The scent of heaven took me by surprise. I had gone next door to do a load of laundry, and instead of lavender suds, I smelled . . . what was that? Rich. Tantalizing. Mysterious.
I followed my nose to the kitchen, where I found John Freeberg wearing an apron. The oven was on. I forgot to say hello out of the primal need to know what I was smelling. “Tomato pie,” said John. As if this were perfectly normal. He opened the oven to reveal bubbly golden magma rimmed by perfect pie crust. The unctuous scent of heaven was melting cheese fat, brightened by sweet tomato acid. And, dear reader, the taste was as delightful as the scent.
That evening, I came to learn that each of my neighbors has their own take on tomato pie. John and Susan prefer a blend of sharp cheddar and extra sharp cheddar, and they patiently dry the chopped tomatoes by dabbing them with a terry towel. They experiment with spelt or gluten-free crusts.
Frank prefers to gently wring the juice from his heap of diced tomatoes. He uses blends of shredded cheese, usually cheddar and something less sharp, and squirts the mayonnaise into the cheese, mixing with a fork until it looks about right. Frank’s use of fresh basil was a hit with everyone.
Tiffany spices up her tomato pie with horseradish. “You could make it a three-cheese tomato pie just to overwhelm yourself trying to pick three cheeses,” Tiffany jokes. Now I have to.
Bon Appetit magazine features a tomato pie recipe with roasted garlic and hard Italian cheeses, but the revered recipe in my neighborhood is the Special Ivy Inn Tomato Pie recipe on Food.com, submitted by Amberngriffinco, though I forgo the double crust. I invite you to find your own variations.
Single pie crust of your choice
1½–2 cups cubed or cherry tomatoes from
your garden or the farmers market
8 oz. of cheese (a blend of 2–3 hard
cheeses works best)
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise or sour cream
2 Tbsp. horseradish, mustard, or Dijon
mustard to taste
Grated Parmesan or Romano
Prebake crust and cool.
Spread crust with mustard, horseradish, or a thin layer of mayonnaise.
Rinse and dry tomatoes. Cube (or halve cherry tomatoes) and dry with a towel or gently squeeze to remove excess moisture. This is the key to preventing a sad, soggy crust.
Place a layer of tomatoes on the crust. Lightly salt. Sprinkle with black pepper and add fresh basil, garlic, or other herbs as desired. It’s up to you if you prefer to alternate layers of cheese and tomatoes or have a single thick layer of each.
Mix grated or shredded cheeses with mayonnaise, about 3 tablespoons or until it gels. Alternately, if you opt for several thin layers of tomatoes and cheese, you can spread a thin layer of mayonnaise (about a tablespoon) over each layer of cheese.
Sprinkle with additional Parmesan and Romano, black pepper, or other seasonings as desired.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. The crust should be lightly brown, and the top layer of cheese golden or gently browned as well. Garnish with fresh basil or other herbs as desired.
Share the love. Eat with a friend.