Originally created 08/18/99

Tomato, tomahto

Whether you buy them at roadside stands, or are lucky enough to have a bumper crop in your backyard garden, August is tomato time. This week and next I'll give you ideas to help you enjoy the season's tomato bounty.

Nothing but the best, vine-ripened tomatoes will do in these dishes -- recipes that you tuck away all year, then pull out when the tomatoes are so good you can eat them like peaches.

There are lots of ways to use these gems of the season. What could be better than thick slices of tomato, seasoned with salt and pepper, stacked between mayonnaise-coated white bread? But when the tomatoes are this good, you can go way beyond a tomato sandwich.

Stuff them with tuna salad, bake them with a topping of bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese or toss them with garden-fresh cucumbers -- the possibilities are endless.

Or make a tomato pie. Not a sweet, dessert pie, but something savory and special -- the perfect dish for a light supper or end-of-summer luncheon.

I was fortunate enough to have been on the receiving end of one such pie after the birth of my daughter, C.C. My friend Lorrie Stoval brought by a most memorable meal, but her tomato pie stole the show.

Unlike other tomato pies I've had, Lorrie's is double crusted. Between the crusts are layers of peeled tomatoes, seasoned with salt, pepper and oregano and spread with a mixture of mayonnaise and cheddar cheese. Lorrie also sprinkles on a little crumbled bacon.

Using convenience products including ready-made pie crust, shredded cheese and real bacon bits cuts preparation time considerably. And when pushed for time, you could skip peeling the tomatoes, for a more rustic dish.

But peeling tomatoes is simple, and only adds about 10 minutes to your prep time (if you exclude the time it takes to boil the water). Simply cut an "X" in the bottom of each tomato, and drop it in boiling water for 30 seconds to one minute. Remove the tomatoes and rinse under cold water for easier handling, then slip off the skins.

Although Lorrie recommends real mayonnaise in this recipe, you can reduce the fat by substituting light mayonnaise for regular and using low-fat sharp cheddar cheese.

To make a single-crusted version, another way or reducing the fat content, reduce all filling ingredients including the tomatoes by half. Place the tomatoes over the crust, season them, spread remaining ingredients on top. Reduce baking time to 30 to 35 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and pie filling is bubbly. This is especially pretty when prepared in a tart pan with a removable bottom.

Serve your tomato pie as a vegetable side dish, or as center stage in a meatless meal. Good accompaniments are a green salad, coleslaw or cubed fresh melon and corn on the cob. Follow your meal with a childhood summer favorite, root beer floats.

Karin Calloway is a corporate chef and free-lance writer. You can write her in care of Newsroom, The Augusta Chronicle, P.O. Box 1928, Augusta, Ga. 30913. Or send her an email to karingca@aol.com.

Lorrie's Tomato Pie
6 large tomatoes
2 cups mayonnaise
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 package ready-made pie crusts (2 crusts)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (divided)
salt and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons real bacon bits, divided, or 4 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cut an "X" in the bottom of each tomato and drop into boiling water. Simmer for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and run under cold water. Slip off the skins and slice tomatoes 1/2-inch thick.

In a medium bowl, combine mayonnaise and cheddar cheese. Set aside.

Place one crust in bottom of deep dish pie plate. Trim crust to size of plate, using a sharp knife. Place 1/3 of tomatoes over crust and sprinkle to taste with salt, pepper and about 1/4 teaspoon oregano. Spread with half the mayonnaise and cheese mixture, then sprinkle with 2 tablespoons bacon bits.

Repeat layers once more, then top with remaining 1/3 of tomatoes.

Top with remaining pie crust, crimp edges and cut several 2-inch slits to allow steam to escape.

Place pie plate on a cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake an additional 20 to 30 minutes, until crust is golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool at room temperature 20 minutes before serving.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.


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