Last week when we were going over my schedule and plans for the next few weeks at the farm, my boss told me that she needed me to come up with a healthy recipe for tomato pie. I was slightly embarrassed to tell her that, while I was always happy to healthify a recipe, I had no clue was a tomato pie was. Apparently it is a classic southern dish? I’m sure someone out there can clue me in.
Through the power of Google, I started looking at tomato pie recipes to figure out the basic components of the dish. Before I could create a healthy version, I needed to figure out the original! From what I could tell, tomato pie is basically a mixture of tomatoes, basil, and a few other things baked in a pie crust and slathered with a heavy mixture of mayonnaise and a lot of cheese. Eeek.
I found a few ideas I thought would work to lighten up the pie, and then I got to work. I started by slicing up a few big tomatoes, and laying them out between paper towels to dry them out a bit.
I didn’t want all of the excess liquid from the tomatoes to make the crust soggy of the pie too runny.
One of the healthy specifications given to me by my boss was to make a pie crust without using any flour. I considered a few different options, and ultimately settled on making the crust out of cooked brown rice.
Did I tell you guys that I convinced my boss to order a rice cooker for the farm? That’s how much I love this thing! (Rice cooker post coming up soon – stay tuned!)
I combined a little over a cup of the cooked rice with 2 tbsp pesto, 1 tbsp parmesan cheese, and 1 whole egg.
And then things got messy. Mixed it all up until it was well combined…
And pressed it into the bottom and sides of a 9’’ pie dish.
Popped it into a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes, and said a short prayer.
In the meantime, I got the filling ready for the pie. I am a BIG onion fan, so you may notice that they creep into a lot of my recipes. Typically at home I only use white onions, but here at the farm we only have the red guys. Cooking with them this summer as made me appreciate red onions for their own distinct flavor. I think they are WAY too strong raw, but I actually really like them cooked.
So speaking of cooked – I diced them up and tossed them into a hot sauté pan to soften and brown them.
And by the time that was done, my crust was ready! Pictures don’t show you the fact that this thing was literally bubbling from the parmesan.
Between the pesto and the parmesan, it smelled amazing. The edges had gotten a little bit crispy, and the melted cheese helped the base hold together pretty well. I crossed my fingers that it would turn out to be an okay base for my pie.
With my crust r
eady, it was time to assemble the main dish. I started with a base of cooked red onions…
And then added a layer of thinly sliced tomatoes.
Topped that with a sprinkle of freshly chopped sweet and purple basil, and gave it a drizzle of delicious pesto sauce.
Because the focus of this pie was to be healthy, instead of adding extra layer of cheese, I added extra layers of tomatoes to bulk it up. One more layer of delicious sliced tomatoes…
And the final cheese mixture on top – 1/4 cup grated parmesan, 1/4 cup grated gruyere, and 3 tbsp veganaise spread. Veganaise isn’t typically something I have at home, but we use it on the farm as a mayonnaise substitute. It didn’t seem like much cheesy topping when I put it on, but I knew it would distribute once it was melted in the oven.
Topped it off with one last sprinkle of fresh basil and a little pinch of salt, and then popped it into the oven at 350 degrees…
Forty minutes later? Tomato pie!
The final product looked and SMELLED amazing!
It sort of reminded me of a quiche without eggs. Sounds good to me!
Once the pie had cooled, the dinner plates were assembled for the farm owners to take with them to their other apartment. And since the pie had been sliced into at that point, I figured it only made sense that I had a piece.
Tasting is as much a part of the learning experience as cooking, right?
Having never had the “real” tomato pie myself, I can’t promise that this is a representative recreation. But I can assure you that it was completely delicious and I wanted to eat the whole thing.
The brown rice crust held up pretty well. Even though it wasn’t crispy and crunchy like a traditional flour crust, it still gave stability to the dish, as well as great flavor from the cheese and pesto.
Hopefully my boss thinks my recreation was as successful as I did! I would definitely make this again for a brunch or lunch the next time we have friends or family visiting.
One thing is for sure – I am not leaving the south without learning all of these classic southern dishes! In fact, tomorrow I’ll be making more Un-Fried Green Tomatoes – stay tuned…
Are there any other classic southern dishes that need a healthy makeover?