Sunday, March 24, 2013

Savory Easter pie

After abstaining from meat for the forty days of Lent (back when one did abstain from meat -- and dairy and eggs -- for the forty days of Lent), one’s craving for these things must have been immense. It’s then easy to understand how a savory pie that contains pounds of meat and cheese bound together only with eggs came about. 

Pizza rustica, as it's sometimes known among Italians, is rich, decadent, and utterly delicious.  It's not vegan, vegetarian, kosher, low-fat, low-cal, but damn, it's magnificently good.  The pizza rustica is a quiche, though a typical French-style quiche would be made with eggs and cream binding the ingredients together.  This uses just eggs.

This recipe makes four standard nine-inch pies. I would suggest you use your favorite pie-crust recipe, or simply use store-bought Pillsbury pie crusts, which I must confess, are pretty damn good.  Make the whole recipe, and give the pies away as gifts.  You'll have friends for life.

Mom always seemed to make her meat pies on Good Friday, and we wouldn't be able to taste them until Saturday morning.  She's smarter than we ever imagined!!

1 1/2 lbs ham, cut into ¼-inch cubes
1 8-oz pepperoni, peeled and diced
1 lb whole-milk ricotta
1 basket (1 lb) farmer cheese, diced
1 lb  whole-milk mozzarella, diced
6 hard boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
1 Tbp black pepper
1 c grated pecorino cheese
12 eggs, beaten

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.  Add beaten eggs and mix well.  Ladle into crusts.  Cover with a lattice top crust, if desired.  Bake at 350°F until mixture is fully set, 55-60 minutes, until the egg custard is set.

 I used half of this 3-lb ham, cut into thick slices, then cubed.

 An 8-oz pepperoni, skin removed, sliced, then diced. 

 "Farmer," or "basket" cheese, readily available in supermarkets in the Philadelphia area around Easter, though I would imagine less available elsewhere.  If you cannot find it, a ricotta salata would work well.  

 Farmer cheese, cubed. 

 Whole-milk mozzarella.  I used supermarket mozz, and would
not use a high-quality fresh mozzarella for this -- it's far too moist.  

 Pie crust laid into the pie plate.  You can see a bit of overhang. 

 Overhang, tucked under itself around the rim.  

 Edges crimped.  

 Cheese and meat mixture ladled into pie crusts, and the pies set into the oven.

 My scribbled notes as I assembled the ingredients. 
I seem to have forgotten to add mozzarella to the ingredient list. + 1 lb mozzarella.
As is often the case, I might start with a written recipe,
but will always keep notes of what I actually do.

The product of the morning's labors.  

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sunday birthday supper

We celebrated Carmen's birthday on the 17th with a prosecco toast, crostini with a variety of toppings (fresh ricotta, pesto, Tuscan beans, sauteed mushrooms), olives, and a big chunk of pecorino cheese, as starters.

For the main course, I made a big pot of stew, appropriate to the day.

I rendered a few slices of thick-cut pork belly (bacon, but uncured, which I get at the Korean supermarket), in my beautiful Magnalite® covered roaster.
I started with  3 lbs beef chuck, in the form of three semi-boneless chuck steaks, which were browned one-at-a-time in the casserole, cooled, boned, then cubed.  Most recipes would call for cubing the meat, then browning it well, which, though a sensible strategy for flavor and color, is tedious as hell.  So, I take a shortcut, and brown the whole steaks, then cut them up.  There's sufficient browning happening, as you can see in the photos, and it saves a huge amount of effort.

I set aside the meat.  Into the casserole I put carrots (1 lb, cut in chunks), onions (2 large, quartered), shallots (4), garlic (6 cloves), celery root (1 knob, cubed), and parsnips (2, cut in chunks) and sauteed them gently in the casserole.  After a few minutes, I added 2 Tbp tomato paste, and browned that a minute or two.  A couple bay leaves, a good teaspoon of dried thyme, and two sprigs of rosemary went in.   

The cooking liquid: this is the part where there is an immense variety of choices -- meat stock, wine, beer, veggie stock, water, or a combination of any of those can be used.  I chose beer: three 12-oz bottles of amber lager, in this instance, Yuengling. I would typically steer away from more bitter beers like IPAs. Stouts or porters would work, though the very assertive flavors of those kinds of beers might overpower the stew.

Regardless of  what liquid is used, you'll want it to come up to about 2/3 of the way to the top of the meat.  When finished cooking, you'll have plenty of sauce. 

The cubed beef was added back, and everything was brought to a simmer, the casserole covered, and then placed into a 325°F oven for 2.5 hrs, until the meat was fork-tender.  I let it sit until dinner time, then warmed it back up to serve.

(By the way, I nestled the bones cut off the steaks back into the pot while it stewed, then removed them prior to serving.  No reason to waste the flavor that bones bring.) 

I served the stew with buttered cavatelli.  Again, appropriately Irish.  ;-)