Caprese Tart with a Flaky Parmesan Crust
It’s April, so it’s basically summer, right? When it comes to warm-weather foods, I absolutely love Caprese: fresh mozzarella, sweet tomatoes, spicy basil and beautiful balsamic come together to create, well, magic. Even though I am not Italian, Italian cuisine is one of my favorites. I’m also part French, which means I I love a good tart. Soooo that being said, this dish is a fusion between the two cuisines that I adore and that quite literally make up who I am (I’m always full of some kind of French of Italian food lol.) With this dish, I wanted to combine the richness of a French tart with one of my favorite, simple Italian dishes.
This recipe was born like a lot of my other recipes: because I had the ingredients lying around and I wanted to make something fun with them. What’s great about this tart is that it’s its “own thing,” meaning it’s *similar* but different enough than pizza, and it’s *similar* but way more decadent than a simple Caprese salad. It’s crusty, buttery, cheesy, hearty, refreshing, herby, next-level and oh, so special.
What is Caprese?
If you aren’t familiar with Caprese and you’r reading this like “wtf?” let me give you the rundown on my favorite salad made of cheese. Caprese stems from Insalata Caprese which means Capri salad in Italian. It’s a traditional summer salad said to come from the island of Capri. Italians enjoy it as a simple side dish made with fresh tomatoes, sweet basil, and mozzarella, drizzled with balsamic vinegar. It features the colors of the Italian flag and can also be made as a pizza, pasta, or a sandwich. The fact the Italians categorize Caprese as a salad is extremely important to me because it debunks the myth that salads have to have lettuce, or that salads can’t have cheese. I love you, Italy. I really do. Thanks for being you.
Let’s talk about this Parmesan Crust…
The parmesan crust that I make in this recipe is a traditional pie crust infused with shredded aged parmesan. I recommend grating your own cheese because you get a finer consistency and much better quality taste and aroma. I do want to note that it’s important to use a food processor for this step for it to easily turn out perfect. If you don’t have one, you can also make a perfect crust, but it will require the pinching method, where you meticulously pinch the butter into the layers of flour as if you were making a pie crust. This is also called “cutting the butter into the flour.”
Sounds amazing, but an I use pre-made pie crust?
If making the crust isn’t sounding fun to you…do not fret. You can use regular old store-bought pie crust. A pre-made pie crust isn’t going to have as many flaky layers, but using one doesn’t hurt if you want to save time. You can also top it with Parmesan before the first baking stage to achieve a similar Parmesan-infused quality that the homemade crust will give you.
Why do I have to bake the tart crust before adding the filling?
This probably wasn’t a question you were wondering, but I wanted to throw it in here because this step is important!!! The reason we bake the crust before filling it is because it can get very soggy when adding the tomatoes (which have a ton of water.) Something else that’s important during this step is to weigh down the center of the crust so that it doesn’t rise. Lots of people use pie weights for a purpose like this, but I just used dried chickpeas. You can use weights or really any dried legume on top of parchment paper. If you do use dried legumes, you can store or reuse them as pie weights later on…but don’t try and eat them because they will probably taste weird.
Can I make this tart with other toppings?
YESSSS. If you don’t vibe with Caprese, here’s another favorite of mine. Add tomatoes with balsamic, gruyère and caramelized onions. You can make this 100% French or make the Italian spin that I did. Another option is prosciutto with figs and salted honey….brie…. oh jeez…literally anything that goes with Parmesan, honestly.
I don’t have a tart pan, can I use something else?
I didn’t have one either! I used a sheet pan and made a rustic-style flat crust with larger edges. I just rolled it out and shaped it into this giant rectangle toaster streudel looking thing. But you can make it any shape that your heart desires so long as you bake it before you put the filling in. No one likes soggy tarts.
Parmesan Tart Dough
Parmesan Tart Crust
- 2 cups flour all-purpose
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup grated Parmesan
- 1 cup cold butter cut into cubes (freeze for 10 minutes before making the crust).
- 1/3 cup cold water
- Freeze the butter cubes for 10 minutes before making the pie crust.
- Compile all of the ingredients in a food processor.
- Pulse to cut the butter and cheese into the dry ingredients until the butter is pea-sized.
- Add the cold water, 1 tbsp at a time, while pulsing to combine. Stop adding water once the consistency is dough-like.
- Remove the dough from the food processor. Place it onto a work surface and consolidate it with your hands to make one cohesive ball. If saving for later, wrap the dough in cling wrap and freeze until 1 hour before you're ready to use it. NOTE: Don’t overwork it because the temp in your hands will inadvertently warm up the dough and we want it to stay cool.
Caprese Tart with a Flaky Parmesan Crust
- Parmesan tart dough (from recipe above) or 1 store-bought pie crust
- 2 cups Ciliegne mozzarella thinly sliced (or 2 large balls of fresh mozzarella cut into 1/2 inch cubes)
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes thinly sliced
- Olive oil to taste
- Salt to taste
- Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
- Balsamic reduction for topping, to taste
- 1 bunch Fresh basil chopped, for topping, to taste
- Roll out the pie crust or tart dough into roughly an 10 × 17-inch rectangle, creating thicker edges and a thinner surface inside. If using a pastry pan, put it into the pastry pan, and crimp the edges. No matter what pan you are using, line it with parchment paper to make removing the crust from the pan as easy as possible. With a fork, poke holes into the bottom of the dough. Freeze in the pan for 20 minutes prior to baking.
- Preheat the oven to 400 F.
- Remove the crust from the freezer. Combine 2 eggs with 1 tbsp of water and mix together to create an egg wash. Place parchment paper in the center of the dough and fill with pie weights or beans to keep the center surface flat. Brush the edges of the dough that aren't covered with parchment paper with egg wash. Bake for 10-15 minutes until light golden . This prevents the crust from rising in the oven.
- Remove the pie weights. Brush egg wash onto the center of the crust, where the pie weights were before. Place the crust back in the center of the oven to bake for another 7-10 minutes or so until the crust is deep golden in color and evenly baked throughout.
- Adjust the heat to 375 degrees F. Remove the crust from the oven and layer mozzarella and sliced cherry tomatoes on top. Drizzle with olive oil and top with a pinch of salt and fresh cracked black pepper.
- Place the tart back in the oven and bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes, until the fillings are fully cooked and the crust is evenly golden brown. Top with a balsamic reduction and fresh basil. Enjoy immediately!