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Tomato and caramelised garlic tart

May just seemed to disappear this year, which is bit of a shame as it’s one of my favourite months, a month full of potential, the cusp of a new season. Just at the point when you can’t possibly face another root vegetable, suddenly, right on cue, bunches of English asparagus and punnets of early strawberries make their appearance, signifying the start summer, of long bright nights, barbecues in the garden and lazy sunny afternoons.

I spent most of May in California this year, which was a real foodie pleasure. I barely came across the stereotypical monstrous portions of beige food so frequently associated with eating in the US. Not to say that there wasn’t the occasional burger, but it seemed that everywhere I went the main emphasis was on farm-to-fork eating, organic and local. I was spoilt with amazing fresh seafood, juice bars, taquerias, farmers markets, delicious hot garlic fries, a handbag stuffed with peanut butter cups….not to mention a fulfilled ambition of eating at the seminal Chez Panisse.

So of all the back-to-reality post-holiday tasks I could choose, this weekend I decided to defrost the freezer! Lurking at the back, amongst the escapee fish fingers and suspect looking bags of egg white, was a packet of puff pastry, still tightly wrapped in clingfilm, which I decided to use up, rather than return to its frosty home. After a quick rummage in the fridge, I decided on this tomato and caramelised garlic tart, with added goat cheese for good measure.

My favourite part of any dish made with puff pastry is the inevitable stodgy, sticky layer that forms between the crisp, flaky top and the filling underneath. And so it is with this tart; sweet tomatoes and garlic ooze their juice into the pastry, forming a satisfyingly sticky layer of tomato soaked goo. Definitely the best bit.

Baking the tart upside down, like a french tarte tatin, makes the whole thing quick and simple, with minimal washing up. I have a nice, small 20 cm frying pan which is ovenproof, so I could cook it all in the one pan. If you don’t have an ovenproof pan of the right size and shape, no harm will come from transferring the tomato mixture into a baking tin for the oven.

Start with the garlic. I wanted plenty of sweet mellow garlic in this tart, so decided to use a whole bulb. Don’t worry, it won’t be super garlicky, the cooking method really tempers the flavour. Start by dividing the bulb of garlic into individual cloves – no need to peel them just yet. Put them into a small pan and just cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, then drain immediately and repeat. Once they come to the boil for a second time, drain them and then slip the skins off each clove once they are cool enough to handle. Pop them back into the pan and add 3 tsp sherry vinegar, 3 tsp brown sugar and 2tsp water. Heat gently so the sugar melts and then cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally to coat the cloves in the syrupy mixture, taking care not to let it burn. Set aside.

Next for the tomatoes. Heat a generous knob of butter over a medium heat in your (preferably ovenproof) frying pan. Add a scant teaspoon of light brown sugar and a generous pinch of salt. Halve around 350g salad tomatoes; the cut halves should fit snugly into your chosen baking dish, so adjust the quantity accordingly. Place the tomatoes cut side down in the sizzling butter and cook gently for a couple of minutes. Nestle the garlic in amongst the tomatoes then sprinkle over some chopped herbs – thyme is a must for me here, I also added some oregano, since they live next to each other in the garden. Add a good grind of black pepper then top with some thin slices of goat cheese – I used a medium strength cheese, rind and everything. Turn off the heat.

Roll about 200g puff pastry into a rough round shape the size of your pan. Place over the tomatoes, tucking the edges down the insides of the pan. Put the pan into a preheated oven (160C) and bake for 25-30 minutes until the top of the pastry is crisp and golden brown.

Once cooked, run a knife round the outside of the pastry, just to loosen it from the sides. With all the buttery tomato juices it shouldn’t be stuck at all. Then place a plate over the pan and bravely flip the whole lot upside down in one swift manoeuvre, so the tart lands cleanly onto the plate. An extra pair of hands and plenty of tea towels are helpful here as the pan will be very hot.

I served this with chargrilled asparagus and courgette ribbons dressed simply with lemon juice and olive oil. Chargrilling asparagus intensifies the lovely flavour, but needs to be cooked over a fairly gentle heat to allow them to cook though properly. 10-15minutes whilst the tart is in the oven should do it.

Serves 2 as a light supper, probably 4 as a starter.

Shopping list: 350-500g tomatoes, depending on the size of your tin/pan, 1 bulb garlic, 4tsp brown sugar, butter, sherry vinegar, thyme, oregano, about 75g goats cheese, 200g puff pastry, salt and pepper, 1 bunch asparagus, 1-2 courgettes, 1 lemon, olive oil.

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