Enjoy ‘em while they last. It will be here before we know it, the end of peak tomato season. Local growers are telling me that we have about a month left for pick-of-the crop tomatoes.

Now’s the time to savor the deep colors of this succulent, just-off-the-vine, juicy, melt-in-your-mouth, juice-bursting fruit. Remember, those flavorless tomatoes of winter will soon be here.

Hit those local farmers markets, be nice to the neighbor who has the backyard garden, load up, blanch, peel and freeze for winter. Whatever you do, don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy the sweet, acidic and juicy celebration that signals the end of summer.

A favorite childhood memory is going into the garden with my great-grandfather and his salt shaker. Midday, the tomatoes on the vine were warm to the touch from their day in the sun. All Grandpa did was make sure none of those creepy tomato worms were around, wipe off the garden dust, sprinkle a little salt, and then we’d each take a bite like we were eating an apple. Slightly firm to the touch, plump and ready to burst with flavor-filled warm juices that just ran down your arm. The very humble tomato was a delicacy to my young self. I’m surprised any of the little crop made it into the house.

Yes, I can get carried away talking about tomatoes. They aren’t just a salad topping, filler for your sandwich, supporter of your sauce, the salsa on your tortilla chip or the base for your Caprese salad. Take advantage of the abundance right now and try something new.

One of the Purdue University students I met in Ireland last year during our Study Abroad extension of my “Let’s Go Cook” experiences shared an interesting family tomato recipe with Facebook friends recently. The tomato junkie in me was immediately drawn to this recipe and tempting photo.

Thanks to Sara Schellenberger, now a Purdue graduate, for the inspiration. The recipe she shared with me had options, so looks like somebody had already been experimenting to personalize the creation. So, yes, I did respectfully adapt, but only slightly. One tweak, adding a hint of garlic to the topping of the pie. Her family recipe was so close to the topping I make for my garlic cheese bread, a sinful family favorite, I just had to do it. The other tweak, reducing the amount of residual liquid in the baking dish. I think my tomatoes were too ripe. Lesson learned.

Helpful hints. I prepared the pie as a main dish, but you could also serve as a side dish. I baked in a traditional pie dish, but you could prepare in a baking dish and cut the individual pieces into squares. You decide.

I agree with Sara, Romas were a good choice because they do hold together more uniformly when slicing. Again, make sure your tomatoes are not overly ripe or there will be too much liquid in your finished pie.

Leftovers reheated nicely in the microwave.

The original recipes call for green onions; if using these, go raw. If you choose Sara’s alternative, saute yellow onion until translucent. She says you can use these raw as well. I only had red onions in the house, so I sauteed these until caramelized. Raw onions will release more liquid while baking, so keep this in mind.

I saved time by not blanching and peeling the tomatoes. Sara does both. My personal preference is here for you. Another time saver, I opted to use ready-made pie crust. This recipe is simple and easy, so I took advantage of simple and easy when it came to the crust. Another time saver, using the jarred jalapenos I had in the fridge.

My first pie had too much residual liquid in the bottom of the pie dish. So for Tomato Pie part deux, I used a small spoon, and then my fingers, to scoop out the center seed section. You can freeze these and add to sauces and soups later.

Schellenberger Tomato Pie

1 pie crust, pre-baked

8 medium to large Roma tomatoes (use any variety of large tomato you prefer)

Salt

1 jalapeno

8-10 leaves fresh basil

3 chopped green onions (or 1/4 cup diced yellow onion or 1/2 cup diced red onion)

1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1 cup mayonnaise

1/2 tsp. minced garlic (my addition)

Pepper to taste

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

If you plan to blanch and peel tomatoes you will need a large pot of boiling water. No salt. First slightly score tomatoes across the bottom. Drop a few tomatoes into the bubbling water for less than a minute. Remove tomatoes from water with a strainer and drop into an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. When tomatoes are cool enough to handle, start at the scoring point and simply peel away the skins and discard. I opted to use the whole tomato.

In either case, slice tomatoes into medium thickness. Lay tomatoes out on a thickness of paper towels. Sprinkle salt over all of the tomatoes and allow to set for 20 minutes to draw out some of the moisture.

Remove seeds and membranes from jalapeno, if using fresh. Mince finely.

Chop onions you have selected. If green onion, use raw. If yellow or red onion, saute in olive oil until translucent or caramelized.

Chop basil.

Combine both cheeses, mayo and garlic.

To assemble, lay tomatoes evenly over the baked pie crust. Layer onion, jalapenos and basil.

Pepper generously.

Top ingredients with cheese and garlic mixture. Best to use a spatula or your fingers to spread evenly without disturbing the layering of the pie filling.

Bake 30 minutes or until top of pie is dark golden and bubbling.

Allow to cool on rack for 15 minutes before slicing to serve.

Serves 8 in pie slices or 10-12 in smaller squares.

Mangia Bene.

Diane De Filipi lives in the Napa Valley and leads cooking tours to Italy and Burgundy, France. Visit letsgocookitalian.com or ila-chateau.com/cook-italian for more information.

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