Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Smoky tomato lasagne and crispy apple tart

Smoked Tomato Lasagne

Pics by Steve Shanahan 
© Redbox Photography

First published Canberra Times 6 May 2015.
As the cold weather kicks in, we witness the slow demise of the tomato plants that are so prolific throughout our short growing season in Canberra. Despite the fact these poor plants dont seem to understand that its time to call it a day and give up, they still try and keep producing.

As an ode to the faithful tomato I wanted to make a dish that provided a fitting send off and settled on the process of smoking the tomatoes in a stovetop smoker. This was to give that extra punch to my lasagne.

The hot sun and scant rain provide perfect conditions as I harvest plump, very ripe tomatoes from my plant. So I go into my peasant, down homey kind of thing that happens when I use my own garden produce to make something extra special and get personal with my tomatoes.

For this dish, it involved making a stovetop smoker by adapting an old stainless stock pot and lid. I laid some foil on the inside base, then a handful of hickory chips, another layer of foil and then placed an old round metal cake cooler over the foil. I placed four large, salted, halved tomatoes cut side up on the cake cooler and then placed the lid on the top and sealed with layers of foil to prevent the smoke from escaping.

I turned the exhaust fan on maximum suck, placed my smoker on a medium heat until I could smell the faintest smell of smoke, then I turned the heat well down and continued cooking for fifteen minutes.  I removed the foil and lid carefully, and lifted the tomatoes out carefully. They were clearly well smoked, a pretty rosy red and dripping with sweet juices. If you prefer a lighter smoke flavour, cook for five to ten minutes only.

The smoked tomatoes provide a powerful, smokey hit and add a complex richness to all the ingredients, including the Italian sausage, but the tomatoes are the obvious superstars here. Although this unusual lasagne could also be made without smoking the tomatoes, it would benefit from using very ripe and punchy tomatoes.

We finished our meal with a gorgeous, rosy apple tart, to celebrate the seasons. Perfect for this time of year. The apple tart should be started a few hours prior to cooking as the almond paste needs to thicken.

Any leftover lasagne or béchamel sauce can be frozen for later use.
Preheat the oven to 175C and lightly grease a 28cm x 20cm lasagne dish or size thereabouts.
Serves 6 to 8

Smoked Tomato Lasagna

3 large, ripe tomatoes, halved
400g tin of tomato puree
2 tsp brown sugar
large pinch of grated nutmeg
pinch salt and pepper
1 cup of béchamel sauce
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
300g mushrooms, sliced
400g ricotta cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup basil, chopped
500g raw Italian sausages, sliced into 1.5cm slices
250g fresh lasagne sheets
200g mozzarella cheese, grated

Using a stovetop smoker and following the above instructions, smoke the tomatoes, cut side up and salted. When cooked, remove the tomatoes from smoker, allow to cool, and peel off the skins.

Place the skinned tomatoes into a bowl and puree with a blender. Stir in the tinned tomato puree and mix the béchamel sauce through. Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg and brown sugar. Set aside.

Warm the oil and butter together in a large frypan over a high heat. Add the sliced mushrooms and fry until the moisture has cooked out of the mushrooms and softened, about ten minutes. Set aside.

In another bowl, mix the ricotta, basil and eggs together, adding salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

To assemble, spread one cup of the smoked tomato sauce mixture into the bottom of the lasagne dish. Place a layer of lasagne sheets over the sauce, cutting to fit. Add another cup of smoked tomato sauce, then half the mushrooms, half the sausage, and dollop with half the ricotta mixture. Repeat the layering, ending with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle the top with grated mozzarella cheese.

Cover tightly with foil and bake for forty-five minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the cheese is golden, about thirty minutes extra.

Allow the lasagne to stand for about fifteen minutes before serving. The lasagne will hold together better, the longer it is allowed to sit so the lasagne sheets can absorb the juices.

Bechamel Sauce

4 tbsp unsalted butter
4 tbsp plain flour
2 cups warmed milk
pinch salt and pepper

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir for about two minutes. Keep the mixture from browning.

Gradually pour in the warmed milk, whisking constantly. Bring the milk mixture to the boil and then reduce the heat to low, and, still whisking, let simmer for about five minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Crackly Apple Tart. 

Crackly Apple Tart

Almond Paste
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup almond meal
1 large egg
½ tsp vanilla paste
5 tbsp double cream

7 sheets of Filo pastry, cut to 23cm width x 33cm length
5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3 tbsp sugar
3 sweet, red apples
3 tsp apricot jam, strained to remove solids so only the gel is remaining.
2 tsp water

Mix the almond meal and sugar together in a bowl.

To make the almond paste, beat the egg, vanilla and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk in half the almond and sugar mixture and then the cream. Finish by whisking in the remaining almond and sugar mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for a couple of hours.

Preheat oven to 175C and prepare a rack in the centre of oven. Line a biscuit tray with baking paper or a silicone sheet.

Place a sheet of filo pastry on the tray and brush gently with the melted butter and sprinkle with a teaspoon of sugar. Cover the sheet of filo with another sheet and repeat the process of stacking, buttering and sugaring until all the filo is used up. Carefully spread the almond paste over the top sheet, minding not to tear the sheet, leaving a narrow border without paste around the edge of the filo sheet.

Slice each apple in half and remove the cores. Slice each half into very thin slices and arrange in 3 vertical rows over the almond paste. Press the slices down so they are embedded slightly in the almond paste.

Bake the tart for about half an hour or until the apples are soft when pricked with a sharp knife. If the apples are very pale, you can place under a grill for a few minutes to bring them up in colour.

Transfer the tray to a cooling rack and heat the strained jam and water in a microwave to form a glaze. Gently brush the glaze over the entire tart. Serve sliced or broken up with fingers, warmed or at room temperature with cream or ice cream.