Sunday, July 21, 2013

Monk heads: Caramelized Cherry tomatoes in sesame seeds

I recently learned that Tete de moine (monk's head) is already a French cheese... but a name can't be changed once assigned so these shall forever remain, mes tetes de moine. If you don't get it, just turn one upside down and imagine it bobbing through a monastery.

I first tasted something of this sort outside the Chatelet Opera as an accompagnement to a pre-show glass of wine. The crispy caramel that just might cut the inside of your mouth melts along with the juiciness of the cherry tomato and honestly, I still can't decide if I love these or just think they're another silly byproduct of cooking experimentation.

In any case, they always draw comments at a dinner party, so I continue to serve them.

Tetes de moine
a dozen cherry tomatoes
1c sesame seeds
about 1+ c sugar

The making of these is fairly simple, with the one huge catch that you must already have an eye for making caramel.

Rinse the tomatoes, dry them thoroughly and spear each one just opposite of its little brown spot so that said brown spot (you know... where it connects to the vine) will 1. be covered by caramel and 2. create the perfect bottom surface so that they will sit up on the serving plate.

Lightly brown your sesame seeds (a couple minutes under a high heat oven, stirred often, just until you start to smell a nutty scent rising through the room) and pour them into a small bowl with at least 1/2 inch depth of seeds for dipping and rolling.

Now you can start your caramel. I am not an expert on this. I mess up frequently and have developed strong disposing-of-hot-burning-caramel skills (tip: do not pour in plastic trash bag. empty egg cartons dont burn, so they're a great receptacle) . But the basic idea is simple: heat sugar in a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat without stirring until it begins boiling and starts to darken to juuuuuust the light brown color that you want. The melting will begin around the edges of the pan and slowly engulf all the sugar. If you stir before it is liquid, it clumps, but sometimes you can tilt the pot around if you just cant resist the urge to melanger. Once the sugar is all liquid, you can feel more confident stirring, but it is not highly recommended.

The tips are:
1. Dont get your heat too high or you will have half burned caramel and half still-crystal sugar
2. If you can help it, do not stir as it heats or you will have lumpy caramel
3. Watch very carefully once it starts to brown because it will quickly turn black and stinky
4. Remove from heat BEFORE you think it is done by just a few moments because it will continue to cook itself after.
5. Some recipes suggest a squeeze of lemon etc. with the sugar to make it cook slower, ie make it less likely to burn. I haven't experimented with this.
6. Next time I am also going to experiment with a pad of butter in the caramel just as it comes off the heat to make a softer crunch of the caramel. This is what they do for caramel sauces.

Assembly: just as your caramel finishes, tilt the pan to the side, pooling the caramel with one hand, grasping the toothpicks, dip and roll the bottom half of each cherry tomato in the caramel, removing the excess by dragging it along the surface of the caramel in a zig zag motion for 2 seconds, and quickly roll in sesame seeds to cover the sticky caramel surface.

Place on plate. serve. bask in comments.

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