Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Recipe I cooked for Paula Deen for the NYC Food and Wine Festival, or Tomato Pie, My Oh My!!

Well you should all know who Paula Deen is but if you don't she is the Food Network's Queen of Southern Cooking and I secretly think she is also the unofficial spokesperson for the Wisconsin Butter producers Association. She and I have two things in common. One we are both from the coastal South, she from Savannah GA., me from Charleston SC. , good natured rival cities. And we both love cooking with mayonaise. I mean I get it, I get that Mayo can be a pivotal ingredient in food. It just makes sense to me.

So I guess you all are wondering when I had the chance to cook for Paula personally. And I have to admit it is a little bit of a fib. Well not a fib she did have my recipe at her brunch event. I just did not personally cook it. A catering kitchen did. I mean I was not going to cook something at my kitchen for 400 people. It just wasn't going to happen. However, the chef preparing the menu knew me and asked if he could have my recipe for tomato pie. I gave it to him and it was served at the Food and Wine festival event for Paula Deen's brunch. She like it, so did everyone else. So has anyone who has ever had it!!! Indeed it is one of my signature dishes. And now I will give it to you.

You might be saying to yourself, Tomato Pie?? What the hell is that. But I can assure you it is as Martha says, a good thing. Tomato pie is a very old fashioned southern dish. So old fashioned that it is not even normally mentioned in the cannon of Southern Cooking. It dates back to the agrarian roots of the South. Southerners cook a lot of vegetables. And Southern cooking has its roots in African cooking because so many of the dishes were prepared by slaves whose culinary experience came from the dark continent. Even the most famous southern dish of all fried chicken has it's roots in African cooking. The famous meat and three, where you have one protein paired with 3 veggie sides is a testament to the plethora of vegetable cookery in the south. One reason for this was of course the farm culture that pervaded the South. The other reason was the civil war. Now I know some of you are saying really, now really Forrest. Why do you Southerners not seem to be able to let go of the civil war it, was so bloody long ago. Well there are some stupid and ignorant reasons for sure, that have to do with fantasy and bigoted thinking. But really the answer is history. Yes, history, or what happened in the South after the war.

This is the part of the story that no one seems to want to tell or get right. There is a lot to be said about it but for our purposes it's only necessary to note that the answer we are looking at is POVERTY! Yes, the South after the war was Poor or as we say...PO! Raped by the north and punished politically it really was not until the 1960's that the South began to "rise again". I mean it wasn't just Yankee retribution that caused this it was again history and commerce. It took a long time for the South to rebuild and when it did it got hit by all the economic downturns that troubled the US since the civil war including every depression and recession. SO all that leads me to vegetables and why southerners eat them. They are CHEAP, they could grow them and they were available.

My grandmother was born in 1898. She was 98 when she died. She saw a lot and experienced a lot and cooked ALOT, and I have some good stories about her. As a small boy I would spend summers when possible up in the mountains of South Carolina for a few weeks. It was a really interesting and fun time. Her town was near state parks with lakes for swimming and barn dancing on the weekends. My Uncle Frank ( who made the worlds best potato salad ever) had a farm (garden) next door to her house and my brother and I learned all about land and dirt and weeding and farming things from him.  And there were mountain waterfalls to explore and relatives to spend time with! Often before meals I would sit on the back porch swing and pick beans and husk corn, and peel potatoes. It was a different world from the one I knew. And to this day I wish I had had the chance to spend more time there and learn more about the people I came from. I have some stories but I wish I had more.

Anyway we would have lunch and supper everyday in the dining room on China with silver! Also at every meal there would be at least 2 of 6 things. Tomatoes, Cornbread, Beans, Greens or Yellow Squash and something made from buttermilk or buttermilk itself. Looking back we actually ate a lot of vegetables. My grandmother I think had been eating the same kinds of foods since forever. And well, that served hr well, she lived a long time. One of the recipes that I got from that time was something that she made for my father growing up. He used to have my Mom make it occasionally. My Mother's mother the caterer/ cook/ dietitian also used to cook a version of this. So I suppose my recipe is a blending of the two with a little of my own inspiration thrown in!

But back to Tomato Pie. So what is it? Well it is a pie which is made with tomatoes. Kinda like a quiche but again due to the economy of it's origin, it uses fewer eggs by incorporating them into the dish but not using the quantity you would need for a regular quiche. More on that later. it is sinple savory and rich but full of vegetable goodness! So here is the recipe for Forrest's tomato pie hope you try it ya'll!

Forrest's Tomato Pie ( Served at the Paula Deen Brunch Event  NYC F&W Festival 2011!!!

1 deep dish pie crust store bought or if you like your favorite recipe ( My favorite recipe is Pilsbury!!)

1 small onion chopped
1 green pepper chopped
2 scallions chopped
 oil for cooking
4 large tomatoes cut into 1/4/ inch slices
1 cup good quality Mayonnaise ( I like Dukes but The H word will do)
1 cups grated yellow extra sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated cabot clothbound Cheddar
1/2 cup grated hard aged gouda cheese like Parrano or Old Amsterdam ( or a smoked gouda for a different twist)
These cheeses all tossed together
10 basil fresh basil leaves chopped chiffonade
1 teaspoon dried italian seasoning
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/4 cup parmesan cheese grated
2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives


First: Saute Onions and Green pepper and green onions till soft in cooking oil

Next: Slice the tomatoes and salt them lightly and then them layer them between paper towels to pull out as much liquid as possible. This will keep the pie from becoming mushy and is a very important step.
You could do this overnight in the fridge in a baking dish wrapped if you want. Or not they should set out about 30 mins to an hour and dab them dry when done with more towels.

Next: combine the warm onions and peppers with the mixed cheeses (reserve 1/4 cup cheese for later use.)

Next: Add the Mayo to the mix add the dried spices and the fresh basil and mix gently

Next: Start the pie by putting a small layer very lightly on the bottom on the mix. Place a layer of tomatoes on top of that then another layer until you have filled the pie shell like a lasagna. ( you might have extra tomatoes....enjoy eating them ) but reserve about a 1/4 cup of the mix for the top.
Place the last of the mayo cheese mix on the top and spread out.

Next: Combine remaining cheese mix and parmesan cheese and sprinkle all over the top. Top with chopped chives

Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 mins or until bubbling and the top is nice and brown.

Allow to cool for 15 mins to 20 mins then slice and serve. ( it will be a little runny don't worry just scoop it up the cooler it gets the more it sets up and it is good at almost room temp as well)

Serve with a green salad or cole slaw and potato salad in the summer.



  1. Yummy! I love your Southern flare. Can't wait to try this one.

  2. I saw Paula make something very similar to this on the food network last month!! She stole it!!! :)