“The more you cook, the more you go back to your roots.” Lindsay Autry '04 is back at JWU for a very important reason — she is taking part in a JWU Epicurean Society demonstration and reception to support student scholarships — and she is sharing her signature recipe for tomato pie, a dish that harks back to her childhood in North Carolina, with the invited guests.
Joining Autry are her pastry chef, Sarah Sipe '01, and beverage director, Tim Eagan '93, from her Palm Beach restaurant, The Regional Kitchen & Public House: “It’s a bit unique that all 3 of us met through JWU. It’s so great to be on campus with all the people who have influenced and inspired me.” (Bruce Ozga, JWU North Miami’s dean of culinary education and a mentor of Autry’s, is on hand to introduce her prior to the evening’s festivities.)
Autry’s menu at the Regional, which opened just over a year ago, is chock full of Southern comfort food favorites, including her justly famous fried chicken, the aforementioned tomato pie, pickled shrimp, pimento cheese and deviled crab. She describes the menu as “approachable” while still benefiting from the chef-driven techniques she has honed throughout her career, including her memorable stint as a finalist on “Top Chef” Season 9.
But the heart and soul of her cooking is driven by her formative experiences: “My whole life I’ve been surrounded by food — growing up, my grandfather started a peach orchard when he retired from the public school system and my brother, sister and I spent 7 days a week out there picking peaches,” Autry explains.
Autry’s rich tomato pie is tribute to the simple perfection of a late-summer tomato sandwich that requires nothing more than a good daub of mayo.
The genius twist of the recipe is to roast the tomatoes slow and low until the flavors concentrate and the tomatoes themselves start to caramelize. And roasting transforms even sub-optimal supermarket tomatoes into MVPs. “We use about a pound of tomatoes in the pie. I’m not sure we make any money off of it, but we sure sell a lot of them!” Autry laughs.
The pie is a collaboration with Sipe, who lends her hand-worked pie dough, which she insists is well within reach for home cooks: “There are just 4 ingredients: Flour. Butter. Cold milk. Salt. If someone tells you to add vinegar — don’t do it. It makes the dough tough.”
Autry’s second recipe was sparked by the increased call for gluten-free and/or vegan recipes: “I’ve always loved sunflower seeds, ever since I was a kid. And I thought, ‘What would happen if we actually cooked with them instead of just using them for crunch or a garnish?’”
The result is her sunflower-seed “risotto,” which mimics the rich Italian classic and brings a Fall flavor profile to her menu at the Regional. She cooks the shelled, raw seeds in olive oil and vegetable broth until they start to soften and absorb the liquid from the broth. “They won’t develop starch like Arborio rice will, but it’s that style.”
“One of the challenges in fall is that we all want these gorgeous fall things but it’s still 95° out,” she explains. “So I can’t put a beautiful pumpkin soup on my menu. But we actually have pumpkins in south Florida — these beautiful Seminole pumpkins that thrive in humid and hot temperatures.”
Autry gets the pumpkins from local growers and loves their versatility — “texturally they’re similar to an acorn squash or butternut.” The roasted pumpkin adds a pop of color to the risotto, while a smattering of Brussels sprout leaves adds bright crunch.
After the demo, the trio heads to the nearby Cintas Dining Room to help out the team of students who are running the front- and back-of-house for the Epicurean Society reception. Autry and her team have spent a good amount of time working with the students to teach them how to make these dishes, and they have quickly built up an easy rapport. And the students clearly enjoy making Autry’s elegant comfort food, like her creamy grits with hoop cheddar, charred scallions and country-style sausage.
TOMATO PIE AT HOME by Lindsay Autry ’04 of The Regional, Palm Beach
For the pie crust:
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1⁄2 tsp. salt
- 6 tbsp. cold butter, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes
- 2 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. cold whole milk
For the filling and topping:
- 2 lb. vine-ripe tomatoes (about 8), cored, seeded, and cut into 1⁄2-inch dice
- 2 tsp. salt, divided
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced with the grain
- 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1⁄4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1⁄3 cup fresh dill; chopped fine
- 1⁄2 cup fresh parsley; chopped fine
- 1⁄2 cup mayonnaise, preferably Duke’s
- 1⁄3 cup grated fontina cheese
- 1⁄3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Make the pie crust: Place the flour and salt in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Using your hands or a pastry blender, add the cubed cold butter and blend in until the flour is speckled and crumbly, resembling small peas. Add the cold milk and mix until just combined. Do not overmix. Press the dough into a 6-inch disk, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator overnight.
- Bring the crust to room temperature and preheat the oven to 400°. Dust your counter and rolling pin lightly with flour and roll the crust slightly larger than your 9" pie pan. Lay the crust in the pan and press gently into its edges. Cut off the edges that hang over and discard. Chill at least 15 minutes or until you're ready to blind-bake.
- Lay parchment paper on top of the crust and weigh down with dried beans. Blind-bake the shell for 15-20 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Set the cooked crust aside as you prepare the filling.
- Make the filling: Lower your oven to 350°. In a medium sauté pan or skillet, melt the butter and then add the onion and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt. Cook over medium-low heat until deeply caramelized. This will take about 45 minutes. If the onion gets away from you and burns a little, add 1⁄4 cup of water to the pan, scrape up the overbrowned bits, and keep going. In the end, you have a scant 2⁄3 cup caramelized onion.
- Toss the diced tomatoes with 1 teaspoon salt and olive oil. Spread in a single layer on a sheet tray with as much room separating the individual pieces as possible. Slide the tray onto the middle rack of your oven and roast for 20-25 minutes. You’re looking for the tomatoes to dry out and brown slightly. Set aside.
- Make the topping and finish the pie: In a separate, smaller bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, fontina, and Parmigiano. Fold in the fresh dill and parsley. Spoon the filling into your blind-baked crust, and spread to cover the bottom. Next, spread the caramelized onion into an even layer. Fill with the roasted tomatoes and spoon small dollops of the remaining cheese mixture on top.
- Bake in the middle of your oven for 20 minutes, and serve warm or at room temperature.