This is that glorious time of the year when we are awash in tomatoes. They're piled high at the market and friends with carefully nourished backyard tomato plants are dropping off paper bags stuffed with their prized produce. And Chef Jerry Pellegrino agrees, our first inclination is to use tomatoes in a salad, but we can also whip up some very easy and tempting dishes using cooked tomatoes.
One of the first dishes that comes to mind is the tomato pie. This variation on the pizza originated in Philadelphia and Trenton, New Jersey where it is cooked in a rectangular cookie sheet. But down South it looks like a conventional pie, and is something of a variation of the tomato sandwich with the crust, the tomatoes and lots of mayonnaise. Around Maryland, I certainly have heard of it, but it has never been put before me.
The Southern style starts with a blind-baked pie crust (store-bought is fine to use) adds a layer of sliced tomatoes, (pat them dry lest the pie becomes too soggy), spoons on a thick layer of mayo, and finally tops it with a blend of two or three shredded cheeses sprinkled on top. Some recipes urge you to add a layer of spinach or basil leaves for a little green.
My girlfriend Vickie made it for me, and I thought the idea is nice, except for that mayonnaise part. I just didn't fancy biting into gobs of baked mayo.
My personal variation would be to add more tomatoes, possible Roma if I could get them, but big old thick slices of one of the heirloom varieties would work for me. Next would come wilted spinach, then a blend of ricotta with shredded cheddar and mozzarella. I might even toss in a sprinkling of bacon.
Here's an idea I want to try right away. It's a fabled Italian dish with the peculiar name "Eggs in Purgatory", and it's simply eggs that are poached in a stew of cheery tomatoes, onion, garlic and oregano. You start by gently cooking onion and garlic in olive oil in a deep skillet, then toss in dozens of cherry tomatoes, and let them simmer until they split. A delicious sauce develops. Carefully crack six eggs, evenly spaced, around the simmering tomatoes, and let them cook under a lid.
To serve, gently remove an egg with some of the cherry tomato sauce, and place on a toasted slice of buttered English muffin. Spoon some more of the tomatoes on top and sprinkle a little Parmesan cheese over it to produce a lovely brunch-style dish. Why these eggs are thought to be trapped in Purgatory, I cannot say. Seems pretty heavenly to me.
We all love the traditional caprese salad. A wonderful variation would be to plate your standard chilled tomatoes and mozzarella slices with those simmered cherry tomatoes poured on top. Try cooking them with onion, garlic and sprigs of thyme for added flavor.
And if you are a fan of stuffed peppers, consider taking the same approach to a large tomato. To make stuffed tomatoes, take off the top 1/2", which you will reserve; scoop out a bit of the insides to create a bowl. Put together a filling of chopped roasted pistachios, golden raisins, minced garlic, thyme leaves and olive oil. You'll also be add some small chunks of mozzarella to the cavity, which will melt deliciously.
Bake in a 325° oven for about 35 minutes, with the cap back on.
Finally, if you are adept at making a good grilled cheese sandwich, try adding a couple thick slices of tomato the next time you fix one. It's a summertime natural.