Tomato Pie!!

“You mean, like a deep-dish Chicago-style pizza?”

“Nope. Like an apple pie, but with tomatoes instead of apples.”

“Hmm… really? With two crusts?”

“Yep. With two crusts. In a pie dish.”

This is how most conversations go when I introduce the idea of tomato pie. I had also never heard of it when first served the glorious concoction by my dear friend Cassia, in Asheville, about 5 years ago. She, I believe, got the recipe from our friend Beth, but prior to that, the origins are lost (yes, if I really cared all that much, I’d call Beth and ask her; but who has the time, with all the pie-making and such?). The Pie had a very late presentation this summer, because of our tomato woes. We didn’t grow our own, and the current drought conditions (and subsequent watering restrictions) in Georgia have left everyone short-handed, ending the tomato season early. But I finally got my hands on some lovely heirlooms last week — the preparations were made, the Thompsons were invited (keeping with our annual tradition of sharing a TP with a family who, after the initial introduction 4 years ago, comes back for more every summer), and the pie was consumed at Sunday lunch.

You must taste it to understand. Truly, I have yet to witness someone eat it and not be astonished by how good it really is. The basic premise is that it is a savory deep-dish pie, with key ingredients being garden-fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, and good cheeses lending their complementary flavor to the fat in the crust. Warning: if you attempt to skimp on any of these key ingredients, a true Summer Tomato Pie you will not create — and you will miss out on a taste of heaven!

Without further adieu, the recipe, courtesy Cassia Kesler, Beth Lutz, and someone else before that.

Tomato Pie


  • 2 cups white flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup grated gruyere
  • 1/2 cup grated ementhal
  • 1 1/4 sticks butter, chilled, cut into small pieces
  • 7-10 Tbsp ice water

You make this like any traditional pie crust*: Stir together the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. With a pastry cutter or 2 knives, cut in the butter until it resembles a coarse meal. Stir in the grated cheeses with fingers, making sure the cheese gets coated with the flour. Add 4 Tbsp icewater, and press the mixture together with a rubber spatula, adding more icewater 1 Tbsp at a time until the mixture holds together. Divide the dough in half, and press into 2 balls. Flatten each ball into a 4″-wide disc, wrap tightly in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour. Let dough sit at room temperature for about 1/2 hour before attempting to roll.

*I usually make this a day ahead, and let it refrigerate overnight — it makes the pie-baking day less labor-intensive. Be sure to pull the crust out of the frig before you start the filling.


  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 1/4 pounds assorted tomatoes (can use mixture of sizes and colors), chopped into bite-sized pieces (no need to peel or seed, but you should drain the chopped tomatoes in a colander for a moment after chopping, to rid them of some of the juice)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup grated gruyere
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • ground black pepper to taste

Sautée onion and garlic in 1 Tbsp butter or olive oil, until softened. In a large bowl, stir onions and garlic together with the rest of the filling ingredients. Roll out both pie crusts; press one into the bottom of a 9-inch pie dish, add the filling, and top with the second crust. Cut vents in top of crust. Bake at 375º for about 50 minutes, or until filling is bubbly (filling must bubble!). Allow pie to sit for a couple hours to set; serve slightly warm or at room temperature.


Coming to terms

Despite all my efforts, I just can’t eat an entire bowl of chilled soup. I really want to like it — I believe that chilled soups have historic significance in culinary history. And the first few spoonfuls are good; but then, about halfway through, I slow down, and get the feeling that something’s just not right. I can’t escape the thought that I forgot to heat my leftovers.

Comfort food

Still in the midst of my menu-writer’s block, I flipped aimlessly through an old issue of Everyday Food. I was willing the season to change — the issue happened to be a Sept/Oct one from a couple years ago. Anyway, something caught my eye, and it made it onto the Monday night spot. How do I so easily forget about good ol’ breaded pan-fried chicken?

This is not the fried chicken your grandmother (or, in my case, KFC) used to make. No bones, no lard, no quart of smoking oil. It is shamefully easy, and so, incredibly, delicious:

Breaded Chicken Cutlets

Pick up your boneless, skinless chicken cut of choice (I always go for the thighs). If you get whole thighs or breasts, you might want to cut them into smaller pieces, like tenders. Then, get out two plates and a shallow bowl. In plate #1, stir together 1/4 cup flour and a pinch of salt. In your shallow dish, whisk 1 large egg with 1 Tbsp water and an another pinch of salt. In your other plate, stir together 1 cup of bread crumbs*, about a 1/4 tsp black pepper, and about 1/2 tsp salt. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, and add a teaspoon or two of olive or vegetable oil. Then, one piece at a time:

  1. Coat the chicken in the flour mixture. Shake off the excess.
  2. Dip the chicken in the egg mixture. Shake off the excess.
  3. Dredge the chicken in the bread crumbs. Shake off excess, and add it to your pan.

Let the chicken get nice and golden brown on one side, then flip it. These cook in anywhere from 4-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the pieces. You might have to cook it in batches, depending on the size of your pan. Add a little more oil in between batches, as necessary.

The recipe I saw called for an olive relish to top the chicken, and it was divine. But I ate the leftovers with ketchup, and it was none the plainer. Finger-lickin’ good, indeed.

*Homemade breadcrumbs are the best here (the variation in texture works great in breading chicken). If you have a food processor or blender, they’re easy: next time you have a baguette or other dinner bread that sits around too long and gets dry, stick it in the freezer (if it’s a lot of bread, cut it into quarters before you freeze it). When you need breadcrumbs, take a bit of frozen bread and thaw it in the toaster oven or microwave. Break it into smaller pieces and process into crumbs.

Eating green

I do not like throwing things away. The origins of this habit are deep and complicated; my mother used to swear it was a “Marquez thing,” (Marquez being my maiden name, and the name of my father, no longer married to my mother, so I always gleaned a shred of disdain as she said it). Passive-aggression aside, she was probably onto something; when my paternal grandmother died, we discovered hundreds of aluminum pie plates in the back of her house. Not to mention the stacks of newspapers, pantyhose, and plastic ice cream buckets with wire handles. So I’m willing to concede that some genetics are at play here. I also get unusually nostalgic about bizzare things; growing up, I kept every note I passed in middle and high school (this was a bad idea — a few years ago, my sister Amy delivered a box of these notes to my doorstep, and I read through some of them. It was both embarrassing and painful, and totally not worth the drawerspace for those 15 years).

Battling this tendency of mine is also my OCD side, that side of me that likes order and a lack of clutter. I think this internal battle is what keeps me from stacking up the aluminum pie plates of my life — where in the world would I put them? So since I have enough aesthetic sense to not allow stacks of reusables take over an entire room of my house, I tend to let the beast loose in my kitchen — I put forth inhuman efforts to not throw away food.

I get a freakish high when I accurately and precisely shop for groceries. I enjoy it a little too much when, on the night before grocery day, our refrigerator is almost empty because our family has so thoroughly consumed all the food I bought for the previous week. I add stress to my life by trying to find ways to use leftover food. I lose sleep over a spoiled, untouched piece of forgotten produce.

Being married to an Eco-Freak (the term used in utter endearment), I could easily jump on a bright-green bandwagon and say that all of this obsession and effort is underwritten with a true zeal for creating less waste, and for consuming fewer resources. And, truthfully, it’s a tiny little part of it. But the overriding factor is simply that I’m a cheapskate. I don’t want to pay for what our family doesn’t consume. After all, that money adds up, and could go to our retirement account. Or, that cute little set of plates from Urban Outfitters.

Last week, Tim and I separately heard a broadcast from BBC’s The World, and were both quite entertained by it. It was about a new approach to meat, sometimes called “nose-to-tail” cooking. You can listen to the podcast here, but it’s basically seen as the most ethical way to eat an animal; there’s no waste (of edible parts), so the animal’s life was not taken lightly. I’m not a huge animal-rights activist, but it makes sense to me. If I could just get past the part where you have to eat pig’s ears, feet, and cheeks.

I don’t know, though, it does prick my fascination with net-zero waste. If you’re reading this, and you still know me in 20 years, check back in and see what’s for dinner. I wouldn’t be surprised if it includes the slow-roasted extremity of a local farm animal, and if you dare to join us, you’ll hear all about it, from nose to tail.

Summer blues

I’m in a food rut.

This happens at the lingering, ruthless tail-end of both summer and winter, without fail. Just when I think I can’t take the heat (or cold) for one more day, I start to despise the bounty of the season as well. In the month of February, I begin to be repelled by the very sight of a root vegetable. During the month of August, although tomatoes are still in full-swing (I ironically haven’t been able to get my hands on any home-grown ones lately, hence the delay of the ever-awaited Tomato Pie), my body takes a stand, my tastebuds boycotting ONE MORE BITE of summer squash.

The chain-reaction gets more complex. Being a person who likes order in life (only slightly understated), I like to prepare a menu for our household each week. I actually have two spiral-bound notebooks full of our weekly menus, dating back to 2003, the first one begun after I birthed our first child (anecdotally, my husband has pulled these notebooks out on at least one occasion for the entertainment of our guests, and duly, much laughter and disbelief ensued). I usually prepare these menus on Sunday night or Monday morning so that I can carry an accurate list with me to the grocery. During these weeks of food blues, I begin to dread Sunday night. It’s almost like the first trimester of pregnancy, when most foods repel me — I literally cannot think of a single thing I want to eat. I get this menu brain-fog, and my mind can only circle back to things we’ve eaten what seems like a hundred times since May, and my stomach lurches. Thankfully, my anal-retentiveness helps me here, for I can look back to the month of August in each of the previous four years, and be reminded of a dish that can save our family from starvation. Or, worse, yet another Golden Bowl (yes, one can even grow weary of The Fabulous Grit).

Last night, the menu called for our fifth revisit of a (normally) very lovely recipe from Everyday Food called Lentil Salad with Bacon. I walked into the kitchen at around 5 o’clock, took the bag of lentils down from the cupboard, and my body atrophied. I just couldn’t do it. Tim was due home within the hour with our box of produce, but that would be too late for dinner preparation. So, in a swift decision of negligible consequences, I decided that the evening’s meal would consist of a Clean-Out-The-Fridge recipe. This is pretty self-explanatory: whatever’s left in our refrigerator gets turned into a meal. Sometimes the results are odd, but edible, and other times the results are quite lovely. Lasts night I had a quarter-head of cauliflower, an onion, a can of chickpeas, and some frozen green beans. When in doubt, make a curry. I dug around in my overcrowded freezer (Tim told me yesterday that I’m a frozen-goods packrat) and found — YES! — a frozen half-can of coconut milk. The curry was complete. We ate it over leftover rice, and while the process wasn’t really worth jotting down, we (even Ada) consumed it without complaint.

An update on Tomato Pie: we found a guy. He’s got an organic farm co-op, and told Tim he might have a few extra tomatoes this week. We’ve set our Annual Tomato Pie With The Thompsons date for Thursday, and I only need 2 pounds, so our fingers are crossed. More to come.

Pick of the Month, August ‘07

I tend to obsess over seasonal ingredients. I’m not really sure why it makes me so happy to enjoy a fruit or vegetable in its seasonal prime, at its precise and often short-lived moment of sensual perfection. Actually, upon second glance, I think that sentence just answered its own posed question. It’s similar to the reasons kids like Christmas — it only happens once a year, we expect it to happen when it’s cold out (ok, I’m limiting my audience to the Northern hemisphere, which I’m certain is a safe bet, and I’m ignoring the fact that Al Gore might be onto something since many Southern Christmases in recent memory have been on the balmy side), and part of its enticement is its limited availability. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are the essence of themselves only a few weeks out of every year, and they usually satisfy a specific and unique craving upon consumption. I could go on about how even the nutrients they contain are beneficial to our bodies at that time of year, but that goes beyond flavor and ventures dangerously close to my ever-handy soapbox, so I’ll stick to the tastebuds for now.

In light of the above, I’ve decided to spotlight a seasonal fruit or vegetable every month. It seems fitting that this new regular feature of my blog begins with one of the most persnickety seasonal fruits of all: the tomato.

As with most fresh fruits and vegetables, I grew up disliking tomatoes. I occasionally at them on sandwiches, hamburgers, etc., but the thought of slicing, salting, and consuming one by itself never entered my mind, since that was something that only people over the age of 40 would ever seriously consider. And, as with most fruits and vegetables, I can partially blame this distaste on the fact that I was primarily exposed to the tomato when it was out-of-season, purchased at my local Kroger, after being driven from Mexico and expected to ripen on the truck somewhere between Texas and Louisiana. It was bland, mealy, and bore no real resemblance to what a tomato should actually be.

Let’s skip the twenty years that have passed since that time, and fast-forward to Athens, Georgia, where we have grown tomatoes in our garden, with mixed success, for the past few years. This summer is the exception; we sold our house, and weren’t sure when we’d be moving, and didn’t want to tend a garden only to miss out on all the fruit of our labor. I’ve been relying on generous friends (thanks, Melissa) to provide me with home-grown tomatoes, and they’ve been coming in nicely. We’ve had tomato sandwiches, pasta with fresh tomato sauce, tomato and avocado salad, and bruschetta. I have yet to make the ONE thing that always, without fail, MUST be made when tomatoes are at their peak: Tomato Pie. All of these concoctions are not even worth making when they can’t be made with fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes. But most especially the Tomato Pie. Because it is only made 2 or 3 times within 6 or so weeks out of the year, and because it perfectly showcases the tomato in all of its juicy, sweet, bright-red glory, it is a meal that can bring tears to your eyes.

I’ll post about the Tomato Pie when it finally gets made (hopefully later this week), but between now and then, if you haven’t yet embraced the summer tomato, go find a friend with a garden, snag a couple of pounds, and make bruschetta (chop up some tomatoes, add some fresh basil and salt, and put it on garlic-rubbed toast). Or just slice it, salt it, and consume it in all its unadulterated tomato-ness.


I just received my new issue of Cook’s Illustrated. The cover painting, breathtaking as always, uses gourds as its subject matter.


When I receive, in my mailbox, a time-sensitive publication with gourds on the cover, it means that fall is imminent. It makes my heart skip a beat.