I’d never heard of tomato pie until I saw it in the deli case at the Charleston Bakery and Deli. I was picking up some pastries at the time, but I couldn’t get that pie out of my mind. The next day I took my son back there for lunch while his sisters and cousins were off working at an autism camp.
He had good things to say about his shrimp roll…
And we split an amazing dessert: chocolate bourbon pecan pie, topped with ice cream and caramel sauce.
But we both agreed that the very best thing – not just of that memorable lunch, but maybe the best thing we’d eaten in our entire lives – was my tomato pie.
What made it so good? How could we replicate it at home? This was something Ben and I have been discussing ever since.
What we told skeptics back up here in the north – who invariably rolled their eyes – was that it was like a savory dessert. “Like the most decadent pizza you’ve ever had, only better,” we said. Which is to say that instead of being crude and blatant and stringy-cheesed, this oozing pastry flowed onto your tongue, a creamy blend of delicate flavors and textures that felt like a symphony in your mouth.
The crust was the flakiest, richest pastry either of us had ever tasted – and I don’t say that lightly, because I’ve sampled Hoosier 4-H legend Helen Witte’s cherry pie, which has been auctioned off for a thousand dollars at local fund-raising events.
Actually, the Charleston Bakery’s tomato pie had another element reminiscent of Helen’s cherry pie: a distinctive “zing” that in this case came not from tart cherries, but from fresh garden tomatoes.
Clearly, our window for attempting to replicate this dessert would be limited to tomato season.
The ones we’d planted in the communal family garden at my parents’ house weren’t ripe yet when we got back from Charleston at the end of July. But a few were ready the following week, so I found a recipe from a southern cooking blog that purported to use a traditional tomato pie filling tucked inside a Ritz cracker crust.
We knew we could never replicate the Charleston Bakery’s pie crust. Neither Ben nor I have ever been able to make a flaky pie crust. So this crust hack, that called for 100 Ritz crackers and a stick of unsalted butter, seemed like a worthwhile thing to try. Unfortunately, I didn’t heed the recipe’s instructions to use unsalted butter. That doesn’t explain why our crust was so crumbly – it seemed like it would be nice and firm when I pressed it into the pan before baking – but it was definitely way too salty, given all the sodium in the crackers as well as the butter.
The filling itself, which used three kinds of cheese, dijon mustard and mayo, was decent. But we were determined to try again
This time we wanted something with a little less mayo on top. In retrospect, that had seemed like overkill. I didn’t want to do another Ritz cracker crust, either.
“Since neither of us can make a decent pie crust, what if we use my pizza crust instead?” I suggested.
Ben agreed it was worth a shot. Bob and the kids love my whole wheat pizza crust; we make it at least once a week. And since that heavenly tomato pie we’d experienced in Charleston had seemed to blow every pizza we’d ever eaten out of the water, it seemed like a reasonable adaptation to try.
The recipe we settled on came from Charleston magazine. I liked that the mayo was mixed with egg and red wine vinegar and layered into the pie rather than loaded on top. Other than the crust, the only change we made was subbing an Italian spice blend for fresh basil, using both sharp cheddar and white cheddar, and skipping the onions (I didn’t want to discourage some of our more finicky family members from trying our “pie”.)
Needless to say, this “tomato pie” was more like a “pie” in the pizza sense. But it was amazing.
Earlier the kids and I had been talking about these fried-egg-and-tomato sandwiches my family used to eat during the tomato garden harvest, which would be spread thick with mayo on toast. This tomato pie tasted like it contained the distilled essence of that childhood treat.
And why not? The garden-fresh tomatoes, the egg and mayo were all tucked inside a bread blanket, along with two kinds of cheese (sharp cheddar and white cheddar) and a little cracked pepper and cider vinegar for extra zing.
We’re calling our version “tomato pizza pie.” And we’re definitely making this again before tomato season is over.
Tomato Pizza Pie
(For the original recipe this is based on, click here.)
For the crust: Use your favorite pizza crust recipe and press it into the sides of a small baking dish. (I hesitate to recommend mine, because it makes a huge batch and it’s whole wheat, which can be an acquired taste. I suspect that any decent bread dough or pizza crust will taste pretty good with this filling.)
For the filling:
1 cup mayonnaise
1/1 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1 large eggs
3/4 cup grated white cheddar cheese
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
3-4 fresh garden tomatoes, cored and cut
into 1/4-inch slices
Freshly cracked black pepper
Italian seasoning (I used a blend that was basically oregano and basil)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Peel, core and slice the tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and set them on paper towels to drain for about half an hour. (When you’re ready to use them, blot the tops with paper towel as well.)
Prepare the pizza crust, pressing it into and up the sides of a small baking dish.
Blend the mayo, vinegar and egg in a small bowl.
Now you’re ready to begin assembling the pizza:
Put a thin layer of both cheeses on the bottom of the crust. Add a layer of sliced tomatoes and season with salt, pepper, oregano and basil. Then add a layer of the mayo mixture.
Repeat the layering process until the filling comes close to the top of the baking dish. Sprinkle more cheese over the top.
Bake in the oven for around 20 minutes or until the top is well-browned.
Note: The original recipe said you said should then allow the pie to cool and even refrigerate it for an hour before slicing into wedges and baking for another five to seven minutes to warm it up. But we were too impatient and ate it shortly after it came out of the oven!