This time of year always comes quietly. I call these weeks “bridge weeks”: it’s warm during the day and tomatoes and corn are still at the markets, but the light is a touch more golden and it’s chilly enough in the mornings and evenings to grab your closest sweater. While fall is my favorite season, I find myself going inward a bit in September, wanting to experience the change of seasons without the Internet or TV forcing it upon me, or Starbucks announcing what seasonal drink I’d likely crave at any given time. We’re fickle people, aren’t we? One week eating stone fruits and discussing the dog days of summer and the next diving head-on into pumpkin breads and cookies. This is why I don’t read many food blogs at the very beginning of fall because I’m not quite ready to jump right into pumpkin breads and cookies. Here at our house, there are still tomatoes to slice, warm walks to take, and backyard picnic table with my name on it.
I recently picked up the most recent (Fall 2012) issue of Gastronomica while playing hooky at Elliot Bay Books with Sam last week. There is a lot to think about in the issue, from articles on food blogs and feminism to an exploration of the cultural significance of lard in the Ukraine, but there’s also a sweet little poem called “Sharing Mason Jars” by Dee Hobsbawn-Smith that touches on those quiet moments between friends in the kitchen just sitting, catching up, “dividing the day, the peaches, the jokes.” The poem closes with, “Linking arms, we pour cream into each other’s coffee/and admire how we have contained/summer’s fading light.” It’s that simple, really: not letting the summer-ness of these days get away from us in the rush to welcome fall.
So here we have tomatoes. Perfect heirloom tomatoes that were begging to be folded into something substantial enough to have for dinner last weekend. It’s rustic, so don’t expect a savory pie with a crisp crust that slices into perfectly neat, upright slices. There will be messy tomatoes and gooey cheese, and that’s what makes it so wonderful. The crust is a little more puffy and biscuity than traditional pie crust thanks to the leavening and the buttermilk. I’m actually so looking forward to using the same exact crust for a quiche or tart very soon — it’s delightfully soft on the bottom yet crisp around the edges. I played around with the flours, using a good amount of rye flour which I love for its dark earthiness. If you haven’t tried rye flour in pie crusts or scones yet, it’s relatively easy to find in well-stocked grocery stores and bakes up a mean, tasty pie or gallete, as the case may be.
A few quick notes on the recipe: Because the dough has more liquid than other doughs, it can be a little tough to handle. The recipe says to roll it in between two pieces of plastic wrap, but I always find that fussy. I say to work quickly, use flour liberally on the surface where you work, and don’t be afraid to patch away when little (or big) cracks or holes emerge as you’re laying the round of dough into the pie pan. It happened with me here, and you’d never know. Just snip a little piece of extra dough and lightly press it into a spot that needs it. This is such a rustic pie, it really doesn’t matter so try not to stress about the dough on this one. It’s not supposed to be perfect. For tomatoes, I used heirlooms but they do have more moisture than, say, a Roma tomato so do slice them relatively thinly and don’t skip the step where you let them drain. The bottom crust of the pie was pleasantly soft, but I could imagine it veering on soggy if you didn’t let the tomatoes drain well.
Quick Aside: If you’re curious about whole grains and whole-grain flours, it’s Whole Grain Week over on The Kitchn, and I’m focusing on a lot of breakfast-type things, so I’ll see you there. And hey, we’ll do something fall-ish soon. Until then, I’ll be donning flip-flops and working on the laptop in the backyard.
This recipe originally appeared in Bon Appetit last summer, and I’ve had my eyes on it ever since. I lightened it up this by replacing the mayonnaise with plain yogurt. I also swapped 1/2 of the all-purpose white-flour with the ever-wonderful rye flour, added a touch less sugar and a smattering of chives. The result is a savory, delightful mess of a tomato pie. I can’t help but think how wonderful this would be with fresh corn kernels from 1 ear of summer corn or quickly-sauteed zucchini slices. This pie has room for you to add a little of this and a little of that (sauteed kale or spinach would be nice, too)
Adapted from: Bon Appetit
For the Crust:
For the Filling:
To make the crust: Whisk first five ingredients together in a medium bowl. Using your fingertips, rub in butter until coarse meal forms and some small lumps remain. Using a fork, stir in buttermilk to ensure that all the dry ingredients have been combined with the wet. The dough will be sticky but should also be uniform. Form 1 single disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least one hour and up to one day.
To make the filling/pie: Lay tomatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with 2 layers of paper towels. Place another 2 layers of paper towels on top of tomatoes. Let stand for at least 30 minutes to drain away some of the liquid.
Preheat oven to 425 F. On a well-floured surface, roll dough out into an 11″ round. Try to work quickly as the dough will be more difficult the more it warms ups. Invert dough onto pie dish and nestle it in so the edges all but right up to the pie pan. Try not to handle too much. If the dough tears or develops snags, simply patch them and move on–it’s a rustic pie and no one will ever know.
Toss both cheeses in a medium bowl until evenly incorporated. Reserve 1/4 cup of cheese for the very top. Whisk scallion, yogurt, chives, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle cornmeal evenly over bottom of crust, then top with 1/2 cup of cheese mixture. Arrange 1/3 of tomatoes over cheese, overlapping as needed. Spread half of yogurt mixture (about 1/3 cup) over top as best you can. Repeat layering with 1 cup of cheese mixture, 1/2 of remaining tomato slices and remaining yogurt mixture. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Fold overhanging crust up and over edges of tomato slices. Crimp as desired.
Bake until pie crust is golden and cheese has melted and turned slightly golden, 35-40 minutes. let pie cool at least 1 hour and up to 3 before slicing/serving. While the pie is best enjoyed the day its made, cover and refrigerate and serve the next da
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.