We’re getting to the time of year up north when the tomato crop starts to peter out. While you still see lots of tomatoes at farmer’s markets and grocery stores, the ones left on the vines in your garden are probably green, and likely to stay that way, especially if there’s a cold snap.
But green tomatoes have their uses—most famously, fried and topped with hot sauce and ranch dressing and served as an appetizer. Here in New Orleans, you can find fried green tomato po’boys, and green tomatoes have become a favorite vegetable for pickling and the Southern relish called chow chow.
Crack open Vishwesh Bhatt’s new cookbook, I Am From Here: Stories and Recipes From A Southern Chef and you’ll find a different riff on the unripe fruit (or vegetable, depending on how you view it). The section on tomatoes includes a recipe for green tomato pie. It’s not savory, as you might expect given the sourness that green tomatoes can have. It’s meant for dessert.
“I knew when I wrote the tomato chapter that I was going to have at least one green tomato recipe in it,” says Bhatt, the James Beard Award–winning chef and proprietor of Snackbar in Oxford, Mississippi. We talked about his method earlier this month when I interviewed him in New Orleans at the Garden District Book Shop.
Bhatt, a native of Ahmedabad, in the Gujarat province on the west coast of India, didn’t want to go in a conventional direction. “I mean, who needs another recipe for a fried green tomato?”
Bhatt’s recipe originated with his college friend, E.J. Bunzendahl, whose father took many of the same spices and technique for apple pie, but incorporated green tomatoes instead. (There must be something about dads and green tomatoes, because my late father, Frank H. Maynard, made a similar pie from the end-of-season crop from our Michigan garden.)
Bhatt tweaked the original recipe for his new cookbook, which focuses on his discoveries as an Indian-born chef who has wholeheartedly embraced Southern cuisine. I Am From Here includes sections on rice, okra, beans, corn, and tomatoes, but the recipes aren’t like those in any other Southern cookbook.
“The experience [of creating the pie] reminded me that there’s always more to learn about even the most familiar of ingredients,” Bhatt says.
Makes one 9-inch pie (serves 6-8)
- 5 cups diced green tomatoes
- 1 1/2 cups plus 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 whole pie crusts (store bought, or see recipe below)
- 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. cornstarch or tapioca flour
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
- 1 Tbsp. grated lemon rind
- 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into five or six pieces
Place the green tomatoes in a large bowl with one tablespoon of sugar and the salt. Mix, then place in a colander over a bowl to drain for 30 minutes.
Pre-heat the oven to 375 F. Roll or trim one sheet of pie dough to fit a 10-inch pan. Fold and crimp the edges with a fork. Line the pie crust with parchment, then fill with pie weights or dried beans. Par bake the pie crust for five minutes, then set aside.
Combine the remaining sugar, tapioca flour or cornstarch, cinnamon, cloves, lemon zest and juice in a bowl and mix well. The mixture will look like wet sand. Shake the colander with the tomatoes to drain the last juice, then add the tomatoes to the mixture. Fold gently to combine. Add the filling to the parbaked crust, and dot with the butter.
Cut the second crust to about nine and a half inches (it should be slightly smaller than the first crust). Drape the crust over the pie and seal the edges by pressing them together with a fork or your fingers. Cut four or five slits in the top crust. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes until the top crust is golden brown and you can see the filling bubbling inside.
Be sure to let the pie cool completely. The interior will not be completely firm, but Bhatt says, “The juice will be so good, I promise you will not complain.” You can warm the pie before serving and top with vanilla ice cream. Alternatively, mix a little cinnamon and ground cloves into vanilla yogurt.
Makes two 9-inch pie crusts
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
- 1/2 cups cake flour
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 8 Tbsp. (one stick) unsalted butter, diced
- 1/2 cup vegetable shortening or lard, very cold
- 1/2 cup cold whole milk
- 1 Tbsp. white vinegar
Combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse to mix. Add the butter and shortening and pulse to mix. Make sure there are no blobs of fat visible.
In a small bowl, combine the milk and white vinegar. Sprinkle the milk mixture evenly over the top of the flour-fat mixture. Pulse until the dough begins to form a ball. Add more milk if required. Divide the dough in two, and press each half into a six inch circle. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour.
Roll out before using. The pre-rolled circles can be frozen for six weeks. When you are planning to use, defrost it in the fridge overnight or at room temperature for about 90 minutes. The dough should still be cold when you begin working with it.