A tomato pie for Art and Gwen
I'm fortunate for a good many things in my life: a job I enjoy, a lovable rescue dog, good friends, generous parents. And I'm very lucky to have two great neighbors. Art and Gwen, whose home is adjacent to my own, looked after my house while I was gallivanting around California, watering plants and keeping an eye on things (they promised to call the police if they noticed anyone walking away with the television). This isn't extraordinary. They did, however, install a new back porch light for me while I was gone. A porch light they wouldn't allow me to pay them for because I look after their place a lot (they both travel frequently for work).
How to reimburse them? I went with tomato pie. This week's CSA box included lots of red, ripe tomatoes, perfect for the starring role in a dish. I love tomato pie, something I discovered just a few years ago, despite my Southern upbringing. My mother and I went to the charming Mozelle's for lunch when I was home for a visit, and I decided to try a slice. It was amazing. Sweet and luscious, the tomatoes were baked with onion, mayonnaise and cheddar cheese (that's right, mayo and cheddar — trust me, it's fabulous), encased between two flaky layers of pastry.
Back at home, I began experimenting with the ingredients, using a recipe from an old junior league cookbook as the jumping off point. I don't have the cookbook (it belongs to my mother, Joy), but I think the recipe called for raw onions and didn't include garlic. I love caramelized onions and put garlic in just about everything, so I used them in my version, along with fresh basil. I peel the tomatoes, as the skin can be off putting, but I've seen recipes that skip this step.
Homemade crust is essential for an off-the-charts-good pie, but if you have a high-quality store bought pie dough and you're pressed for time, feel free to use it here. I don't make a double-crust pie like they do at Mozelle's simply because I don't need to consume that much pastry (it is mighty good, though). I think the result — a top layer of melted cheese — is smashing, but if you're feeling decadent, add the second pastry layer and bake until golden brown. A simple green salad is the perfect accompaniment.
I used a 10-inch French tart pan (tin, with a removable bottom), but a 9-inch glass pie pan would be fine.
Southern Tomato Pie
1 10-inch savory pie crust, pre-baked (recipe follows)
3 tomatoes, peeled, cored and diced
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 tablespoons fresh basil, finely chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise (use Duke's brand if available in your area)
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
freshly ground black pepper
a few pinches of sugar, if necessary
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
To peel tomatoes, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Make a small x on the bottom of each tomato with a paring knife. Drop them into boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove and plunge into an ice water bath to stop the cooking. The skins will slip off easily. Core the tomatoes, and cut them in half across the middle (if they were globes, this would be the equator - don't cut through the stem). Use your fingers to remove the seeds, then chop into 1/2-inch dice. Place in a colander and allow to drain while you caramelize the onions.
Melt the butter in a large skillet and add the sliced onions. Cook over medium-low heat for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown. Add the minced garlic in the last 5-10 minutes of cooking and season with kosher salt and a few turns of the pepper mill. Stir occasionally to ensure even cooking.
Gently squeeze the chopped tomatoes to remove excess liquid (you don't want the bottom of your pie to be soggy). Season the tomatoes with salt and freshly ground black pepper, adding a few pinches of sugar if necessary. Combine the mayonnaise and grated cheddar cheese in a small bowl and mix to combine.
Cover the bottom of the pre-baked pie shell with tomatoes. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of basil, then cover with a layer of caramelized onions. Add the remaining basil, then spread the top evenly with the mayonnaise and grated cheese. Place on a baking sheet and cook for 35-45 minutes, until the top is golden brown.
Makes enough for one double crust pie or two 9 or 10-inch single crust pies
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks cold butter, cubed
1/3 to 1/2 cup ice water
Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the cold, cubed butter and pulse a few times, until the butter has broken down into very small pieces and the mixture resembles a coarse cornmeal.
Slowly add the cold water through the feed tube with the machine running. Do not over-process — the dough should just come together, and may still be a little crumbly. Turn the dough onto a work surface and press together, adding water if necessary. Divide into 2 pieces, form into discs, wrap with plastic wrap, and let rest in the refrigerator for at least one hour. The dough may be frozen at this point for up to one month.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
After the dough has rested at least one hour, roll one portion into a large circle, using your pie tin as a guide — the circle must be large enough for the dough to cover both the bottom and sides of the pan. Press the dough gently into the pan, crimp the edges, and place in the freezer for 20 minutes before baking. To blind bake, cover the dough with a piece of parchment paper and fill it with pie weights (I use rice). Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the weights and bake for another 10 minutes, pricking the bottom with a fork. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.