First published Canberra Times 16 September 2011.
I’ve just returned from a weekend on the south coast and a visit with my good friend Jen, an incredibly talented and intuitive cook. She vehemently denies this, but continues to produce all manner of amazing heirloom dishes, mostly from old family recipes, which she prepares in her cozy cottage kitchen. Jen conjures the best roast pig I’ve tasted.
As I wind my way down the Clyde Mountain to the coast, I know another one of her famous “swine nights” is in the offing. It takes all my concentration to keep my trusty Skoda on the straight and narrow and my mind off the delights to come.
Jen plays mother hen to many of the local waifs and strays, who feast at her kitchen on perfectly cooked pig, crunchy baked potatoes and crispy pork crackling. You will regularly find a tribe of friends at Jen’s kitchen table, gathered there for swine night, being fed and wined with gusto, while she holds court on the other side of the kitchen bench.
One of her more unusual, but well-honed side dishes that accompany her roasts, is her great Aunt Kitty’s Tomato Pie. Jen’s family hail from the wilds of Goondiwindi and the dish has been cooked by the females in her family for generations. She insists that this pie needs to be almost charred to intensify the burnt umami flavour of the tomato and apologises for the amount of butter it uses. In her defence, I maintain that it’s the butter that actually provides that special je ne sais quoi!
This tomato pie is great as a side dish to accompany roast meats or with a green salad as a light lunch.
1 medium onion, sliced
6 ripe tomatoes, sliced
3 slices of wholegrain bread with crusts
3 tbsp softened salted butter
sea salt flakes and ground black pepper
2 tspn brown sugar
Preheat the oven to 200C. Smear a medium sized pie dish very liberally around its base and sides with the softened butter. Tear the bread into small one inch pieces and roughly cover the base with a third of the torn bread. Cover the bread with a third of the onion rings and then a third of the tomato slices. Sprinkle the tomato with a good pinch of the brown sugar and season with salt and pepper.Dab nut sized pieces of butter over the top of the tomato. Repeat the layers two more times, ending with a layer of bread pieces on the top. Sprinkle the top layer of the bread pieces with the parmesan cheese and finish with the dobs of butter.
Place in the oven uncovered for 1 hour. After cooking for 30 minutes, push the layers down with the back of a spoon to flatten the pie. Continue baking the pie for another 30 minutes until blackened around the edges. Remove from the oven and serve hot or at room temperature. Photos by Steve Shanahan