Paris is overflowing with the tomate cerise, or cherry tomato. From a flourish on a restaurant plate to apero time with friends in a chic apartment. While the rest of France still embraces the hearty, rippled heirloom tomato - Paris is all about the sweet little cherry tomato.
In his book, Stuff Parisians Like, Olivier Magny says, "...."why cherry tomatoes? all Parisians would agree that J'sais pas. J'aime bien et puis ca change. (I don't know. I just like them, plus they're just different.).... There is now no inviting friends over for a casual dinner without serving cherry tomatoes as an addition to your aperitif. C'est tout simple mais c'est sympa, c'est frais. (Simple and fresh)..."
While staying in Paris this summer, we bought some beautiful tomate cerise from the fantastic Marche Saxe Breteuil, an open air market held every Thursday and Saturday on Avenue de Saxe (7th Arrondissement) with the most wonderful view of the Eiffel Tower. We enjoyed these little morsels that were absolutley bursting with sweetness and a very strong tomato fragrance as a part of our picnic, right under the Eiffel Tower. We also saved some to have later that evening to enjoy with an aperitif before heading out to a wonderful bistro, nearby our apartment.
Olivier suggests in his book, "... The more you slice a cherry tomato, the more civilized you will appear...". However, this seemed like a classic Parisian understatement. Whilst we were in Paris this year we had some very simple, classically French, absolutley stunningly flavoursome dishes that showcased the star ingredient - the tomate cerise.
Back at home in Sydney and with friends and family joining us for lunch this long weekend, I was inspired to try and recreate a beautiful starter we had at a bistro on Rue Montorgueil - a fresh and simple cherry tomato mousse.
Cherry tomato mousse (mousse de tomate cerise)
1 large punnet of cherry tomatoes
1 sheet of gelatine leaves
150ml of cream, whipped into soft peaks
2 eschalots, finely chopped
1 pinch of caster sugar
Olive oil, salt and pepper
Marigold petals, micro herbs and fleur de sel to garnish.
1. Add eschalots to a pan and cook them for around 5 mn in olive oil - they just need to become translucent. Don't let them brown.
2. Add the chopped tomatoes, sugar, salt and pepper, cook 12 to 15 minutes over medium heat.
3. Off the heat, add the drained gelatine.
4. Blend the tomato mixture with a hand blender into a puree, cool.
5. Gently fold in whipped cream to the tomato puree and season with salt and pepper.
6. Divide the tomato mousse into small glasses ( I used some little yoghurt pots I bought back from Paris), place them in the fridge to set, around 3 h.
7. Garnish with marigold leaves, micro lambs lettuce, halved cherry tomatoes and a sprinkle of fleur de sel.
8. Serve with a French Rose and Parmesan crusted savory biscuits.
Another divine dish I was lucky to sample in Paris was a light, crispy, caramely cherry tomato tarte tatin. It is both sweet and savory at the same time - and bursting with color. A perfect dish for summer (and even spring) when cherry tomatoes are sweet, fragrant and at their best. You could serve slices as an entree or even as a main - along with a fresh green salad.
Cherry tomato tarte tartin
2 tablespoons of butter
1/2 tablespoon of brown sugar
1 large punnet of heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved and seeded
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of fresh thyme, removed from stems
1 block of pre prepared puff pastry
1. Preheat oven to 180C degrees.
2. In a frying pan (the right size to fit the tomatoes snuggly - make sure the pan also has an oven proof handle and is non stick) gently melt the butter.
3. Add the sugar and cook until it dissolves into the butter.
4. When the sugar starts to caramelise, add the cherry tomatoes with the cut sides up.
5. Cook the tomatoes on a low heat for around 10 mn. Add the vinegar and cook for another 5 mn. Sprinkle over the fresh thyme leaves and season with salt and pepper.
6. Roll the puff pastry and cut a round to fit over your pan.
7. When the tomatoes have cooled slightly, place your pastry on top of the tomatoes, tucking the sides. Make a few small holes in the top of the pastry.
8. Place the frying pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden.
9. When the tart is ready, remove from the oven and cool for around 10 mn. Loosen the pastry from the pan by running knife around the edge of the pan.
10. Set a large plate over the tart and flip right side up so the tart comes out.
So...whether you try out the tarte tartin or the mousse - or simply serve a bowl of beautiful little cherry tomatoes with some charcuterie - do like the Parisians do and grab yourself some cherry tomatoes to accompany your next apero with friends.