Does basil only make this Tomato Tart look prettier?

Posted on September 13, 2011

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Don’t you think the basil adds a nice touch to this tomato tart?

These could be before and after pictures for Extreme Makeover: Pastry Edition. Perception is important when preparing foods. The thing has to look edible, after all.

Herbs and spices are perfect tools for making food look pretty. I think rosemary is nice, lemon is zesty, basil is bedazzling. I’ve long revered sage, loved lavender, and gone ga-ga for garlic. I put a sprinkle of cinnamon here, a dash of nutmeg there, a crack of black pepper on everything. In addition to adding great flavor, herbs and spices really can make dish look fancy.

And until recently, I thought that was all they did. I did not know that rosemary stimulates circulation, and that cinnamon supports digestion, that black pepper is the “emperor of digestive aids,”  and basil, “the destroyer of phlegm,” until I began reading The Herbal Kitchen by Kami McBride and learned, yes food should appear edible, but someone’s also got to be able to eat it. 

I didn’t go seeking out this book; this book rather found me. I like pretty food, so when I saw a giveaway contest at A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa with this book as its prize, I decided to put my name in the draw thinking that maybe I could learn how to use more exotic items like lavender and cardamom and fennel seeds to dress up my dishes. I have spent a good amount of time entering many a giveway contest, but never before have I been the lucky winner. I was truly lucky this time. (Thanks again for the giveaway, Diana!) 

I have learned a lot, just in my first few perusals of this book. It includes a brief “Materia Medica” at the front, describing the healing properties of fifty different commonplace herbs and spices, followed by nearly a dozen chapters with recipes for herbal waters, teas, smoothies, oils, vinegars, cordials, ghees, pestos, sprinkles, and even baths!

I made chai tea yesterday using whole herbs and spices. It is spicy, and I am still working out a good tea concentrate to milk ratio. I’m thinking also of trying out the Chai Honey recipe from her book. Kami’s recipe uses powdered ingredients stirred into warmed honey, which can then be brewed into tea by the tablespoonful. I don’t have powdered cardamom or cloves, so I decided instead to brew up a simple cinnamon-ginger honey using the infused honey method. The recipe suggests allowing the honey to steep with the spices for about two weeks, so I will certainly be back to give an update on it then! 

This evening, I made oregano-infused olive oil. This is also supposed to steep up for about two weeks, and then the fresh herbs are to be strained out, but I’m kind of impatient, so I drizzled a little on some steamed potatoes with tonight’s dinner, herbs and all. I am interested to compare the taste of fresh-infused oil with the one that is left to infuse for longer.

I also want to make the recipe for “Happy Tummy Honey,” which includes fennel, coriander, and cumin, as well as “Vibrant Life Oil” steeped in paprika, coriander, and clove. She recommends fresh rosmary tea for a good pick-me-up in lieu of coffee, which I plan to try, and I have already starting drinking cinnamon tea to aid the reduction gum inflammation, which I am experiencing as my wisdom teeth come in (ouch), and I can report this has been a great help!

Basil is said to be a great fighter of colds, flus, and allergies. According to Kami, it is a warming, aromatic herb that calms the nervous system and promotes mental clarity. It also helps in digestion of heavy meals, like pasta…and buttery tart pastries. Isn’t it nice to know that basil not only makes my tart look pretty, but it actually makes your tummy happy, your head clear, and your body healthy?

And that’s the kicker for me. Perception, enhancing the attractiveness of a dish, was formerly the main reason I used herbs in my kitchen. I never before that, deep down in our evolved brains, herbs probably appear pretty because they are good for us!

This is actually the very first tart I have ever made. Woosh, I’m glad that this whole basil discussion has distracted a little from that fact. If you want to comment that you never would have guessed, considering how pretty this little tart is, I wouldn’t mind. I’ll just thank the basil for that, since it caught your eye instead of that scraggly crust!

My first attempt really didn’t go to badly for all the hype about perfect pastry crusts. The good news is that I now own, not only a 11 x 7 inch tart pan, but also four mini tarlet pans, so I can look forward to getting in lots of practice with rolling out pastry dough! I have always admired the prettiness of open-faced tarts, and since you know I’m a fan of pretty food, I jumped for joy when I found the tart pans at a yard sale last week for just a $1! I proudly checked them off my “Wanted in the Kitchen” list at that price!

In fact, I really hit the jackpot at this yard sale. I also found that cute little olive oil bottle (just a buck for a pair of ’em!) as well as two more intriguing food-related books (for just a quarter each!).

This one has a ton of great recipes as well as suggestions on methods for infusing oils that don’t need to sit forever before using. I will likely be sharing some of what I try from this book soon! Think roasted garlic.

Also found this book —

The science in it might be a bit dated, circa 1995, but so far I have found it really interesting to learn about how eating affects the release of different chemicals in the brain — affecting not only our cravings for different kinds of foods but also our overall mood. It’s the neuropsychology of food!

I just took the “How are you eating?” self-assessment in it’s first chapter.

 That’s a score of 49 out of 100 possible points, i.e. “Caution: your dietary habits are average, which means you probably consume too much of the wrong foods and not enough of the right ones.”

It’s probably true. I’ll admit it. That’s what happens when you bake and cook a lot I guess. When tart pans are practically handed to you for free, you just have to make a buttery tart… or five (I also made mini plum tartlets this weekend!).  

But hey, let’s just stay focused on the fact that my pretty tart at least has the added health benefits of the digestive and phlegm-fighting champion of all herbs! Thank you, basil!

Tomato Basil Tart
adapted from Haute Apple Pie

Pastry crust dough (I am still perfecting my recipe and technique here, with the help of a trusted chef and sister and many resourceful cookbooks — you can use any trusted pie or tart crust recipe, or borrow from the link above!)
1 large egg
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup whole milk
4 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried basil flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
4 medium tomatoes, sliced into rounds
Feta cheese
Fresh basil, chiffonade

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Wrap removable bottom of tart pan in aluminum foil, and place in the freezer to chill. Meanwhile, prepare pastry crust dough. Form dough into a disc and place in the fridge to chill. Remove tart pan and brush bottom and sides with melted butter, then return to freezer to chill again.

Prepare filling by combining egg, milk, parmesan, dried basil flakes, and black pepper in a medium bowl. Place in fridge while you roll out pastry dough wide enough to cover bottom and sides of tart pan.

Transfer pastry dough to tart pan, and press into bottom and rim of pan. Pour filling into the crust, and bake for 10 minutes to set filling.

Remove tart from oven, and arrange tomatoes over filling. Sprinkle with feta cheese if desired. Return to oven and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Let tart cool slightly, then top with fresh basil.

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