Wednesday is market day in Saint-Remy-de-Provence, an old Roman village just south of Avignon nestled in the hills of Les Alpilles mountains where vineyards and olive groves flourish. The current site of Saint-Remy was probably first built in the 1st century AD and the town was created around its first church, built in the 6th century. It is the birthplace of Nostradamus, a 16th century author of prophecies and was once the home of French Impressionist Vincent van Gogh, who spent the last year of his life in the psychiatric center at the Monastery Saint-Paul de Mausole. Although its history runs steep, it is one of the most lovely and stylish villages in Provence.
Markets such as this one have existed for centuries in Provence and have changed very little in modern times. Scenes such as these are repeated throughout Provence day in, day out, year after year, in sun, rain, snow, even on holidays. It is a traveling carnival that goes from village to village, attracting locals and tourists alike.
The main food market is in Place Pellissier where local farmers bring in their fruits and vegetables, fresh from the fields and set up their stands. More of the market, including clothing and fabrics, flows into the Place de la Republique across the street.
There’s a wide variety of other vendors including a huge selection of French cheeses,
freshly baked breads, fish & shellfish right out of the water from Marseille,
a wide variety of Provencal olives, brightly colored spices,
vin de pays wines and regional olive oils,
colorful olive oil soaps,
beautifully carved wooden spoons and bowls,
kitchen implements, prepared foods of all kinds, regional specialities, local goat cheeses, foie gras,
and quite a nice selection of clothes,
scarves, and brightly colored straw market bags.
As you can see you can buy almost anything at the market. On market day the village is bustling with locals as well as tourists. I recommend that you arrive early as the locals do in order to avoid the crowds of tourists, especially in the summer months.
These gorgeous tomatoes are perfect for a Provencal tomato tart. For today’s tart I chose puff pastry as a base, but in a previous post (photos directly below) I used pastry dough, post and recipe here. That particular tomato tart had a more dense cheesy egg filling than the one with puff pastry that I made for today, as you can see in the photos below. Actually I made that tart two different ways – one resembled more of a quiche
and the other a deep dish tart.
But today’s tomato tart uses puff pastry and I was quite pleased with the results below. It was crunchy and light and perfect for lunch with a simple green salad, dressed with a French vinaigrette, recipe here.
In Provence tomato tarts are often served in small slices with aperitifs during cocktail hour. Every cook has her own unique version. I was surprised at how easy the puff pastry was to work with. If you can find heirloom tomatoes, especially several different colors, by all means use them, but garden tomatoes work just fine as well.
Provencal Tomato Tart (Tarte aux tomatoes)
Adapted from A Pig in Provence by Georgeanne Brennan, with puff pastry instructions from Epicurious, serves 6
Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F. Defrost 1 sheet frozen puff pastry (preferably all-butter pastry) from a 14–17-oz. box according to package directions. If the package contains 1 sheet, cut the pastry in half; if the package contains 2 sheets, just use 1. Roll out the dough slightly on a floured surface to smooth it out.
Place the pastry sheet on a parchment-lined, rimmed baking sheet and use a paring knife to gently score a 1/4” border around the edge. Using a fork, prick the pastry all over inside the border to release steam while baking.
Spread the bottom of the dough with a thin layer of Dijon mustard, and then cover with a single layer of snugly packed tomato slices, preferably heirloom tomatoes in several colors, that have been sprinkled with sea salt and drained on a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and chopped fresh thyme. Top with grated Gruyere cheese. Bake until the crust is golden and the tomatoes have collapsed. It should take about 20 to 25 minutes. Check at 20 minutes and continue to cook until pastry is golden. Remove the tart to a rack and let it cool for 20 minutes or so before slicing it into wedges.
Variations: Add slivers of kalamata olives over the cheese before baking. Or sprinkle the cooked and cooled tart with torn bits of fresh basil right before serving.