Jennifer Brulé's new book "Learn to Cook 25 Southern Classics 3 Ways: Traditional, Contemporary, International" available on Amazon reveals all the secrets of southern cooking that Brulé has come to know. Brulé writes, "This simple, sublime dish really pulls together all that is special about the warmer seasons, not only in the South but across the United States—it’s like sunshine in a pie shell.
The key to light and flaky piecrust is using very cold fat (butter and shortening or lard) and being careful not to overwork (overmix) the dough. Note: This recipe makes enough dough for two open-top pies, so reserve half for another purpose. The dough works just as well for dessert pies as it does for savory. It’s critical to pre-bake the pie shell so that your tomato pie’s crust doesn’t end up soggy (from all those gloriously juicy tomatoes). If you don’t care for sharp cheddar, use mild cheddar or even shredded mozzarella. If you are in a pinch for time, store-bought pre-rolled pie dough, found in the refrigerated section, will work," Brulé adds.
Classic Tomato Pie
For the crust:
2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter, cut into cubes and refrigerated until very cold
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) vegetable shortening or lard, refrigerated until very cold
6–8 tablespoons ice water
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (for rolling)
2 cups dried beans or uncooked rice (for baking the crust)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
For the filling:
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt flakes
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (mild, sharp, or extra-sharp)
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 cup thinly sliced sweet onion (like Vidalia) (about half of a small onion)
1. For the crust: Mix the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor using the “pulse” mode, just a few times. Add the butter and pulse 3–6 times (for 1-second intervals). Add the shortening in eight 1-tablespoon pieces and pulse again, 3–6 times, until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal, with just a few pea-sized fat lumps remaining.
2. One tablespoon at a time, sprinkle in 6 tablespoons of the ice water (just the water, not the ice), pulsing after each addition, just to combine. (The dough will not pull together at this point.) Be careful not to overmix. Take a bit of dough and squeeze it between your fingers. If it holds together, you’ve added enough water; if it crumbles apart, add more water, one teaspoon at a time, until the dough holds together when squeezed.
3. Turn the dough out onto a clean countertop, divide it in half, and form each half into a ball. Don’t knead more than you have to just to pull the dough into a rough ball shape. Squish each ball down into a disk shape about 3/4 inch thick and wrap separately in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (The dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.) Remove the dough from the refrigerator 10 minutes before rolling.
4. Preheat the oven to 400°. Sprinkle the flour onto a clean work surface. Roll the dough into a 14-inch round about 1/4 inch thick. Fold the dough loosely in half to transfer it to an ungreased 9-inch pie dish; with the seam in the middle, unfold the dough so that it covers the dish. Lightly press the dough against the sides and bottom of the dish, being careful not to stretch it. Trim and discard any dough hanging over the edge.
5. Using a fork, prick the dough all over about two dozen times (this is called docking and will help keep the dough from puffing up as it bakes). Lay a sheet of parchment paper or foil on top of the pie dough and push it to fit into the shape of the dish. Pour in the dried beans or uncooked rice, making sure they fill the dish evenly.
6. Bake the crust for 20 minutes, remove it from the oven, and lift out the parchment paper or foil with the beans/rice (they can be composted or used again). Sprinkle Parmesan or Pecorino cheese over the bottom of the crust, place it back in the oven, and bake it for 5 minutes longer. Remove it from the oven. You will see that the cheese has melted into the crust and that the crust is golden in some areas, but mostly the same color as the raw dough was. Allow the crust to cool completely. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°.
7. For the filling: While the crust is baking, slice the tomatoes in half around their equator and gently squeeze the seeds out (discard or compost them). Slice the tomato halves into 1/2-inch slices. Line a jelly roll pan or several dinner plates with paper towels and lay the tomato slices on top, then sprinkle them evenly with the salt. Allow the tomatoes to sit for 10–15 minutes: The salt will draw the liquid from them, and the paper towels will soak it up.
8. In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, cheese, and pepper and set aside.
9. When the crust is room temperature, layer half of the tomatoes on the bottom, followed by all of the sliced onions, then the remaining tomatoes.
10. Dollop the mayo/cheese mixture into the center of the pie, on top of the tomatoes, and gently spread it outward, until you get almost to the crust. Bake for 40–45 minutes, or until the cheese is slightly golden. (Check after 25 minutes of baking time to see if the crust is too golden. You may need to cover the pie loosely with a piece of foil as it continues to bake to prevent the crust from becoming too dark.) Remove the pie from the oven and allow it to cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing. Serve warm, room temperature, or chilled.