Jaune Flammée d'Orange. It's the name that does it. Or maybe its flawless beauty. Or maybe its perfect tomato taste. Put them all together, and this tomato gets my vote for The One Tomato I'd Grow If I Could Grow Only One.
My first encounter with Orange Flame was about 13 years ago, when snowballing interest in “heirloom” tomatoes prompted one of my favorite nurseries (Walker Farm in Dummerston, VT) to cultivate a number of old varieties for sale as starts. The slight lengthening of the Vermont growing season due to climatic warming trends had made it possible to think about putting in real tomatoes, not just cherry-types. I bought 6 individual plants; the 3 varieties I recall are Brandywine, Marmande, and Orange Flame. The full-sized tomatoes just barely got to produce before the first frost, but the Orange Flame was a small tomato, its fruit barely bigger than a pingpong ball, and it started putting out for me by mid-August. What I remembered more than its happy vigor, though, was its astonishing flavor: a perfect triangulation of sweet, tart, and tomatoey.
I was never able to find starts for Orange Flame again, and once I learned to start seeds on my own, I could never find seed for them (even after Al Gore invented the Internet and I discovered the power of Google). Until last fall. I think I rather stumbled across a tomato variety called Jaune Flammée d'Orange, available from a small independent grower down in Amish country (Amishland Seeds). The description sounded about right, so I ordered some seeds and started them along with my other tomatoes.
Regular readers may recall that my tomato starts got kind of mixed up, and while I'd planned for a compulsive two of each of six varieties, things worked out a little differently. The good news is that 3 of the plants that ended up in my garden were Jaune Flammée, and I'm only disappointed that more of them weren't. These tomatoes are exactly as fine as I remember them – beautiful (as you can see in the picture), and about the best tasting tomato I've ever eaten. And because I'm a much more experienced gardener than I was 13 years ago, I can appreciate them for several other reasons as well. First: they're impossibly prolific; even now that everything in the garden is slowing down or just plain dying off, these plants are still putting out new growth and flowering. The other tomatoes may be hung with fruit, but the plants are yellow, mottled, sagging, their fruit burst from rain after a long drought or pocked with rot spots – or both. But not my Jaune Flammée; the lower parts of the plants are dead, brown and dry, but they're still pumping out gorgeous, smooth-skinned, juicy, delicious gems. I plan on saving seeds from them and growing a much greater proportion of them next year.
Which brings me to the eating of said tomatoes. My husband got me started eating tomatoes for breakfast – a bowl of them cut in chunks, with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. Sometimes I'll add a little thinly sliced onion and some balsamic vinegar. They made for some fine quick-cooked sauce, which I tossed with hot pasta and some crumbled fresh goat cheese. And they dressed up fine in caprese style, accessorized on top with a few cherry tomatoes:
Last week, I finally broke down and made a Tomato Tart with them. And I remembered why I only allow myself to make this tart once every 10 years or so. It's so, so rich, but so delicious it's hard to resist eating much too much of it.
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Fresh Tomato Tart
I got the basic recipe from the New York Times Magazine, probably close to 20 years ago, but I've messed with it to my liking. It never disappoints. And you can substitute eggplant with fine results (use fontina instead of mozzarella, if you like).
1 12-inch tart pan lined with pastry (I use a basic pate brisée, but you can do as you please)
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
3/4 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
10 medium-size firm, ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons slivered fresh garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
Heat oven to 425°F.
Line a baking sheet with two or three layers of paper toweling and lay the sliced tomatoes on it in a single layer. Cover with another layer of paper toweling and press lightly over the top. (The intended goal here is to dry the tomatoes some; otherwise the resulting tart will be drowned in tomato juices.)
Spread the mustard evenly over the bottom of the tart shell. Layer the sliced cheese over the mustard to completely cover the bottom. Beginning at the outer edge of the shell, arrange the tomatoes in a circle, overlapping the edges. Make a second circle inside the first.
Drizzle with the olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Scatter the garlic over the top.
Bake the tart until the crust is nicely browned and the tomatoes are cooked, lightly browned at the edges, and slightly dry (45 minutes or an hour, even). Remove the tart from the oven and scatter the oregano over the top.
This goes equally well with red or white wine, or beer, of course; a salad on the side might help to offset some of the guilt you may experience after eating one or two slices more than you intended.
My apologies for the gap in posting; I have deadlines stacked up like, oh, I don't know...incoming over La Guardia on a Friday afternoon? I'll post when I can and try hard to make it worth the wait. Thanks for reading.