11 October 2006

End of the Minnesota growing season


I just spent a couple of hours in the kitchen chopping basil to bag and freeze. Actually, it was lemon basil. I harvested the last of my sweet basil over the weekend. You see, the weather forecast is for our first killing frost, either tonight or tomorrow. Some of the heartier herbs will survive. In fact, I’ll be using fresh sage until it’s covered by snow. But the delicate stuff, like basil, definitely is a goner. (No irony intended – preserving basil by chopping and freezing it before a frost kills it.)

Same for tomatoes. My yard does not accommodate tomatoes well anyway. I always plant a few just to make a valiant effort. But my yard is too shaded for the plants to thrive. This year, with the heat in July, we actually harvested several handfuls of grape tomatoes and a few cherry tomatoes. But when the weather cooled off, they stopped ripening.

So my lament for the end of garden fresh tomatoes is mostly theoretical, but it’s no less heartfelt.

A friend of mine at work, a new reader of my blog, commented that she liked the postings about tomatoes. She said she has a favorite tomato recipe. She got it from Mary Hunt’s syndicated column called ‘Everyday Cheapskate.’

I told her that I would post it on the blog, so here it is. (Thanks, Jill.) The original recipe calls for shortening in the pie crust, but I’m giving you the option of using butter instead.

Savory Cheese, Tomato & Onion Pie

Pastry shells:

3 c. flour
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
c. shortening or butter
1 egg
2 tbsp. white vinegar
4 tbsp. cold water

Blend together flour, sugar, salt, and shortening (or butter if you choose to substitute) until mixture looks like coarse meal. In a small bowl, mix together egg, vinegar, and water until well mixed. Add to flour mixture and stir until it just sticks together. Form into two balls, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 15 minutes. When dough is chilled, roll out one ball and place in 9-inch pie pan. (You may freeze the other ball for a later use.)

Filling:

4 tbsp. butter
2 large onions, sliced
2 large, firm tomatoes
1 tbsp. chopped fresh basil
5 oz. Swiss cheese, grated
5 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, grated
2 tbsp. flour
2 large eggs
¾ c. cream or half-and-half
Dash nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350. Caramelize onions by melting butter in a large skillet and sauté onions for 30 minutes or until soft and brown. (Be careful not to burn.) Remove onions and set aside.

Slice tomatoes ¼ inch thick. Place tomatoes and basil in same skillet used to caramelize onions. Cook over medium heat for 3 minutes until heated through and tomatoes have absorbed any butter remaining in the skillet.

Grate cheeses into a bowl. Mix in flour. Spread 1/3 of cheese mixture over bottom of pastry dough in pie pan. Top with onions. Spread tomatoes over onions. Cover with remaining cheese. Whisk together eggs and cream until just blended. Carefully pour over cheese; sprinkle with nutmeg. Bake for 35-40 minutes until eggs are set and top is golden brown.

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