Southern Tomato Pie with Vodka Crust

It’s now or never with the tomato recipes, folks, we have to make hay while the sun shines…so here’s one I’ve had in the back of my mind all season.  This is a true regional recipe, and from what I can tell the classic Southern Tomato Pie is claimed by many states, but I first heard about it in North Carolina, where it’s almost a religion.

It’s the stuff of midnight cravings, and it’s really simple to put together.  If you use a ready-made pie crust you can make it before your drool hits the counter.  If you make the Vodka Crust it will be a labor of love, but one that will reward you many times over.

Use big juicy heirloom tomatoes, like I did, or good old fashioned red ones.  Some Southern cooks use green tomatoes.  Any way is good, as long as they’re at the peak of their season.

Yeah it has a cup of mayo and 2 cups of cheese in it, what’s your point?  It also has fresh basil, vidalia onion, and lots of fresh tomatoes, and I’m going on the assumption that you’re not going to be eating the whole pie yourself!

This is my first time making this, but it won’t be my last.  Variations to follow, for sure (bacon, fresh corn, gourmet cheeses.)  But to start I tweaked Paula Deen’s basic recipe, which seems to be the standard.

Southern Tomato Pie     
oven to 375
one very cold unbaked crust in a 9 inch tart or pie plate (recipe below)
4 or 5 ripe heirloom tomatoes
salt

  • Slice the tomatoes thickly, and lay them in a colander, salting lightly between layers. Set the tomatoes to drain.  If you don’t have a colander, use a thick layer of paper towels.

1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (about 4 oz)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (about 4 oz)
salt and fresh cracked black pepper

  • Mix the mayo with the cheeses and season with salt and lots of pepper.

10-12 large basil leaves
1/2 small vidalia onion

  • Stack the basil leaves, roll up the long way like a cigar, and thinly slice it into fine ribbons.
  • Cut the 1/2 onion in half again and slice it as finely as you can.
  • Take your pie crust from the freezer and lay out half of the onion slices on the bottom.
  • Layer half the tomatoes on top, then scatter the rest of the onions on top of them.  Cover with a second layer of  tomatoes, and sprinkle the basil evenly over all.
  • Spoon the mayo topping over the tomatoes in large blobs.  Then carefully spread the topping evenly over the pie.  Don’t press down too much.
  • Bake for abut 30-35 minutes until the top is golden brown.
  • Cool before slicing, if you can possibly wait.  Traditionally this is served cold, but I enjoyed it warm from the oven.

The crust is an interesting story in itself.  A friend and blogging buddy served it to me the other day in the form of an amazing apple pie.  Her focus is on baking, and she has a passion for the science behind it all.  The crust was unusually tender and flaky and it turns out that vodka is the secret ingredient.  And it’s not just a gimmick.  The problem with pie crusts is that the water needed to moisten the dough also develops gluten in the flour, which can make them tough.  Apparently alcohol doesn’t do that, so you end up with a very tender crust.  The idea seems to have originated with Cooks Illustrated.  My friend’s recipe is a variation and the only downside I found is that it’s a little tough to work with;  you have to be willing to repair cracks and patch it like crazy.  I’m still on the fence about whether this crust will take the place of my go-to crust, but I can’t argue with the end result.  I’ll have to make a few more pies before I make my decision ;)

Vodka Pie Crust                                  ~~~slightly adapted from Fragments of Sulpicia
makes 2 crusts
1 3/4 cups of bleached all-purpose flour (bleached will make the crust more tender without it falling apart)
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar

  • Put the flour salt and sugar in the bowl of a processor and pulse to blend.

3/4 cups butter, cold

  • Add in the cold butter and pulse about 20 times, or until the mixture has a coarse crumb texture.

2 Tbsp cold vodka2-4 Tbsp cold water

  • Add in the vodka, a tablespoon at a time, pulsing repeatedly.  Then add just enough water to get the dough moist but not wet.  You don’t want the dough to come together in a ball, you will have to stop the machine and press a bit together with your fingers, if it holds, it’s done.  I used 4 tablespoons.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and work with  it just enough to bring it together in a smooth ball.  Divide the dough in 2 pieces and form them into flat round disks.  Wrap the disks in plastic and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours.
  • Roll out one of the disks on a floured surface.  If your dough cracks just keep repairing it as you go, it won’t affect the final product.  Fit into your tart or pie dish.
  • Put the dish in the freezer while you put together your Tomato Pie.

What have you been doing with your summer tomatoes?

20 Comments

  • Reply
    SavoringTime in the Kitchen
    July 27, 2012 at 12:59 am

    I’ve read about vodka in pie crust before but the combination of those beautiful tomatoes, mayo and cheese – oh my! I’ve got to give it a try.

  • Reply
    grace
    July 23, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    i’ve been putting tomatoes on and in everything, but a pie is something i haven’t tried. this looks lovely and delicious, sue!

  • Reply
    Cathy at Wives with Knives
    July 23, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    The first local tomatoes appeared at the farmers’ market on Saturday and this will be the first recipe I use them in. Good golly, this looks fantastic, Sue. I have to try this vodka crust because I’m so curious. I don’t mind a little patching and crumbling if its worth the effort.

  • Reply
    Red Star to Lone Star
    July 21, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    “Drool” was the correct way to put it :)

  • Reply
    Lea Ann (Cooking on the Ranch)
    July 21, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    This looks and sounds amazing. Pinned. Still not getting tomatoes in Colorado yet, but when I do, this will be the first on my list. So interesting about the vodka crust.

  • Reply
    Karen S Booth
    July 21, 2012 at 9:50 am

    An absolutely STUNNING tart and I LOVE the idea of a vodka crust! I also LOVE your maters too….I grew some heirloom varieties last year, but this year in Europe has be a total washout…..LOVELY recipe! Karen

  • Reply
    Thyme (Sarah)
    July 21, 2012 at 2:58 am

    How interesting! Vodka in the pie crust…I wish I understood more about the science behind all of the cooking we do. Slowly more science-y information becomes apparent as I tweak things here and there, but who invented all of the tweaking to begin with?? Well, the pie looks delicious and so does that crust.

  • Reply
    Sulpicia (III)
    July 21, 2012 at 2:35 am

    What a wonderful-looking pie! Great idea. In order to make this pie more workable, you can simply add another 1-2 tablespoons of water. If you make it by hand, you have to add more water so the pie can come together, in which case the crust is more extensible and won’t fall apart so easily. With a food processor or a kitchen aid mixer, the metal blades cut the butter up more easily than you could by hand so you can add less water. However, if you intentionally add more water, than it seems like you need, the dough should be extensible and it will still be flakey (just diminished by a little bit).

    Looks fantastic. The heirloom tomatoes are so beautiful!

    • Reply
      Sue/the view from great island
      July 21, 2012 at 3:55 am

      Yes, the next time I try my first thought was that I need to add more water, or vodka. It was really great, though, even with the extra patching!

  • Reply
    Kitchen Belleicious
    July 20, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    you are killing me! What! vodka crust! That is soo cool. your pictures are droolworthy! just absolutely beautiful

  • Reply
    Dom at Belleau Kitchen
    July 20, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    is it wrong that I hate you for your wonderful tomatoes…? I mean I love you of course but I hate you too!… what I do really love is that INCREDIBLE pie crust and because you have such lovely tomatoes I will be stealing this recipe from you!… so there xx

  • Reply
    Ellen B Cookery
    July 20, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    Oh my goodness! This is completely new to me. I am trying this once the green tomatoes in my garden turn red. YUM!

  • Reply
    Katie
    July 20, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    Oh! You’ve got my favorite crust and one of my favorite foods here. Sounds fantastic!

  • Reply
    Averie @ Averie Cooks
    July 20, 2012 at 9:05 pm

    I’ll just have crust please – and I normally avoid crust b/c it’s….boring. This, clearly not boring.

    AMAZING! Gorgeous pics, too!

    • Reply
      Sue/the view from great island
      July 20, 2012 at 10:36 pm

      Thanks Averie—I’m the same way, I usually pick off large chunks of crust and set them aside, but this crust was so light I was grabbing extra bits off the pie.

  • Reply
    Tricia @ saving room for dessert
    July 20, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    My husband’s aunt used to make this but she also added bacon! I think it was a BLT pie :) No vodka in her crust but this sounds very interesting.
    Beautiful!

    • Reply
      Sue/the view from great island
      July 20, 2012 at 10:33 pm

      Yup, that sounds like an incredible pie, when are they going to come out with the news that bacon is actually loaded with anti-oxidants or something???

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