J’ai Faim: Tarts Will Keep Us Together

Moving to a new country, the simplest things have become challenges. Doing laundry, buying necessities (from course books to contact solution), finding public restrooms – all tests encountered on a daily basis.

Food, surprisingly, has been one of the biggest challenges. You wouldn’t think that in Paris – land of macarons, baguettes, cheese, and picturesque bistros – eating would be hard. But for a student on a strict budget, it is!

First, shopping for food. The grocery store does exist in Paris, but the French do some things very differently. Sometimes you must weigh your produce before going to the checkout counter. The product selection is unlike the US – for example, there are 50+ types of cheese, nothing but incredibly sugary breakfast cereals, unrefrigerated milk, and an intimidating meat section. Sometimes I honestly don’t know what to buy. My strategy: I snoop in other shoppers’ baskets to see what they buy before making my selection. When checking out, you must bag your own groceries. Make sure to bring a bag – the plastic bags are not free. I forget mine often, leading to embarrassing walks home with my groceries in my arms. And if that wasn’t enough, the French are sticklers for exact change. Thinking of paying for your 16.45 euro purchase with a 20 euro bill? Think again.

Then, there’s cooking. Since I live with a host family, it can sometimes be awkward to use the kitchen. I never know which pans to use, or where she keeps them. The gas for the stove must be turned on and off after every use. I am afraid of making too big of a mess or too much noise. Transporting lunches to school was also a problem, until my recent investment in some tupperware. Usually, cooking is just too much, and more than half of the meals I eat here are cold (think sandwiches, cereal, bread and cheese, salads).

Food troubles, added to the stress of moving to a new country, speaking a new language, and meeting new people, can lead pretty quickly to feelings of helplessness and homesickness. To combat these feelings, make sure we all have at least one good, hot meal a week, and laugh about our daily failures, my friends and I get together to cook every weekend. We always cook something different – sometimes a new French dish, sometimes an old favorite that brings us back to New York. Whatever it is, it always brings us together.

Last weekend, we made tarts. Even with no measuring cups, improvised ingredients, and an oven without a temperature gauge (French ovens just have “high”, “medium” and “low” settings), they came out perfectly, filled to the brim with love, laughter, and incredibly yummy ingredients. Try making this Tomato Tart with your friends – I promise, it can’t fail.

Alexis ZK studies French and Food Studies at New York University. She loves travel, dinner parties, digging in the dirt, ballroom dancing, foodie adventures and creating tasting menus in the shower. She recently ran away to Paris on a mission to discover French through food.


Tomato Tart (inspired by David Lebovitz)
Serves 4-6

This tart can be made with honey or without (the honey gives it a little sweetness that some of my friends loved, others were not so keen on). It can also be made in a tart pan, if you have one, or as a free-form tart, like the one below. This is probably the most forgiving crust in the world – just make sure the butter is cold, and try not to mix it/knead it excessively.

For the crust:
2(ish) cups flour
4 1/2 oz unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1 tsp salt
1 egg

For the filling:
2-3 large ripe tomatoes, cut in 1/2-inch thick slices
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey (optional)
1/2 cup chopped spinach
Fresh or dried basil
8 ounces fresh goat cheese, also sliced

Preheat oven to 350°F (or “medium heat”).

Mix flour and salt in a bowl. Using a fork or a pastry blender “cut” the butter into the flour (smoosh the butter into the flour until it resembles small crumbs).

Whisk the egg with two tablespoons cold water. Add to the flour/butter mixture, and use your hands to mix together. If the dough does not come together into a ball, add more water, a tiny bit at a time.

Gather the dough into a ball and roll out into a large on a lightly floured surface (hint: water bottles work well as rolling pins). Add flour as necessary so the dough does not stick. Transfer dough to a metal sheet pan lined with foil or parchment paper, and brushed with olive oil.

Brush the dough with 1 tablespoon olive oil, leaving a 2-inch wide border around the edge.

Layer the tomato slices over the olive oil-brushed dough. Mix together remaining olive oil with the honey, and drizzle half of it over the tomatoes.

Season with salt and pepper. Spread the chopped spinach and basil over the tomatoes. Top with the rounds of goat cheese. Drizzle the remaining honey and olive oil mixture over the top. Season again with salt and pepper.

Finally, fold the non-olive oiled edges of the dough over the tomatoes and goat cheese, leaving a small hole of exposed filling in the center. Cook in a medium oven (350°F) for 30-35 minutes, until the crust is brown and the exposed filling in the center looks cooked. Let cool for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Recipe Index Keywords:

Categories: Campus Cooking, Recipes, and Travel.
Cooking Method: In the Oven.
Mealtime: Dinner and Lunch.
I Don't Have Any: Money.
I'm Cooking For...: Brunch, Dates, Dinner Party, and Valentine's Day.
Type of Food: Vegetarian Main.
I Don't Eat: Meat.

Originally posted on Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

5 Responses to “J’ai Faim: Tarts Will Keep Us Together”

  1. Kelsey

    October 12th, 2011

    I’m such a fan of this article, especially because I’m studying abroad in Paris right now too, so I can attest to the trials and tribulations of being a foreigner in a bustling city. I also completely understand how it is to see all the wonderful food, but be on a student budget. Unfortunately for me, I have no oven…otherwise I would cook this tart in a heartbeat.

  2. Alexis_ZK

    October 12th, 2011

    Thanks Kelsey – glad to hear I am not alone. Stay tuned for recipes that don’t require an oven!

  3. Martha

    October 12th, 2011

    Great blog, Lexy! I’ll have to try the tart soon–it has all of my favorite things! Now if only the critters hadn’t eaten our tomatoes!

  4. zimmie

    October 12th, 2011

    This is a wonderfully inspiring blog! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. It’s such a treat to read them. And the tart recipe is perfect. Thank You!

  5. Aislinn

    October 16th, 2011

    I’m so glad I’m not the only person struggling with shopping in France! I’m not in Paris, I’m in Lyon, but the milk thing threw me right off!
    I’ll be sure to stay tuned for non-oven recipes – who knew not having an oven would make it so hard to cook???

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