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Savory Summer Pie: Tomatoes and Corn and Biscuit Crust, Oh My

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I may have grown up amid Ohio’s horizon-filling corn fields, with tomatoes piled high at every farmer’s stand we passed, but I had never tasted the Southern treat that is tomato corn pie until a few years ago. Since that revelatory time, however, it has become the dish that announces “Summer!” in our kitchen (and celebrates its bounty a few times more throughout the season).

Tomato Corn Pie

Despite all that, somehow it has never ended up detailed here in Wonderland. I think I get distracted. There’s that weekend when I arrive at the market and see that the stall at the end has a pickup bed backed in and filled with ears of corn, and that the man who’s been selling the fresh spring peas has now traded them for bushels of the reddest, ripest fruit. I get a little dizzy. Apparently, I don’t come to again until the pie is baked and eaten. Apparently, I don’t consider sharing.

And it also has to do with the fact that a small army of writers have already blogged their way through the Gourmet recipe and posted all about how awesome this pie is, so it has always seemed silly to add to the noise about it. There are plenty of variations out there now as well: tomatoes roasted, a crust spiked with this seasoning or that one. The fact that I am extra generous with the filling–mounding up the corn and tomato slices and going extra hard with the basil–hardly seemed worth reporting.

Tomato Corn Pie

Once, however, I did read a post in which a cook expressed extreme displeasure in the finished dish. It was all wrong, she wrote, and I was weirdly crestfallen over this, that my favorite pie wasn’t universally loved. She disliked the crust (“But it’s a delicious, buttery biscuit!” I shouted at the computer screen). It was then that she really drew down on my thick slices of heaven and blamed the mayo.

Now, I have heard of these strange beasts, people who feel about mayonnaise the way others react to cilantro–with an innate disgust that deeply confuses the camp of addicted fans. Being both Team Mayo and Team Cilantro myself, I usually take a shoulder-shrugging “more for me” stance in the face of these expressed tastes. But the first tomato corn pie of 2012 has changed all that. I got home with my produce, shucked my corn, peeled and seeded and squeezed and blotted my tomatoes, chopped my herbs, whipped my mayo and lemon, shredded my cheese, and mixed the most lovely biscuit crust of my career. I assembled it all, crimping the edges and, yes, gloating already about how lovely it all was when I chanced to look over and see that the measuring cup full of the lemony mayo dressing was still sitting there, on the wrong side of my pie.

Unkind thoughts were mentally expressed. Also, I learned that you cannot, no matter how much you might desire to, pour the dressing in through the top crust vents. Just a little FYI.

So, I tossed the sauce into the ‘fridge and the pie into the oven, counted it as a lesson in humility, and tried to move on. When I took a bite of the baked pie, however, I discovered that I just might have stumbled onto something. First, for all the “mayo is gross” sayers in the crowd, this pie is tasty–not as tasty!!–but still plenty good sans the condiment. When made correctly, however, this recipe has a tendency to soak through its bottom crust no matter how vicious you get with the draining and blotting of all the sweet juices out of the tomatoes. This time, I cut and was rewarded with a perfectly platable slice–even the first piece popped right out of the dish with barely a chip in the bottom crust. I drizzled a bit of the unintentionally reserved dressing over the top like some kind of icing. I think this just might become a thing.

So make your own tomato corn pie, with or without mayo. No need to do anything but slice off the corn kernels, in my opinion, but definitely peel and seed and squeeze and blot those tomatoes.

Tomato Corn Pie

Savory Tomato Corn Pie
as seen across the internet, most traceable back to Gourmet

For the crust

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoons kosher salt
6 T cold unsalted butter
3/4 cup whole milk

For the filling

4 large, meaty tomatoes, peeled, cored and sliced crosswise, drained of their juices
3 ears of corn
3 T finely chopped basil
1 T finely chopped chives
2 cups sharp cheddar, grated
pepper
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 T butter, melted, for brushing the top crust

Prepare the tomatoes by cutting a shallow X in the bottom of each and dunking then in a boiling water for 10 seconds, then submerging them in ice water. The skins should easily peel off at this point, sticking only if there are imperfections in the fruit. Slice and squeeze gently, discarding liquid and seeds. I like to begin with this step so that I can lay out the slices out on paper towels and get as much drainage time as possible.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium-sized bowl. Add 6 T butter in small cubes and, using with a pastry cutter or your preferred method, work the butter into the dry ingredients. When the mixture resembles a coarse meal, add the milk and mix just until all ingredients are incorporated. Divide roughly in half (I add just a touch more weight to what will become my bottom crust and wrap in plastic. I like to flatten the dough into rough discs and refrigerate until ready to roll out.

Cut the corn off the cobs and roughly chop. Prepare the cheese, whisk the mayo and lemon dressing together, and chop the herbs.

When ready to assemble the pie, heat the oven to 400F.

Unwrap one of the dough pieces and place on a well-floured counter. Flour the top of the dough as well and roll out to fit your 9-inch pie plate. Working in batches, place half the sum total of each–corn, tomato slices, herbs, and cheese–in the shell and then repeat. Finish by drizzling the mayo dressing over the filling (though you may omit this step if you absolutely must). Roll out the top crust and seal the edges. Slice vents in the top and brush with the melted butter. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden.

Tomato Corn Pie slice

Adventures in CSA Vegetable Preparation

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This week’s farmers market/CSA haul is smaller than it might first appear, I suspect, piled, as it is, with leafy greens of all shapes and types. Regardless of its feeding power, however, it was definitely not going to all fit in the ‘fridge in its current state. Measures had to be taken.

Kale and I are historically wary kitchenfellows. I like it, but I don’t like the aerobic workout that chewing it usually involves, even when massaged with salt for raw salads (though I am impressed that leftovers will hold up for days that way). I was set to show it who was boss and pulverize the kale down into a pesto again this week, but then I caught this recipe for a vegan kale gratin that actually wasn’t playing a false game of “Look mom, I’m eating my vegetables!” by drowning everything in cheese sauce. I did make a traditional cup of béchamel sauce, but stuck with the suggestion for the nutritional yeast topping. And amazingly, when it was sauteed and baked, I had managed to get all that kale into a 9×13 Pyrex baking dish.

Healthy Kale Gratin

Healthy Kale Gratin
Based on the vegan recipe by Rosewater and Thyme

2 T olive oil
1-2 bunches kale, rinsed, deribbed, and chopped (my CSA bunch was very large–probably about 8 packed cups even after chopping)
2 large spring onions, chopped, including light green part
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup béchamel sauce (your favorite recipe, or see below)
1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1 T nutritional yeast

Pre-heat oven to 400F and butter a 9×13 baking dish.

Heat olive oil in a deep saute pan and cook onions and garlic until softened. Add kale. Cover with a lid and cook until wilted, stirring every couple minutes. When kale is ready, add béchamel sauce to the pan and stir until all vegetables are evenly coated. Transfer this mixture to the prepared baking dish and evenly distribute. Top with bread crumbs and nutritional yeast, and bake until top is lightly browned and kale bubbling, about 18 minutes.

Béchamel Sauce

1 T butter
1T cornstarch
1 cup whole milk
salt and pepper to taste
couple scratches fresh nutmeg

Melt butter in a sauce pan and whisk in cornstarch. Gradually add milk in several portions and bring to a simmer, whisking continuously. Cook gently, reducing heat as needed, until thickened. Remove from heat and reserve.

Tomato, Fava Bean, and Spring Onion Pizza

Tomato, Fava Bean, and Spring Onion Pizza

This week’s shopping also included a new-to-me find: fava beans. If I had known about the labor-intensive processing required before they could be consumed, I might have skipped this purchase (or purchased more than just the scant quart box, which reduced to a mere half-cup of beans), but in the end this was probably the most manageable introduction. Once I had peeled them out of their pods and blanched them out of their exterior jackets, I suspected that my paltry net pile could be applied to little more than salad sprinkling. But I was already making dough (more on that later this week) and I was stocked with tomatoes and chopped spring onion greens (from the kale dish above), and suddenly pizza seemed like a great idea. Was there cheese in the house? There was cheese. We were all systems go.

Some notes when making pizza with fresh tomatoes that will allow you to avoid a soaked crust. 1) As early in the process as you can, slice and drain the tomatoes well (go ahead and give them a gentle squeeze over the sink) and then lay them out on a few layers of paper towels. Blot the tops with a few more. Leave them that way until ready to top your pie. 2) Pre-bake your shell for 8 minutes in a very hot oven (450F) before adding your toppings–on a pizza stone if you have one, or some unglazed clay tiles from Home Depot. Set the dough on a piece of parchment to make moving it around a snap (no sticking and safe to touch when hot), and use the back of a cookie sheet as a makeshift pizza peel. 3) Be conservative in the amount of topping (but not the type!). Return to oven and bake until crust has browned and cheese is bubbling and golden.

With a few grinds of red pepper flakes, this was a lovely and light use of fresh spring ingredients. There was no one but me home to enjoy it. #plusandminus

Warmer Than Springtime

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Sunshine: 87 degrees worth this past weekend, to be exact, triggering that desperate need for shoes that are not boots and a few new dresses free of olive oil stains. Yes, these are the signs, here in Mid-Atlantic Wonderland Kitchen, that we have finally shut the door and thrown the deadbolt on the chilly months and plunged into the humid swamp that will keep us cooking well into October.

Even more than all that, however, it was the scent coming from the bag of dill, cilantro, and basil that I had picked up at one of my favorite market stands that got me excited about the possibilities of the…new year? Yes, this time has always felt like much more of a beginning than that celebrated calendar change buried in a case of snow and ice. Trailing the smell of fresh herbs with every step, home I came with enough feeling of prospect that I snapped the first petite “market haul” pic of 2012:

market haul

See that cloth bag up there at right? My regular sister-in-produce Marie gifted me a few of those snazzy sacks sewn as part of a great initiative here in Baltimore, and I am hooked. You can learn more about the project here.

Once all these fine bits of produce were unloaded onto my counter top, my favorite game of “suss out the magic formula” began, during which I wracked my brain, my bookcase, and the internet for the perfect use of the assembled raw ingredients. This week’s winners?

Rhubarb Chutney

First off, the inaugural canning project of the season was successfully completed: Rhubarb Chutney. Thanks to a lovely, small-batch recipe I discovered through Food52, the exercise proceeded without a hitch. It’s sweet and tart and cries out to be smeared on grilled cheese sandwiches, served with fancy crackers and goat cheese, and probably tastes lovely with roasted fowl, if you’re into that sort of thing. Honestly, the only real usage challenge I anticipate will be to keep from eating all this newly jarred deliciousness immediately.

rhubarb chutney: process

I also snuck a few more flats of Mason jars and a gallon of apple cider vinegar into the house over the weekend, so this preservation adventure has only just begun!!

Ahem. Okay, back to the food at hand.

Spring Radish, Asparagus, and Potato Salad

1 1/2 lbs baby red potatoes, cut into 1″ pieces
1 bunch asparagus, tough ends removed and lower stalks peeled if necessary
1 bunch mild radishes, quartered

For the dressing

1 cup strained yogurt (I happen to have a lot of this on hand because I love its sour cream-like consistency and because I’ve been using the whey in fermentation projects. It’s easy if you have one of these. However, any thick yogurt will do.)
1-2 spring onions, finely sliced
2 tsp. chopped dill
salt and pepper to taste
sunflower seeds to garnish (optional)

Boil potatoes just until fork tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside to cool.

Blanch asparagus for 2 minutes, or just until tender crisp. Immediately plunge into an ice bath. When cool, slice into 2″ pieces.

Place the potatoes, asparagus, and radishes in a large bowl and set aside while you prepare the dressing. Combine yogurt, onion, dill, salt, and pepper and spoon dressing over the vegetables. Toss to coat. Adjust seasoning and chill. Garnish with sunflower seeds before serving if desired.

celery soup

Cream of Celery Soup
adapted from Twelve Months of Monastery Soups

I often find soups too heavy to start a meal with, especially in the warm months, but this one is truly light and appetizing. It works well served both hot and chilled.

Celery Soup

4 cups celery, diced
3 shallots, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 white boiling potatoes, cubed
6 cups water
1 1/2 cups milk
2 T corn starch
2 T butter
scratch of nutmeg
1 T chopped dill
salt and pepper to taste

Place celery, shallots, garlic, and water in a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the white sauce. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Dissolve the cornstarch in 1/2 cup of the milk and, when the butter begins to bubble, add this mixture and stir for several seconds. Add the remaining milk, salt, pepper, and the nutmeg, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and continue cooking, stirring often, until the sauce has thickened. Reserve.

When the simmering time is complete, puree the soup and return it to the pot. Add the white sauce and the dill, and adjust the seasonings as needed. Enjoy hot or cold!

Totally Impractical

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Yesterday, I bought a whole watermelon at the market.

This would not have been such an issue if I had not already purchased two full bags of produce. Or if I wasn’t counting on the bus to get me home. But these things happen. Dear Mr. Bus Driver who waited for me to sprint-waddle over to the stop before taking off, even though you were already pulling back out into traffic when you noticed me: I hope a cool breeze follows you all summer long for your kindness.

So, as I said, I made some purchases, got myself home, then broke training and cranked my air conditioner while I contemplated what to make. In the end, most of my construction work ended up in jars. More ginger beer, more yogurt, more watermelon juice (mixing this with seltzer is my new favorite drink, and I’m fully stocked up now). The piles and piles of baby cucumbers at the market demanded a batch of sweet pickles and the tomatillos, a cubanelle, and some of the super-hot garden peppers still hanging out in the freezer from last season went into a simple and lovely roasted tomatillo salsa verde. Wanting to put that condiment to use immediately, I stuffed the remaining cubanelles with rice, a couple of the tomatoes, and (avert your eyes) a meat substitution product (for the health and happiness of the husband).

Once the oven was on to bake the stuffed peppers, I decided I might as well make use of the already-steamy kitchen to do up the fairytale eggplants as well. Those were all sliced in half, dropped into a hot chef pan with a bit of water, and then finished with this awesome sauce of rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, sake, ginger, garlic, and a pinch of sugar and cornstarch. Six minutes from raw to such a tasty side dish: in this kitchen, you could even call that practical.

Scrabble Cooking

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My weekly excursion to the Waverly Farmers Market came around a little fast on me this Saturday. Work had worn me down and I hadn’t cooked through nearly as much of last week’s haul as I had planned. Still, the grocery store this non-driver counts on because it’s within easy walking distance is closing down this week while it changes ownership, so I couldn’t afford to let anything go to waste.

For this reason, I motivated myself out of bed early on this first morning of the holiday weekend and went to collect my CSA share and a box of potatoes. When I got back home, I piled every veggie in the place on the counter to take stock and then went to work prepping food for the week, puzzle-piecing ingredients together until I was sure nothing had been left to spoil. Now, there is certainly no danger I will starve.

Broccoli soup with a kick
(adapted from this Broccoli-Mascarpone Soup recipe from Bon Appetit)
Without the mascarpone on hand, I’m sure this is not the same soup, but I simmered my broccoli with the shallots I found rolling around in the drawer, some veggie broth, and a couple of bay leaves, then pureed and added the cayenne and 14 oz. of homemade yogurt to whisk in some creaminess and balance the spice. I’m not a fan of cheesy broccoli soups but the simpler purees often leave me uninspired. The kick on the back end of this one is just what is needed to keep things interesting

Purslane Potato Salad
Is it the Fourth of July without a potato salad? I still had a lonely looking cucumber plus more that enough purslane left over from last week’s purchase to experiment with this version of the picnic classic, so this was an easy pick. Plus, it let me practice my mayo manufacturing skills!

Roasted Eggplant and Garlic Scape Pesto
I still hadn’t made this pesto with my garden garlic scapes (all 1/4 cup of them) nor had I roasted the eggplant from last week. With both these tasks now done, I suspect a pizza is in my future later in the week.

Kale, Black Bean, and Corn Salad
To wrap things up, I ended up just tossing what was left of the massaged kale I had prepped the other day with some corn and beans I had on hand. This isn’t really a dish, but rolled up in a flour tortilla (my weekday lunch delivery method of choice) I’m sure it will be quite tasty.

What are you eating this Independence Day weekend?

Springing Into the Season

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To introduce ourselves to Baltimore, Three Points Kitchen threw its second real-world, y’all-come-on-over event this past Sunday. Friends from far and near were kind enough to stop by and sample our kitchen’s offerings.

It was a Mad Hatter Tea Party of sorts, celebrating the arrival of the fresh produce of the season–bright pea and mint soup, roasted rhubarb, pencil-thin asparagus with wasabi dressing, duck egg salad on slices of warm baguette fresh from the oven, and radishes, baby greens, and homemade lemon butter slathered over just-baked rye bread. Plus sweets worthy of the Queen of Hearts, if we do say so ourselves.

We stopped just shy of breaking out the croquet mallets. The local Waverly Farmers Market provided most of the produce, including beautiful strawberries from the Eastern Shore that we topped with a St. Germaine Crème Anglaise. And just a few minutes shy of closing, the always-friendly staff at the Wine Source helped us procure all the parts of the Light Guard Punch we served alongside a watermelon lemonade for the abstainers in the crowd.

Want to try out what we ate? Here are a few of the recipes (if you have questions, just post ‘em in the comments):

Chilled English Pea-Mint Soup

(N.B.: If you have 2 pints of heavy cream, you can make your own butter and use the remaining buttermilk to make this soup. It’s foodie pretension taken to the limit, but also incredibly satisfying kitchen crafting. If you don’t gloat too much about it, it’s really just 100% tasty.)

Asparagus with Wasabi-Mayonnaise Dip

Cornmeal Parmesan and Poppy Seed Crackers

French(ish) Baguettes

Graham Crackers

Rye Bread

Braided Lemon Bread

Spinach and Mushroom Phyllo Dough Triangles

Rhubarb Penuche Tart

Tiger Tea Cakes

St. Germaine Crème Anglaise

Light Guard Punch

Watermelon Lemonade

And finally, this post gave me the idea to embed a peony in a block of ice to float in the punch–a highly recommended decorative touch. Wish I had gotten a photo snap before it melted away.