Tomato pie, I’m told, is a traditional southern dish made with tomatoes, corn and mayonnaise. And while that all sounds pretty good, I’ve yet to try it. Instead, my first experience with the satisfying pastry came from a Danish bakery here in the Northeast. That said, the ingredients seemed to veer towards a clearly Italian influence, made with plum tomatoes, cheese and basil tucked inside a traditional double crust pie. You might think that it sounds like a glorified pizza, but somehow it isn’t.
Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, my veggie garden now gets many more hours of sunlight and my tomato production has easily increased three-fold. Fully a third of the plot is given to the growing of different varieties of heirloom tomatoes. This year I tried Amish Paste (a plum tomato), Brandywine and Purple Cherokee. Plus a few others, whose names I now forget.
Faced with an overabundance of these delectables, tomato salads and open faced tomato sandwiches (though satisfying to the palate) have became ordinary fare. Requiring a challenge, tomato pie seemed the necessary option. Therefore, apart from the madness of firing up the oven in midsummer (with only a ceiling fan), I began my quest to create my own variation of tomato pie. Having plenty of peppers and herbs in the garden and being a great lover of cheese, it necessarily leans towards Italy.
After a little experimenting, I decided that a single crust pie with three kinds of Italian cheese, two kinds of tomatoes (2 Purple Cherokee and 3 Amish Paste), a single incendiary pepper (you can opt for a milder pepper if you wish), plus some lovely fresh herbs would meet my expectations.
Here’s the recipe:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Using your favorite pie crust recipe, line a 9” pie plate (I prefer glass). Flute the top edge and pierce the bottom and side surfaces lightly, but many times, with a fork. Then chill it in the fridge for about 20 minutes (this keeps it from slumping in the pie plate while baking). Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of grated Pecorino Romano cheese on the bottom and pop it in the oven until it turns a light golden brown (about 10 mins., less if your oven runs hot). Remove and cool while you make the filling.
4 – 5 fresh tomatoes sliced in ¼” rounds. Use meaty home-grown or farm stand tomatoes — if store bought, use plum tomatoes (and you’ll need 6 or 7, as they are smaller). Don’t use the supermarket vine tomatoes, they’re too watery. I leave the skin on — more fiber, less work.
1 small –medium sized hot or mild pepper (your choice), sliced into thin rounds, seeds removed.
4 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
½ pound sliced provolone cheese. You won’t use it all, but you will probably eat the leftovers while assembling the pie.
1/3 pound of good mozzarella cheese (not the rubbery stuff in the supermarket dairy aisle — go to a good Italian deli and buy a half-pound cheese). Slice in ¼” rounds. If you can’t get good mozzarella, then use the whole ½ pound of provolone instead.
¼ cup chopped fresh Basil
6 twigs of fresh oregano. Strip the leaves off the twigs before use. Of course you may use dried oregano, but the dried herb is stronger, so use about a teaspoon and a half (unless you really like oregano). You can also use sweet marjoram.
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice.
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Layer the sliced tomatoes in a colander set on a large plate and sprinkle each layer with salt. This will cause the tomatoes to sweat, drawing out the excess water. Let sit for about 15 minutes — or more, to allow this process.
Line the bottom of the cooled, precooked pie crust with a layer of provolone cheese. Next, dab the tomato slices (both sides) dry with paper towels to remove the water and most of the salt. Place one layer over the sliced cheese already in the pie crust. Sprinkle with some of the herbs, a little ground black pepper and a new thin layer of provolone. Repeat this combination until you’ve used all the sliced tomatoes, herbs and provolone.
Top with a layer of the sliced hot or sweet peppers and sprinkle with the lemon juice. Use the mozzarella for the final layer and then sprinkle on the remaining 2 tablespoons of grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Turn the oven up to 375 and bake for about 30 – 35 minutes.
When the top of the pie is bubbly and beginning to brown, remove. If you fear burning the fluted crust you can cover it with strips of aluminum foil. Let it sit awhile (about an hour) to cool and congeal before cutting. Really, it shouldn’t be served piping hot but lukewarm. The first slice will likely be a mess (but still delicious). Be the good host and save that piece for yourself and give your guests the “pretty” slices. I serve with a fresh cucumber salad and then some cold melon. It tastes very good the next day as well but again, be sure to serve it at room temperature.