A Perfect Tomato for Pie

By Bonnie S. Benwick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 17, 2005

An occasional series in which staff members share a recipe that we turn to time and again:

I've been counting the days till mid-August to make a fresh tomato pie, as I've done the past 11 summers.

The dish, which is simple yet pleasing, is from a recipe published by Marian Morash, of longtime "Victory Garden" fame. Morash is a former executive chef of Julia Child's television series, a restaurateur and a television cooking-show pioneer in her own right, so her recommendations on just about any vegetable are worth pursuing.

It's not a tough job, finding the few beefsteak tomatoes that will yield the thick, firm slices required; I realize the hunt and the waiting game are self-inflicted. I like to think I'm making the pie the best it can be, or at least the way it was meant to be.

Layers of sliced tomatoes, fresh herbs and salty shredded cheeses ooze together in under half an hour, cradled by a surprisingly moist single-crust pastry. But before the filling's assembled, the partially baked crust is brushed with a Dijon-style mustard, which gives each bite a zing.

Good job, Marian! I thought as last week's pie dough chilled. After all these years, I ought to let her know; what cook can't take a compliment? She wasn't too hard to find. I phoned and left a message of thanks.

Happily, she returned the call.

Morash still cooks lots of vegetables, but not for public consumption. Day in and day out, she's chef to her multigenerational family of nine in Nantucket this summer (11 or more on the weekends).

"We had a big garden back in Lexington [Mass.], but we've never grown too much here," she said, shortly thereafter endorsing the locally grown produce at two farms on the island. "We do lots of salads -- yellow bean salad, baby beets, gazpacho. "

And the tomato pie recipe from her cookbook, credited to Ann Marotto?

"I haven't actually made that in a while," she said. "But I should. I've never seen anything quite like it. The cottage cheese in the crust is quite unexpected.

"Ann Marotto was a friend of mine back in Lexington," Morash continued. "She loved fresh vegetables. After I'd written the first cookbook [in 1982], she said, 'I should have told you about my tomato pie.' " So Morash made sure the pie was included in her next cookbook.

Morash's friend died about a year after the 1993 recipe collection was published. Knowing this, for me, makes the hunt for perfect pie tomatoes seem even more like the right thing to do.

Ann Marotto's Fresh Tomato Pie

6 servings

Cottage cheese, the pie crust's surprise ingredient, makes a pastry that is tender without being flaky. Its curds disappear during prebaking. Serve as a light supper with a summer salad or alongside grilled fish.

Adapted from Morash's "The Victory Garden Fish and Vegetable Cookbook" (Knopf, 1993).

For the pastry:

1 cup flour

1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese

1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

1/2 teaspoon salt

For the filling:

About 2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard

2 or 3 large beefsteak tomatoes, sliced thick and evenly

1 cup grated low-fat Swiss cheese

2 tablespoons basil, julienne

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup grated low-fat mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Have ready an ungreased 9-inch pie plate or fluted quiche pan.

For the pastry: Combine the ingredients in a large bowl and, using your fingers or a pastry blender, cut the mixture until it comes together as a smooth dough, with the butter well incorporated. Form the dough into a ball, flatten it slightly, wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.

On a lightly floured surface or between two pieces of wax paper, roll out the dough slightly larger than the pie plate or quiche pan and press the dough into the plate or pan. Prick the bottom with the tines of a fork, cover loosely and refrigerate for another 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Line the pie shell with aluminum foil and pour ceramic pie weights or dried beans evenly on the foil. Bake for 8 minutes, then carefully remove the weights or beans and the foil, and bake for 2 minutes more. (At this point, the crust will not be fully baked.) Set aside to cool.

For the filling: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Brush the bottom of the cooled pie shell with a thin, see-through coating of the mustard. Layer the tomato slices, Swiss cheese and herbs, seasoning each layer lightly with salt and pepper to taste. Spread the mozzarella and Parmesan evenly over the top, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm.

Per serving: 331 calories, 15 g protein, 21 g carbohydrates, 21 g fat, 60 mg cholesterol, 13 g saturated fat, 522 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Bonnie S. Benwick; e-mail questions tohttp://food@washpost.com

© 2005 The Washington Post Company