I developed this tart in the mid-eighties for a column in Gourmet magazine called “Gastronomie Sans Argent,” which loosely translated means “eating well on a budget.” It was for an August issue, and the theme was tomatoes. Not a tough assignment; I can’t think of a cheaper and more satisfying way to feel rich than to bite into a locally grown beefsteak tomato in season. I came up with an entree that recruited all of the tomato’s usual partners in crime–bacon, mozzarella, and basil. The result was a big hit.
The only problem I had in developing this recipe was that the water in the tomatoes diluted the rest of the filling. Finally I figured out that if I presalted and drained the tomatoes my problem would be solved. I have presalted my tomatoes for almost every recipe ever since.
Here is my original recipe, slightly improved; I replaced the bacon in the crust with Italian pancetta, which is like unsmoked bacon. Of course, if you left out the pork product all together, you’d be left with a great vegetarian main dish. Serve this with a tossed green salad.
For the pastry:
1/4 pound pancetta* or bacon
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
2 tablespoons chilled vegetable shortening
For the filling:
4 large tomatoes, sliced 1/3 inch thick
1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more for sprinkling the tomatoes
1 cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves plus 3 sprigs for garnish
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole-milk ricotta cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup coarsely grated whole-milk mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
About 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil for brushing the tomatoes
To prepare the pastry, finely chop the pancetta. Cook in a small skillet, stirring often, over medium-high heat until lightly colored, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain on paper towels until cooled. Combine the flour, salt, and pancetta in a large bowl. Add the butter and shortening. Blend with a pastry blender or your fingertips until the mixture resembles the texture of small peas. Add 3 to 4 tablespoons ice water or enough to form a dough, tossing the mixture until the water is incorporated. Knead the dough lightly with the heel of your hand against a smooth surface for a few seconds to distribute the fat evenly and form it into a ball. Flatten slightly, dust with flour, and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, for 1 hour.
Roll out into a disk 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured work surface. Transfer to a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, cut off excess dough from the edges, and prick the bottom lightly with a fork. Chill for 1 hour and preheat the oven to 375°F. Line the shell with foil and fill with pie weights, dried beans, or rice. Bake in the lower third of the oven for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the weights and foil. Return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes more or until light golden. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.
To make the filling, turn down the oven to 350°F. Sprinkle the tomato slices on both sides with the additional salt and drain in a colander. Combine the basil leaves, ricotta, and eggs in a food processor and process until blended. Add the teaspoon of salt, the mozzarella, the Parmigiano-Reggiano, and pepper. Process until just combined.
Pat the tomato slices dry with paper towels. Line the bottom of the shell with the tomato end pieces and spoon on the cheese mixture. Arrange the remaining tomato slices in one layer, overlapping slightly, over the cheese mixture. Brush the top with olive oil and bake until the cheese mixture is set, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature, garnished with sprigs of basil.
*Available at the deli counter of many supermarkets, at Italian markets, and at specialty food shops.