Garden-Fresh Tomato Pie

#RecipeUpTop (details below):

  • 3 to 4 garden-fresh tomatoes
  • 1 pie crust (homemade or frozen)
  • 3 cups shredded gruyere
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon stone-ground or coarse ground mustard (something with seeds)
  • Dried oregano (to taste)
  • Salt (to taste)

Method: Blind bake the pie crust and cool (per directions if using frozen); in the interim, slice the tomatoes into medallions roughly 1/8th of an inch thick, place on paper towel, and salt liberally. Allow to sit for at least an hour. Brush the bottom of the pie crust with dijon and stone-ground mustards, coat with shredded gruyere, top with a single layer of tomatoes in a spiral pattern, top with gruyere, and repeat until all tomatoes are used. Sprinkle top with dried oregano (optional), and bake at 350F for twenty (20) to thirty (30) minutes, or until cheese is melted and slightly browned. Allow to cool to room temperature before slicing and serving.

The Details

At a certain point of the late summer, the days become noticeably shorter here in Maine. The lights go on at the same time as the local news, and the evening temperatures carry the crisp scent of decaying ferns, damp cedar, and ripening apples. It is, without exception, my favorite time of year in my favorite place on earth.

This shift also heralds the “Holy Cow What Are We Going To Do With All Of This” season of recreational gardening. We’ve written about this before, but there comes a certain point where the novelty of weeding a garden slips away into the waters of apathy, and the garden is left to its own devices. The result is usually some ridiculous crop of one random vegetable while everything else takes it easy.

This year was no exception, and the wheel-o-crops mercifully landed on tomatoes:

I’m hard-pressed to name another fruit or veggie that tastes so wildly different in fresh-grown versus grocery-store versions. Fresh tomatoes taste like the sunlight and rainfall of an entire summer were compressed into a miraculous red orb. Grocery store tomatoes taste like red tennis balls.

The point is, these deserve to be elevated to the star of the show, so to speak, and I have just the recipe. It’s quick, beyond easy, and celebrates everything great about fresh tomatoes. So, let’s cook.

Quick Note: I get asked a lot whether this can be made without garden-ripe, fresh tomatoes, and the answer is no. It will be boring and suck, and that’s just the way it is. Now, that’s not to say you need to grow your own, but at least track down a farmers’ market or something.

Okay, step one: slice n’ salt the tomatoes, and let them drain on paper towel:

The goal here for the slices is to be thick enough to hold some shape during cooking, but not so thick as to make a wet mess. I try to aim for about the thickness you’d see in a great hamburger commercial, like 1/8th of an inch or so. As to the salt, a liberal sprinkle is all you need here as the point is to get some of the extra moisture out of the fruit and into the towel before it goes to the pie. Let these sit for an hour, and pat dry.

Follow-up quick note: Another reason you shouldn’t use generic, mega-mart toms. Look at that internal structure! Small pockets of seeds and gel, but big firm ribs to hold it all together. Store-bought tomatoes tend to have little or no internal structure, but a lot of water and seeds.

Step two: prepare your pie crust:

Ah, right, the pie crust. Look, the end goal here is to have a blind-baked shell ready to go, and I’ll admit I used a store-bought frozen one here. Why? Well, you certainly can make your own, and if that’s your jam, then you probably already know how to get to this point. But, making a crust can be a fussy process, particularly in the heat and humidity of the summer, and this dish is the sort of thing we like to do in the background of other late-summer chores. So, yeah, frozen is fine (but blind bake it).

I like to use a pastry brush to spread the mustard around, but a spoon works just as well. Though the recipe allows for two (2) total tablespoons, use your judgment. The point is to have a relatively thin coat on the bottom just for a little bit of punch with the overall end product, and can take over the whole thing if you’re not careful. Tread lightly.

Step three: layer in the pie:

Start with shredded gruyere on the bottom. This will melt and form a bit of a water-proofing barrier for any extra tomato moisture that might be looking to soggy-up that crust during baking.

Also, does it have to be gruyere? Well, yes – the first time. It’s the perfect cheese for this for a number of reasons, which include taste (obviously), but also how it melts, and – most importantly – how it sets back up when cool. That said, once you’ve had the finished product, you’ll have a better idea of whether some other cheeses may sneak their way in (like smoked gouda, but you didn’t hear that from me).

Once the first layer of cheese is down, in go the tomatoes. I like to spiral them around, but it’s more to try and get an even layer than it is for aesthetics.

Single layer of tomatoes, and more cheese:

For this pie, I’m only doing one layer of tomatoes, but you can certainly do two if you’d like. These just worked out to have the correct ratio of tomato-to-cheese-to-crust on the first go-round, but it’s personal preference. Oh, also we always make two of these at a time because the first one goes fast.

Lastly, a little sprinkle of dried oregano, and into the oven.

Step four: bake in a 350F oven for twenty (20) or thirty (30) minutes, or until the cheese is melted and only slightly browned:

These look pretty great, but I like a little more cheese to hold things together. There’s no shame in another handful and five more minutes:

Ah, there we go. Now the hard part: move these to a wire rack and let them cool all the way to room temperature. It’s madness, I know, but we need the cheese to set back up a little bit for our texture to be right, and – more importantly – these just taste the best at room temp (or even chilled from the fridge). I can’t explain it, but it’s the reality of the situation. So, be patient:

And that’s it. Serving suggestions? Well, I like it for breakfast with a fried egg. The Mrs. likes it as a lunch with a crisp salad or cup of roasted cauliflower soup. Or, you can just eat it with your hands like a pizza in the middle of the night. Really, your choice.

So, track down some ugly tomatoes and a cheap pie crust, and taste the end of summer.

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