A perfect match: tomatoes and basil

Sun-warmed and vine-ripened, out in full splendor in a broad range of colors, sizes, textures and flavors, tomatoes are showing off their stuff at local farmers' markets. Bred for flavor rather than for ease of shipping or shelf life, their stran...

Sun-warmed and vine-ripened, out in full splendor in a broad range of colors, sizes, textures and flavors, tomatoes are showing off their stuff at local farmers' markets. Bred for flavor rather than for ease of shipping or shelf life, their strange and wonderful fragrant perfume gave notice of their ripeness.

As I drove home with several pounds and a few varieties of the glorious fruit/vegetable (botanically a fruit, but legally, in America, a vegetable) nestled in my back seat, I thought of how I would stand at the kitchen sink and bite into one of those tomatoes, letting the juice drip down my chin.

Should I make fresh salsa? Tomatoes love cilantro, onions and jalape?os. Or maybe I should cut thick slices and slather them with fresh herbs, salt and pepper and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Then I thought about my first taste of Margarita Pizza. It was at Caponies Trattoria on North Harlem Avenue in Chicago. The crust was stretched as thin as paper before being topped with lots of creamy mozzarella cheese and grated Parmesan, a hint of garlic, fresh plum tomatoes that had been smashed to release the juice, and lots of fresh basil leaves, torn to small pieces. Then, a quick visit to the wood-fired oven.

Mmm, it was heavenly.


With out-of-town friends (both cookbook authors!) expected to arrive mid-week, I decided to put those same flavors into a quiche that I could serve for lunch with a salad of fresh greens.

My first bite of warm-from-the-oven Fresh Tomato-Basil Quiche was so close to the flavors of my introductory experience, I thought for a moment that I was sitting in Caponies. It's a Margarita Pizza in a pie shell.

Roasted garlic and parmesan are smeared over the pie crust before filling to keep the crust from getting soggy as well as adding caramelized sweetness. Sautéed onion, lots of mozzarella, sweet grape tomatoes and fresh basil bury the garlic-parmesan smear. The flavorful ingredients are baked together with eggs and half-and-half that become so, so creamy.

It's truly a match made in heaven - tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. With onions, and garlic and parmesan. And now is the time to make it with backyard, farm-stand and locally grown tomatoes ready to show off their glorious flavor.

Fresh Tomato-Basil Quiche
Refrigerated pie crust dough for 1 (9-inch) pie, room temperature
1 whole bulb of garlic, roasted
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ cup basil leaves, packed
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 cup half-and-half
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Position pastry dough into a deep 9-inch glass pie dish. Use your fingers to press the dough onto the bottom and sides of the glass dish. Decoratively finish the top edge of the pastry crust. Use a fork to prick the crust several times over the bottom and along the sides. Place the crust in the refrigerator to chill for 15 minutes.

While dough is chilling, cut tomatoes in half lengthwise and set, cut side down, on double thickness of paper towels to drain.


Sauté finely chopped onion in olive oil over medium-low heat, until onion is tender. Set aside.

Squeeze roasted garlic from bulb onto shallow plate. Mash garlic with a fork. Stir in ¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese. Set aside.

Wash basil leaves and dry with paper towels. Chiffonade or chop the basil.

Whisk eggs and yolk; add half-and-half and black pepper and mix well to blend.

Remove crust from refrigerator and bake for 5 minutes. Remove from oven. Spread garlic-parmesan mixture on bottom of crust. Layer sautéed onions over the garlic. Top with all of the mozzarella cheese. Arrange tomatoes decoratively in a single layer over cheese. Arrange basil over tomatoes.

Carefully pour egg mixture into pie shell without disturbing tomatoes and basil.

Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees. Bake quiche for about 40 minutes, or until set and knife inserted in middle comes out clean.

Remove from oven. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese over the quiche. Let quiche rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Makes 6 to 8 servings.


Tips from the cook

--To roast garlic, remove any of the loose papery skin from the garlic bulb, leaving the cloves intact. Use a sharp knife to cut about ¼ inch from the top of the bulb, removing the tips. Place garlic, cut side up, on a square of aluminum foil. Drizzle about 1 teaspoon of olive oil over the top of the garlic, allowing the oil to seep into the bulb. Bring the corners of the aluminum foil together and wrap the garlic tightly. Place the foil package in a small oven-safe dish. Roast in preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until garlic is very soft when lightly squeezed. Remove from oven, unwrap and allow to cool.

--To make basil chiffonade, stack clean basil leaves, stems removed, crosswise on a cutting surface. Roll them up like a cigar. With a sharp knife, cut thin shreds. Prepared this way, the basil is much prettier than when just chopped.

--Roasted garlic keeps well in the refrigerator, tightly sealed, for 4 to 6 days.

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