Saturday, April 7, 2012

Italian Easter Pie

I've been feeling like I'm long past overdue for a meat pie.  Easter brings quiche to my mind, but I wanted to do something a little more exciting.  My mind wandered to the Pizza Rustica recipe from Giada De Laurentiis I had made many years ago.  This is a thick, two-crust pie filled with Italian meats and cheeses, also called Italian Easter Pie.  Her recipe includes a delicious, rich crust that I used in my Aussie meat pies.

I don't  know if Italians really eat this pie on Easter, but it is so delicious I'd recommend it any day of the week.  With the ricotta based filling studded with sausage and spinach tucked inside the flaky crust, this pie is a home run!  It goes perfectly with a salad for lunch or dinner, which is how we ate it at my house for 3 days!  It's a hearty pie and the filling possibilities are endless.  I would enjoy asparagus and artichokes in this pie, grilled vegetables, tiny meatballs, Italian cold cuts, grilled chicken...anything!

I made just a few modifications to the original recipe, including using half water and half vodka for a foolproof, tender crust.  A springform pan is necessary to accommodate the copious amounts of filling and allows for easy removal of the pie from the pan.  But I think a large, deep-dish pie pan could work as well.

Italian Easter Pie (Pizza Rustica)
Makes one 9-inch pie in a springform pan
Slightly modified version of a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup cold solid vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
3 large eggs, beaten to blend
2 Tb. ice cold vodka
2 Tb. ice water, more may be needed

Blend the flour, the butter, the shortening and salt in a food processor until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Blend in the eggs, pulsing the machine to incorporate them. Add the vodka and pulse again a few times.  Add the water and process just until the dough starts to come together. Gather the dough into a ball. Divide the dough into 2 pieces, with 1 piece twice as large as the second piece. Flatten the dough pieces into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until the dough is firm enough to roll out, about 30 minutes.

8 ounce bulk Italian sausage
1 (10-ounce) package frozen cut-leaf spinach, thawed and drained
1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
3 large eggs
2 tsp. garlic seasoning, I used Jane’s Crazy Mixed up Salt
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
a few dashes hot sauce
2 Tb. heavy cream

In a saute pan cook the sausage, breaking up into small crumbles.  Add the spinach and saute briefly to evaporate any excess moisture.  Set aside to cool slightly.  In a large bowl beat the eggs and seasonings.  Add the ricotta cheese and whisk well to combine.  Add the cheeses, sausage and spinach and stir well  to combine.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and place a sheet pan on the lowest rack.  Roll the largest piece of dough out into a circle and press into a 9-inch springform pan that has been sprayed well with cooking spray.  Be sure to press firmly all around so the crust is flat against the pan and there are no air bubbles.  Pour the filling into the pie shell and smooth the top.  Roll out the smaller piece of dough and place over the top of the pie.  If your filling did not come up to the top of the pan, be sure to press the dough down on top of the filling, so there is not a big gap between the top crust and the filling. Press the edges together to seal well and flute the edges if desired.  Cut 3 vents on top and brush the crust with heavy cream.  Sprinkle the top with a little garlic seasoning if you like.  Bake until the crust is well browned and you can see the filling bubbling slightly out of the vents, about an hour to 1 1/2 hours.  Cool for 15 to 20 minutes and remove the sides of the pan.  Slice wedges and serve.  This is great, hot, warm, room temperature or cold.

The filled pie.

Crimped, brushed and ready for the oven.

Golden brown and delicious!

A beautiful slice of Easter pie.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

My passion for fruit

I'm crazy about passion fruit.  I find the sweet-tart flavor and intoxicating tropical perfume to be the most delicious and intriguing combination around.  When I was a pastry chef I often used passion fruit to make a rich curd, which I would put inside mini tart shells.  Even in small doses, passion fruit packs quite a punch.  I've been dreaming of a passion fruit meringue pie for quite a while now.  I finally decided to make it happen when my friend/co-worker left our store recently.  I made pie for her and wanted something totally different from the chocolate cashew butter mousse pie also on the roster.  The tartness of passion fruit makes it a great substitute for lemon in a meringue pie.  And of course with a fluffy, dreamy Italian meringue on top, how could I go wrong?  I think this is the perfect pie to usher in Spring time and would make a delicious addition to your Easter table.

Passion Fruit Meringue Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie
Adapted from Lemon-Passion Fruit Meringue Pie by Grace Parisi on the Food and Wine website

1 9-inch pie shell of your choice, I used graham cracker
2/3 cup passion fruit puree, I used Goya brand frozen pulp
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 cup water
1/3 cup cornstarch
pinch of salt
2 Tb. butter
1 recipe Italian meringue

Combine the passion fruit puree, eggs and salt in a bowl and whisk well to combine.  In a small, heavy pot combine the sugar and cornstarch and slowly whisk in the water to dissolve.  Cook over medium-high heat until thickened.  Whisk some of this hot mixture into the passion fruit mixture to temper the eggs.  Add this back to the pot and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture has come to a boil and is very thick.  Add the butter and whisk until melted.  Pour the filling through a fine mesh sieve to remove any lumps of eggs and cornstarch.  Scrape the strained filling into the pie crust.  Press plastic wrap directly to the surface to keep a skin from forming.  Refrigerate until set and completely cooled, about 6 hours or overnight.

Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees. Make the Italian meringue.  Remove the plastic wrap from the top of the pie and pile on the meringue, smoothing it out to the edge of the crust.  Make decorative swirls and peaks in the meringue.  Place in the hot oven and toast until it is browned to your liking.  This should only take a few minutes and don't walk away from the oven, as it will burn quickly.  Enjoy your delicious taste of paradise!

Topping the pie with meringue.

Pretty and spiky, ready for the oven!

Post-browning and ready to be devoured!

Oh look, there's my beautiful orchid again!

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Nutty Twist!

If you've been reading my blog you know that I gave up my "famous" Peanut Butter Pie recipe for my first blog post.  I was planning on making some pies for a good friend/co-worker who transferred to another store and was trying to come up with something delicious but not too time consuming.  Upon finding a chocolate pie crust and cashew butter in my cupboards, I had a crazy thought.  What if I turn my peanut butter pie into CASHEW BUTTER PIE?? Why the hell not?  All I did was substitute roasted cashew butter for the peanut butter in the original recipe and the results were fantastic!  Just be sure your cashew butter is room temperature when you mix up the filling.  The cashew flavor is a little more delicate than peanut butter, but the resulting pie was rich and creamy!  I decorated the top with a smooth layer of chocolate ganache and salted cashews, which provided a perfect compliment to the sweetness.  Who knew that just a slight change in the recipe would result in something so unique and delicious!

The salted cashews on top were perfection!

I had to get my orchid in the picture because I'm just so proud of it!