Food & Drink

The Only Tomato Pie Recipe You’ll Ever Need

A Birmingham, Alabama, chef makes a deep-dish take on the summertime classic

photo: Courtesy of Black Sheep Kitchen


In Birmingham, Alabama, Black Sheep Kitchen regulars start clamoring for chef Julie Grimes’ tomato pies in early March, even though the best tomatoes from local growers are still months away. In one form or another, the pies have been on the summer menu at Grimes’ grab-and-go dinner shop since she opened it four years ago.

“I wanted something simple and tasty to highlight our glorious tomatoes,” Grimes says, although finding the right recipe took a bit of tinkering. “First I made shallow tarts in fluted pans,” she says. “Then I tried them in round pans and then switched to rectangular.” Everything came together in her second year of business when she landed on using spring-form pans, which have steep straight sides—and allows each pie to contain more tomatoes suspended in a velvety custard hug. From there,  a new Magic City tradition was born, with Grimes offering both 4-inch individual and 9-inch family-size pies every “Tomato Pie Tuesday.”

photo: Christiana Roussel

The individual-size tomato pie from Black Sheep Kitchen.

“Beyond that, the elements haven’t changed all that much. It was just a matter of working things out to the right proportions. My menu changes weekly, and these pies are the only item we sell that appears as a weekly special every single week—during tomato season, that is.”

Growing up in the west Texas town of Seagraves, Grimes had a backyard garden teeming with everything from peas and beans to watermelon and tomatoes. It’s where she learned that starting with the best in-season ingredients makes all the difference. Later culinary mile-markers on her path included formal culinary training and a stint in the kitchen of Danny Meyer-owned Union Square Café in New York. In Birmingham, Grimes honed her skills as an editor and recipe developer before opening Black Sheep Kitchen, where her ready-made entrees like veggie lasagna and chicken piccata offer weeknight reprieve from cooking for young families and fill the coolers of folks heading to Lake Martin or the beaches of 30A.

Where tomato pies are concerned, Grimes asserts that there are two categories: “There is the one that is just slices of tomato with the big blob of mayo on top. But I like the other kind. I hate to use the word ‘quiche,’ but it has a custardy binder.” By late June, Grimes can supplement her found-at-the-farmer’s-market tomatoes with the more than two-dozen varieties grown at Sandlin Farms in nearby Holly Pond. (She’s partial to the Brandywines and Cherokee Purples.) Her crust gives them some strong competition, though. To create a texture somewhere between a pâte brisée, the classic French pastry, and a traditional Southern cheese straw, Grimes adds cornstarch for texture and cornmeal “for the snap” to a base of unbleached flour and butter, as well as a healthy dose of grated Gruyère and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses.

“We are so fortunate that tomatoes love the South, and our heat and humidity,” Grimes says. “Let’s show them off.”

If it’s too hot to even think about turning on your oven, Grimes recently partnered with Birmingham-based healthy meal-delivery service, Nourish, to ship her tomato pies to customers nationwide—at least until the good tomatoes run out in September.


Ingredients

  • Yield: 1 (9-inch) pie

  • For the crust:

    • 2 cups all-purpose flour (9 ounces)

    • 6 tbsp. cornstarch

    • 1⁄4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (about 1 oz.)

    • 3 tbsp. shredded Gruyère cheese (about ¾ oz.)

    • 3 tbsp. cornmeal

    • 1 tsp. kosher salt

    • 1⁄4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

    • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

    • 2 large egg yolks

    • 4-6 tablespoons ice-cold water

    • Cooking spray

  • For the custard:

    • 1 cup half-and-half

    • 3 tbsp. mayonnaise

    • 3 large eggs

    • ½ cup heavy cream

  • For the Garlic- and Herb-Oil:

    • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

    • 2 tsp. chopped fresh basil

    • 1 ½ tsp. minced fresh garlic

  • For the tomatoes:

    • 1 large ripe red beefsteak tomato

    • 3–4 medium-size multi-color heirloom tomatoes

    • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

    • Fresh basil or chives (for garnish)


Preparation

  1. For the crust: Weigh or lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Place flour and next 6 ingredients in the bowl of an electric stand mixer with paddle attached; mix on low speed to blend. With mixer running, gradually add butter 2-3 pieces at a time, beating at low speed until butter breaks into pea-size pieces. Add yolks and mix until incorporated. Add enough cold water, 1 tbsp. at a time, blending just until dough begins to form a ball. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead until smooth. Shape dough into a round disc and wrap with plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes (or refrigerate for up to two days).

  2. Preheat oven to 400˚. Unwrap dough and place it on a lightly floured surface. Roll into a 15-inch circle. Gently transfer dough into a 9-inch springform pan lightly coated with cooking spray, pressing dough into corners and up the sides of pan, draping dough over edges and pressing lightly to adhere. Pierce dough several times with a fork. Freeze for 15 minutes. Place pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Shield dough with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dry beans. Blind bake for about 20 minutes or until crust is lightly browned. Remove weights and discard parchment. (“If you see any visible cracks in the shell or fear it may leak, seal it up by brushing raw egg white all over the inside of the blind-baked crust while it’s still hot,” Grimes says.)

  3. For the custard: Combine half-and-half, mayo, and eggs, whisking until smooth. Stir in cream.

  4. For the oil: Whisk together olive oil, basil, and garlic.

  5. For the tomatoes: Core tomatoes, and slice about 1/8 inch off of tops and bottoms of each tomato. Slice tomatoes into ¼-inch-thick slices. (“I don’t always peel the tomatoes, but if the skins are especially tough, you may want to peel them before slicing.”)

  6. Prepare the dish: Reduce oven temperature to 325˚.

    Arrange half of the tomato slices in a circle on top of prepared crust, overlapping slices and alternating colors. Season tomatoes with salt and pepper and drizzle with half of oil mixture. Sprinkle lightly with Parmigiano. Repeat procedure with remaining tomato slices and oil. Carefully pour custard around tomatoes, leaving most of the top layer of tomatoes visible. Sprinkle top layer of tomatoes lightly with salt and pepper.

  7. Bake for about an hour or until custard is just set; remove from oven. Let stand 15–20 minutes.

  8. Using a serrated knife, saw the overhanging crust off the top, and remove ring. Slide pie onto a cake stand or cake circle. Sprinkle top of pie with fresh basil or chives and a bit more Parmigiano, if desired. Slice into wedges and serve warm.

Recipe from Julia Grimes of  Black Sheep Kitchen in Birmingham, Alabama.


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