Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: The occasional recipe: Laurie Colwin's tomato pie

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

The occasional recipe: Laurie Colwin's tomato pie

Thursday, September 23, 2010

In my last post I mentioned Laurie Colwin, a writer who inspired the same kind of great affection as the late Wendy Wasserstein. Like Wasserstein, Colwin died tragically young and, like her, had a quality in her work that made me feel she could have been one of my best friends if only we had had the chance to meet.

In addition to her wonderful novels and short stories--and if you haven’t read them I strongly suggest you do--she wrote essays on food which were collected into two books, “Home Cooking” and “More Home Cooking.” Mixed into with the smart, funny, opinionated musings are some terrific recipes. One of them is a tomato pie that never fails to delight. When I made it for a brunch not long ago, everyone wanted the recipe. Recently my friend Dan said it was the best thing he’d ever eaten. So you really need to try it.

Colwin offers it with a made-from-scratch biscuit crust that I can only imagine is heavenly, but which I have never made. Because I’m really bad at pie crusts, I have, instead, used frozen prepared ones. And still it tastes delicious! In these waning days of the tomato season you could make it with fresh tomatoes, but the recipe calls for--and I have always used--canned. Colwin’s recipes aren’t in standard recipe format, but, rather, are offered in a kind of chatty discussion, as if she were giving you the recipe over a kitchen table. So here is the recipe, as it appears in “More Home Cooking”:

“I have never yet encountered tomatoes in any form unloved by me. Often at night I find myself ruminating about two previously mysterious tomato dishes, which I was brazen enough to get the recipes for. One is Tomato Pie and is a staple of a tea shop called Chaiwalla, owned by Mary O’Brien, in Salisbury, Connecticut. According to Mary, the original recipe was found in a cookbook put out by the nearby Hotchkiss School, but she has changed it sufficiently to claim it as her own. The pie has a double biscuit-dough crust, made by blending 2 cups flour, 1 stick butter, 4 teaspoons baking powder, and approximately 3/4 cup milk, either by hand or in a food processor. You roll out half the dough on a floured surface and line a 9-inch pie plate with it. Then you add the tomatoes. Mary makes this pie year round and uses first-quality canned tomatoes, but at this time of year 2 pounds peeled fresh tomatoes are fine, too. Drain well and slice thin two 28-ounce cans plum tomatoes, then lay the slices over the crust and scatter them with chopped basil, chives, or scallions, depending on their availability and your mood. Grate 1 1/2 cups sharp Cheddar and sprinkle 1 cup of it on top of the tomatoes. Then over this drizzle 1/3 cup mayonnaise that has been thinned with 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and top everything with the rest of the grated Cheddar. Roll out the remaining dough, fit it over the filling, and pinch the edges of the dough together to seal them. Cut several steam vents in the top crust and bake the pie at 400F for about 25 minutes. The secret of this pie, according to Mary, is to reheat it before serving, which among other things ensures that the cheese is soft and gooey. She usually bakes it early in the morning, then reheats it in the evening in a 350F oven, until it is hot.

“It is hard to describe how delicious this is, especially on a hot day with a glass of magnificent iced tea in a beautiful setting, but it would doubtless be just as scrumptious on a cold day in your warm kitchen with a cup of coffee.”

For Colwin’s other favorite tomato treat, you’ll just have to get the book! I would suggest eating this pie with good friends and offering a nod of gratitude to this gifted and generous writer.

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