricotta, and Caramelized Leek Tart

I still had some pastry left over from my last tart-making endeavor, and I'd been aching to try to make my own ricotta for awhile, and so I thought, what better way to take care of both of those issues than by making a lovely ricotta-filled tart?

I always have lots of cherry tomatoes and I loved the mental image of little cherry tomato halves sitting pleasantly atop my tart, so there was ingredient number two. As for the leeks, I had picked up a couple at the farmer's market this weekend on a complete whim, with no thought about what I would actually use them for. The sweetness of caramelized leeks seemed like it would complement the tartness of the cherry tomatoes nicely and thus, a tart was born!

And it was certainly delicious - the leeks went perfectly with the cherry tomatoes, and the homemade ricotta was so fresh... the only problem was I didn't make nearly enough of it! Who knew that milk was made up of so much whey and so few curds?

In any case, the recipe for one ricotta, cherry tomato, and caramelized leek tart:

You will need:
Pastry dough - I strongly recommend making your own, but store-bought will also do. I make my own as in the tart recipe here
One quart/liter whole milk, the fresher the better
Small amount of cream if desired (I didn't use any this time)
A few spoonfuls of lemon juice
1 egg
About 10 cherry tomatoes
2 medium-sized leeks
Olive oil

To make the ricotta, first set up a large bowl with a colander/strainer over it and place some folded-over cheesecloth on top of the strainer. If you don't happen to have any cheesecloth on hand, other types of cloth will do. People seem to especially recommend butter muslin, but I think any clean sort of cloth should work just fine.

Heat the milk and cream together with a little salt. Once the milk/cream mixture has reached a boil, immediately turn the heat down to low, stir a bit, and add the lemon juice. Stir some more, and when the curds (the solidish white things) start to separate from the whey (the cloudyish liquid part), pour the whole mixture into the cheesecloth and let it strain for as long as it takes. Mine was done pretty quickly, so I just wrapped the ends of the cheesecloth over the ricotta and let it sit until it was time to put it in the tart, but if you're not going to use it immediately, transfer it to the fridge when the whey has all strained out.

Homemade Ricotta

You can either keep the whey or throw it out. I felt bad about throwing it all out, so I put it in an old yogurt container and moved it to the fridge. Tomorrow I will probably be making whey bread in an attempt to use it up...

Going back to the tart-making, the next step is to caramelize the leeks. Tear off the very outer leaves, rinse, chop off the top part (with all the dark green leaves) and then slice cleanly lengthwise down the middle. The leaves will open out prettily, allowing you to rinse them out individually which is important, because leeks have a tendency to collect dirt inside.

Once your leeks are well-rinsed, chop them up into little rondelles, and heat some olive oil in a sauté pan (you can also substitute butter here, or a mixture of butter and olive oil). When the olive oil is hot, add the leeks, sprinkle some salt over everything, and turn the heat down to very low. Cover the pan and let sit for a good 30-40 minutes, stirring every so often. When the leeks are a nice brown caramelized color, they will be done and ready for the tart.

Caramelized Leeks

Preheat your oven to about 180ºC / 355º F. While it is heating, roll out the pastry dough and lay it into a buttered tart pan. Poke holes into the bottom and sides with a fork and then, when the oven has heated up, place the crust into the oven for about 10 minutes.

While the crust is heating, lightly beat one egg and add your ricotta to the egg. Add salt and pepper, and stir well. Chop the cherry tomatoes into halves and set aside.

After the 10 minutes are up, take the partially-baked crust from the oven and fill it first with the caramelized leeks, then with the ricotta-egg mixture, and finally place the cherry tomato halves on top in a geometric pattern of your choosing.

Return the tart to the oven and let bake another 15 minutes or so, then let cool, and eat up!

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