a chefs life series
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.
At Chef Vivian Howard’s restaurant, the Chef & the Farmer, they make a tight aioli to fold into the cheeses, but you can substitute your favorite brand of mayo to great effect. As for the crust… Chef Howard will add the crust recipe when she gather it from Kim, their pastry chef. For now, use your favorite crust recipe or even a frozen crust…and blind bake it!
1 1/2 pounds Italian Fontina cheese, rind removed and 1-inch dice*
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon coarse salt (sea salt or kosher salt)
1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1 baguette bread (French or sourdough bread), sliced into 1/4-inch slices
* Purchase Italian Fontina cheese – not Danish as it is not as creamy and won’t melt as well.
Preheat your oven broiler and position the oven rack 5 inches from the heat source.
Distribute the cubes of Fontina cheese evenly in a 12-inch cast-iron pan. Drizzle the olive oil over the top of the cheese.
In a small bowl, combine the garlic slices, minced thyme, and minced rosemary; sprinkle the mixture over the top of the cheese and olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Place the pan under the broiler for 6 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbling, and just starts to brown. Remove from oven.
Tip: Don’t heat the cheese beyond its melting point as cheese tends to ball up at higher temperatures. Also don’t let the cheese cool down too much before serving, as it tends to get stringier and tougher as it cools.
Serve the Fontina Fondue family-style (right out of the oven in the cast-iron pan) with baguette bread slices for everyone to dip. You may have to reheat the fondue on low occasionally to keep it melted and smooth.
For individual servings, divide the fondue among four 6-inch cast-iron pans.
Yields: 4 to 6 servings
Prep time: 15 min
Fondue cook time: 6 min