Ever get annoyed? Ever feel like someone needs to be told where the dog died? Or handed a crowbar and a tub of Elbow Grease to help them pry their head out of their arse? Congratulations--you've come to the right place.

And when I'm not commenting on the latest thing to piss me off, I'm trying to figure out my own twisted life. Because, hey, I'm like that.

On a gentler note: for anyone dealing with depression, anxiety, and other assorted bullshit: You are NOT alone.

And if you're looking for a laugh, search on the key word "fuckery." It's just my little thing (as the bishop said to the actress).

Saturday, August 13, 2011

What's Cookin'? Tomato Pie!

Hey, kids - I realized it's been forever since I've posted a new recipe. Last week, I went to the party of the year--the annual gathering of the clan at Camp Atherton. I brought along Tomato Pie, and evidently, it was a major hit. I LOVE this recipe--it's just utterly nummers. It's a high falutin' alternative to pizza that I've been playing with forever, and I think I finally got it right. Plus, it's tomato season... mmmmmmmmmmmm... HEIRLOOM TOMATOES! Cut with just a sprinkle of salt... maybe a little fresh mozz... or Mahon. If you haven't discovered Spanish Mahon cheese, please do. It's the most sublime eating cheese on the planet.

As with all my recipes, if you like it, share it with friends and family, but PLEASE--credit me. I put a lot of effort into the tips and hints (because, honestly, there is nothing more frustrating than trying a recipe and getting weird results that no one warned you about). I hope to finish my cookbook one of these days.

Tomato Pie a la Empress

This recipe IS summer for me, and this is the time of year to make it. Tomato Pie is pizza to the nth degree, a heavenly melding of cheese and fresh tomatoes and garlic… Gods, I’m salivating just thinking about it. Simple, simple ingredients, but utter heaven from the oven. The other beauty of this recipe is, like so many other tomato-based dishes, it’s better the second day, and can be eaten hot or cold (I love a cold slice for breakfast). I also love it because it’s one of the few recipes I can make for my vegetarian friends that will also satisfy the omnivores. If you have gluten issues, switch out the crust. Dairy… can’t help you there. This dish is all about cheese and tomatoes.

This recipe is based on a Martha Stewart concoction I came across a few years ago. I really loved the idea of it and have played around with it over the past few tomato seasons. My advice is to use fresh HEIRLOOM tomatoes for the best flavor. Trust me on this. My three favorites are pineapple (a yellow tomato with a few stripes), brandywine (big bustard of a red tomato), and black prince (a black/purple tomato with stripes). Color is the key—go for variety for the best taste (and one or two good-sized brandywines will give you more than enough for two pies and bits to snack on while the pies are baking).

Trader Joe’s is your friend when making this recipe—I prefer to get my tomatoes from the farmers market (or a good farm stand)—Kimball Farms is my favorite at the markets—but for cheese selection and price, TJ’s is your best bet (in the Boston area). They also have all of the ingredients (including the tomatoes) in high summer.

I use a variety of cheeses in the mix—like five different types in the shred, plus the fresh mozz and parm. Five .75 lb. blocks yield enough cheese for four pies (even with snacking because who can resist cheese?). DON’T skip the fresh mozz, ESPECIALLY if you’re cooking for people with salt issues. The fresh mozzarella cuts the salt of the rest of the cheese. My latest version of this used English Coastal Cheddar, Cheddar/Gruyere (a TJ’s house cheese), Canadian Cheddar, New Zealand Cheddar, Dubliner, and Australian Cheddar. Yeah, I like cheddar. Mix your sharps and milds, and play with your flavors—I’d be interested to hear the result of using a blue cheese or a brie or camembert in this. I know someone tried my recipe with Cottswolds and double Gloucestershire for a great result. If I see a porter cheddar or a mustard cheddar, I may try those for shits and giggles.

I also cheat and use store-bought pie crust (I know, I know, shame on me. Whatever—when I get a bigger kitchen and have room to work, I’ll start making my own. Besides, who the hell wants to make pie crust in high summer?). Trader Joe’s makes an excellent crust; find it in their frozen section. One hint when working with a premade, unrolled crust: if it breaks when you unfold it, DON’T panic. Lay it flat, peel off the top layer of plastic, dust a tiny bit of flour or cornmeal over the crust, put the plastic back over it, and GENTLY press it back together. OR, put it in the baking dish like puzzle pieces & press it back together in there. Your choice.

One final note: you can make this with really basic ingredients—regular tomatoes, packaged cheese, etc. I’ve done it in a pinch. But it just ain’t HALF as good. Trust me.


2 large bulbs of garlic
Olive oil
Crust for 2-9” pies
Cornmeal (for dusting)
Balsamic vinegar
Heirloom tomatoes (2 huge, 2 medium, 2-3 small—you will have extra)
Cherry tomatoes (roughly 10—again, go for color variety)
2-3 pounds of assorted cheeses, shredded
2 balls fresh mozzarella
½ cup grated parmesan
Fresh basil, cut into ribbons (about five leaves)

Preheat the oven to 400F.
Rub the outer skin off of the garlic bulbs so that just the last layer covering the cloves is left. Cut the top off of the bulb—basically, get the tips off so that the inner garlic is revealed. Lay the garlic, cut side up, in the center of a piece of foil large enough to completely cover the garlic (if you have a garlic baker, use that; I use foil), bring the corners of the foil part-way up, and drizzle olive oil over the garlic. Twist the foil close. Repeat for the other bulb. Place in a shallow pan and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. You’ll know when it’s done because the aroma from the garlic will change from the sharp, intense scent of the fresh cut to a mellow, nutty scent. This will take at least 45 minutes. Remove the garlic from the oven and let it cool (for the sake of avoiding scorched fingers).

Line two 8” cake pans with the pie crust; adjust the crust to fit as necessary & crimp around the edges. Dust the bottom with cornmeal & weight the bottom with rice, dried beans or pie weights & bake for fifteen minutes. This pre-baking isn’t completely necessary; it just makes for a crisper bottom on the pie. Don’t skip weighting the bottom—the crust WILL puff up and the sides will slide down. If the sides start to slide, remove the crust from the oven immediately and press bake into place. (Yes, I’ve had it happen; no tragedy, really, just a minor nuisance).

Shred the cheeses. I tend to alternate cheese blocks to make mixing the shreds easier—shred a bit, toss it in a giant mixing bowl, shred a bit of a different one, throw it in the bowl, give the cheeses a light toss together… you get the picture. Do NOT include the parm and mozz in this process.

Slice the tomatoes; thickness is your choice. I tend to let the tomato decide how thick the slices are going to be because different varieties have different consistencies.

By now, your garlic should be cool enough to handle. Partially unwrap the roasted bulbs and pour the garlic-infused oil off into a small bowl. There are two methods of getting roasted garlic cloves out of the skin: one is neat, the other is messy, and you’ll be using both. The neat way is to winkle the roasted clove out with the tine of a fork—just hook the clove with the fork and pull it out. The messy way is to squeeze the roasted clove out of the skin. Either way, get all of the roasted garlic out of the skins and into the bowl with the oil, add a bit of balsamic vinegar to taste (but not so much as to make it liquid) and mash it up to a fairly smooth paste. If you want to add any other flavors—rosemary, basil, mustard, etc.—mash it in with the garlic. I like to keep it simple. I DON’T advise adding salt—because of the cheese content, adding salt as a flavoring is overkill and really wrecks the flavor.

Now, let’s assemble the pies! For each pie: spread the paste over the bottom of the crust, sprinkle a little bit of parmesan, a few handfuls of the shredded cheeses—pat the cheese into a firm layer, shreds of fresh mozzarella, and a layer of the sliced tomatoes. Neatness does NOT count. Fill in empty spots between tomato slices with bits of the assorted cherry tomatoes. Repeat. Put the pan on a baking sheet (because it can bubble over—this is why I bake it in a cake pan and not a pie plate) and bake for 40 minutes.

Remove from the oven, toss a scant handful of shredded cheese, a sprinkle of parm, a few shreds of the fresh mozz, and basil ribbons (optional); return to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes. I like the top bit of cheese to brown a bit for flavor.

Allow to cool for at least an hour before serving. Can be served warm or cold, keeps in the fridge for at least a week.

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