Yes, Poole’s Mac and Cheese Is Great. But Don’t Forget the Tomato Pie, a Summer Staple and Foodie Favorite. | Food Feature | Indy Week
Pin It

Yes, Poole’s Mac and Cheese Is Great. But Don’t Forget the Tomato Pie, a Summer Staple and Foodie Favorite. 

Christensen's Homegrown Tomato Pie in Poole's: Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner

Photo courtesy of Penguin Random House

Christensen's Homegrown Tomato Pie in Poole's: Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner

When I moved here and asked people what I should eat, everyone extolled chef Ashley Christensen's mac 'n' cheese as the must-try dish. When I snagged a stool at the double-horseshoe bar of Poole's, the Macaroni Au Gratin lived up to the hype—a bubbling gratin with an ample gooey stretch, heaped with noodles and sealed inside a crisp, cheesy crust. But I think Christensen's tomato pie should also be a rite of passage for Triangle newbies and natives alike.

A modest wedge garnished with a tangle of sherry-vinegar-dressed watercress, Poole's tomato pie doesn't have the head-turning looks of the mac. But after you've sunk your fork tines through its layers—baked cheddar, a custard filling lined with slices of tangy-sweet tomatoes and oozing cheese, buttery pie shell—you understand why the seemingly humble tomato pie is the star of summer.

Christensen developed her Homegrown Tomato Pie recipe while working on her cookbook, Poole's: Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner, and loved it so much that she added it to her menu. "It's become a harbinger of the season that people look forward to," she says. "We have a few dishes like that; they create lots of excitement and anticipation among our guests."

Sara Foster, owner of Foster's Market in Durham and author of the forthcoming Pie: A Savor the South Cookbook (UNC Press), agrees that it's a Southern summer classic.

"I think it was a ladies' luncheon dish," says Foster. "Tomato pie as we know it today, with cheese and mayo, that comes from the fifties and sixties, when people were looking for what I call 'a can of this and a box of that' recipes."

Indeed, many early tomato pie recipes called for Bisquick, whereas modern recipes like Foster's and Christensen's favor short-crust, though allegiances to mayo brands and dalliances with cheese are common.

The tomatoes are the constant, summer-sun-ripened and just off the vine. Tomatoes enjoy a long growing season in North Carolina, and the variety is dizzying. Miriam Rubin, author of Tomatoes, another Savor the South volume, describes the classic German Johnson variety as "the tomato-sandwich tomato." Its large size, juiciness, and sweet-tart flavors are perfect for sliced slabs on white bread slicked with mayo (Duke's, please). Another favorite is the Cherokee Purple, known for its purple-tinged flesh and complex flavors.

Christensen's recipe calls for Beefsteak or heirloom varietals, but she says it's a forgiving recipe, so you can use pretty much any kind. The key is seasoning them well with salt and removing as much excess liquid as possible, which keeps the pie from becoming soggy. (Her trick is to dry the sliced tomatoes in a salad spinner.) She uses buttermilk cheddar and makes a cider-vinegar-based aioli (at home, she's been known to use Duke's mayo), spiked with horseradish and Dijon. And because the recipe for the crust is labor-intensive, she's not afraid to recommend that home cooks go store-bought.

Christensen prizes tomatoes for their balanced acidity and the way they complement all kinds of ingredients and dishes. You'll find them everywhere on Poole's menu, in roasted-tomato aioli with crab doughnuts; Purple Cherokees with garlic bread, basil, and stracciatella; and cornmeal-fried green tomatoes.

"My father grew tomatoes, so I've eaten them in every form since I was a kid," Christensen says. "I have visceral memories of eating tomatoes that were still the same temperature as the earth."

She's hosting a five-course tomato-themed dinner on June 28 at Bridge Club, her private event space, where dishes like Tomato-Cured Porchetta will be paired with the beverage of the moment, rosé. But we recommend building your own tomato dinner around Christensen's Homegrown Tomato Pie. We've got the recipe—and a link to the tomato dinner tickets—on our website.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Food Feature



Twitter Activity

Comments

Don't waste your $$ here. Horrible service, mediocre food. From what we heard - kitchen turnover is the issue due …

by Ibaguru on Piedmont Restaurant (Durham County)

I don't want to give this place any stars. We were just there this past weekend and the service was …

by Ibaguru on Piedmont Restaurant (Durham County)

Most Recent Comments

Congrats, Adam Sobsey, on a beautiful piece of work, evocative and moving. It captures much of what I feel about …

by cramco on Come Hell or High Water, Iconic Durham Restaurant Nana’s Was a Force of Nature. A Longtime Bartender Pays Honor to Its Unique Culture on Its Final Night. (Food Feature)

Yum! Thank you, Sharon for the great information!

by Mary Susan Klein on Peak N.C. Watermelon Season Is Here. Learn to Pick Like a Pro and See What Local Restaurants Are Cooking. (Food Feature)

The people of Cleveland have a different version of a steamer.

by Shocka Kahn on Kaffeinate’s Iced Okinawan Steamer Is Summer’s Answer to Pumpkin Spice (Food Feature)

© 2018 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation