Growing up in Haleyville, Alabama, Rob McDaniel enjoyed all the Southern delights his grandmothers prepared for him. But surprisingly, tomato pie never made it to the family table. In fact, it wasn’t until McDaniel—now owner and executive chef at Helen in Birmingham—was in his thirties that he had his first taste of the Southern classic. The verdict: Meh. So, he set out to create his own. Inspired by mini deep-dish pizzas, his version replaces the pie’s traditional cheese and mayo topping with pimento cheese. With a cult following at the restaurant and on McDaniel’s own table, it’s safe to say the tomato pie has redeemed itself.
Pimento Cheese Tomato Pies (Yield: 10 servings)
12 baseball-sized ripe tomatoes, sliced ¼ inch thick
7½ cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp. salt
3 cups (6 sticks) cold unsalted butter, grated
¾ cup ice water
1¼ cups pimento cheese (store bought or homemade)
You’ll also need 10 4-x-2-inch cake rings and baking beans
Season tomato slices with salt and pepper. Line a small sheet pan with paper towels. Place one layer of tomatoes over top. Cover tomatoes with paper towels, then repeat until all tomatoes are used, ending with paper towels on top. Allow to drain for at least six hours.
Prepare the dough: In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Divide into two equal parts. Add half of the mixture and all the butter to a standing mixer and combine on low speed with the paddle attachment until flaky pea-sized balls form. Add the remainder of the flour to the mixer and mix on low speed until incorporated.
With the mixer running, slowly add the water into the center of the flour. Stop the mixer as soon as the dough comes together.
Transfer dough to a floured surface and knead for no more than 20 seconds, just until the butter chunks streak through the dough. Portion into 10 equal round discs (each about 4½ oz.) and wrap individually in plastic. Allow to rest in the fridge for 2 hours.
Parbake the dough: Preheat oven to 375.
On a floured surface, roll out each disc until it’s about ⅛ inch thick, keeping it as round as possible. Work with one at a time to fill the cake rings. The bottom should be flat, and the sides of the dough should be flattened up the sides of the ring to form a tall cylindrical shape. There should be enough dough that it overlaps the top of the ring, but not by much (After baking, trim it off using a serrated knife).
Once all the cake rings have been filled, line them with small pieces of parchment paper (each piece should cover the bottom and sides) then fill to the top with baking beans. Place rings on a baking sheet and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, rotating after 10 minutes. The bottoms should be slightly browned when ready. Remove parchment, baking beans, and cake rings. If bottoms aren’t set, return to oven for up to 5 minutes. Cool completely.
Assemble the tomato pie: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Layer tomatoes into each of your pie shells (Tip: They may fit easier if you slice them in half). Continue layering until they reach the top of the shell.
Top with about 1 to 2 tablespoons of pimento cheese, spreading it evenly over the top so you can’t see any tomato.
Once filled, bake the pies uncovered for 10 minutes. Then, rotate and bake for an additional 10 minutes until the top is bubbling and slightly browned. Rest 10 minutes before serving.
Recipe from Rob McDaniel, owner and executive chef at Helen restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama.
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