Ina Garten has never steered me wrong. Whether I'm making her strawberry cheesecake recipe, coq au vin, or French chocolate bark, her recipes always come out just right. As one of my friends once remarked, Garten's husband seems to have the best life in the world as he seems to appear at the end of her cooking show just when she is pulling her food out of the oven. Sure, the Barefoot Contessa's creations aren't "good food fast" or "speedy supper" recipes -- they take time.
If you're in a rush, this book isn't for you. But isn't that what getting "Back to Basics" all about? I made these tomato and goat cheese tarts for dinner, accompanied by Parmesan pork chops, and a cold beet salad with goat cheese, pecans, red wine vinegar and freshly chopped basil. Here's a recipe adapted from the "Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics" cookbook.
MAKES 4 TARTS
3 tablespoons olive oil, extra for brushing
4 cups thinly sliced yellow onions
3 large garlic cloves
Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons white wine
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme plus sprigs for garnish
1 package (17.3 ounces) puff pastry sheets, thawed overnight in the refrigerator. Use cold.
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
4 ounces garlic & herb Montrachet goat cheese
1 large tomato, cut into 4 (1/4-inch-thick) slices
3 tablespoons julienned basil leaves
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
2. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat and add the onions and garlic. Sauté for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are limp and there isn't any more moisture left. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, the wine and thyme and continue to cook for another 10 minutes.
3. Place one sheet of the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and roll it lightly to an 11-by-11-inch square. Cut 2 (six-inch) circles from each sheet of puff pastry, throw out the scraps. Repeat with the second sheet of pastry.
4. Using a sharp knife, score a circle 1/2 inch inside the edge of each pastry. Prick the pastries all over with the tines of a fork and place them on the sheet pan. Sprinkle a tablespoon of the grated Parmesan on each round, staying inside the scored border.
5. Place 1/4 of the onion mixture on each circle, again staying within the scored edges. Crumble 1 ounce of goat cheese on top of the onions. Place a slice of tomato in the center of each tart. Brush the tomato lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with basil, salt, and pepper. Finally, scatter 4 or 5 shards of Parmesan on each tart.
6. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. Garnish with thyme sprigs and some olive oil. Serve warm.
My substitutions: I used a log of regular herbed goat cheese that I found at my grocery store, not the one mentioned in the ingredients' list. Also, when I forgot to stir the wine into the caramelized onions, I poured a thimbleful on top of the tart, underneath the tomato. It worried me at the time, but they turned out just fine. I also crushed the garlic rather than cut it into slivers, but I had to be careful to watch that it didn't burn in the pan.
Would I make this again? Indeed. These would be an elegant addition to a brunch, picnic, appetizer, or substantial first course at a dinner. Praise the heavens for ready-made puff pastry.
Leftover test: A zap in the microwave turned these out beautifully, despite the slightly-dry edges of the tart.
Grade: Four stars out of five. While the tarts were delicious, the edges of the tart are quick to dry out unless you keep a very close eye on the oven. This recipe might not be ideal for the multi-tasker.
I've also made the sweet potato fries from this book. Granted, they were not as crispy as I'd hoped, but that's always the case with baked sweet potato fries. The trick is to either fry them, or finish them off in a very hot pan. I also plan to try the easy sole meuniere, and the affogato sundaes.