FOOD FOR THOUGHT: The Not So Humble Pie

A definition of "pie" in Webster's dictionary states that it is merely "meat, fruit, etc. baked in crust." While this may sound simple, and it most certainly is, food that is encased between layers of flaky crust is food that is taken to a higher level. Of course there are various types of foods that fall into this category, the most obvious being dessert pies such as apple or pumpkin, but there are also savory pies made of meat, fish and vegetables.

Besides the pie's filling what really makes them special is their crust. This is also the area of pie baking that often causes the most fear, debate, and above all, pride. The truth of the matter is making piecrust is about as basic as things can get; it's simply a mixture of flour, fat and water. The tricky part, though, is how these few basic ingredients are combined.

They key in making delicate piecrust is to not overwork the dough. In comparison to other baked goods, such as cakes or breads where the ingredients are emulsified into one homogenous mass, it's crucial that the fat and flour remain somewhat separate in piecrust. Pieces of fat are often still visible within raw dough, this layered effect is what creates its characteristic flakiness.

Interestingly, like many foods of antiquity, the crust on pies was first added with a function in mind; pies were born out of necessity, as a sort of utilitarian food -- they were originally a vehicle in which to use up scraps of meat, innards, or remnants of previous meals. In fact, according to modern etymology, the English word "pie" is based on the bird "magpie," making reference to the method in which the birds prepare their nests -- using a large variety of collected objects as a base or filling. And humble pie, which was originally known as "umble pie," takes its name from the Old English word "umble," meaning, believe-it-or-not, deer's innards. Apparently it was customary to feed this to servants while the lord of the manner ate the actual venison. Eventually, because people thought that it was being pronounced with a silent "h," it became known as humble pie.

As one can see pies are quite different today; what once might have been thought of as an inferior food or merely leftovers baked in a crust has gone through an incarnation. Presently all sorts of savory pies can be found on the trendiest restaurant menus across the country, and using such eclectic ingredients as sundried tomatoes, crawfish, portabello mushrooms, and even risotto -- these seem to suggest anything but humbleness. And what was once simply substance to stave off hunger can be a complete and well-rounded meal in a crust, for they often contain protein, vegetables and starch, not to mention tasty sauce. In summation, and making reference to the English rock group "Humble Pie" that was popular in the 70's ... pie may be just what the doctor ordered.

Portabello Mushroom-Goat Cheese Pie
Yield: 8 servings
2 pounds portabello mushrooms
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
1 cup vegetable stock
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh chopped dill
1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil
8 ounces goats cheese
3 large eggs
1 recipe double-crust pie pastry
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon milk

Wash, dry and dice the mushrooms; peel and quarter the onion, peel the garlic. In batches, mince the mushrooms, onion and garlic in a food processor to form a fine paste. Combine the mushroom paste, vegetable stock, salt and pepper in a medium non-stick saucepot, and place the pot over medium-high heat. Cook the mushrooms until almost all of the liquid has evaporated and they have reduced by have in volume. Take great care to stir the mushrooms often to avoid scorching. Remove the pot from the heat and add the dill basil and goats cheese; stir until the goat's cheese is thoroughly melted. Remove the seasoned mushroom mixture to a medium bowl and cool to room temperature. Once it is cooled stir in the eggs.

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and prepare a 9-inch pie pan by lightly oiling it with vegetable oil. Divide the pie pastry into 2 equal pieces and on a well-floured surface roll them out until they are just larger than the pie pan. Gently fit one piece of the pastry into the pan, taking care not to break the dough. Fill the piecrust with the mushroom paste, leaving it slightly thicker in the center. Brush the rim of the crust with some of the beaten egg and place the remaining dough on top of the first to seal it closed. Make four small incisions in the top of the crust to release steam while cooking. Using your fingers or a fork, crimp the edge of the pie to seal it and also create a decorative appearance.

Brush the surface of the pie with the beaten egg, and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the crust is a rich golden-brown and the temperature of the thickest portion reaches 140 degrees. Allow the pie to cool for 10 minutes before cutting.

Tourtiere de Dindon
French-Canadian Turkey Pie
Yield: 8 servings
2 pounds ground turkey
1 small onion, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 recipe double-crust pie pastry
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon milk

In a medium bowl combine the turkey, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, cinnamon and allspice. Mix thoroughly and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and prepare a 9-inch pie pan by lightly oiling it with vegetable oil. Divide the pie pastry into 2 equal pieces and on a well-floured surface roll them out until they are just larger than the pie pan. Gently fit one piece of the pastry into the pan, taking care not to break the dough. Fill the piecrust with the seasoned turkey, leaving it slightly thicker in the center. Brush the rim of the crust with some of the beaten egg and place the remaining dough on top of the first to seal it closed. Make four small incisions in the top of the crust to release steam while cooking. Using your fingers or a fork, crimp the edge of the pie to seal it and also create a decorative appearance.

Brush the surface of the pie with the beaten egg, and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the crust is a rich golden-brown and the temperature of the thickest portion reaches 165 degrees. Allow the pie to cool for 10 minutes before cutting, and if desired serve it with gravy or sweet pepper relish.

Salmon and Halibut Pie
Yield: 6-8 servings
3/4 pound salmon
3/4 pound halibut
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, peeled and diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh chopped dill
1 recipe double-crust pie pastry
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon milk

Remove any skin and bones from the salmon and halibut, dice them both and set aside. In a large skillet or medium saucepot heat the butter until it begins to bubble, then add the onion, celery and carrot. Saute the vegetables for 5 minutes over medium-high heat. Stir in the flour and continue to saute for another 3 minutes, stirring constantly to avoid scorching. Stir in the chicken broth, salt and pepper and bring the liquid to a simmer; whisk the liquid to remove any lumps that may occur. Simmer the liquid for five minutes then stir in the diced fish. Bring the liquid back to a simmer and cook the fish for approximately 3 minutes, or until it is just cooked (while stirring and cooking the fish some of it will begin to flake apart). Stir in the chopped dill, then remove the mixture to a clean bowl and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and prepare a 9-inch pie pan by lightly oiling it with vegetable oil. Divide the pie pastry into 2 equal pieces and on a well-floured surface roll them out until they are just larger than the pie pan. Gently fit one piece of the pastry into the pan, taking care not to break the dough, and fill the piecrust with the fish mixture. Brush the rim of the crust with some of the beaten egg and place the remaining dough on top of the first to seal it closed. Make four small incisions in the top of the crust to release steam while cooking. Using your fingers or a fork, crimp the edge of the pie to seal it and also create a decorative appearance.

Brush the surface of the pie with the beaten egg, and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the crust is a rich golden-brown and the temperature in the center of the pie reaches 165 degrees. Allow the pie to cool for 5 minutes before cutting.

Pie Pastry
Yield: 1 (9-inch) double crust
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup vegetable shortening
1/4 cup cold water

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Add the shortening and using your fingers, break the shortening into pieces. For a flaky piecrust rub the shortening and flour between your hands until the shortening pieces are the size of peas; for a mealy piecrust rub the shortening and flour between your hands until it resembles course cornmeal. Drizzle the water across the flour-shortening mixture and toss the mixture with you fingers or a fork. Ball the dough together to form a mass; it should not be wet, but just moist enough to hold together in a ball. Flatten the dough ball into a disk shape, wrap it in cellophane and refrigerate it at least 30 minutes before using.

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