Saturday, 22 August 2015

Southern Tomato Pie

Kelly and I had an AMAZING trip to the Lowcountry this summer! We drove from Kingston, ON all the way to Savannah, GA. It was incredibly successful for a number of reasons: We arrived safely in all accounts to all destinations, we did not fight over music (except that one time Kell said she was DONE listening to talk radio- what can I say, I heart the CBC) and we ate, and ate, and ate.
Despite being given the sage advice by my father, “not to drink too much bourbon in strange places,” we did hit Sean Brock’s restaurant, Husk, in Charleston. We drank bourbon, of course, but we also both had some incredible food. The highlight for me was the pig’s ear lettuce wraps. Crunchy, spicy, sweet, and incorporating a meat which had once been relegated to giant bins at pet food wholesalers for $0.39/ear. It was wondrous.
We also voyaged to Scott’s BBQ, which, Mind of a Chef does not tell you, is literally in the middle of nowhere. We thought it would be a little jaunt off the I-95, when in fact it was a 3 hour detour into the wilds of South Carolina. But, oh my God, was it ever worth it. Whole hogs, grilled over open pit flames, served with coleslaw, beans, and two slices of white bread. We ate it in oppressive humidity, which we were also duly warned about by my father. It was the experience of a lifetime. Despite much big talk about how I was going to chat up Rodney Scott if we saw him, when we did actually see him, I turned into a quivering puddle of barbecue sauce. Instead, I fan-girled all over him and told him we drove from Canada for his food. This likely frightened him somewhat, since it was delivered with a frisson of Fatal Attraction, so he quickly asked if we were headed back to Canada after lunch. Of course we were, and of course I didn’t ask for a photo, and of course I now regret this.
I was absolutely inspired by the flavours of the Lowcountry, and I think Kell and I both seriously considered Charleston as a new place of habitation. Since coming back North of the 49th, I’ve been craving the flavours of our trip. One important distinction, I think, is the time commitment southern cooks give to their food. This tomato pie did take me about 6 hours to complete, although a lot of that time was about the pastry (you know how I feel about making pastry from scratch- it’s basically the worst.) But there are still many levels to this pie’s flavour, and those levels require time. So- make like a resident of the south, take it slow, and enjoy the trip.
The recipe I used was courtesy of Epicurious, although you can find many variations out there. I’m not going to tell you how to make pastry- it’s annoying, and I’m bad at it. But the internet can help you, or you can buy frozen and not try to be a big shot. Your life, your choice. Let’s focus on the filling:
·         3 large heirloom tomatoes, sliced 1/4" thick (The more colourful, the better)
·         3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
·         1 cup finely chopped Vidalia onion (about 1/2 medium onion)
·         1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
·         1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar
·         1/2 cup mayonnaise
·         1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, oregano, parsley, and/or thyme (Note: I used some fresh oregano, but I also added a nice scoop of Old Bay)
·         1 teaspoon mild hot sauce
·         1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
You need to start by salting your tomatoes for at least an hour. (Remember how I said don’t rush this? This is a good portion of that.) Lay the slices out in a single layer on some paper towel, cover them in a layer of kosher salt, and then cover with paper towel. If you’re terribly antsy, you can make the rest of the filling while the tomatoes dry out.
Sauté your onions in some butter until they are golden. Add some salt and let them cool. Meanwhile, mix the mayo, hot sauce, cheese and seasoning together in a bowl. Stir in the onions and let that rest in the fridge until your tomatoes are ready.
The longer you salt the tomatoes, the better off you are. It really pushes the flavour to the next level, and it also makes it so that your pie doesn’t turn into a tomato soup. Once you’ve really patted them off, layer them in your pie shell (which at this point you’ve blind-baked.) Then, spread your mayo mixture onto the tomatoes. Smooth it all out, and bake at 350° for 40-45 minutes, until golden brown. Serve with a fresh salad (arugula pairs amazingly well with this) and some great hot sauce. Then, enjoy the fruits of your labour, maybe with a little bourbon on the side.
(Ed’s. Note: If you want to see pictures of our travels, check out #SouthOf49 on Twitter and Instagram!)