Summertime Southern Cuisine

Farmers Market Tomatoes

I always look forward to the last days of summer and what it brings…..the best tomatoes of the season!  Travel to the local farmers’ markets and you will find baskets full of different types of tomatoes; from Heirloom to Beefstake to Roma and Cocktail tomatoes. They are sweet and delicious and key ingredients to many dishes in summertime southern cuisine.  Fine dining at it’s best!

Tomatoes at the Farmers Market

There are a variety of ways to use an abundance of tomatoes.  Canning them or making pasta sauce or fresh salsa are all terrific options and are certainly useful, but you can also make a traditional southern favorite – tomato pie!

I researched a little history of tomato pies and how they came into existence.  The tomato pie that I’m talking about isn’t what my Italian friends might think.  Pizza, the Italian favorite, is often referred to as the original tomato Pie.  Trust me, I love pizza!  They both have similar ingredients, but the end result is totally different.

The history of the southern tomato pie is a little indefinite, but most historians agree that the southern tradition, as we know it today, came about in the 19th century.  Shaker recipes for pies with ripe tomatoes most closely resemble what we see today in a tomato pie.  The Shakers knew how to make great southern food.  I’m going to travel to Shakertown in Harrodsburg for lunch soon.  I hoping tomato pie will appear on the  menu!

Did you know that tomatoes are considered an antioxidant?  They are rich in lycopene, which has been linked to reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer.  They are also a great source of vitamin C, potassium, folate and vitamin K.  Ladies, you can even use tomatoes for a skin cleanser?  There are all sorts of benefits and uses to this little vegetable!

Tomatoes at the farmers market

There are just a few ingredients that make up the pie, but the summer-kissed tomatoes are the real stars.  Most of the recipes that I’ve seen call for using several different varieties of tomatoes.  Red and yellow varieties are found in most versions, as well as cherry tomatoes. But the tomato pies that I have made in the past contain one very important ingredient that make them uniquely southern.  You won’t find this on a traditional Italian pie! I recommend using Duke’s mayonnaise.  Duke’s is a little more tangy than regular Hellman’s and a lot creamier.  You’ll be able to tell the difference.  No Southern Belle would go without having Duke’s mayo in the house!

Duke’s mayonnaise was started in 1917 by Eugenia Duke.  She started the company by selling sandwiches to soldiers in-training at Camp Sevier in Greeneville, South Carolina.  Locals and visitors soon took notice of not only her sandwiches, but the tangy spread that she used in them.  Duke’s mayo was born and has been a southern staple for over 100 years.

Fresh herbs are another key ingredient to the pie.  Not only does basil and dill provide a great taste but they also provide a dash of color to the dish.   Here’s a photo of  the pie that I recently made.  It was almost too pretty to eat!

Tomatoe

 

I grow several varieties of herbs in my garden.  There’s no dish that is prepared in my house without the addition of fresh basil, thyme, rosemary or chives.  From scrambled eggs to salmon, herbs make a great addition to any meal.  Basil is my favorite.

 

So after I left the farmers market today I was thinking about what would make the tomato pie more contemporary.  How could it be updated to reflect today’s culinary tastes?

Why not make the tomato pie into a tart!  It instantly makes the dish more hip and cool!  Who doesn’t love a phyllo crust?

Tomatoe Tart

Photo by Greg Dupree

I got home and did a little research and found a recipe from Real Simple. I think you’ll like it!

Cheesy Heirloom Tomato Tart from Real Simple:

  • 12 oz. of mixed heirloom tomatoes (about 3 medium), sliced 1/4 in. thick
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 3 oz. sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup of Duke’s mayonnaise
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill or basil
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 10 frozen phyllo pastry sheets (from a 16-oz. package), thawed

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees with a rack in the lowest position.  Arrange tomatoes on a large baking sheet lined with paper towels.  Season the tomatoes with 1 teaspoon salt and let stand 10 minutes.  Pat dry with paper towels.  This is a very important part of the recipe, you don’t want a watery tart!

Mix together the cheese, mayonnaise, scallions, chopped dill, cayenne, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl.  Place the oil in a small bowl.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, brush with the oil, and place 1 phyllo sheet on top; brush with oil.  Repeat the process with the remaining 9 phyllo sheets and oil.  Spread the cheese mixture evenly over the top, leaving a 1/2- inch border.  Top the tart with the tomatoes and season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper.

Bake the tart until the crust is golden brown, which should be 18-20 minutes depending on your oven.  Let the tart cool for 5 minutes and then dinner is served!

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