I think the passage of time in the summer can really be measured by the preciousness of each tomato. In the beginning, tomatoes that have never seen the outside of the greenhouse show up, six bucks a pound, and we buy one with a clear image of the tomato sandwich it will become. Later they get better, cheaper, and split down the middle, and we can buy bags of them for fresh tomato sauce or big trays of roasted tomatoes. Finally, they get thick and woolly, saved on the counter from the first frost that did or did not come. Those tomatoes never get very good, but we eat them out of some sense of responsibility to our future January selves who would kill for a half-ripe September tomato.
Laurie Colwin wrote about a tomato pie in her essay “Tomatoes” that originally got the idea of tomato pie stuck in my head. Her recipe, borrowed from a teahouse not far from my hometown, was the seed of this tomato Cheddar pie. This is best made when the tomatoes are good and as plentiful as zucchini, and when the extravagant quantity of basil should also be easy to come by. The pie is juicy, and although the crust does a great job of soaking up most of the tomato-basil nectar, there will definitely be liquid left in the pie pan. Spoon it up and enjoy it—it’s the best part.
- Yield: 1 (9-inch) pie, plus 1 extra pie crust
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
- ¼ cup spelt or whole-wheat pastry flour
- 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for greasing the dish
- 0.33 cup cold water
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups (8 ounces) grated sharp Cheddar cheese
- 1¼ pounds tomatoes, halved through the stem and thinly sliced at a 90-degree angle
- 1 cup loosely packed basil leaves, torn or chopped into ribbons
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic (2 to 4 cloves)
Make the Crust
- Combine the flours and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer, using your hands to coat the butter in the flour. Put the bowl in the refrigerator. Combine the water, vinegar, and salt in a measuring cup, stirring to dissolve the salt. Put the mixture in the freezer for 10 minutes.
- Remove the mixtures from the refrigerator and freezer. Using the paddle attachment, blend the flour mixture on low speed until it has the texture of crumbly meal. With the mixer still running, slowly pour in the water mixture. The dough will be crumbly at first, then after 10 or 20 seconds, it will come together in a ball. Stop the mixer. Turn the dough out onto the counter, and divide it into 2 disks, each about 1 inch thick. Wrap each disk in waxed paper or plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 3 days. You’ll only use one crust for this pie, so the other disk can go straight into the freezer, if you don’t have other pie plans for the week.
- Remove one disk of pastry from the refrigerator. Grease a 9-inch freezer-to-oven pie dish (Pyrex, stainless steel, or most stoneware) with butter. Unwrap the disk, place it on a lightly floured counter, and, starting from the center, roll the dough into a circle 12 to 14 inches in diameter and ⅛ inch thick. To transfer the crust, fold it in half, then fold that semicircle in half again so that you have a quarter of a circle. Line up the corner of the quarter with the center of your pie dish, and unfold the quarter back into a semicircle, then into the full circle. Trim off any errant edges to create an overhang of about 1 inch. Fold the overhang under the edge, and use your hands or a fork to crimp the crust. Freeze the crust for at least 1 hour and up to 3 days. (If you freeze the crust for longer than an hour or two, cover it with plastic wrap.)
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place a baking sheet in the center of the oven.
- Remove the crust from the freezer. Scatter a small handful of cheese over the bottom of the crust. Layer on half the tomatoes, followed by half the basil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and the minced garlic. Now add half of the remaining cheese, followed by the other half of the basil, and the remaining tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper again, and top with the last of the Cheddar. Put the pie on the baking sheet.
- Bake until the crust is golden and the filling begins to bubble, 55 minutes to 1 hour. Let the pie sit for at least 15 minutes before cutting into it.