For a few years, way back in the mid-eighties David and I lived in Anchorage, Alaska. With a few notable exceptions, living there wasn't all that different from living anywhere else. Down the street from us was a house that in the front yard had a pet reindeer; that was different. The winters were so cold that cars came equipped with a small heater that you plugged into an outlet where you parked your car (this kept the radiator from freezing); that was definitely different. Most notably however, the day and night cycle was different. In the dead of winter there is only about five and a half hours of daylight each day. The sun would rise around 10:15am and would set about 3:45pm. There were days that I would go to work in the dark and when I left work it would still be dark, as if daylight never came. It definitely takes a little getting used to. In the winter you really needed to make a point of going outside at lunch, otherwise you might not see the sun at all.
Even though the nights were long, I didn't find winter to be all that bad. You read a lot about people who get cabin fever, but that never happened to us. The city would flood the outdoor basketball courts so if you got bored at home you could walk to one and ice skate. There was always night skiing at Mt. Alyeska which was only about a half hour drive away, or you could just sit in the ski lodge, sipping on some hot beverage, and pretend you had spent a full day on the slopes (I'm talking about you Sandy). Also, winter always held the promise of seeing the Aurora Borealis, aka The Northern Lights, which has got to be one of the most fantastic light shows you'll ever see. We were lucky enough to experience it one time, and if I could explain it to you I would, but it's indescribable. No video or picture can do it justice; it is something you have to experience in person. There was one special thing I looked forward to seeing the most each winter and that was watching the start of the Iditarod race which took place right on 4th avenue in the heart of downtown. If you are not familiar with what the Iditarod race is I suggest watching the movie Balto then at the end of the movie you can google "Iditarod race" and get the real story. Anyway... There was a big banner that hung across the street that said, "START" and the street itself would be covered in snow while the sidewalks would be packed with spectators. Dogs by the dozens, each one eager to start running, would line the edges of the street, barking loudly as their handlers hooked them up to their sleds. Occasionally there would be a bit of a scuffle between two dogs but as soon as they got them into place at the starting line they became very focused. They would start a sled every fifteen minutes or so and for several hours that day you would stand on the sidewalk (hopefully directly in front of a store where you could buy food without losing your good view) and cheer, as sled after sled would speed by. We didn't really know any of the mushers but often as the announcer would call out a name over the loudspeaker the crowd that had gathered at the start line would cheer very loudly, so we in turn, as that person sped by our point, would also cheer loudly. When in Rome, right?
On the other hand, at the height of summer the days are nineteen and a half hours long. In fact during summer there is technically no night. There are several stages of twilight, but no actual night. In order to sleep at "night" you had to hang heavy black drapes on your windows. Needless to say, cabin fever in the summer is unheard of. You spend a lot of summertime outdoors. And why wouldn't you? In the downtown area, between 9th and 10th avenue is Delaney Park Strip, although no one calls it that (unless you're a tourist). The park is commonly referred to simply as "Park Strip". Originally it was the cities airstrip, now it is an eleven block long by one block wide park. There is always something happening in the park during the summer. For example, you could watch the softball tournaments at one of the five fields or you could watch a game of basketball, soccer or tennis. Not into sports? You could just sit on the benches and watch other people do these things. That is what we did! David and I would often stroll through the park after work and on the weekends, grab a hot dog from a vendor and take a seat on one of the softball game bleachers and before we realized it, it was well past midnight. The only thing you could do at that point was go try to get some ice cream and make your way home. Summer was great. You could hike on the mountains that in winter would become ski slopes, visit the glacier that was just an hour outside of town, or get on a boat and travel up or down the coast to a really small fishing town for the day. For the adventurous you can go on one of those white water rafting trips, just remember to hold on so you don't fall out of the raft (I'm talking about you Steven).
Out of all the places I have lived, I think I would rank Anchorage at the top. The years we lived there and the friends we made there certainly made that time in our lives very enjoyable.
Living in Southern California has the one thing that Anchorage did not have abundantly back in the mid-eighties… good tomatoes. Sure, there were tomatoes in Alaska back then but not like there are in the grocery stores and farmers markets now. Today I can walk into any of our grocery stores and find heirloom tomatoes, vine ripened tomatoes, hothouse, grape, cherry... you name it, and for the most part they are all pretty good. However the best tomatoes I ever had came from a friend of ours who was growing them in his backyard garden. And I must say that one of the best things about food is home grown tomatoes. So what do you do when all your tomato plants ripen at the same time? Well you give them to me and I make tomato... everything. Tomato tarts are not really anything new. Make a crust, put in some tomatoes, add some cheese to the top, bake and you’re done, right? Well, sometimes that doesn’t always work, if your tomatoes are too juicy your crust can get soggy or if the crust is too thin, it won’t support the weight of heavy tomatoes. Both of those things have happened to me of course. Have I mentioned before that often the first time I make something I am unfamiliar with, it's an unmitigated disaster?
Anyway, one day while browsing the Internet trying to find a cat video that I haven’t seen yet, I unexpectedly found myself reading recipes for tomato tarts. And since I had a box of ripe tomatoes sitting on the counter I decided to pick and choose parts from different tarts that I read about. Somewhere along the line I learned way more than I wanted to know about Pâte Brisée, Pâte Sucrée, and Pâte Sablée and in the end decided to ignore almost everything I read about and wing it. Learning by reading has never been a strong suit for me, I would much rather learn from a person. That way I can ask questions, and I usually have a lot of questions. The thing about this tart is you really can change it up to suit your own tastes by using the herbs and cheeses you like best. If you don’t like goat cheese, try fontina instead, or maybe some Gruyere. If you don't like chives, try dill or mint. The crust has a thin layer of mustard on it, but I have seen people add pesto instead of that, or even a layer of caramelized onions and some extra cheese. Also don't be afraid to mix your tomatoes, I have made this with odd shaped tomatoes and filled in the gaps with a few halved grape and cherry tomatoes. I read somewhere that honey adds a nice touch so I drizzled some on, but other times I used just the olive oil. Basically it’s up to you, but if you have several really tasty tomatoes sitting around, I’ll get you started.
You’ll need a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom.
Now you’ll make the dough, you’ll need…
1½ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter, chilled, cut into cubes
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons ice water
In a large bowl whisk together the flour and salt. Drop in the cold butter and using your fingertips, or a pastry blender cut the butter into the flour until the mixture is crumbly and looks a little like grated Parmesan cheese. There might still be bits of butter in the mix but they should be no larger than the size of a small pea.
Combine the egg yolk and the ice water in a small bowl and mix well, then add the beaten egg mixture to the flour stirring the mixture with a fork only until the dough starts to hold together. It will look a little like cheese curds.
Transfer the dough onto a floured surface and knead it a few times in order to bring it into a ball. If the dough seems warm at this point flatten it into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap and put it into the refrigerator to firm up before rolling, about 15 or 20 minutes should do the trick.
Roll the dough out on a floured surface into a circle about 11 inches across. You may need to add a little extra flour to the surface to keep it from sticking to the counter as you roll.
Transfer the dough to the tart pan, easing it into the bottom and pressing it into the sides to fit the pan. Try not to stretch the dough as you put it into the pan to help minimize shrinking and dock the dough by pressing your fingertips into it several times along the bottom as well.
Place the whole pan into the refrigerator and allow the dough to firm up, again for at least 20 minutes and while the dough is chilling…
Preheat your oven to 425ºF with the oven rack in the center position.
When the dough is chilled and the oven is hot we fill and bake the tart, here’s how I do it...
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, very, very finely minced or pressed through a garlic press.
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
3 or 4 ripe tomatoes depending on size
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 ounces goat cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoons honey
Mix the mustard and the garlic in a small bowl, and then spread it evenly over the bottom of the tart dough with the back of a spoon.
Sprinkle the dried thyme over the mustard in an even layer.
Next, slice the tomatoes approximately ¼ inch thick and arrange them on top of the mustard overlapping the edges slightly, then drizzle the olive oil over the tomatoes. Note, that if your tomatoes are really, really seedy you'll want to remove the seeds before placing them in the tart or the crust can get a little soggy.
Season the tomatoes with the salt and a few good grinds of black pepper. Sprinkle about half of the chives on to the tomatoes then crumble on the goat cheese.
Sprinkle on the remaining chives and the basil and finish by drizzling the honey over everything.
Bake the tart for 25 to 30 minutes or until the crust is nicely browned and the tomatoes are tender.
Remove from oven and allow the tart to cool on a wire rack about 10 minutes before removing the outer ring. Gently slide the tart from the pan bottom onto a cutting board or your serving platter and cut into wedges with a sharp knife and serve immediately. I like the tart best while it’s still just a little warm. I hope you like it as much as we do and let us know what flavor combinations you try.