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Tomato tart is a triumph

Published Aug. 28, 2005

(ran TNP, TNS editions)

Time for a culinary confession.

Aside from those that are my own, most of the recipes I write about don't make repeat performances in my home once the testing is completed. Sometimes even mine are one-hit-wonders.

It's not that they aren't good. Quite the opposite, actually. When trying new recipes is part of your job, week after week, year after year, the opportunities for repeats _ even the greats _ aren't great.

That said, occasionally I stumble upon a dish so good and so easy to make that I can't help but bring it back for an encore or so. It doesn't happen often, but it's a cause for celebration when it does.

Such was the case recently when I experimented with a tomato tart from the summer issue of EatingWell magazine.

Whether sweet or savory, tarts excel at highlighting not just the fresh flavors of seasonal produce but also at presenting them in an endearing rustic style.

But the problem with tarts, and the reason I so infrequently make them, is that most use a pastry crust base that relies on fussy blends of cold flour and chilled butter. I generally fail at anything so finicky.

EatingWell's tart stands out because it replaces regular pastry with an equally flaky but easier base made from packaged sheets of phyllo, the parchment-thin dough used in Greek cooking.

This crust also has low-fat appeal; the butter in traditional pastries is replaced with a bit of olive oil.

Encouraged by the ease of the crust, I set about testing. It was out of this world, especially considering the effort involved in preparing it.

Unfold the sheets of phyllo, coat with pesto, layer slices of tomato and feta, then bake. Simple.

Though similar to pizza, this tart packs significantly more flavor because of the pungent pesto and tangy feta. It also has significantly fewer calories and grams of fat than traditional pizza. And it's impressive enough to serve to guests.

A couple of prep tips: Whether you make the pesto or use jarred, stir in a tablespoon or two of lime juice before brushing it onto the base.

This heightens the flavors and adds a wonderfully subtle bite.

Though the recipe calls for painting the olive oil on the phyllo sheets with a pastry brush, this risks tearing the fragile dough. Instead, use oil in a pump or aerosol spray can.

Phyllo dough comes in white and whole wheat varieties. For the nutritional advantage, go for the whole wheat.

The differences in taste and texture are negligible in this application.

The tart can be made up to eight hours ahead of time. Keep it covered and refrigerated until ready to serve, then heat in a 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the basil leaves just before serving.

Tomato Phyllo Tart

12 sheets of 14- by 18-inch phyllo dough (or 24 9- by 14-inch sheets)

\ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon plain bread crumbs

2 tablespoons pesto

} cup crumbled feta cheese

1 large red tomato, cut into \-inch slices

1 large yellow tomato, cut into \-inch slices

{ teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

10 to 12 small fresh basil leaves

Preparation time: 1 hour and 20 minutes, 30 minutes active.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lay 1 large sheet of phyllo dough on the prepared pan. (If using smaller sheets of phyllo, slightly overlap 2 sheets to form a rectangle.)

Keep the remaining phyllo dough covered with plastic wrap or wax paper and a damp kitchen towel to prevent it from drying out, which happens quickly.

Lightly brush or mist the surface of the phyllo sheet with oil. Sprinkle with \ teaspoon bread crumbs.

Repeat these steps until all phyllo sheets have been layered.

Brush or mist the final sheet of phyllo with oil.

Form a rim by folding about } inch of each side toward the center.

Spread the pesto evenly over the surface of the tart. Sprinkle about half the crumbled feta over the pesto. Arrange the tomato slices, alternating colors, over the pesto and feta.

Season with salt and pepper, then top with remaining feta.

Bake the tart until the crust turns brown and crispy, about 30 to 35 minutes.

Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes.

To serve, lift the parchment paper and slide the tart onto a cutting board or large platter.

Scatter basil leaves over the top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 3 to 4 servings as a main course, or 12 appetizer servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 145 calories, 4g protein, 12g carbohydrates, 9g fat, 304mg sodium, 9mg cholesterol.

Source: "EatingWell: The Magazine of Food & Health," summer 2004.