Do As I Say, Not As I Did!
Ever heard of tomato pie? No, not the one that’s more like pizza (are you listening New York and New Jersey?). I’m talking about the southern kind, like Paula Deen makes. It’s fantastic—that is, when properly prepared. Fortunately, I’m here to save you all from the mistakes I committed when I last made this dish recently. One might argue that I should already know how to make this tomato pie perfectly every time. I’ve done it so many times before as it’s a kid-pleasing, family favorite. Well, those times are so PB (Pre-Blog)! Nowadays, I prefer to try out new recipes that might be good enough to post about and potentially end up in the family–fave folder. “No more repeat recipes, no matter how good they are!” is my mantra. It’s right up there with “So many recipes, so little time!”
So, imagine how irritating it was when I actually decided to repeat–make Paula’s Tomato Pie recipe, and it turned out unpredictably bleh! It had been a couple of years since I last baked it, and for some reason, I totally missed a few key steps in the recipe’s directions. To be fair to me, some of the directions (on Food Network’s posted recipe) had been added (without me realizing it) to the recipe I had always used (which was from The Lady & Sons Savannah Country Cookbook). The book’s version didn’t require salting the tomatoes (to diminish their juices), which supposedly helps prevent a soggy pie crust.
A soggy pie was the least of my problems, though, as I also neglected to peel the tomatoes or pre–bake the crust. After researching tomato pie on the internet, I came to the conclusion that peeling the tomatoes for this recipe was purely a personal choice (one that I’m sure I agreed with in the past knowing my aversion to tomato peels in cooked dishes). I did find recipes that didn’t require pre–baked crusts (but they were mostly for similar double–crust versions of this pie). Someone pointed out in a comment section that the crust should be pre–baked so that it can absorb the tomato juices. But isn’t a juice–soaked crust a soggy one? Shouldn’t we be trying to prevent the juice flow from happening in the first place?
I must admit, I was in quite a quandary over this whole pie situation. For such a simple, easy–to–make recipe, I certainly couldn’t decide how best to correct the situation and achieve the wonderful tomato pies of yesteryear. Let’s see…this time I made two pies; both using tomatoes from my garden and frozen pie crusts. I neglected to pre–bake either pie crust, and also didn’t salt or peel any of the tomatoes. One of the pies (the one the family politely and very quietly ate) turned out extremely liquidy (and obviously, full of those dreaded peels). Don’t ask me to assess the crust situation. I was too distracted by the tomato peels and the flood of juice that was created with every slice I served. I’m guessing the crust was soggy (how could it not have been?).
The other pie was never eaten that night, and was put away in the fridge for another day…a day that never came…for everybody but me. Strangely enough, when I finally found the courage to try that pie a few days later, it wasn’t the least bit runny. It was soggy, though, and of course, full of peels. I couldn’t bring myself to finish my reheated slice, so after taking a few photos for this article, in the can the whole pie went. Buh–bye! It was so sad to see all those beautiful garden–grown tomatoes go to an unappreciated demise.
I did come to one realization about that second pie, though. I think the variety of tomato you use may make a difference to the outcome of your pie. I used all Big Boy reds in the first pie; and a mixture of yellow and orange (of another variety) and Big Boy reds in the second pie. I recall reading that Roma tomatoes are the best for use in this pie as they aren’t as juicy as other tomatoes. But I don’t know if salting Roma’s would be necessary (if that’s the case). I’d also hate to think that you’d have to miss out on all the beautiful flavors that other tomato varieties have to offer. If you’re just using the Roma’s to avoid a soggy crust, why not just increase your chances of success by salting whatever tomato you choose to use?
So for you, my loyal reader (and for my own future tomato pie baking sanity), I will list all of the valid tips I think will help prevent the foibles of my most recent experience. This pie really is indescribably delicious when done right, so heed my advice and you will be rewarded with a recipe for the ages (or at least the final days of summer tomato season)!
WI wine recommendation: a Try a crisp acidic white with some flavor, such as a Sauvignon Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, or Pinot Gris. If you prefer reds, stay with a lighter, less tannic red, such as a Pinot Noir, Barbera or Grenache.
Paula Deen’s Tomato Pie
(adapted from Food Network’s version)
4 tomatoes, peeled and sliced
10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/2 cup chopped green onion
1 (9–inch) pre–baked deep dish pie shell
1 cup grated mozzarella
1 cup grated cheddar
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (my addition)
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Place the tomatoes in a colander in the sink in one layer. Sprinkle with salt and allow to drain for 10 minutes.
Layer the tomato slices, basil, and onion in pie shell. Season with salt and pepper. Combine the grated cheeses and mayonnaise together. Spread mixture on top of the tomatoes and top with grated parmesan cheese. Bake for 30 minutes or until lightly browned.
To serve, cut into slices and serve warm. This pie is best eaten the day it is made. Mine didn’t reheat very well days later.
Helpful tips & suggestions to preserve your tomato pie sanity:
Use any variety of fresh, good quality tomatoes you’d like. Roma’s are supposedly the best ones to use (only because their flesh is firmer and they aren’t as juicy as other tomatoes), but any tomato will work in this recipe. Why limit yourself to one variety?
Peel the tomatoes (I’m not a fan of tomato peels in cooked food). But if you don’t mind the peel–party sensation in your mouth, then by all means, leave them on. This article demystifies the peeling process and offers various methods to achieve perfectly peeled, non–mushy tomatoes.
Salt and drain the tomato slices to help alleviate soggy crust syndrome. You don’t need to use a lot of salt (1/2 to 1 teaspoon should do it). Let them drain in the colander for 15 minutes (for average–sized tomatoes) and up to one hour (for larger tomatoes). Pat and dry the drained slices on paper towels to absorb any remaining moisture, scraping the seeds from the pulp if they have loosened enough. Remember, the drier and less seedy your tomato slices are, the better the pie texture.
Brush the bottom of the unbaked pie crust with some slightly beaten egg white before baking it and after you remove it from the oven. This will prevent a soggy crust. Another option would be to cover the bottom of the baked crust with sliced cheese (before adding the tomato slices) to retain a crisp crust. Whatever method you choose, I think using a pre–baked crust is the way to go. Every version of this recipe I found on the internet (and in Paula’s book) called for using a pre–baked crust.
Use mayonnaise, not salad dressing. They contain completely different ingredients and should not be confused for one another in this recipe. Using Miracle Whip would completely change (and ruin) the flavor of this recipe.
Flavor options: The flavor of this pie is reminiscent of a BLT. Go ahead and sprinkle some chopped, crispy bacon pieces on top of each slice before serving for another layer of flavor. Feel free to experiment with other herbs or another kind of onion (like red or Maui). Even the cheese choices can be swapped out (maybe Fontina or Monterey Jack). Use your favorite combinations!
Calorie options: Check out Paula Deen’s son Bobby’s version for a less caloric tomato pie recipe.
August 31, 2010 at 12:33 pm
City Share said:
I have never had a tomato pie like this. I have actually had a sweet tomato pie (think along the lines of pumpkin pie). This looks sinfully delicious. Thanks for all of the pointers.