I thought you might like to know that traps have been set and I am spending the day avoiding my apartment. Hoping that by the time I go home (after seeing yet more apartments, heavens above) and meet Ben (back, finally, from his trip so he can attend to his mouse-corpse-removal duties), there will be something for him to pick up gingerly and discard while I prance blithely about in the background, making pretend that life is nothing but a string of bowl-full-of-cherry days and that our greatest worry is whether we'll be eating lobster rolls at Pearl's or Ed's tonight. (For my birthday. Yes, the one that happened 6 months ago.)
Though, admittedly, the exterminator removed all sense of guilt that I had over the offing of this little creature by turning to me at some point this morning while he was shoving poison packs under my cabinets, and I was wringing my hands, and barking out of the corner of his scornfully pursed lips:
"Ya'd rather get the hantavirus? That stuff's incurable, ya know."
Um, well, nothankyouverymuch. And with that I am ending all discussion of mouse talk and the vile diseases they spread, because, ugh, I can barely even see straight anymore for all the grossness and I can't handle another dead faint, not when I've left my smelling salts at home.
Besides, in far more interesting news, I've got to tell you that homemade butter, the kind that isn't cultured and therefore still mostly tastes like Land O'Lakes sans the nasty supermarket flavor bloom, makes for excellent tart crusts.
Really, they're total perfection. At first, after the butter, flour and salt had whirred about in the food processor, I thought the dough looked too smooth and uniform, not pebbly enough. But chilled and rolled and pricked and parbaked and filled and baked again, the dough turned into this meltingly tender, delicious crust that held together well and melted in our mouths.
Though I suppose I should also tell you that that tasty crust would have been nothing without a lining of grated farmhouse cheddar and a filling of roasted tomatoes suspended in a savory ricotta custard, infused with oregano leaves. The tart was airy and creamy and the silky tomatoes packed a wallop of concentrated flavor.
I served this along with grill-blistered hot dogs and nicely charred hamburgers on Independence Day, before the rain came out and crowded us indoors, where we lined the walls of my narrow apartment, drinking beer, soothing babies, and discussing real estate (is there anything else we can talk about?). The tart disappeared long before the hot dogs did, which is saying something, since it seems that the Fourth of July is hardly even a holiday if there aren't hot dogs to be had. Wouldn't you say?
So, yeah. Are you busy right now? Don't you think you should get yourself home to make this? I think you should, I really do.
Servings: 9 to 12
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, plus extra for greasing
1 beaten egg yolk, divided (use half for the tart shell and reserve half for the filling)
1. In a food processor, process the flour, salt and butter for about 5 to 8 seconds, so that some pieces of butter are left. Combine half of the egg yolk (saving the other half for the filling; set aside in the refrigerator) with one-fourth cup cold water and drizzle through the tube of the food processor while pulsing. Pulse until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the sides.
2. Alternatively, the dough can be mixed by hand. Put the flour and salt in a bowl, cut the butter into pieces and work it into the flour with your fingertips. Make a well in the middle of the flour and butter mixture and add the half egg yolk and one-quarter cup ice water. Stir quickly with a fork to start bringing the dry and wet ingredients together. When the fork can't do any more, use your hands just to bring the dough together. Don't knead or press — all you have to do is gather up the dry parts as quickly as possible. If your hands get too warm, put them under cold water for a few minutes.
3. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, or up to 8 hours.
4. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Take the dough out of the refrigerator. Dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour and roll out the dough, lifting and turning it all the time so that it does not stick to the surface. Roll the dough out into a square about one-eighth-inch thick. Roll the dough around the rolling pin and gently lift it into the tart pan, gently pressing the dough into the bottom of the pan and up against the sides. Trim the edges. Chill again for about 30 minutes.
5. Line the tart shell with parchment or foil and fill it with pie weights or beans and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the weights and the parchment or foil and prick the crust with a fork. Continue baking an additional 20 to 25 minutes until golden. Cool the tart shell on a rack.
Cream mixture, filling and assembly
6 plum tomatoes (such as Roma), halved
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup half and half
1/2 egg yolk (reserved from making the tart shell)
Pinch grated nutmeg
1 tart shell
1 cup packed grated farmhouse cheddar cheese
3/4 cup ricotta cheese (I only used 1/2 cup, and I blended it in with the cream mixture)
1/2 cup tender sprigs of fresh thyme or oregano
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil, place a rack in the baking sheet and roast the tomatoes skin-side up for about 2 hours, until the liquid has gone and the skins can be removed easily. Season the skinned tomatoes generously with salt and pepper and drizzle a little oil over them. Allow to cool to room temperature.
2. In a mixing bowl, beat the half and half, eggs, egg yolk, one-fourth teaspoon salt and one-eighth teaspoon pepper and nutmeg until they are well mixed.
3. Place the tart shell on a baking sheet and scatter the cheddar cheese over the base of the tart. Place the tomatoes on top of this and spoonfuls of ricotta in between the tomatoes.
4. Pour in as much of the cream mixture as you can without it spilling over the top; you may have some cream mixture left over. Sprinkle with the thyme.
5. Transfer carefully to the oven and bake for about 30 to 40 minutes until the filling has set and is lightly golden. Allow to cool slightly before serving.