Last week, I had the honor of guest chefing at Canelé, a jewel of a restaurant that shines on a nondescript street in Atwater Village next to Silverlake and Los Feliz in LA. Corina Weibel, a former commodities trader in Zurich and New York, leads the kitchen with a serious calmness, a laser focus, and a sense of humor that keeps everyone on track, relaxed yet firing out food, and remarkably smiling even at the busiest, craziest of moments. There was no yelling, no swearing, no angst (except from me and my tomato tart but more about that later...), and no attitude. Forgot to prep the Niçoise? No worries, 86 it.
Years cooking at our very own Cypress Club and LA's renowned Campanile and Lucques have made Corina a formidable chef who executes each and every day with a graciousness rarely seen in this industry. I trust we'll be reading more and more about her in the near future. Atwater Village should name a street or something after Corina to keep her there. Everything is made from scratch from the stocks to the brandade, from the salsa verde to the caramelized canelés served at the end of every meal. These cooks crank out the most delicious, gorgeous food, they have fun doing it, and it emanates throughout the restaurant. The front of the house is a well oiled machine led by Jane Choi who honed her management skills at New York’s Balthazar and Pastis, two of my favorite restaurants and stomping grounds during cooking school.
Every few weeks on a Tuesday night they host "Friends Cook" featuring a different chef with a unique prix fixe menu. After a few iterations and thanks to the gorgeous heirloom tomatoes I stumbled upon a few weeks earlier at the Silverlake farmer’s market, we decided to feature an all heirloom tomato menu.
Roasted Heirloom Tomato Soup - tomatoes roasted with thyme, basil, olive oil, sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Poisson en Pappiotte - Halibut poached in white wine and heirloom baby tomatoes over a bed of risotto and wilted spinach
Heirloom Tomato Tart - puff pastry with goat cheese filling, topped with tomato chutney and roasted heirloom tomatoes
The tomato soup was easy. Roast the tomatoes and blend. Done. The fish, even easier, having made it a few hundred times before. But the tart... That tart! I agonized over that tart. Agonized, I tell you! I had never actually made one but it sounded easy enough. A tart crust, some filling and tomatoes. How hard could it be? Well however hard it could be, I made it harder.
I scoured the Internet, put the word out to my chef friends, cooked the recipe at least 6 times in several different variations, and the night before my dinner at Canelé, I had tart nightmares. Nightmares that no one would order my menu and nightmares that people would hate the tart and send it back in a huff of disgust. It is really a "foodie" (as much as I hate that word) dessert – more savory than sweet with cumin and mustard seed – and I worried that only the most adventurous of palates would appreciate it much less enjoy it. Agonized indeed! As unnecessary as all that angst ultimately was, I believe that a healthy dose of fear and excitement can drive the creative juices past the tilt line and result in something truly exceptional and I think this was one such case.
This patchwork of a tart was genuinely a collaborative effort. The filling hailed from Paula Lambert's Goat Cheese Tart recipe, the chutney from Jerry DiVecchio's Sunset Magazine that she spent a few hours searching for and to my amazement found in the hundreds if not thousands of Sunset magazines and books in her office, puff pastry from Canelé chef Corina Weibel, the tomatoes from my Silverlake farmer's market heirloom tomato epiphany a few weeks before, and some delicious inspiration from Chef Diane Anthonissen in Paris. Collaborative, to say the least. So much so that I named it the 5-Chef Canelé Tomato Tart!
When I sat down to type out the entire recipe for my friend Jenn who trekked up from Newport Beach to attend the Canelé dinner, I realized that I’d left the photocopy of the chutney recipe that Jerry handed me at Canelé in Los Angeles... and I was in San Francisco. Damn! And I knew Jerry was out of town so on the internet I surfed. The first few searches for Tomato Lemon Chutney were fruitless, pun intended. When I put quotes around “Tomato Lemon Chutney”, two lonely little links appeared, one taking me to a blog post of Jerry’s exact recipe from her 1987 Sunset Christmas Treasury book. Thank you Hammster, whoever you are, for just by chance opening *that* book to *that* recipe and then blogging about it! You saved me!
Now there are 4 separate and moving parts to this tart, each one critical in and of itself – puff pastry crust, goat cheese filling, tomato-lemon chutney, and roasted tomatoes. I recommend cooking in the order below to optimize your time and keep it moving. It might seem daunting at first but if you cook in this order, it should go pretty quickly and if you have someone helping you, then 3 snaps up, before you know it you’ve got yourself a tart :) If you don’t have much time, if you work late and the kids are screaming, then make the chutney and filling ahead of time (up to 3 days) at your leisure – I know...what’s that?! – and refrigerate until you are ready to bake.
I cooked this tart the following evening for my friends Victor and Alain who I stayed with and who – thank God because I was exhausted! - live just a few minutes from Canelé. We had neither the time nor the inclination to make the chutney but it was still delicious without it. I simply lifted the tart out from the pie plate with the corners of the parchment paper lining, plopped it down in the center of the table, and everyone helped themselves. Bon appetit!
1. blind bake puff pastry
2. make chutney
3. make filling
4. roast tomatoes
5. when pastry is cool, add filling and bake
6. when tart is cool, spread a thin layer of chutney on top
7. when tomatoes have cooled a bit, top the chutney with roasted tomatoes
8. pour glass of champagne and toast to the heirloom tomato gods
Tart Crust - Puff Pastry
Preheat the oven to 350F. For this recipe at home I used pre-made puff pastry I purchased at Safeway. It was fine, especially since there was no way on God’s green global-warming earth that I was going to spend two days making it from scratch like we did in cooking school, but I digress... If it comes folded, let it warm up enough to unfold and mold into the pie plate without breaking. Or if it comes in a rectangle or square you can simply bake them on a flat baking sheet as we did at Canelé, making long thin tarts that were sliced crosswise. Do what ever you prefer and what ever is easier for you. It's all about ease!
Now Paula Lambert's tart recipe calls for the traditional flour-butter-sugar crust (or pâte brisée) which I’m sure would be delicious but since the filling, chutney and roasted tomatoes are all so rich, Corina suggested a lighter, flakier crust and I was more than happy to oblige. Your call...
Back to the recipe... Blind bake the puff pastry for 15 to 20 minutes, or until light golden brown. Blind baking is baking a crust with nothing in it so that when you add the filling and bake the crust isn’t soggy. For puff pastry, poke it all over with a fork so it doesn’t poof up and hit the top of the oven. It will still poof up a bit, just gently tap it down with your hand in a towel or oven mitt. Set aside the crust and let cool. Keep the oven on, you’ll need it for the tart and tomatoes coming up...
Tomato Lemon Chutney
- 2 lemons
- 1 can (about 1lb) whole or diced tomatoes (not puréed!)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small dried hot red chile
- 1 tbsp mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/2 cup raisins (Corina found golden raisins – they were so much prettier and made for a lighter color chutney than with my version using the dark raisins)
- 1/2 cup sugar
1. Zest lemons, set zest aside.
2. Juice the lemons. Blend lemon juice with tomatoes and their liquid pulsing just until blended, do not puree! You want some tomato chunks in the chutney for texture – we're not making tomato sauce!
3. In a pot, combine oil, chile, lemon zest, mustard seeds, cumin seeds and nutmeg. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring. When seeds begin to pop, add tomato-lemon juice mixture, raisins and sugar.
4. Boil gently, uncovered, until mixture thickens to a jam-like consistency (about 20 minutes), stirring often. When done, transfer to a container or bowl and let cool. Put in the fridge or optimally in an ice bath to cool it quickly. (If not using immediately, cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.)
Goat Cheese Filling
- 4 ounces (1/2 cup) fresh soft goat cheese
- 1/2 cup crème fraîche
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 2-1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1. Mix goat cheese, crème fraîche, sugar, egg, and flour together in a bowl.
2. Pour this mixture into the cooled tart crust or set it aside until the crust is cooled.
3. Place in a 350F oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until just set. Set aside and let cool.
- 4 large heirloom tomatoes, preferably different colors
- sea salt
- fresh ground pepper
1. Cut the tomatoes into wedges – think of a Roma tomato cut into quarters – that’s the size of wedges you want.
2. Lay out on a sheet pan, skin side down, on parchment paper or a silicon mat
3. Sprinkle with a little bit of salt & pepper
4. Sprinkle a bit more liberally with sugar
5. Roast at 350°F for 20-30 minutes (depends on your oven) until they are starting to caramelize around the edges. Check them often. You don’t want them to disintegrate and not be able to move them to the tart.
6. Set aside and let cool.
So... by now the puff pastry should have blind baked, cooled and been baked again with the goat cheese filling.
When the baked tart and the chutney have both cooled, gently spread a thin layer of the chutney on top of the tart.
If the tomato wedges have cooled a bit, use a pastry or offset or very thin spatula (I used my fish spatula – I use it for everything!) to gently move the tomato wedges from the sheet pan to the tart. If you have different color tomatoes, alternate them when laying them on top of the tart. Smoosh them down very gently so they fill out the tart. You can set them in stripes or in a circle, however you prefer. But remember, we eat with our eyes first so the prettier you can make it, the better it will taste before your guests even take their first bite :)
Now we can't forget the wine! Corina recommended the Piero Costantini, Villa Dei Preti, Frascati Superiore 2006. Works for me!
Cheers! Bon appetit!
ps: and if you're in my 'hood, please stop by, I have 5 tomato tarts in my fridge!
3219 Glendale Blvd, LA
Sunset Magazine Recipes
Jerry DiVecchio's New Children’s Cookbook, You’ve Got Recipes
Diane Anthonissen's Paris Blog
Paula Lambert's Goat Cheese Tart recipe
Silverlake Farmer's Market
And if you haven’t had your fill of tomatoes yet, then here’s a link to
Epicurious' Healthy Recipes for Tomatoes