Colavita founder John Profaci Sr. told The New York Times last month that, “There is no tomato in this country or in Italy that’s as good as the New Jersey tomato. Some of the characteristics might be good, but there’s nothing that can match it overall.”
I happen to live two miles from New Jersey, just over the border in Pennsylvania, where I grow my own tomatoes. I have just three plants. This summer, my tomato plants grew to be almost seven feet tall. On any given day, I can pick between two and 12 ripe, red fruits. I’ve been eating a lot of tomatoes.
I’m not telling you this to brag. I’m telling you this to prove one of the points of this column: When you choose to eat with a hyper-local mantra, you’ll be eating a lot of a certain thing for a short period of time, and that thing you’ll be eating might be the world’s best. I live in a part of the world that, according to Mr Profaci—a verifiable expert when it comes to flavor—grows some of the best tomatoes, so I grow tomatoes. If I lived in Florida, I’d grow oranges and you’d be reading a recipe for marmalade. If I lived in Michigan, I’d grow cherries and you’d be reading about pie. Well, you’re still reading about pie—tomato pie.
MORE: City to Tomato-Growing Couple: ‘You’re Breaking the Law!’
I waited to make this tomato pie recipe until I had a pile of tomatoes that were so ripe they bruised if I looked at them the wrong way. When I cut into them, they poured with juice. Normally cooking such ripe tomatoes requires a lot of evaporation, but this pie has a biscuit crust that sucks up the excess tomato juice. It is great hot, cold, or at room temperature. Most importantly, it uses up a lot of tomatoes.
Tomato Pie Recipe
Serves 6 to 8
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
fine sea salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup whole milk
2 1/2 pounds very ripe tomatoes
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 scallions, finely chopped
1/4 cup basil, finely chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese
Stir together flour, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or your fingertips, then stir in milk with a fork (dough will be wet). Divide dough in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Unwrap 1 dough, spreading the plastic wrap on a work surface. Cover the dough with another piece of plastic wrap. Roll dough out to fit in a 9-inch pie plate. Remove top layer of plastic, transfer the dough to the pie plate using the remaining plastic wrap, and then peel off plastic.
Slice tomatoes into 1/2-inch slices and layer them over dough in pie plate. Whisk together the mayonnaise, juice, scallions, basil, herbs, 1 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Pour mayonnaise mixture over tomatoes, then sprinkle with cheese.
Roll top crust out in the same manner as the bottom crust, transferring to the pie plate using the plastic wrap, then peel off plastic. Cut 1 steam hole in crust, then bake until the crust is golden and crisp and the filling is bubbling, 35 to 40 minutes.
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Ian Knauer has traveled the world for Gourmet magazine, written for too many other magazines to list, cohosted three food television shows and written a cookbook, The Farm. @iknauer | TakePart.com