Posts tagged pies

Martha Rose Shulman’s Mediterranean Vegetable Pies

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I’m starting to think of Martha Rose Shulman as my personal hero. Those may be strong words to describe the author of the Recipes for Health section of the New York Times, but Shulman’s seasonal and healthy recipes—which often focus on one ingredient per week, prepared in myriad ways—never fail to inspire me. I’ve been hooked ever since I tried her sweet potato and butternut squash soup over the winter, and then her light and healthy Swiss chard lasagna a month later. Now I check out her column eagerly, every week, just to see what she’s up to.

A few weeks ago, Shulman published an article about Mediterranean vegetable pies. She describes these pies, which stuff seasonal produce, eggs, and cheese into pastry shells or phyllo dough, as wonderful ways to utilize seasonal produce in vegetarian main dishes. In addition to providing a recipe for an intriguing whole wheat pastry dough, she lists four different pie variations. I printed out every recipe, and couldn’t wait for an opportunity to try them. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait very long.

Last weekend I came home from my CSA pick-up overloaded with greens. I had piles of spinach, kale, and bok choy, as well as two small zucchini, snow peas, and garlic scapes. I always fear that the vegetables I receive from my CSA will wilt before I have a chance to use them, so I decided to cook as many as possible into one of Shulman’s vegetable pies. And although the recipes didn’t address all my ingredients specifically, I hoped that they were flexible enough to accommodate some variations. Using Shulman’s recipe for a Provençal zucchini and Swiss chard tart as my guide, I combined the spinach, kale, and zucchini with Gruyère cheese and fresh eggs that I had picked up at the farmers’ market.

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As Shulman had claimed, the pie was indeed a bit time-consuming to make, but it was totally worth the effort. I rolled out the pliable whole wheat dough easily, which created a light and crumbly base for my egg and vegetable mixture. When I pulled the tart from the oven an hour later, flecks of rustic greens were supported by a sea of brilliant yellow eggs, presenting a farm-fresh meal that I couldn’t get enough of. Hot from the oven, the pie was an airy and gently tasty main dish. I brought slices of it to work for lunch all week, eating it at room temperature and almost enjoying it more that way.

So do you see why Martha Rose Shulman is my hero? I don’t need her to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but now I rely on her for delicious recipes that also happen to be healthy. It’s a lot of pressure for one person, but I am sure she can handle it.

Recipe for Spinach, Kale, and Zucchini Tart (adapted from Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe for a Provençal Zucchini and Swiss Chard Tart in the New York Times Recipes for Health section)

  • 1 lb of spinach, washed
  • 1/2 lb kale, washed, leaves picked off from the stems and thick ribs cut out
  • salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 small zucchini, cut into a small dice
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Gruyère cheese, grated
  • 3 large eggs
  • freshly ground pepper

While the dough is rising, prepare the vegetables. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Fill a separate bowl full of ice water. When the water in the pot reaches a rolling boil, add salt and the kale leaves. After 30 seconds or so, add the spinach leaves. Blanch for 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the greens to the ice water, then drain. Squeeze out excess water from the greens and chop them. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, stirring, for about five minutes. Stir in the zucchini and season to taste with salt. Cook until just tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and thyme. Cook everything together until the garlic is fragrant, about one or two minutes. Stir in the greens, toss everything together, and remove the pan from the heat. Season with salt and pepper.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt (to taste), the greens and zucchini mixture, and the cheese. Mix together and add a bit of pepper for seasoning.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Oil a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Roll out two-thirds of the dough very thin, and line the pan, with the edges of the dough overhanging. Freeze the leftover dough. Fill the dough shell with the greens and zucchini mixture. Pinch the edges of the dough along the rim of the pan. Place in the oven and bake for 50 minutes, until the mixture is set and beginning to color. Allow to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. This tart can also be served at room temperature. Serves 8 to 10 people. Enjoy!

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Back to the ‘Burgh: Pots and Berries

We just got back from an adventurous (and sweltering) weekend in Pittsburgh, where we spent a few days visiting with Jim’s parents. As always, we had a fantastic time eating and drinking our way through Steeler Nation, and on Saturday morning we hopped in the car for a food-related tour that I’m still recovering from.

We started by driving to the All-Clad warehouse sale at the Washington Fairgrounds. If you’re as obsessed with cookware as I am, and you find yourself in Western Pennsylvania during this twice yearly “seconds” sale, you definitely need to stop by. With a little patience you can find great bargains on this brand’s pricey cookware and kitchen tools in near-perfect condition. Anyway, after an hour of pans, people, and heat, we returned to the car (with 2 pots!) and surrendered ourselves to the air conditioning.

Next came a restorative lunch of lobster bisque and a Reuben sandwich at the very pretty Back Porch restaurant in Speers, followed by a trip to Sand Hill Berries. As you can tell from the name, this small, family-owned fruit farm in Mount Pleasant is known for its berries: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries and more. They are also famous for their fruit pies and jams, all made on site at the farm in small batches.

Having wandered through a sea of people and stainless steel at the All-Clad sale, it was a relief to relax in the serenity of Sand Hill. We tasted some very sweet grape and berry based wines at their new Greendance winery, and then sat outside on the terrace to enjoy live music and fresh baked goods from their café. The strawberry shortcake I ordered was covered with fresh strawberries, vanilla ice cream, and whipped cream, a cool mass of summertime goodness in the 95 degree heat. Jim’s vanilla ice cream topped with raspberry sauce was also refreshing, and his parents shared a piece of blackberry pie made with the farm’s frozen berry stock.

After working our way through the sweets, we decided to call it a day and head home, where I took a nap on the couch. The combination of pots, berries, and heat had that affect on me. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for a great weekend!

The All-Clad sale takes place at the Washington County Fairgrounds: 2151 North Main Street, Washington, PA, 15301. The sale happens twice a year, usually in December and June. It is not advertised on All-Clad’s website, but I found out about it here.

The Back Porch Restaurant, 114 Speers Street, Belle Vernon, PA 15012 T: 724-483-4500

Sand Hill Berries, 304 Deer Field Road, Mount Pleasant, PA 15666 T: 724-547-4760. Greendance Winery is located on the same property.

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Kitchens, Journals, and Pies…Oh my!

Many people enjoy browsing through cookbooks at the end of the day, preferring a few moments of culinary immersion before drifting off into sweet slumber. Unfortunately I have never been one of those people. Picking up any book at bedtime usually lasts only a few minutes before I yawn widely, close both my book and my eyes, and settle dreamily into my pillow.

But lately I’ve been staying awake a little longer. For the past few weeks Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries has provided me with pages of food-related comfort before turning off the bedside lamp.

Nigel Slater is an English food writer who favors a simple, straightforward style of cooking. The Kitchen Diaries, published in 2006, is basically a chronicle of what he cooked and ate for a year. Casual recipes favor a bunch of this and a knob of that instead of absolute, rigorous measurements, and are interlaced with the author’s observations on cooking, fresh produce, and daily cravings.

The book is broken down into months and days, providing an intimate look at Slater’s natural, understated approach to food. Lush photography of his seasonal and rustic dishes printed on off-white, uncoated paper contributes to the well-crafted and personal feel of the book. At night I find myself paging through the photographs, enjoying the almost-finished chocolate almond cake on one page, and the gorgeous roasted pumpkin with spicy tomato sauce on another.

End of Summer Peach Tart

I’m barely a third of the way through the book (I reached the month of April last night), so I feel a little strange writing about it now. But I imagine it will reside on my nightstand for some time as I read a few pages here and there. I’ve posted a photo of a free-form peach tart I made over the summer; I never wrote about it because I was embarrassed by its burned edges and lopsided folds of dough. But six months later, I still find myself thinking of those peaches baked at the height of the summer season, paired with one of my first homemade pie crusts. It was a simple and honest little pie. I think Nigel Slater would approve.

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Pumpkin Pie D’Oh!

Mixing the Foolproof Pie DoughSeparating the cooked pumpkin from its shellMixing the fillingThe sad crust

Thanksgiving is over, and the deluge of December holidays will be here before I’ve fully recovered from it. In addition to the frenetic shopping, traveling, and gift-swapping that await me, there’s cooking to be done. And in the world of holiday baking, ’tis the season for Cook’s Illustrated’s Foolproof Pie Dough.

Published in the November/December issue of Cook’s Illustrated magazine, this recipe has been the talk of message boards and food blogs, with bakers everywhere producing stunning and tasty pies. I first experienced dough-related success back in October, when I used the recipe to make Cook’s Apple-Cranberry Pie. The revolutionary addition of vodka to flour, salt, butter, vegetable shortening, and water created a malleable dough and wonderfully flaky crust. So when I promised my mother that I would make a pumpkin pie for our Thanksgiving feast, I knew exactly which recipe to use. The good people at Cook’s, always thinking of everything, had generously posted a single-crust version of their foolproof recipe on their website.

With the pie crust mentally taken care of, I turned my thoughts to the filling. In the past I’ve made a perfectly good pumpkin pie using canned pumpkin purée. I’m not ashamed to admit it. But this year I decided to challenge myself and make my purée from real pumpkins. A quick stop at Whole Foods after work on Monday loaded me down with two sugar pie pumpkins, and I envisioned two leisurely days of pastry making, pumpkin roasting, and pie baking.

What is it about time management that I will never understand? On Monday evening I made my dough and placed it in the fridge to use the next day. What I should have done next was roast the pumpkins, so that I could quickly assemble the filling from The Joy of Cooking the following night. Somehow I decided that watching television was a much better idea.

I am sure you can imagine how the next evening turned out. After roasting the pumpkins, pre-baking the pastry shell, mixing the filling, burning my left arm, and baking the pie, it was 11:30 pm before the pie was finished and I could go to sleep. Sweet, sweet sleep.

But I didn’t experience the satisfied slumber of one who has cooked a perfect pie. Oh, no. You see, my pie was ugly. Somehow the crust had cracked during the pre-bake, and filling oozed around one side of the pie. I also misunderstood the crimping instructions, and didn’t trim the edges of the dough enough; the crust crumbled off every time I shifted the pie’s position. Transporting the pie to Yonkers on Metro-North was an altogether separate, distressing adventure.

Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie

By the time my bedraggled pie appeared on our Thanksgiving table, I could only hope that at least it tasted good. And it did: The filling was light, airy, and full of fresh pumpkin flavor, the crust appropriately flaky (at least in the spots where the filling hadn’t leaked around it). Lucky for me, whether I give them a jewelry box made of popsicle sticks or a sad-looking pumpkin pie, my family is always proud of me, and will usually eat whatever I make for them. And for that I give thanks.

And next time, I will give more time to my pie.

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Apple-Cranberry Pie, with Pumpkin on the Side

Prospect Hill Orchards in Milton, New York

Even though summer has overstayed its welcome this year, I’m determined to enjoy fall. I want to carve pumpkins, ooh and aah at the changing leaves, and wear cozy sweaters.

So, in pursuit of some autumnal fun, we jumped in a car and drove out to the Hudson Valley for some apple and pumpkin picking on Saturday. We wound up at Prospect Hill Orchards in Milton, and despite the 90-degree heat came away with an impressive haul of apples and one perfect pumpkin. Ah, Fall. (Sort of).

The next day I decided to make an apple pie. Now, I have never considered myself a baker. My futile attempts to make pie crust from scratch have always ended with tears, horrible swearing, and banging of rolling pins against the counter. (Embarrassingly I seem to do this a lot). I resolved that this time the experience would be a peaceful one. No pie-related outbursts allowed!

I turned to Cook’s Illustrated magazine, which had arrived last week with recipes for Apple-Cranberry Pie and Foolproof Pie Dough.  The pie sounded great, but I hesitated after paging through the recipes. I’m not a huge fan of Cook’s. Their recipes are generally reliable, yet tend to be exhausting and time-consuming. And I just cannot stand Chris Kimball’s hokey letter at the beginning of each issue. But the foolproof aspect proved too attractive in the end, and I dove into the realm of flour and butter, and an interesting key ingredient: vodka!

The pie took me about four hours to make, from start to finish. Recipe note: If you decide to use Cook’s dough recipe, make sure to generously flour your work surface, and don’t roll the dough out too thin. I rolled it paper-thin the first time, and I couldn’t lift it off the work surface into the pie plate. I had to start all over again.

Cook’s Illustrated Apple-Cranberry Pie

And look! Isn’t it beautiful? OK, I may be exaggerating a bit, but I am so proud of this pie. The crust was both buttery and flaky, the most important characteristics of a pie crust. The sweet apples and the tart cranberries combined beautifully, one never overwhelming the other. (I didn’t use all of the cranberry mixture prescribed by the recipe; it seemed like too much to me.) And, most important, no outbursts!

So Summer, linger as long as you like with your heat and humidity. Autumn will be here soon enough. And I’ll peacefully make more pies to prove it.

(Unfortunately I cannot link directly to the recipes on the Cook’s Illustrated website; I think you have to be a member of the website to see them.)

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