September is a bittersweet month. While we're thickly back into school and after-school activity mode, I'm still desperately clinging to summer. I'm not ready for rushed dinners and early bedtimes. I want to lounge with the kids, reading books and playing ping-pong, not cracking my taskmaster whip to memorize multiplication tables or--worse--to solve for x. I watch leaves fall and litter the pool, but my heart's not ready to surrender and cover it.
And I'm certainly not ready to give up tomatoes.
Sadly, though, the time is here. A few vines barely cling to life in the garden. Most of the tomato plants were pulled up long ago, victim to too much rain and too little sun. (It was a very odd South Carolina summer.) I spent a ridiculous amount of time pruning the few survivors, removing diseased leaves and knowing that I should just end their misery and allow them an honorable death for their service. (Can you tell I'm reading Game of Thrones?)
Still, the few pitiful vines continue to produce a few pitiful tomatoes, and I'm taking full advantage of the fruit before it disappears completely.
Hoping to embrace the last wisps of summer, I decided we needed a dinner that would makes us feel that we're still in the thick of summer, when produce is abundant and days are lazy.
In South Carolina, the quintessential summer dinner is Tomato Pie.
Maybe it's not only a South Carolina staple, but I'd never heard of tomato pie until we crossed the Mason-Dixon line. I know it never graced our dinner table in Munster, Indiana. (I wouldn't have eaten it, anyway. My family will attest that I was the world's pickiest eater.)
Over the years, my friends Dana and Janet shared their recipes for tomato pie with me. Let me assure you, when you mention on Facebook that you're about to make a tomato pie, your friends will begin salivating, asking when they should arrive for dinner.
I know. I've been on the other side.
Admittedly, I'm not a brave cook. I'm typically a recipe follower, too fearful to deviate from perfectly proportioned ingredients. But somehow, I became a chef renegade when I pulled out my friends' tomato pie recipes.
I added. I deleted. I substituted. I feared disaster.
But you know what?
It was yummy.
Before we get to the recipe, I feel you're owed full disclosure.
I used a pre-made pie crust.
I know, I know...I've lost all credibility with you now. And I know my friend Janet will tell me that I shouldn't be intimidated by pie crusts.
But it was a school night, and suddenly it was 6 p.m. and I hadn't even thought about starting dinner. So, rather than forgo that lovely taste of summer, I punted and used pre-made.
Janet uses this recipe for her pie crust. I'm going to use it when I make an apple pie this afternoon. Really. I am.
Regardless of whether you use a homemade or a pre-packaged pie crust, I urge you to snatch up the last summer tomatoes from your garden or the farmers' market and make this tomato pie tonight.
It will make you happy. I promise.
BBT Pie (Bacon, Basil, Tomato Pie)
4 large tomatoes, or 8 medium, cut into 1/4-inch slices. (I used a variety of organic heirloom tomatoes to make the flavor more complex.)
8 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces, cooked
2 shallots, diced
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tsp. salt, plus extra for tomato prep
1 tbsp. fresh chives, chopped finely
2 tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus a bit extra to sprinkle on top
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pie crust in ungreased 9-inch pie pan, fold edges under, and pinch or crimp crust with fingers or fork.
Bake crust for 10 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from oven.
While oven preheats and as crust pre-bakes, slice tomatoes and place on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt to draw water out of fruit, and let tomatoes rest approximately 20 minutes. (If you skip this step, your tomato pie can be quite soupy.) Pat dry.
In a large skillet, brown bacon until crispy. Remove bacon from pan.
Add shallots to bacon grease in pan and cook until slightly brown, approximately 3-4 minutes. Remove shallots and drain grease.
Sprinkle 1/2 cup grated Parmesan on bottom of pie crust.
Layer tomatoes on top of Parmesan until crust is filled to approximately 1/4-inch of top of pan.
Stir together mayonnaise, bacon, basil, shallots, chives, and remaining Parmesan cheese and mozzarella cheese until well-blended.
Spread mixture evenly over the top of the tomatoes. Grate a bit of Parmesan and sprinkle on top.
Bake in 350-degree oven for 40-45 minutes, removing when cheese begins to brown.
Cool and serve with a frosty glass of Pinot Grigio.
Of course, you can make the tomato pie without bacon, but honestly, once you taste it, you'll understand why the bacon belongs nestled next to the tomatoes. It's salty and savory and defines the flavor of summer. Take a bite, chase it with the chilly wine...divine.
So quick--grab those last tomatoes. I promise this tomato pie will make you feel like it's hammock and beach season--at least mentally.
What is the summer food that you miss most in the winter?