It’s summer and that means, it’s Tomato Time! For years – honestly, more summer seasons than I would like to admit – I have tried to grow my own produce. Nothing big, mind you, just some patio tomatoes, a few cucumbers and maybe a melon or two. A couple of seasons ago I finally decided to admit defeat.
I still do plant in my raised bed garden and patio pots each season, but now its really more for the fun of it than the anticipation of any great harvest. Tomatoes, in particular have seemed to be my nemesis.
After buying the plants, the potting soil, the lime so the soil will be well balanced, the food, the stakes, the natural bug spray so I wouldn’t get bitten while I was out planting, and all of the stuff to keep the squirrels and other critters away, I figured that any tomatoes I might be lucky enough to harvest without the dreaded circle of black bottom rot that seems to appear overnight would wind up costing about $50 a piece – an expensive price to pay for this once a year tomato time season. To say nothing of what the maintenance and upkeep of the cucumber and melon plants might run me. While I guess I could say that the process does prove therapeutic; I just finally decided it’s just easier, cheaper and frankly much more fun to make a regular trip’s to any one of our areas fine local farmer’s markets and buy from growers who know what they are doing.
To that end, my purple thumb and I have retired from the vegetable garden business seasons ago. I still dig in the dirt, for fun, not really for a harvest of any kind, I now spend that same time shopping each week at local farmers markets to get tomatoes that taste, well, the way tomatoes should. My tomato time is now resigned to the kitchen where my purple thumb and I seem to know what we are doing.
These mid to late-summer months find us at the height of the season for an abundance locally grown tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, melons, squash, zucchini, eggplant and berries and I am having a ball with the abundant harvest. Today we’ll leave the other veggies for another post and concentrate on my love of local tomatoes; because, well, its Tomato Time!
I think I could eat fresh picked ripe and ready tomatoes everyday till the season has passed and still not tire of the flavor. So many ways to prepare them it’s uncanny; but then you could can (or freeze) and have that fresh off the vine flavor for cooking all year round. For more great summer homegrown tomato recipes, check out this blog post which first appeared the summer of 2017.
When its Tomato Time, You May Say Tomat-ah… But, I say Tomato Sandwich and Tomato Pie
Today I share my favorite recipe for Tomato Pie, and a video from a segment several years ago on a WCNC broadcast of Charlotte Today. But, before you slice and bake, though, don’t miss one of summer’s Tomato Time greatest pleasures of them all – the unadulterated old fashioned ‘mater sandwich – a classic for sure.
Don’t even think of adding sliced turkey, roast beef or a leaf of lettuce to this one. The classic recipe calls only for two slices of soft white bread dressed with a little mayo ( Your choice of brands, but I’m a Duke’s gal). Sandwich thick slices of firm but ripe tomato seasoned with a little salt and pepper in between and have at it. If you have really gotten it right, you’ll have to lean over the kitchen sink to eat it as the tomatoes will be so ripe and juicy, that has you take each bite the juices will run from your mouth and hands down to your elbows – consider it a rite of passage of eating your first (or your 100th) tomato sammy of the season..
For a little more elaborate sandwich, use whole grain bread, spread with homemade pesto and layered with thick slices of ripe tomato and locally made Uno Alla Volta mozzarella cheese in between. To turn this sandwich into a summer comfort food, wrap it in foil and warm it in a 300 degree oven for about 15 minutes or so.
Tomato Time Tomato Salads
Marinate tomatoes for full-flavored summer salads. Use your favorite vinegar based dressing or make your own by combining a half cup or so each of red and balsamic vinegars seasoned with a couple of tablespoons of local honey, one quarter cup of fresh minced basil leaves and a small minced shallot. Layer the tomatoes in a shallow glass or plastic dish, top with the vinaigrette, season to taste with salt and pepper, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for three to four hours. Serve over a bed of crisp greens or toss with fresh sliced Kirby cucumbers and enjoy.
When I first wrote this post it was the summer that my friends Zack and Victoria Gadberry had just added a new hand crafted cheese to their line up of already fabulous locally made artisan mozzarella, ricotta, buratta and feta cheeses – behold, local Uno Alla Volta Cheese Cottage Cheese. I swooned at first taste – I still buy it each and every week from Zack either at the Matthews Community Farmers market or at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market in Building C. We all know the joyful burst of flavor to be found in the combination of mozzarella and tomatoes – but just try a ripe and ready-to-slice local love apple with Uno Alla Volta Cottage cheese – my oh my!
Must give credit where credit is do – Chef Matthew Krenz at The Asbury at the Dunhill in Charlotte, NC is the first to ask Zack to make cottage cheese and even provided him with the recipe. Zack has made it his own and that first year of UAV cottage cheese production, and that year, Matthew featured the new cheese of the summer season on The Asbury’s menu. Consider this my fond Food Memory for the week as I recall the delicate balance of flavor in Krenz’s cottage cheese pie!
Aside from pairing them with cheeses of all sorts, tomatoes go great on the grill as well – use firm but still ripe tomatoes and a grill grid, so nothing will fall through the cracks. Slice the tomatoes thick and grill for a minute or two on each side or until the surface starts to char a bit. No need to add any olive oil prior to grilling, save any dressings for after the tomatoes are cooked. Serve the grilled tomatoes, just as they are, chopped and stirred into your favorite gazpacho recipe, topped with grated parmesan, tossed in salads or in the Tomato Pie recipe below for a slightly richer taste. Grilled charred tomatoes also do well chopped and combined with grilled onions, jalapenos, grilled corn, grilled red bell peppers, salt, pepper and lime juice for a terrific grilled summer salsa – ole!
But on to matters at hand, my tomato time recipe for tomato pie. You’ll find a link to the video at the end of this post, so you may want to watch before you cook, but the recipe is an easy one…and technique is little more than layering. Use any variety of local and just harvested tomato that you would like, slice or chop. I love the vodka pie crust recipe I have included below, but if you want a store bought one to make things easier, I recommend the Immaculate Baking Company’s organic refrigerated crust. Love that it is organic – always nice, and important, to know what is in the food we eat.
Heidi’s Tomato Time Taste of Summer Tomato Pie
Recipe by Charlotte Culinary Expert Heidi Billotto
Pie crust recipe for a 1 crust pie ( see below)
3-4 firm but ripe local tomatoes cut into thick slices, or use small chopped tomatoes, or a combo of both
fresh locally grown basil
Fine grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 local egg ( I used Rowlands Row Family Farm eggs here, available on Saturdays at the Matthews Community Farmers Market – for a richer taste, swap out a chicken egg for a duck egg and enjoy the rich tasty difference!)
1 local egg yolk
1 cup local whole milk or heavy cream ( I love using Hickory Hill Milk from just outside Greenville, SC, available at Earthfare and Whole Foods or if you would like the raw organic milk from Underwood family Farms available on Saturdays at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market – it is great for everyday cooking!)
Roll the pie crust out to 1/4 inch thickness and fit into a 9-inch French false-bottomed tart pan. Layer tomatoes basil, grated Parmesan and Panko crumbs in the crust until you come to the top – finish with a layer of Tomatoes. Combine the eggs and milk, Pour the custard into the filled pie shell. Top with shredded basil, Panko crumbs and cheese. Carefully place the pan on a baking sheet and bake the pie in a preheated 350 degree oven for 35-40 mins.
Cool slightly, remove from the pan and cut into wedges. Make your pie ala mode topped with a scoop of Uno Alla Volta cottage cheese ( available on Saturdays at the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market or the Yorkmont Road Charlotte Regional Market, directly from Zack or Victoria themselves. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar before serving.
If you want to do a Gluten Free version of the same – skip the crust and use finely ground local grits ( you can fine ground stone ground grits in a coffee mill ) and then use them as you would the panko)
I’ve used Parmigiano-Reggiano in the recipe here – not a local cheese, of course, unless you are from Parma Italy; but obviously one of the best. Feel free to substitute any kind of local cheese -If you are in the Carolinas, Uno Alla Volta regular or smoked mozzarella, Ashe County cheddars, Fading D farms Mozzerella or any of their aged Water Buffalo Cheeses; Clemons Blue cheese… there are lots of local NC cheese choices that work well. In fact, the Uno Alla Volta cottage cheese works well too; and I am proud to say my television spot even inspired the cheese makes to get creative with there own cottage cheese tomato pie – just take a look at these photos I received by text from Zack Gadberry last night – yum!
Easy Vodka Pie Crust
– Its the Vodka that keeps it light and flaky – who knew – I love keeping this a local choice as well and always now use TOPO vodka from Chapel Hill in all my pie crust recipes – who knew??
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water
Use a food processor fitted with the metal blade to pulse together flour and salt. Add butter and shortening and process until blended just the dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, but there is no trace of the flour.
Add the cold vodka and cold water over mixture. Pulse again with the processor just until the dough forms a ball. Remove from the bowl. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days, the roll out to 1/4 inch thickness and use in your favorite pie recipe.
Here is the link to the video Always so much fun cooking on Charlotte Today. Thanks to guest host Ramona Holloway and host Eugene Robinson for making this segment so much fun.