Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.
As good as summertime is, its final weeks, with that first hint of cooler weather, can be the best part of all. The bounty of fresh tomatoes and other produce in the market makes the otherwise-bittersweet change of seasons something to look forward to.
The red sheen of a ripe tomato skin, stretched so tightly it looks minutes away from bursting, reminds me of biking in the Carolina country suburbs, having been sent to buy produce from “the tomato man” and trying to eat a tomato like an apple, feeling the inevitable trickling juice sticking to the handlebars.
With this excellent fruit-that's-thought-of-as-a-vegetable, you aren't expected to do anything fancy. In fact, I find it’s often the reverse—in-season tomatoes are typically best in a simple salad or fresh gazpacho where they can shine. A friend of mine loves hers sliced in half, face-up, sprinkled with spicy sesame and kosher salt, and roasted in the oven.
I’ve put together an easy dish that captures the essence of these end-of-summer days—although it doesn't need to be summer or early fall for you to enjoy this. In this simple pie, relying on premade dough or crust as a weeknight shortcut, a creamy cheese base is topped with a colorful medley of tomatoes.
For this pie, look for tiny tomatoes—anything from quarter-sized cherry to yellow pear to green zebra, creating a fun mix. After you’ve stirred together the crumbled feta, shredded Parmesan, plain yogurt (or mayonnaise), egg yolk, oregano and a pinch of black pepper, and have added the tomatoes, grab your faithful corkscrew and use the side of the worm to style the piecrust edges as you wish. You can leave the pie open-faced or use any extra dough to create fun shapes to lay on top, in lieu of a full top crust. As with any homemade pie, lightly brushing an egg-white mix over the dough will help bring shine and light browning to the crust.
Leave the pie in the oven, and when you come back, you have a medley of flavors: the sweet, hot juice of the tomatoes, the tanginess of the feta and the richness of the melted Parmesan and crumbly crust. Be careful of the tiny tomatoes though—when the skins burst under your teeth, be ready for piping-hot juices. You can also add a simple side of fresh greens to round out the meal.
One of the great pleasures of cooking is sipping wine while messing about in the kitchen, testing out your possible dinner pairing. In this case, I had on hand a cru Beaujolais, a lightly chilled Lambrusco and a bright Grüner Veltliner.
Though most people might gravitate to a white with feta and produce, I thought the richness of the Parmesan and piecrust made a fresh, light red—like Gamay—worth a try. The Beaujolais, with lots of black fruit on the nose and pleasant, sandy tannins, was enjoyable on its own, but, despite its zesty character, it became flabby and unexpressive with the tomatoes’ acidity.
I was hoping the low-alcohol, lightly fizzy Lambrusco would be a fun pairing, with its bright, tangy fruit, and it was at first. But after a couple bites of the pie with the red wine, its cherry notes took on a slight cough-syrup taste.
Alone, the Grüner had all the citrus and lip-smacking acidity I expected of this Austrian variety, but with the pie it warmed on the palate and gained complexity, and the tanginess of the melted feta smoothed out the Gruner’s spicy finish. Your preference for Lambrusco or Grüner may change depending on several factors: whether you decide to use sweeter versus tangier tomato varieties; 4 or 5 cups of tomatoes; a full piecrust or an open-faced presentation? The good news is that there are many options to play with.
Pair with a lively, citrusy white such as Loimer Grüner Veltliner Qualitätswein Trocken Kamptal Lois 2014 (88 points, $16).
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 65 minutes
Total time: 80
Approximate food costs: $25
1. Let the piecrusts stand at room temperature for 15 minutes and pre-heat the oven to 375˚ F. In a medium bowl, stir together the feta, 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan, yogurt or mayonnaise, egg yolk, oregano and pepper. Ease the pastry into a 9-inch pie plate, pressing lightly into bottom and sides. Sprinkle the bottom of the crust with Parmesan, reserving a little extra.
2. Spoon the feta mixture into the pie plate and spread it over the layer of Parmesan, reserving a little. Top with whole tomatoes, and sprinkle with salt and the small amount of remaining feta mixture and Parmesan. Cut slits in the second piecrust (if you desire a full crust) and place on top of the filling. Crimp edges as desired. (You can also create a more decorative crust by making cutouts in the second piece of dough and layering them over the filling instead.) In a small bowl, whisk together the egg white and 2 teaspoons water and brush the mixture over the pastry.
3. To prevent over-browning, cover the edge of the pie with foil. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove foil from pie. Bake for 30 minutes more or until crust is golden-brown. To serve, sprinkle extra feta on top of the slices, if desired. Serves 4.