In A Chef’s Life, go inside the life of chef Vivian Howard, who, with her husband Ben Knight, left the big city to open a fine dining restaurant in small-town eastern North Carolina. Each episode follows Howard out of the kitchen and into cornfields, strawberry patches and hog farms as she hunts down the ingredients that inspire her seasonal menus. Using a chef’s modern sensibilities, she explores Southern cuisine, past and present — one ingredient at a time. A celebration of true farm to table food, the series combines the action and drama of a high-pressure business with the joys and stresses of family life.
Mary Vaughn shows Chef Vivian the old-timey way to can tomatoes. Vivian prepares for a Southern Foodways Alliance luncheon at the restaurant where food enthusiasts from around the country are coming to study BBQ, and Vivian plans to serve them the “ultimate tomato sandwich.”
Vivian’s Cooking Demo
Vivian’s Featured Recipe
- For the Filling
- 2 cups diced and drained fresh tomatoes
- 2 cups diced and roasted tomatoes
- 1 cup caramelized onions
- 1/2 cup picked basil
- For the Topping
- 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 1/3 cup grated Fontina
- 1/2 cup mayo
- 1 pie crust
- For the diced and drained tomatoes
Seed and dice about 3 cups fresh, high-quality tomatoes. Toss them with a little kosher salt and sugar. Set over a colander while you prepare the remaining ingredients if possible. If not, drain for a minimum of an hour. You should be left with about 2 cups of tomato.
- For the roasted tomatoes
Seed and dice 4 cups fresh, high quality tomatoes. Toss them with olive oil (at C&F we use garlic oil), plenty of kosher salt, and several sprigs of thyme. Spread this mix out on a baking sheet and roast at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. You want the tomatoes to be dry and slightly caramelized, but not burned around the edges.
- For the Onions
Peel and slice (with the grain) 4 medium yellow onions. In a large sauté pan, heat 1/4 cup butter. Add the onions and season them with salt. Let the onions simmer and become juicy. Once the situation becomes a bit drier and much of the onion liquid has cooked out, turn down the heat, to its lowest setting and settle in for a long, slow caramelize. To get these onions where they need to be, it could take about 2 hours. You are looking for a medium brown, sweet caramelization.
- To Assemble the Filling
Combine the onions, fresh tomatoes, roasted tomatoes, basil, salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. Keep in mind, tomatoes take a lot of seasoning to really make them shine in applications like this.
- To Bake and Serve
Spread the filling over the bottom of a blind-baked crust. Flatten the topping between wax paper or use your good ol’ hands to create a 1/3 inch thick round of delicious, cheesy topping that spreads nearly to the edges of the pie. Bake at 375 degrees until the top is nicely browned...20-25 minutes. Serve at just over room temperature.
Tips/TechniquesAt C&F we make a tight aioli to fold into our cheeses, but you can substitute your favorite brand of mayo to great effect. As for the crust... I will add the crust recipe when I gather it from Kim, C&F’s pastry chef. For now, use your favorite crust recipe or even a frozen crust...and blind bake it!
Yield: Makes roughly one 12-inch pie or tart