The dog days of summer continue to
bake broil us to death here in the south. In addition to corn, strawberries, boiled peanuts and colorful squash and zucchini, the staple of the summer here in the south is the almighty tomato. We grow plump, juicy ones that have a sweet acidity–unlike those round red things at the mega-mart that were grown in South America and flown here to be ripened by carbon dioxide and don’t really taste like anything. I’ve told this story before. My grandfather and his brother were cooks in the Navy during WWII and returned to be master gardeners in our small farm town. Their plot of land had rich, thick topsoil a foot deep and on it they planted half an acre of heirloom tomatos from seed every year. Who grows anything from seed today? Don’t we all just get our transplants directly from the big box garden center?
After the seedlings sprouted, they were crowned with a stake and a tiny mesh cage. As the plants grew, the size of the supports increased, until finally a behemoth bush filled up the inside of a massive cage fashioned from chicken wire. There were dozens of bushes and we couldn’t pick the tomatoes fast enough – nor the okra, corn, squash, peppers, beans, and watermelons. Need something? Go ask Mr. Jack or Mr. Dee and they’ll give you a basket and go get what you want. They were very generous, and they received good karma in return. We home canned our own tomatoes. We ate thick, juicy slices with mounds of black pepper or some sour cream. I cringe at buying anything tomato-based in the grocery store these days–the quality just isn’t there, unless you’re basking in the sun in Italy for the San Marzanos.
They’re both gone now, several years apart and several years ago. Their plot of land belongs to me, and it’s covered in thick Palmetto St. Augustine grass that I must beg my father to keep mown since I don’t live in their town any longer. With them went the knowledge of how to continue the tomato tradition–I wish I had cared enough during my not-terribly sober college days to ask the right questions. This savory pie showcases the best of the tomato–use fresh, ripe ones if you can, drain them well and season liberally with salt and pepper. This is the perfect way to use up those overripe tomatoes. Enjoy!
I confess that my own backyard plot of tomatoes consists of two large bushes, and they’re producing small tomatoes, about half the size of one’s fist. For this pie, I chose a brand of tomato at the store called “Ugly Ripe” which is a semi-heirloom variety that is a little pricey but better than the other choices in terms of juiciness and size. You want the big boys. We have to peel them, so get a pot of water boiling and use a sharp serrated knife to cut an X into the underside of each tomato. You’ll need 4-5 depending on their size.
Submerge each one for a maximum of 30 seconds–it’s all you really need. I used a spyder to make this real easy. It was a gift, but I don’t do any frying in a dutch oven and my electric fryer is too small for this tool, so it has been a uni-tasker in my kitchen until now. Instead of using a bowl of ice water, I run the faucet on cold for about 10 seconds.
The skin comes off really easily.
Slice ’em up – you want thick slices, you might get 5 slices out of each tomato. Here’s where I took a shortcut and ended up with less-than-stellar results. I was making this quickly as a dish to take to a get together that was happening in the blink of an eye–I did not have time to let these drain. Lay out some paper towels on a sheet pan and put the tomatoes on it in the refrigerator for an hour or so and let them drain. You’ll be glad you did.
While the tomatoes are draining,
mutilate bake a pie crust according to the package directions in your favorite pie plate or tin. This turned out with less than perfect results, but a rustic look is okay and the folks I was feeding sure don’t care about presentation. Know your audience! After a few minutes to cool, brush the pie crust with dijon mustard.
Grab your box grater and mow through 4 oz of sharp cheddar and 4 oz of a white cheddar cheese.
Layer your drained tomatoes in the pie crust. This view doesn’t make it look like someone with claws pressed it down.
Sprinkle some cheese – add salt and cracked black pepper. Continue with this layering arrangement until you’ve used everything up, or you reach the top of the pie like I did. I had several tomato slices left. I’ll just use my claws and eat them. Nothing to see here folks, move along.
We have reached the peak. Om nom. Chunks of peppercorn.
Take some good quality mayo–I like Kraft Mayo with Olive Oil, but in the south Hellmann’s is good as is Dukes’ Mayo–and add a handful of parmigano-reggiano. Again, do not add the stuff in the green can. That’s cheese product. Mix this together and spread it over the top of the pie. I should have said attempt to spread–it’s difficult, I won’t lie.
That was the best I could do. Into the oven at 350 F for 20 minutes or until it gets bubbly. Serve with more black pepper.
Adapted from Silver Service by Susan Mason
Yield one 9″ pie
One 9″ pie shell, baked according to package directions
4-5 very ripe large tomatoes
4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4 oz white cheddar cheese, grated
2 tbsp dijon mustard
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano
salt and black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Peel tomatoes by scoring bottoms with a sharp knife and blanching in boiling water for 30 seconds. Run under cold water while peeling skins away. Slice each tomato into about 5 thick slices and lay on paper towels on a sheet pan in the refrigerator to dry out and lose moisture. Brush mustard onto pie shell and layer tomatoes onto crust, followed by the grated cheeses and salt and pepper. Continue layering until ingredients are used, ending with cheeses and salt/pepper. In a small bowl, mix grated parm with mayonnaise and spread over the center of the pie, leaving a space around the crust so that you can see the tomatoes when baked. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until bubbly. Serve with a simple green salad and lots of cracked black pepper.