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An engagement ring and a tomato pie in Charleston

Make the most of early summer tomatoes by baking them into a pie. Tomato is a fruit, remember? Campari tomatoes are used here, but use any tomato variety you like.

ILEANA MORALES | Special to the Times

Make the most of early summer tomatoes by baking them into a pie. Tomato is a fruit, remember? Campari tomatoes are used here, but use any tomato variety you like.

I remember exactly when Danny and I met: Oct. 1, 2010. We were newspaper interns sharing a breaking news beat and an address, each renting a room in a house with another woman and a cat.

One night, walking on Bayshore Boulevard after dinner, he almost kissed me.

On a trip to Ikea, he almost kissed me.

Until finally, one day, he did. By Thanksgiving, we were together.

By February, I said I love you. By spring, we had keys to our first apartment. And by this time next year, we'll be married.

Two weeks ago on a weekend trip to Charleston, S.C., Danny proposed! I said yes, of course.

We went to Charleston to get engaged, but we were also there to eat well. The biscuits, crawfish, shrimp and grits, benne wafers, the pork — I love it all. Have you heard of tomato pie? It's a Southern dish and it's a big thing in Charleston. I have wanted to make tomato pie for some time now. Picture pie crust cradling fresh tomato slices, herbs, cheese, and, yes, mayo. This is a Southern recipe after all. More old-fashioned tomato pies slather the tomatoes with a top layer of mayonnaise and cheese, but I couldn't resist letting the tomatoes take center stage. It looked too pretty so I tucked the mayo and cheese mostly underneath. I know it's not high time for tomatoes just yet, but I couldn't wait. Summer feels like it's here.

I can't wait any longer for tomatoes. For July. For pool days and a new pair of sandals. For the slowdown of time and fierce sunshine that seems to become part of me.

I can't wait for a wedding in Miami.

That weekend in Charleston was perfect, and I want to return every April to be reminded of those magical days and being in love in a city that now feels as if it's somehow ours. A certain spot off of Queen Street certainly feels like it belongs to us.

We went back to the same spot the next morning to take pictures and it was even more lovely during the day. A few people were setting up a pop-up brunch. It turns out this alley has many names (Dueler's Alley, Philadelphia Alley, Cow Alley) and is rumored to be haunted. It has history. And I love knowing that now it shares some of our history, too.

Ileana Morales is a writer who cooks in a small apartment kitchen in Tampa with fiance Danny Valentine, an education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. For more of their kitchen adventures, visit Ileana's blog, She can be reached at


Tomato Pie

For the crust:

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into pieces

4 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

3 to 4 tablespoons ice-cold water

For the filling:

2 ¼ pounds tomatoes, thinly sliced

1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt, divided

1 onion, diced

1 tablespoon canola oil (or leftover bacon grease)

1 ¼ teaspoons freshly ground pepper, divided

Coarse ground or Dijon mustard

½ cup freshly grated Gruyere cheese

½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese

¼ cup mayonnaise

½ cup assorted chopped fresh herbs (such as chives, parsley and basil)

To prepare the pie crust, process flour, shortening, butter and salt in a food processor or stand mixer until mixture resembles coarse meal. With processor running, gradually add 3 tablespoons ice-cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and process until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and comes together, adding up to 1 tablespoon more water, if necessary. Shape dough into a disc, and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Unwrap dough, and place on a lightly floured surface; sprinkle lightly with flour. Roll dough out to ⅛-inch thickness. Press dough into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim dough 1 inch larger than diameter of pie plate; fold overhanging dough under itself along rim of pie plate. Chill until firm, 20 to 30 minutes.

Line pie crust with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans to keep the crust from bubbling up as it bakes. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove weights and foil. Bake until browned, about 5 minutes. Let cool slightly. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Place tomatoes in a single layer on paper towels; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Let stand at least 10 minutes to draw out some moisture.

Saute onion and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper in hot oil in a skillet over medium heat until onion is tender, 3 minutes.

Pat tomatoes dry with paper towels. Spread an even, thin layer of mustard over the bottom of the crust. Sprinkle evenly with sauteed onions and ⅓ of the cheese. Arrange half the tomatoes over the cheese and cover evenly with ⅓ of the cheese, mayonnaise and half of the herbs. Arrange the remaining half of the tomatoes over top and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until lightly browned, shielding edges with foil or pie shield to protect the crust from browning too much. Garnish with remaining herbs. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Source: Recipe adapted from Virginia Willis via Southern Living

An engagement ring and a tomato pie in Charleston 05/19/14 [Last modified: Monday, May 19, 2014 2:07pm]
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