“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?” – John Steinbeck
A few summers ago, we went to visit my mother-in-law at her summer home in upstate New York. The weather may or may not have been perfect; I don’t recall. There may or may not have been other people visiting; I don’t recall. I may or may not have had a good visit; I really don’t recall. What I do remember is that one evening she brought a pie to the dinner table and the angels sang.
My mother-in-law is a queen of pie generation. She can take any fruit in any stage of ripeness and make a pie. She can whip out a pie crust in seconds flat with a fork. (As an aside, I’ve tried her method and it doesn’t work for me; I just wind up flipping chunks of butter and flour all over myself and the kitchen floor. So I usually use my food processor to make pie crust.) This night, she presented us with a tomato pie. It contained beautiful beefsteak tomatoes from her garden, fresh herbs, and cheese. It tasted like the very essence of summer and I immediately fell in love.
After requesting the recipe, which my mother-in-law graciously gave me, I brought it home and made it immediately. Mine had the right flavor, but it was soggy on the bottom. So I went into tinker mode, because I knew this recipe had good bones and I wanted it to work so badly. I tried to make it with a different crust, but the second pie had the same bottom defect, so I surmised the filling was the problem, not the crust. (My daughter became a vegan shortly after this, so I had to start using a different crust from the original recipe, anyway.)
One of the things I love about tomatoes in season is their juiciness and sweetness. The juiciness, however, was killing my crust. So the question became, “How do I remove some moisture but retain the sweetness of the fruit?” Seeding the tomatoes helped, but it’s awfully hard to seed a beefsteak tomato. Seeding Roma tomatoes is easier, but I still had a moisture problem. I hit on the idea of roasting the tomatoes before putting them in the pie, which removed about half the moisture and concentrated the flavor. I also layered the pie more like a lasagna, which put a layer of cheese in between each layer of tomato. The end result was a pie with intense tomato and herb flavor, gooey cheesiness, with a lovely dry bottom crust. I was elated!
Since that summer, I’ve made this pie many, many times with all sorts of variations. I have used a nut crust, a whole wheat crust, a standard short crust, and a cheese crust. I also have used store-bought crust. I’ve used all sorts of different mustards. Sometimes I put in a few tablespoons of pesto, either basil, spinach or black olive, in place of the fresh herbs. Occasionally I add thyme and oregano as well, or just a good sprinkle of dried Italian seasoning. I have varied the cheeses and added pepperoni to give it a more pizza flavor. It is a very versatile pie, but you must ALWAYS roast the tomatoes.
A note about store-bought crust: I am all for convenience. I usually keep a package of Oronoque Orchards (made by Mrs. Paul’s) deep dish pie crust in my freezer. However, don’t sacrifice convenience for health. Check the ingredients on the crust label. If it contains lard or partially hydrogenated ANYTHING as the primary fat source (very close to the top of the list of ingredients, probably right after flour), don’t buy it! Give your body every chance at health you can.
(serves 6, if you’re lucky)
- one single crust pie crust, deep dish if you buy it from the supermarket
- 1 T dijon-style mustard
- 2 or 3 large beefsteak tomatoes, cut in 1/2″ – 1/3″ slices
- 2 cups grated cheese, at least half mozzarella, divided (I use Daiya brand shredded vegan cheese if serving my daughter and regular dairy cheese if serving my husband)
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided (I use Galaxy brand vegan parmesan for my daughter)
- 2 T fresh basil, julienned
- 2T fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- ground black pepper
- If making your own pie crust, place in deep dish or tart pan, prick bottom liberally with a fork and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. If using frozen pie crust, let thaw, prick with a fork, then place in fridge for at least 30 minutes.
- While crust is chilling, preheat oven to 400F. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a 13″ x 17″ half sheet pan or two smaller cookie sheets. Spray lightly with Pam.
- Place tomato slices close to each other, but not touching, on prepared sheet pan. You should completely fill the sheet pan. Get more tomatoes if you need to. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Roast for half an hour in preheated oven. The slices should collapse a little but maintain their shape. Remove sheet pan from oven and set aside.
- Remove chilled crust from fridge and place on cookie sheet. Put a sheet of foil or parchment paper inside crust, fill with pie weights or dried beans and place in oven. Bake for 8 minutes. Remove foil and beans and bake another 2 minutes. Crust will not be fully cooked. Set aside to cool.
- Reduce oven temperature to 350F.
- Brush the bottom of the cooled crust with a thin, see-through layer of mustard (I usually squirt mustard in and use my fingers to smear it around).
- Using a spatula (I use a small offset spatula) place half the tomatoes, overlapping, on the bottom of the crust. Evenly sprinkle with all the herbs, half the Parmesan, and half the shredded cheese. Layer the remaining tomatoes, Parmesan and shredded cheese in the pie.
- Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until crust is browned and cheese is melted. Remove from oven, set aside for 5 minutes and serve warm with your favorite salad. (You MUST set it aside for a few minutes. Otherwise you will be biting into molten tomato pie, which will result in that little flappy burn right on the roof of your mouth like the one you get from pizza.)
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Summer bounty: It’s a beautiful thing!
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A final thought: One night last week, Louise snuck out to the fridge in the middle of the night and ate the remaining tomato pie. She left us the following in its stead. Such is the madness that tomato pie inspires in our home…