There are various ideas about where the term bistro came from... The online etymology dictionary says that it came from the French word of unknown origin which was originally Parisian slang for "little wineshop or restaurant". It is commonly said to be from Russian bee-stra (quickly) picked up during the Allied occupation of Paris in 1815 after the defeat of Napoleon when troops were said to have shouted this at the French waiters to serve their food more quickly, but according the etymology experts this, however quaint, is unlikely. Another guess, they say, is that it is from bistraud (a little shepherd), a word of the Poitou dialect, from biste (goat). What do seem to be clear are the modern day culinary connotations of the word bistro - good, yet simple, moderately priced food served fairly swiftly in a relaxed informal setting (and in my view - with a nice glass of red!). By its very nature it's the sort of food which is either quick to prepare (steak et frites) or which can be prepared in advance in large quantities (cassoulet, onion soup) so that it can be served quickly when an order comes in.
After giving it some thought I finally settled on the idea of a tart or a savoury tarte tatin in some guise or another. A savoury twist on the classic French dessert. A dish that can be prepared in advance and then served cold, hot or simply at room temperature with a simple salad which fulfils the 'quick' element of the definition. The ideas which sprung to mind were a deep filled onion tart with slow cooked caramelised onions which almost melt in the mouth or a lighter, fresher shallot and thyme tart tatin, but both of these felt a bit too 'wintry' for a late Spring dish. I know the brief doesn't say that the dish needs to reflect the current season, but with the lovely sunny weather we've been having it's good the ring the changes in what we eat to reflect the approaching Summer!
Before going to Paris last weekend, I had pretty much decided on a simple tomato and mustard tart - similar to something I used to cook when I lived in France a few years ago. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend a lot of time living in the countryside on a small holding where pretty much everything we ate came from the land (vegetables, fruit, cheese, meat for those who ate it...). I learnt a great deal about basic French home cooking and this particular tomato tart is one Danièle and I made one day - it's basically pâte brisée, a thick layer of Dijon mustard, grated hard cheese and then a layer of thinly sliced tomatoes tucked under each other to form a seamless layer. I have several different recipes I like, including one inspired by a Delia Smith recipe which is basically a layer of puff pastry, a layer of garlic-y goat's cheese goodness and a thin layer of slow cooked tomatoes - perfect for picnics and parties.
I was all set to make my tomato tart when, last weekend whilst staying with family in Paris, we ate out in a little place in Le Marais which served a tomato tart tatin for which, I am told, this place is known. It was good and hit the spot, but the pastry, which was quite brioche-y, wasn't quite my thing. So there was born the idea for my first ever entry for 'Waiter, there's something in my...' and last night's dinner - Tomato, Gryuère & Mustard Tarte Tatin.
For me it fits the bill of being something that is simple, tasty, can be served quickly and goes wonderfully with a glass of red! Perfect for a quick lunch in the sun or a late supper with friends.
200g plain flour
25g finely grated gruyère
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
salt and pepper
3 - 4 tablespoons water
800g - 1kg large vine tomatoes
1 teaspoon soft brown sugar
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
dash of red wine vinegar
salt and pepper
Make the pastry by mixing together the flour, butter, cheese, thyme, mustard and seasoning in the food processor and then gradually add the water until the pastry binds together. It might not need all of the water so be careful not to add to it all at once. Form the pastry into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and pop it into the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes or until you need it.
You will need enough tomatoes to fill your tarte tatin dish (mine is 7 1/2 inches in diameter across the base). Skin the tomatoes by scoring a cross on the bottom of each tomato and then plunging into boiling water until the skin starts to split. Pop the tomatoes into cold water and then peel the skins off and discard. Slice each tomato in half, remove the little green core and put the tomato halves into your dish, rounded sides down. Tuck them in quite tightly so that when they reduce down when cooked there will be no gaps.
Whisk together a couple of glugs of olive oil with the red wine vinegar, sugar, thyme leaves and season to taste. Pour this mixture over the tomatoes and pop them into the oven at around 160C (fan assisted) for around 30 - 40 minutes until they begin to reduce down. If there is a lot of juice place a sieve over the tomatoes to hold them in place and pour the juice into a little pan and put to one side.
Roll out your pastry so that it is an inch or two larger than your dish and place it over the tomatoes. Tuck the pastry in around the edges to make sure the tomatoes are sealed in. Bake in the oven at 190C (fan assisted) for 40 minutes or until the pastry is golden and cooked through at the edges where it is thickest. Leave to cool slightly.
Reduce the juice which you poured off the tomatoes by bringing it to the boil and simmering, then sieve out any seeds. Turn the tarte out onto a plate and brush the tomatoes with the reduced juice.
Serve hot, warm or cold with a crisp dressed salad (my dressing for this lettuce was 2 dessertspoons olive oil, 1 dessert spoon white wine vinegar, salt and half a clove of garlic finely chopped).