Tomatoes, eggplant and peppers are members of the nightshade family. There’s something a bit sexy about those nightshades; maybe it’s the deadly yet beautiful part …. Tomatoes are, in fact, a fruit, but their affinity for other savory ingredients means that they are usually classed as a vegetable. Fruit or vegetable, they are a rock-solid part of summer down-home comfort.
Fresh tomatoes are only ever good in summer. There is nothing as wonderful as the full flavor of a garden-ripe tomato — and there is nothing as sad and disappointing as the insipid, lifeless flavor of a tennis ball-like tomato held in cold storage and shipped in a case from the other side of the world. I don’t eat those atrocities and strongly suggest that you don’t either. So, when it’s tomato season, I vigorously support eating those glorious ripe ones as often as possible.
Try to find heirloom tomatoes for the best flavor. Heirloom tomatoes are grown from non-hybrid, open-pollinated seeds, and are the varieties that have been passed down through the generations by farmers and gardeners around the world. If you cannot find heirloom tomatoes, use a ripe tomato from your garden, a good produce market or a farmers market.
In the smothering heat of summer, a dish with the ability to be served at room temperature is a welcome addition to the dinner table. Tomato Pie is an old-school Southern summer staple that sets an excellent stage for garden-ripe tomatoes. A hearty slice of Tomato Pie is wonderfully appropriate for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Tart, winey sliced tomatoes are heartily seasoned with salt and pepper, and enhanced with a generous handful of freshly chopped herbs. The combination is bound with mayonnaise and cheese, then baked in a tender, buttery crust. The combination of tomatoes with freshly chopped herbs is a testament to my philosophy of simple recipes executed with the best possible ingredients. It is mouthwatering summer goodness.
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Get the Recipe: Tomato Pie
Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.