Late summer food – Tomato Pie

Last week I teased some of you on facebook with a picture of a Tomato Pie – since the summer is not yet over I would like to share the story behind that delicious looking picture.  Let me tell you  now, it tastes every bit as good as it looks!!  The recipe comes from Florence, a friend from North Carolina, who first cooked it for me last year.  When Florence came back to St Chinian this year and asked me for dinner, I persuaded her to make tomato pie again.

The following week I got together again with Florence for a cooking lesson in how to prepare this delicious dish from the South.  I’d prepared a basic shortcrust pastry, to which I added a couple of tablespoons of freshly grated parmesan cheese.  Rolled out thinly, lined a flan tin and pre-cooked it.  This is not absolutely necessary: if you don’t have the time you don’t have to pre-bake your pie shell (or even make your own pastry), but I prefer it to have that little extra crunch.  Here are the remaining ingredients (almost all of them anyhow):

A tablespoon of Dijon mustard is spread in the bottom of the pie shell, which is then filled with thickly sliced tomatoes.  Thickly means about 2cm thick, and you use your thumbs to remove the seeds and watery stuff from the tomatoes.  If there are gaps, cut a slice into pieces and fit them in where necessary.  Sprinkle some chopped shallots over the tomatoes, a little salt and pepper, then sprinkle over some fresh basil, torn or chopped.

Spread grated cheese evenly over the whole thing; I used Comte, but you can use Cheddar, Gruyère or Cantal or a mixture.

Now comes the final step – mix some home-made mayonnaise (or use good store-bought) with some grated parmesan and spread evenly over the grated cheese.  A little tricky, but if you drop blobs of the mix onto the cheese and use a rubber spatula to spread it, you’ll achieve a good result.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 190 celsius for 20 minutes and you’ll end up with a golden looking tart with a slightly puffed top, and a delicious smell in your kitchen.

Leave it to stand for as long as you can resist it (about 20 minutes?) and serve warm.  What did we have with it?  I don’t think anything, except for some very nice wine, but I imagine that a green salad would go extremely well with it.  The key to success for this dish is to use only the sweetest, ripe tomatoes at their peak.  Search for them – it’s worth it.  If necessary bribe a gardening neighbour to give you some of his crop.  Don’t bother making it in the winter or with supermarket tomatoes, you’ll only be wondering what the fuss is all about!  And the other thing to watch for is not to over cook the pie.  The idea is for the tomatoes to be warmed through, but not cooked, so they retain their fresh taste.  Enjoy!

The sound of silence

‘Tis the time of year when the cicadas start singing – one of the signs that summer really has arrived!  In places the noise can be deafening as the beasties compete with one another, but mostly it provides a very pleasant background noise, a sign that you have arrived in the South.

I taped this little bit of silence at Les Rossignols near Roquebrun this afternoon.  There is no car noise and at the height of the day only the cicadas are active – sheer bliss and of course it’s not easy to find such a quiet spot in our ever so noisy environment.

The owner of Les Rossignols had prepared a simple and informal, but very delicious lunch.  Sitting on a terrace, admiring the view of the Orb river valley, with a glass of Rose wine from Domaine de Marquise des Mures, we started with a salad of fresh garden tomatoes, a separate dish of beetroot (both home-grown), dressed with lemon juice and olive oil and some marinated olives.  Main course was pasta with a sun-dried tomato sauce.  The sun-dried tomatoes (not the type in oil) are soaked to soften them a little, and then blended to a paste with chopped onions and garlic, which have been softened in some olive oil, roasted pine nuts and grated parmesan cheese.  Warm before tossing with the hot pasta – yummy!  For dessert we had that wonderful home-made tart made with fresh wild plums and apricots – the pastry crust was very thin and crunchy so a second piece was no hardship!

At Les Rossignols I also picked up a bowl full of wild plums, which make wonderful jam and delicious tarts combined with apricots!  I’ll be busy this evening preserving that bounty.The apricot tree along the road was heavy with fruit and I wanted to show you just how abundant the crop on some trees can be.   Of course just because it grows close to the road doesn’t mean that the tree does not belong to someone, so scrumping is out of the question!  I already made some apricot jam last weekend with fruit from Barbara Cathala – last Sunday she had some very nice small apricots which were perfect and made for a very tasty result.

 

At the beginning of the week I went to L’Arbousier in Pierrerue to update my photographs. The weather was spectacular and the garden in full bloom.  You can see the results on the webpage for the house

Also earlier in the week I went for a visit to Narbonne to catch up with a friend.  Le 26 is the restaurant we tried that day, not too far from the market halls.  Great value lunch time menu and very good food. There was melon with ham for starter – almost a bit of a cliche, but when the melon is perfectly ripe and ham tender and tasty, it’s sublime.  For main course there was supreme de poulet, beautifully cooked on a bed of mashed potatoes, and served with an oyster mushroom sauce.  Dessert was glass full of strawberries with creme chantilly, not your ordinary whipped cream, but the real thing with vanilla and a little sugar….!

 

In my garden exciting stuff is happening – the first of the tomato crop is ripening!!  It started to turn pale orange and should be ready for picking (and eating) any day now!  We’ve had some rain this week (unusual for this time of year, but very welcome!) and things are growing apace.  Unfortunately not just the vegetables and flowers but also the weeds, but such is gardening life.

 

The garden at La Digue in St Chinian was looking particularly lovely last week, with the climbing hydrangea and the trachelospermum flowering at the same time as the phormium and the oleander.

A bientot!