by Dianne Boate
Just imagine for a minute that your kitchen is a rehearsal hall, your dining area a stage, and your favorite dishes as the actors in the dinner plays you produce and direct. It can put a different focus on what your favorites are and how many times you haul them out from the wings.
The star of my show is Tarte Moutarde – a simple recipe I learned to make in France that is always surprisingly good and sure to cause a stir among your guests. It is made with piecrust, Dijon-style mustard, fresh tomatoes, cheese and Herbes de Provence. When it is baking in the oven a delicious aroma tantalizes you and gives you a feeling of comfort and security, like the smell of sunshine hitting leaves and pine needles on the ground.
Years ago, we hosted young men from France who came to California to learn various aspects of being in the wine business. They and their families were exceptional hosts when we later travelled to France. Christophe Barcat and Didier Amiel were about 19 years old when they first knocked at our door. Within two years they were back in France, Didier in Bordeaux and Christophe nearby in St. Emillion. Christophe had his first apartment on a hillside; when he heard our arrival date, he promptly invited us to a barbeque. We were a little early, but soon he arrived with many of bags of groceries and, of course, I offered to help. “Yes, you can help me make Tarte Moutarde,” he said.
The instructions here are just as Christophe told me. He was back and forth between this and getting a fire going under a pile of roof tiles outside; his barbeque setup. Glorious Bordeaux wines were opened, an outdoor table was set, Tarte Moutarde and grilled meat aromas filled the early evening air. We sat and sipped and ate and told stories, recounting our California adventures together. It was the kind of evening you want to last forever. Well, that memory has lasted and Tarte Moutarde continues to march on.
In Palm Beach, Fla., we were helping with hospitality for the Palm Beach International Piano Competition and I offered to make Tarte Moutarde for a reception. As it was served, a local lady sidled up to me in her Chanel suit and purred, “Oh Dianne, I think it is so cute, the way you come to Palm Beach and cook.”
TARTE MOUTARDE is a conceptual recipe. Please read through before beginning.
Unbaked piecrust, pricked with fork, pre-baked about 10 minutes at 425 degrees (Use your favorite or a purchased unbaked piecrust like Pillsbury)
4 to 5 fresh tomatoes, washed, sliced and towel-blotted (I like to use Roma)
1½ cups (under ½ lb.) shredded cheddar, Monterey, Jarlesburg or Gruyere cheese (my favorite for this dish is Gruyere)
1 to 2 tbsp Herbes de Provence
Spread the mustard evenly on pre-baked crust. Sprinkle cheese over it in a light layer. Add tomatoes, starting in the center. Top with more cheese, then sprinkle on the Herbes de Provence. Bake in hot oven 12 to 15 minutes.
Herbes de Provence is widely available in food specialty stores. A little goes a long way. The recipes vary, but generally it contains thyme, basil, fennel, rosemary, lavender – and/or savory, tarragon, oregano and sage. It is very tasty on buttered potatoes, omelets and grilled meats.
French Dijon mustard has a distinct quality because it is made with white wine. You can buy a good quality locally at Smart and Final. I use it to make salad dressings with fenugreek seed extract; pair the mustard with butter for Brussels sprouts; pair with honey and butter for cooked carrots; and sometimes on a peanut butter sandwich with mayonnaise and a good slice of onion.
Next time company is coming, have your Tarte Moutarde coming out of the oven about the time they arrive. Watch them swoon, and then refer to it as “pizza.” You, the director of the play, must lift your head in mock disdain and pronounce loftily, “Non! Tarte Moutarde!”
Dianne Boate, a former staff member of the original Dating Game television show, and later, The Renaissance Pleasure Faire, is The Hat Lady, maker of custom millinery, and The Cake Lady, a special events baker for 30 years in the Bay Area. Between cake assignments, she has had several one-woman photography shows, and participated as a botanical illustrator in group shows benefiting the Conservatory of Flowers, National AIDS Memorial Grove, Marin Cancer Institute, and University of California Alumni Association. Her website can be found at www.BoateCollection.com.