Tomato Pie for a Crowd (in a cheese crust!)

Tomato Pie, like Pimiento Cheese, is one of many fabulous culinary treasures of the South. Basic tomato pies combine the goodness of ripe tomatoes, with melted cheese and a crunchy pie crust. If you add to that bacon, onions, basil, and cheese in the crust, now you’re talking about a DELUXE and savory tomato pie.

Like for pimiento cheese, there are many ways to make a tomato pie. Some have the cheese on the bottom, and the tomatoes on top and some have it reversed.
 

The key to making a great tomato pie, in fact, the only must-do after you gather colorful heirloom tomatoes (see Tomatoes: The Crown Jewels of the Summer Kitchen Garden)

is to core, slice, salt, and drain the tomatoes to divest them of their watery juice and thereby prevent a soupy, soggy, messy pie.

My favorite way to make tomato pie is with a crunchy cheese crust and tomatoes that are piled high and deep on top.

This pie’s problems are that there is never enough to go around, definitely not enough for seconds, and too many calories in the crust for an “everyday” meal. To fix these problems, I first tried to develop a larger pie (lasagna pan-sized) without a crust. However, I found the soft texture of the tomatoes and melted cheese demanded a crunchy crust, so I added the crust back, but only on the bottom, and loaded the dough with nutty parmesan cheese. My family loved it.

Yield: Makes one 9 x 13-inch pan, 10-12 servings

Pie Crust Ingredients

¼ cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ cup grated parmesan, somewhat packed
1 stick (½ cup) very cold or frozen butter, sliced into many pieces
4 tablespoons ice-cold water

Tomato Filling Ingredients

5 pounds ripe heirloom tomatoes, sliced ¼ inch thick
1 teaspoon sea salt
12 ounces unflavored bacon, about 12 strips
1 pound sweet onion (red or yellow), sliced thinly
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup homemade breadcrumbs
20 large or 30 medium-large leaves basil, chiffonade
½ cup mayonnaise (not the low-fat, sweet, or whipped varieties)
1 pound mozzarella cheese, shredded
½ cup parmesan cheese, shredded

Game Plan
I’m not going to lie about the amount of prep work needed for this recipe; this pie takes time. I streamlined the process by buying already shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheese and by using homemade breadcrumbs from a stash in the freezer. As a time-saver, you could forego the homemade cheese crust and use a single layer, pre-made roll of uncooked dough, reshaped to fit in a 9 x 13 pan. Or, you could make the cheese crust version the day before and store it uncooked in the fridge.

1) Prep Mise en Place for Pie Filling

Slice tomatoes about ⅓ inch thick. Place in a colander, add 1 teaspoon of salt and gently mix to distribute the salt. Place a weighted object on top of the tomatoes to help squeeze out the juice. I put a collection bowl under the colander to capture the juice and save for something else (like soup broth). Gently stir and squeeze the tomatoes every 5 or 10 minutes. Let them continue to drain while you finish the prep work.
 

Chop the bacon into two-inch pieces. Sauté until cooked, then drain the fat, and pat the bacon dry with paper towels.
 Thinly slice the onions. Salt very lightly with a pinch of salt and sauté in 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat for about 10-15 minutes.

 

If you don’t have a stash of homemade bread crumbs in the freezer, make some now in the food processor.

Stack, roll and cut basil into thin ribbons.
 

2. Prep Mise en Place for Pie Crust

3. Make the Pie Crust
Add the flour, cornmeal, and salt to a food processor with the regular blade attached. Pulse 2 or 3 times to blend. Add the butter slices and pulse 7 or 8 times until you can see little chunks of butter covered in flour and meal.

Add the chilled water and pulse a few more times until dough is just blended and forms pea-sized balls. I know this doesn’t look like it is blended enough, but as those little balls melt they are what produce a flakey crust. We want them to melt in the oven and not in the food processor which is why we keep the dough cold and underworked.

Dump the crumbly dough onto a sheet of parchment paper. Fold the right side of the paper over the dough and roll it with a rolling-pin. Now fold the left third of the paper over the dough and roll again. Notice how you can still see the chunks of white butter in the dough in the third picture.
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Roll the dough out, between two sheets of parchment paper until it is at least 9 x 13 inches.  Test for proper size by laying the pan over the dough to see if it fits.

Remove the top sheet of parchment paper and flip the dough over into the baking pan. Center the dough in the pan by using the edges of the top sheet of parchment paper. Once centered, remove the top sheet of paper.

Trim the dough and use the trimmed pieces to patch the crust until it fits in the pan neatly. Use the tines of a fork to poke holes in the crust. Lots of holes. This allows air to escape while baking, so you don’t end up with a lot of air bubbles.

Preheat the oven 375º. While it heats, place the dough-lined pan in the fridge to chill for the 15-20 minutes it takes to heat the oven. This is a necessary chilling period.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. About 10 minutes into cooking, open the oven door and add a few more fork pricks into any bubbles that have formed in the crust. Allow crust to cool for 5-10 minutes before filling. Remember, the goal is not to have a soggy crust once we add the filling. Therefore, some cooling down is necessary.

4. Prepare the Tomato Pie Fillings
While the crust is cooking, remove the tomatoes from the colander and gently squeeze out the excess moisture with your hands. Pat the tomatoes dry with paper towels.

Combine the mayonnaise, cheeses, and basil in a mixing bowl. Stir in the onions (red or yellow) and bread crumbs.

5. Assemble and Bake the Pie
Here’s what you have now: tomatoes, cheese and onion mixture, bacon and cooked cheese pie crust.

Add the cheese filling to the cooled crust and then add the bacon.

Arrange the tomatoes over the top. Lightly drizzle a little olive oil over the tomatoes and some cracked pepper and sea salt.

Bake for 50-60 minutes. Pie is done when the filling is bubbling, and the tomatoes are lightly browned.

Dinner is served!

Related Tomato Posts
Fresh Marinara Sauce with Pasta
Gazpacho Galore
Roasted Ratatouille
Roasted Roma Tomatoes

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe. Thanks!

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Old-Fashioned Mashed Potatoes

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My grandson turned one this week, and in celebration, I wanted to make a birthday dinner full of foods he could eat by himself with his adorable little hands. I chose Judy’s Mom’s Meatloaf, Amazingly Delicious Sautéed Carrots, mashed potatoes and a funfetti cake.

He loved everything and entertained us all as he picked away at his food with focus and determination.

It has been easily 5 years since I last made a bowl of mashed potatoes. I’ve been roasting them for so long it never even occurs to me to mash them anymore, but man, I have been missing out. They were good. And the calorie count wasn’t too bad, either. I only used six tablespoons of butter and one-half cup of milk for three pounds of potatoes. Bonus points for how easy they were to make. I was grateful for the opportunity to “salt to taste.” In fact, it was hard to stop the tasting part.

When I looked at a photo of my dinner plate, its plainness brought back memories of my childhood dinners: starch, vegetable, protein. That threesome was a religion for my mother.

Ingredients

3 pounds white potatoes (5-6 large), peeled and quartered
½ cup milk, whole or 2% reduced fat
6 tablespoons butter
Salt, to taste. I used ¾ teaspoon (plus the tablespoon that went into the potato water)
Pepper (optional)

Mise en Place

Instructions
Fill an 8-quart pot with water and one handful (1 tablespoon) of salt. Bring to a boil. You will want enough water to cover the potatoes by about an inch.

While waiting for the water to boil, peel and quarter the potatoes. Cut potatoes into uniform chunks, so that they will cook evenly.

When the water comes to a boil, add potatoes. Bring water back to a boil and set a timer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes of cooking, check for doneness by piercing a potato with a sharp knife. It should go in easily. If it doesn’t, add 5 more minutes of cooking time and test again. If you are not sure if they have cooked enough, just taste one. When finished cooking, drain potatoes in a colander and allow the steam to dry them. You want the potatoes to be hot and dry when you add the butter mixture.

  

Heat butter and milk in either a microwave or a saucepan until the butter is melted and the milk is hot, but not boiling.

Place potatoes in a bowl and mix for about 20 seconds on slow speed. Add the hot butter/milk mixture and ½ teaspoon of salt. Mix until potatoes reach the consistency you desire — lumpy or whipped.

“Salt to taste” Add more salt according to your taste preferences, realizing that the interior of the potatoes have already been salted while they were boiling and there is salt in the butter. To adjust salt: add salt in increments of ¼ teaspoon. For this batch, I only needed to add ¼ teaspoon more for a total of ¾ teaspoon.

Serve hot. They do not taste as delicious reheated. Better to store prepped, uncooked potatoes in a bowl of cold water until dinnertime and then cook, rather than to make them earlier in the day.

Kitchen Tip: When you smell something bad in the kitchen and can’t figure out what it is, always check the potato bin first. That happened to me just this week, and sure enough, there was a rotting potato in my basket of homegrowns!

  

Related Posts
Judy’s Mom’s Meatloaf
Amazingly Delicious Sautéed Carrots

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe. Thanks!

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Roasted Rosemary Cashews and Cashew Butter

Warning: these nuts can become are addictive!

Even the reject batches turned into something absolutely wonderful.

I had been served roasted rosemary cashews twice, both times at The Nashville Food Project’s Patron’s Party for Nourish. I was smitten! After this year’s event, I cruised the Internet for a recipe and found that superstar chefs like Ina and Nigella and a slew of others had been writing about these “bar nuts” from the Union Square Cafe in New York City for years. I had to make them.

A few words about the ingredients:

The Nuts. I made this recipe using one-pound bags of raw (unroasted), unsalted, cashews from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. The pound bags cost $7.99 at both stores. Be forewarned — raw, unsalted, cashews are hard to find at traditional grocery stores. At the Union Square Cafe, they use a combination of raw nuts.

Kosher Salt versus Table Salt. If you use kosher salt, you will need to add more salt. Kosher salt has larger crystals than table salt. Thus the salt takes up more volume but has less weight in a measuring spoon. Plan on using 1¼ to 1½ tablespoons of kosher salt to 1 tablespoon of regular salt.

Kosher salt has larger crystals because historically it was manufactured for “koshering” meat, a process where large crystals of salt were rubbed onto meat to remove surface blood. If table salt had been used, it might have been absorbed by the meat. Eventually, the name “koshering salt” was reduced to kosher salt.

Olive oil versus Butter. I  tried using olive oil instead of butter, but the seasonings wouldn’t stick to the nuts.

Yield: 6½ cups
Preheat oven to 350º

Ingredients:

2 pounds whole, raw, unsalted cashews
3 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary (from about 1 ounce of sprigs)
½ -¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper depending on how much heat you like
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon sea salt (if using kosher salt, you will need to use 1¼ to 1½ tablespoons)
2 tablespoons melted butter

Mise en Place:

Instructions:

Pour nuts into a large, rimmed, baking pan in a single layer. Roast for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, measure the seasonings and mince the fresh rosemary.

Melt the butter and add to the bowl of seasonings. Stir.

Immediately after removing nuts from oven, pour nuts into a large bowl and add the seasoning mixture. You could add the butter mixture directly to the pan and toss, but the nuts tend to spill out as you stir and much of the seasoning stays on the bottom of the pan. I think it’s better to mix in a bowl.

Let flavors meld for about ten minutes, occasionally stirring to distribute the seasonings evenly. Your house will smell divine. Serve warm or allow nuts to cool by spreading them in a roasting pan.

These nuts make great holiday and hostess gifts.

Roasted Rosemary Cashew Nut Butter

What did I do with my reject batches of roasted cashews? I tried making nut butter for the first time using my Vitamix processor. The results were amazing!! I’m so thrilled to have made something new that is so tasty. I processed the three pounds of nuts for only two minutes.
 

P.S. The seasoning mixture is yummy on popcorn.

Related Snack Recipes:
Roasted Tamari Almonds (and growing soybeans)
“Croatian Cheese” a Flavorful,  Exotic Appetizer Made with Feta and Goat Cheese
Cooking Popcorn in a Brown Paper Bag

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe. Thanks!

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Peperonata!

Five years ago, I posted this picture on Facebook of peppers I had just harvested from my backyard garden.

Within minutes of posting it, I received a message from a Sicilian friend living in Germany, Francesco Strazzanti, with the following message, “Peperonata!”

Francesco is a fantastic cook; so when he talks, I listen. I had never heard of peperonata. When I Googled it and learned it was a stew made with sweet bell peppers (“peperoni” in Italian), onions, and tomatoes, I realized I knew exactly what peperonata was — I just never knew the dish had a name.

There are many ways to make this dish, just like there are many ways to make
sausage with peppers and onions,

marinara sauce,

or chicken cacciatore,

The core ingredients are all pretty much the same, a variation of vegetables typically grown in a summer Italian kitchen garden: tomatoes, peppers, onions, zucchini, eggplant, garlic, basil, and parsley. These are MY VEGGIES!  I garden just to watch these beauties grow and then to have a quiet kitchen in which to prepare them in delicious and creative ways. The bonus is the connection I feel to my mother and grandmothers when I make their recipes.

Peperonata! 

Peperonata is the kind of dish you could make a big batch of every week and have in the fridge to use as you plan meals.

You could serve it over pasta for dinner or as a side dish alongside grilled sausages or chicken.

You could serve it over a slice of crusty bread with melted mozzarella or goat cheese for lunch.

Or, you could serve it scrambled with eggs for breakfast. This last way was one of my favorite foods to eat when I was a teenager. My grandmother in Baltimore used to make it for me all the time. She scrambled the eggs in olive oil and stirred in the peperonata at the end. Yum.

Yield: 8 cups

Ingredients:

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¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, about 3 cups cleaned and sliced
3 pounds bell pepper, about 10 medium-sized, or 10 cups cleaned and sliced.
1 level tablespoon chopped garlic, about 4 or 5 cloves
2 pounds juicy, ripe, tasty, tomatoes, or 4 cups cleaned and rough-chopped.
1 teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh oregano, or the leaves from about 6-8 sprigs
¼ cup chopped fresh basil, or the leaves from two stems
1 heaping tablespoon chopped mint, or the leaves of one long stem
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice,  or about ½ lemon squeezed
1 heaping tablespoon plain Greek yogurt (optional – swirl in before serving if desired)

Mise en Place:

To prep the peppers: cut in half and scoop out the stem, seeds and white pith. Chop into slices or chunks. I leave the skin on. Note: red sweet peppers make for a pretty sauce if you have a choice when buying the peppers.

 

To prep the tomatoes: cut in half horizontally, use your index finger to scoop out the seeds. Remove the stem and core and cut into two-inch chunks. I leave the skin on because the heirloom tomatoes I use (called Cherokee Purples) are thin-skinned.

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To prep the onions: remove the papery skin and white core at the base. Slice into slivers.

Instructions:
Warm olive oil in a 6-quart pan. Add onions and sauté for 5 minutes on medium heat until translucent.

Add peppers and garlic and sauté for 10   minutes, covered, on medium-low heat until soft. Stir about every 5 minutes. Do not brown peppers.

Add tomatoes, salt, and pepper, cover and sauté for 5 minutes on medium-low, stirring occasionally. Stir in herbs. Cover, cut off heat and let sit for about an hour to finish cooking. Stir in the honey, lemon, and yogurt. Add more salt to taste. I like to add ¼ teaspoon at a time until that moment when the salt brings out the best in all the flavors. Francesco is the one who encouraged me to add the lemon, honey, mint, and yogurt. He was spot on. They boosted the depth of flavor wonderfully.

P.S. It gets better every day!

How about Italian cookies for dessert?

Sesame Seed

Lemon and Ricotta

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe. Thanks!

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.