- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2005

In summer, when my teaching schedule is suspended and the community organizations I belong to don’t schedule meetings, I can finally relax. I can entertain, too, in a more leisurely and casual way.

I put away recipes for long, slow-cooking stews and roasts and look, instead, for dishes that are quick and uncomplicated. Often, I combine some of the season’s tempting produce and fresh herbs with a few convenience products to turn out a creation such as tomato-and-tapenade tarts.

Nothing could be simpler. I cut out 4-inch rounds from a sheet of purchased puff pastry and spread them with creamy goat cheese. Next I spoon on tapenade, a Provencal mixture of chopped olives, anchovies and seasonings, available in most supermarkets. Then I make a final layer of thinly sliced summer tomatoes.

After only 20 minutes in the oven, the crusts become golden and crisp, the cheese melts, and the tomatoes roast and sweeten. I serve the tarts warm with a garnish of fresh julienned basil.

I made these tarts the centerpiece of a light supper recently and included an arugula-and-mushroom salad and a crusty baguette as accompaniments. Peach and raspberry sundaes assembled with scoops of good store-bought vanilla ice cream make an easy no-cook dessert.

These delicious savory pastries, which look as if they take far more time to assemble than the few minutes required, could also be used as a chic opener to a more substantial summer menu. Follow them with grilled lamb chops, brochettes of chicken, or garlic-rubbed steaks and a saute of garden vegetables.

Summer is definitely a time to unwind and to entertain without fuss.

Tomato-and-tapenade summer tarts

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, defrosted (see note)

Flour for dusting work area

4 ounces (8 tablespoons) creamy goat cheese without a rind

1/4 cup good-quality tapenade (see note)

2 small ( pound total) ripe tomatoes, sliced paper thin

Olive oil for drizzling over the tarts

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup julienned basil plus 4 basil sprigs for garnish

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Place puff pastry sheet on a lightly floured work surface, and roll over it several times until it is about 1/8 inch thick.

Cut four (4 inches in diameter) circles from the sheet and place them on the baking sheet. Spread each pastry round with 2 tablespoons goat cheese, then spread 1 tablespoon tapenade over goat cheese layer of each tart.

Arrange 4 to 5 overlapping tomato slices on top of each tart. Drizzle each tart with about teaspoon olive oil, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Bake tarts on center rack of 425-degree oven until crusts are golden and cheese has melted, about 20 minutes. Watch carefully. Remove and cool 5 minutes, then sprinkle each tart with some julienned basil and garnish the center of each with a basil sprig. Makes 4 servings.

Note: Pepperidge Farm sells a 17.4-ounce package of puff pastry that contains 2 pastry sheets. You’ll need one for this recipe. Tapenade is usually found in the condiment section of the supermarket. Tapenades are most often prepared with black or purple olives, but occasionally you’ll find a green olive tapenade. I used the black variety for this recipe.


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