Note: It is still just possible (this was written two weeks ago) to get hold of good tomatoes in Western Pennsylvania – our better, large tomatoes don’t start coming in until late August. This recipe, which we cooked sometime recently, was too good not to share. And, since the tomatoes are cooked, this will be good with high-quality (expensive) tomatoes at any time of year.
When I was a young boy, I did not understand how anyone could eat a tomato. I don’t mean that I didn’t understand the process of ingestion (though Milky Ways and Peanut Butter Cups were more in my line), I mean that I just could not imagine biting into those watery sacks of acidic pulp without being forced to. How I went from that attitude toward tomatoes to eating tomato sandwiches with my Dad, or joining JCD in taking a salt shaker out to the tomato garden at Richmond Farm and eating those beauties just off the vine and still warm, I don’t remember.
But I suppose that all of us have taken a culinary journey that starts somewhere just south of strained carrots and ends up somewhere north of sushi. Indeed, if you do a bit of research, you will find that large parts of the human race had serious doubts about eating tomatoes. While the Aztecs used them in their cooking as early as 500 AD (ref: Tenochtitlan Gazette, Style Section), Europeans, noting that they were members of the nightshade family thought they were poisonous and grew them as ornamentals only. The Spanish were the first to cultivate and use them for food, because, of course, they had learned from the Aztecs. The French and Italians followed suit, but the English and their American colonists didn’t begin to consume tomatoes in quantity until the nineteenth century.
I can hear you harrumphing and saying to yourselves – if we had wanted a lecture on food history we would have subscribed to the Encyclopedia Britannica, not to this food blog; we just want a good recipe for tonight.
First, let me suggest that you stop the harrumphing – it makes you look mean and the latest research shows that you lose a week of life expectancy for each harrumph. Secondly, let me remind you that each of my postings ends with one or two recipes which my family liked enough to eat again, and this will be no different. Thirdly, please note that you are paying nothing for this blog and that no gift horse, or recipe should be looked in the mouth. That’s a bit like getting angry at God for the air you are breathing for free. Well, I’m not saying that I’m God or that I’m offering anything as necessary as air, or . . . Please forget about the previous simile.
Instead, imagine what cooking without tomatoes would be like. . . . . . I suggest that you send a personal note of thanks to all of your Aztec acquaintances.
There are so many great ways to enjoy tomatoes from cooked to raw – but here’s a non-pizza tomato pie that we’ve just discovered and fallen in love with. [Strictly speaking, this is a tart, but speaking strictly is nearly as bad as harrumphing.] Add a tossed salad and you’ll have a dinner fit for anyone who ever got beyond strained carrots.
HEIRLOOM TOMATO PIE (TART) (adapted from NYT)
The NYT says this about heirloom tomatoes: Heirloom tomatoes may seem flawed, but it’s actually their uniformly red counterparts who are the genetic deviants of the tomato family. Decades ago, many businesses decided to prioritize cookie-cutter-like hybrid tomatoes, which grow year-round and can survive a long, bumpy journey. It left heirloom tomatoes on the wrong side of the deal. The varieties that remain have a shorter shelf life and are relegated to just a few months of summer, but they’re sweeter with a more robust flavor. This tart celebrates juicy, vibrant tomatoes in a cheesy, herby, custard-filled, flaky crust, with each bite punctuated with pesto.
Timing: About 1 hour
Ingredients: Serves Four with Salad
Dough for 9-inch pie crust – we used a store bought frozen crust – if you can get refrigerated dough, roll it out into an 11-inch round before fitting in your tart pan.
1 ½ pounds, ripe, heirloom tomatoes (we used beefsteaks from Simon’s farm – local supplier)
¼ cup store-bought pesto
¾ shredded mozzarella (about 3 ounces)
1 tablespoon finely chopped basil (we used 2 tablespoons, chiffonaded, not finely chopped)
1 tablespoon finely chopped oregano
3 large eggs
1/3 cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon each of kosher salt and ground black pepper
Cut tomatoes in ½-inch wedges and place in a colander to drain for 20 minutes.
If using refrigerated dough, heat oven to 350 F. If using frozen crust already in pie tin, heat to 375 F.
Fit rolled out dough into 9-inch tart pan leaving about 1/4 -inch of crust about top of pan (we used the foil pie tin our frozen dough came in)
If using refrigerated dough, line the pan with aluminum foil and fill with dried beans, then bake for 15 minutes – it will begin to burn around the edges. Remove from oven and remove beans and foil.
Increase over heat to 375 F – Note: If you’re using the frozen dough that comes already fitted into pie tin, this is when you will cook it.
Assemble and Cook:
Spread the pesto in an even layer over the bottom of the crust.
Sprinkle Shredded Mozarella over the pesto and the sprinkle the basil and oregano over that.
In a medium bowl create the custard by whisking the eggs, cream, salt and pepper together.
Place the sliced tomatoes over the cheese and herbs in concentric circles.
Pour the custard evenly over the tomato wedges. Swirl the pan gently to distribute the liquid.
Now bake until filling is set and doesn’t jiggle when shaken – 35 minutes or so.
Remove from oven and cool slightly before serving warm. Can also be served at room temperature.