I’ve had a copy of Roger Vergé’s Vegetables in the French Style sitting on my cookbook shelf for years, and to be honest it has rarely been opened. Published in the mid-90s, it’s one of those books that you leaf through and after a while feel as though you’re looking at pictures and recipes for food you might find in a stodgy old Upper East Side dinosaur of a restaurant, or a cruise ship. But history (and maybe cruise ships) can be fun, or at least enlightening. Chef Vergé passed away recently at the age of 85, so once again I opened his book, determined to cook something from it.
While some of the recipes feel a little dated after only twenty years, so many of them were groundbreaking at the time. Vegetable flans, vegetable confits, and cream sauces loaded up with flavorful nuts were still being served at fine-dining restaurants through the 90s, or at least those pretending to be. Thankfully, the confits have never really gone away, and like all other things from the 80s and 90s, I won’t be surprised if we start seeing a few modified versions of the other recipes showing up on the menu of the Next Big Thing Restaurant here in Brooklyn.
I made these tarts this past Saturday. Mostly through luck and partially through our own diligence, Willa and Phoebe do… okay with eating their vegetables. But they are also not yet 4 years old. So if we’ve spent the day outside in the hot sun, are transitioning out of nap time, and they really need to finish that jigsaw puzzle even though dinner has been ready for 15 minutes and mommy and daddy insist the puzzle gets finished after we eat, then well friends: we’re screwed before we even sit down at the table.
It was a horrible dinner filled with crying, tired toddlers. But I’m definitely making these again. How could they not like it eventually? They’re made with puff pastry, probably have way more sodium than is good for them, and they look like a goddamned pizza. They WILL like this. They MUST like this. We’ll just start that jigsaw puzzle a little earlier in the day next time.
- 1/2 lb. all-butter puff pastry (hell no, not from scratch: from the frozen section of your supermarket)
- 1 lb. tomatoes (3 medium on-the-vine or 4–5 plum tomatoes)
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. sugar (optional—see Notes)
- 1/2 Tbsp. tomato paste (optional—see Notes)
- 1 slice of white bread, crust removed, and processed to a medium crumb in a food processor
- The leaves from 4 sprigs fresh oregano, roughly chopped
- 1 Tbsp. salt-cured capers (or substitute well-drained capers in brine), rinsed of salt and roughly chopped
- 16 sun dried oil-cured black olives (or substitute another dark olive, like Kalamata, but not black olives from a can, because those are terrible), pitted and roughly chopped
- Thaw your puff-pastry at least 30 minutes before you begin your other prep, or allow it to thaw in your refrigerator overnight.
- Preheat your oven to 425 degrees prior to prepping the other ingredients. You should also put a sheet pan in the refrigerator to begin cooling it down.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop your tomatoes in for 15 seconds up to a minute. As soon as you see a split in any tomato remove them all to a plate and allow them to cool until you are able to peel them easily. After peeling, remove the core and roughly chop them. (Keep that pot of water boiling—you're making other vegetables as side dishes for this meal, oui ?)
- Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and carefully add the tomatoes and all their juice. Add the salt and pepper, and if using the sugar and tomato paste add those ingredients now as well. Stir the tomatoes and continue cooking over medium-high heat for 7 to 9 minutes, until much of the water has cooked off. Remove from heat.
- In a large bowl, combine the bread crumbs with the oregano, and stir in the tomatoes from the pan.
- Use a 6-inch tart ring, or if you don't have a tart ring, a bowl or a plate as a template to create 6-inch circles from the puff pastry. I have a thin-lipped 5-1/2 inch mixing bowl that I used cookie-cutter style to create my circles. Put a piece of parchment paper down on the chilled sheet pan and arrange your circles on the pan.* Pierce the dough with a fork leaving a 1/2-inch rim on each circle, and place in the oven. Cook for ten minutes and remove.
- Next, spread your tomato mix on top of the par-cooked puff pastries. It's okay if you need to crush down the center of your pastries if they have risen to much, just try to keep a rim. Distribute the capers and olives on top of the tomato mixture and return to the oven for another 8 minutes, or until the pastries are just beginning to brown around the rim. Remove from oven and serve warm. Garnish with a sprig of oregano if you are feeling fancy.
- The sugar and tomato paste are optional, depending on the time of year and the quality of your tomatoes. We're not quite into tomato season here in the northeast so I added both of these to heighten the flavor a bit.
- It's easy to imagine variants of this recipe. The original sticks with just capers or just olives, and suggests substituting rosemary for the oregano. But other herbs, marinated artichokes, goat cheese...like a pizza, the possibilities are endless here.
- * Full disclosure: the puff pastry I bought came as a round circle, so from my bowl-cutter I had two perfect circles, and two completely bizarre shapes. If you are making this for company, just be aware that you may need to get creative with your dough or use more of it if you want everything to look nice and even. If it's you and two kids, they will probably like the bizarre shapes.