Changing Hearts & Winter Tomato Pie


Italian flag colors make very festive Christmas recipes

In the early days of grief I felt bombarded by things that reminded me of William. My heart was easily overwhelmed by military ads on TV or suddenly ripped to shreds when a Sailor or a Marine passed me by in the mall. It felt like torture every time I saw a shiny black Toyota truck on the road. William loved his truck, the first big purchase he made upon his return from Afghanistan. Around every corner or so it seemed was a “sign” of him I did not appreciate. My brain and my heart could not take the thought of him gone.

another great pair

Fast-forward to today and I have had a change of heart. Any sign of William brings my ticker peace and a much needed reminder that he has never really left. The real signs are few and far between now. They show up when least expected, but most needed. Certainly, there was a part of me hoping that I’d see a sign of him in Rome, Italy where his best friend, Whit, would be marrying the fabulous and beautiful, Marisa.


William doesn’t disappoint. Of course he shows up. He would not miss this wedding for anything. If you follow this blog you already know that William affectionately code-named me “broken compass”. I am the girl who can’t find her way out of a box, so it comes as no surprise I took the wrong way back to the hotel following a bridal luncheon. (In my defense, every street and alley in Rome looks the same.) Spinning around, I turned a corner and there he was on top of a church. An 8-point buck with a cross between the horns. Could it be a sign?IMG_8260

Turns out this church celebrates Eustace who is revered as a Christian martyr and patron saint of hunters, soldiers and also of anyone facing adversity. I think William is trying to help me get my faith in God back. What do you think?


Maybe William didn’t think I was 100% convinced, so he pulled out the big guns at the farm where the wedding was to be held. On a walk, the morning of the wedding, I followed an old dirt road and climbed a narrow stone stairway into a private courtyard. It was there on an ancient Etruscan building I found these hearts, not one but two perfectly tied together. WHOOSH


Congratulations Marisa & Whit. May your hearts always be perfectly tied together. It is the way it is meant to be. Love always.


Now I have had a change of heart concerning this recipe. I have made many variations of it always including fresh tomatoes, but this time of year the grocery store offerings are not impressive. So, I tried an organic canned version and honestly I can hardly tell the difference.


This is perfect bread for a Christmas brunch or buffet. I call it “winter” because it is made with canned tomatoes instead of fresh. To boost the flavor invest in some authentic quality ingredients. First, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and second imported Italian Speck (a dry cured lightly smoked ham). Oh, to be in Italy.IMG_8410


Pan Roasted Winter Tomato Pie with Crispy Speck

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided

1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained well (I like Muir Glen brand)

½ cup chopped sweet onion

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons sugar

½ teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided

2 cups all purpose flour (King Arthur is the best)

¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese* plus shards for garnish

1-tablespoon baking powder

½ cup sour cream

½ cup milk

3 eggs

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil plus additional for garnish

1 slice imported Italian speck, diced (ask Butcher to slice it like thick cut bacon)

Heat oven to 375F. Heat ¼ cup of oil in 12-inch non-stick, oven-safe skillet (I use my Lodge cast iron pan) over medium-high heat until hot. While the pan is heating up, place drained tomatoes in center of 3-layers of paper towels. Wrap the paper towels around the tomatoes and gently squeeze out any remaining liquid. Add tomatoes, onion, 1-tablespoon of sugar, Italian seasoning and ½-teaspoon of salt to skillet. Reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 6 to 8 minutes or until vegetables are lightly browned. Meanwhile, in medium bowl, whisk flour, cheese, baking powder, remaining 2 teaspoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt. In another bowl, whisk sour cream, milk, eggs, and basil and remaining ¼- cup of olive oil. Add milk mixture to flour mixture blending just until dry ingredients are moistened. Spread tomatoes and onions into an even layer over bottom of hot pan. Spoon batter evenly over tomatoes and onions smoothing to cover them completely. Transfer skillet to oven. Bake 25 minutes or until top is just golden. Let stand 5 minutes before inverting onto serving plate or cutting surface. Meanwhile, cook speck in remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil until brown and crispy. Sprinkle speck over top of pie along with some shredded basil and shards of Parmesan cheese. Slice into wedges and serve warm.






22 thoughts on “Changing Hearts & Winter Tomato Pie

  1. My heart sings and aches for you at the same time. I love starting my Sundays with the beautiful gift you send out. You help make me a more thankful, thoughtful and good person. Wishing you peace, hugs, kim

    • I know what you mean about the bittersweet of this blog…I kind of go thru that every time I sit to write it. A big sigh and then type-type-type. I doubt you need much of a reminder about being a good person-you live it every day

  2. Another beautiful story! Thanks for sharing and I can not wait to get the chance to hear more about Italy. Wishing you and your family a very special Christmas!

  3. Love those gigantic wheels of cheese. You don’t see those in too many American stores. Glad you had so much fun on your trip. Rome is awesome. Put Florence on your list next time you go.

    • I am convinced the food is so good in Italy because they use nothing but the best ingredients and mostly in its natural state. I think I have my sites on the Amalfi coast

  4. Glad you enjoyed your trip…looked amazing. Very happy to see your blog. I’m still at the point where seeing any 12-15 year old teenage boy can destroy me. Tough when you’re a middle school teacher. Christmas is even harder this year. On days like today, when I’m trying to decorate, I just go through the motions in order to make it “normal” for my daughter. We are baking later and, we are trying those red velvet pinwheels. We are sending some cookies down to help Kyle study for finals. Welcome back!

    • Yes, posting on a Sunday makes me feel a little bit back to normal. I am glad you are encouraged by your daughter to do “the normal” things. My daughter saved me, too. I just ate a red velvet pinwheel and said out-loud to myself “one of the best cookies ever baked”. Kyle is going to love them.

  5. My words seem lame and not to be spoken, but Lisa, please feel what’s in my heart right now after reading your story. You are in sync and aware. That’s more than most of us accomplish in a lifetime of searching. Your Will has brought it to you in full force.

  6. Not lame at all and much heart-felt. Losing a child changes a person and I am grateful for any good it has done. ❤

  7. In my mind I am sure your William knows what he is doing. In my heart, I am thankful for the Peace and Hope he sends to you…

    • We just got a brand new Wegman’s in the neighborhood and I am loving it. The speck pictured here was purchased there. I will look for the diced version next time.

  8. Another heart warming blog. Have a beautiful Christmas and enjoy the entire holiday season.

  9. Thanks for sharing these inspiring stories with us, Lisa. I hope your Christmas celebrations continue to bring you joyful William moments.

    • My boy LOVED Christmas and everything about this time of year. Always looking for the joy. Have a wonderful celebration with all of those you love, too

  10. What a beautiful story…how wonderful that William was your guide. Heart signs are always there I think…you just have to open your heart to them.

    • Yes, the good signs are always there…different ones for different people…mine are hearts because the first recipe I ever baked inspired by William–the cookie came out in the shape of a heart ❤

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