Summer Tomato Pie brings the smiles and why not? When you pile summer’s ripe, juicy tomatoes, fresh basil, mayo, and gooey cheddar cheese into a buttery, flaky piecrust, people feel hungry and happy fast. Easy, cheesy, and simple to prepare, it’s the best make-ahead summer recipe I know. You bet it’s on my go-to summer kitchen rotation.
This Tomato Pie recipe comes from a superstar source, the renowned and beloved chef Ashley Christensen, who is a North Carolin native just like me, and whose restaurants in Raleigh keep people happy all day, all week, and all year long. They include Poole’s Diner; Beasley’s Chicken + Honey; Chuck‘s; Fox Liquor Bar; and Death & Taxes with a pizza restaurant in the works for 2019.
What a delight it’s been to get ahold of her cookbook, Poole’s: Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner, published by Ten Speed Press in 2016, with handsome photos of the recipes, ingredients, people and places by Johnny Autry, and cool and useful graphics and design.
I love having her basics: countertop creme fraiche; roasted tomatoes; stocks; vinaigrettes; deviled eggs; and pimento cheese. On my list for fall cooking are buttermilk fried chicken with hot honey; short rib pot pie; lamb meatloaf with mushroom pan gravy, duck slick, a gorgeous take on chicken and dumplings, and sweet potato hummingbird cake. But it’s summer right now and I’m happy making and making and keeping on making Summer Tomato Pie.
My first taste of this particular tomato pie came early in the year, and not here in North Carolina. It was the end of April in New York City, where I traveled to attend the James Beard Media Awards Ceremony. Ashley Christensen joined the roster of James Beard Award-winning Chefs who were invited to contribute a signature dish to the evening’s menu.
Awarded Best Chef Southeast in 2014, this year she earned a nomination for the James Beard Foundation’s highest honor, JBF Outstanding Chef in the USA, awarded to a “… working chef in America whose career has set national industry standards and who has served as an inspiration to other food professionals.”
Although she did not win this year, she still has my vote and those of many people. She combines brilliance in both the culinary and the business side of the food and hospitality industry with her extraordinary dedication to community, philanthropy, and making food and cooking a blessing in the world. For many reasons, I see this richly deserved honor coming her way down the road
What a delight to seat myself at this table for the JBF Media Awards Banquet, after an abundance of tasty bites at the sparkly incredibly fun reception. The event took place at Pier 60 at Chelsea Piers in New York City, an extraordinary venue right on the Hudson River in Manhattan. Lots to share about that evening another time, but for now, it’s about Tomato Pie!
The main courses served to us at the tables were from Chef Michael Anthony of Gramercy Taven in New York City, Chef Ashley Christensen, and Chef Hugo Ortega of H-Town Restaurant Group in Houston, Texas. You can see this talented trio on stage after the feast, receiving our wild applause in the photo on the right.
Hosting the evening brilliantly was the beautiful, witty, vivacious and in-charge Tamron Hall, who had everything she needed to wrangle the crowd and move the show along despite all the challenges of the schedule, the players and the rambunctious audience. She rocked it and no surprise she has a daytime talk show coming on ABC in 2019!
Ashley’s course came in the middle of dinner service, and it was Sunburst Tomato Tart with North Carolina Jumbo Lump Crab, Spicy Greens, and Sherry Vinaigrette. We loved the plating on a rectangular dish, with the glorious little mountain of exquisite NC jumbo lump crabmeat hidden away for discovery beneath the jazzy tangle of beautifully dressed greens.
Next morning after that fabulous evening, I got a great surprise, running in to Chef Ashley Christensen at the hotel where we were both staying while in town for the JBF Media Awards. I grabbed a selfie real fast and told her how much I loved her Tomato Pie! And I think you will too, which is why it’s time to get cooking!
Peel those tomatoes! (Or don’t: I’ve made tomato pie both ways, and while this is a way to make the dish elegant and flawless, I have had no trouble adoring tomato pies made with tomatoes as they come on the vine. Your choice.)
Tomato pie recipes call for stirring together mayo and a few other creamy ingredients, in this case including horseradish, dijon mustard, egg, milk and cream. Chef Ashley loves fresh thyme in her tomato pie, and i’m a fool for basil aplenty. Use whatever herbs you love and or have on hand. I say you can’t overdo the herbs in this case.
Here’s my version almost ready for the oven. You start with tomatoes and end with the creamy mixture — get as many layers in between as you can. And don’t worry: this recipe wants to be wonderful, and you can adapt it to your wishes with great success.
What a winner: Fancy servings for a luncheon, or make it in a square pan and serve up squares. It can be a hearty main course with big wedges, or part of a well-mixed-up menu where a good solid sliver is one of the many attractions.
Once you’re a member of the tomato pie fan club, it’s hard to stop with just one recipe. I’m now a collector, and the variations can be major or minor, but what stays the same is me: I love every single one I’ve had. Here are three more recipes from around the web, ones worth keeping in mind if you’re looking for more ways to enjoy this brilliant combination of tomatoes, fresh herbs, and cheese.
- Simply Recipes Tomato Pie
- Southern Living’s Savory Tomato Cobbler
- Leite’s Culinaria Cherry Tomato Tart
- 1 (9-inch deepdish) piecrust, baked and cooled
- 2½ pounds ripe tomatoes
- Sea salt
- 1 large egg
- ¾ cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard or another mustard
- 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish (optional)
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme; or a handful of fresh basil, finely chopped
- 8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Bring a large deep pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat; and set a big bowl of ice water by the stove.
- Core the tomatoes and cut a shallow X in the bottom of each tomato.
- Carefully add tomatoes to the boiling water and leave for 45 seconds, to loosen their skins.
- Scoop out tomatoes and place in bowl of ice water till cool enough to handle; then peel.
- Slice tomatoes about ¼ inch thick and set out on baking sheets; salt generously on both sides to release juice and enhance flavor; let stand 20 minutes.
- Place tomatoes in a colander over a bowl to drain off extra juice (use the juice in salads or soups)
- Make the custard by combining the egg, mayonnaise, mustard, horseradish, milk, cream and herbs in a bowl and stirring with a whisk or a fork to mix well.
- To assemble the pie, scatter a little cheddar over the bottom of the baked piecrust.
- Add a layer of tomatoes over the cheese, overlapping tomatoes a bit as you go; top with pepper.
- Add a good sprinkling of cheese and about half the custardj, spreading to cover the tomatoes well.
- Add another layer of tomatoes; then remaining cheese, and the remaining custard.
- Place pie on a baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees F for 25 minutes; turn to bake evenly and continue cooking for another 15 to 25 minutes, until the pie is firm and nicely browned.
- Cool for 1 hour, or longer. Serve at room temperature.
- To keep, cover cooled pie well and refrigerate for 2 days; to reheat, place covered pie in 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, until gently warmed through.