Quite a long time ago I worked for a patisserie that produced a range of tarts. Whatever the filling, be it apricots with crème patissière, strawberries, leeks, a classic quiche Lorraine or a tarte aux pommes, there were two grades of pastry. There was restaurant standard – a short, melting and buttery pâte brisée – and there was a rather more robust “shop” pastry, which made up in durability what it lacked in friability. With less butter and a bit of egg added to the paste, this was a product that would withstand travelling and handling. Not only did the pastry satisfy these logistical necessities, it also saved a few pence on butter, and pastry chefs are by tradition notoriously and exceedingly parsimonious.
If the restaurant quality was a step up, it still had to be tough enough to withstand a trip in the van to the professional kitchens we supplied. Today, I would certainly aspire to make something even shorter, and most tarts I make are short to the point of crumbly. However, there are times when the contents of a tart require a stronger casing to keep them in line. A tomato tart, with the high water content of the tomatoes, needs to be able to hold firm.
An old friend of mine used to make an excellent tomato tart for picnics which consisted of a simple flaky pastry lining, a thin layer of mustard mixed with a smidgen of cream for insulation and then a layer of sliced tomatoes fanned over the top and the ensemble baked on a high heat. It was an excellent snack at the cricket before a chunk of salmon and some potato salad but could not be construed as a meal in itself.
The tart here is altogether more substantial. Instead of mustard, I have deployed a layer of creamed fennel to act as a lining. To cap it all, I have found an excuse to open a venerable tin of anchovies that a daughter found for me in Sicily.
Retrieving whole anchovies from a bed of salt, rinsing them and filleting them may seem a chore but these are as fine an anchovy as you’ll ever find: they are sweet, concentrated and nutty in flavour. As for the pastry, it may be firm but it is definitely restaurant grade.Method
Whole anchovies must be rinsed in cold water and then filleted (simply by pushing down with the thumb on the backbone and pulling the spine away from the fillets) and trimmed before use.Sieve the flour into a bowl (or food processor/mixer) and cut the cold butter into small cubes. Add a pinch of salt and rub together with the fingertips or mix mechanically to form a grainy tilth. Add four tablespoons of very cold water and knead gently into a dough, adding more water if necessary. Roll the pastry into a ball and then flatten it into a thick disc. Wrap in greaseproof paper and refrigerate.Split the fennel bulbs in half though the root and chop, like an onion, into fine dice. Put a film of olive oil in a thick saucepan and add the fennel, seasoning well with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat and let the fennel sweat extremely gently for a good 20 minutes or until tender. Add the cream and stew together until the mixture thickens. Taste for seasoning, remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.Roll out the pastry to the thickness of a pound coin and roll it into a 24cm tart tin. Trim the edges so that there is a small overlap. Line the tart with greaseproof paper and some baking beans and bake blind in a moderate oven, 180C, for 20 minutes. Mix the egg yolks and stir into the fennel mixture. Remove the paper and beans. Spread the mixture over the tart base and bake for 10 minutes more or until set.Peel the tomatoes by blanching them in boiling water and plunging them into cold. Cut into slices half a centimetre thick and sprinkle with salt. After 10 minutes, dab them with kitchen paper and lay in overlapping circles over the fennel in the tart. Bake at 220C for 10-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool. Trim off overhanging pastry. Decorate with anchovy fillets and torn basil and serve.
Rowley’s drinking choice
Tomatoes can be harsh on wine. An oily, aromatic Vermentino would be a good resort.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais.