Pizza Rustica {TWD-BWJ}

This is my second forray into Tuesdays with Dorie, and I’m happy to report that I liked this recipe a lot better than the Irish soda bread I made a few weeks ago. This recipe is from Nick Malgieri, and it reminded me of a savory version of his Neapolitan Easter pie.

I should say up front that I’m sure there’s some historical reason for the name, but it really isn’t anything like a pizza. It’s more of a savory cheese pie, akin to a quiche, but not as custardy.

The crust is simple to whip up in the food processor. The surprise here is that, although this is a savory pie, the crust is quite sweet. I found my dough a bit on the dry side, so I wet my hands and kneaded a bit of water into the dough before rolling it out. It worked beautifully.

The filling also came together quickly. It consisted of ricotta cheese, eggs, Pecorino Romano cheese, sweet Lebanon bologna (my substitution for prosciutto), mozzarella cheese, and spices. I began by stirring the ricotta to soften, then mixed in the remaining ingredients one at a time. I spooned the filling into the crust and smoothed the top.

I rolled out the remaining dough and cut it into strips with a  ruffle-edge pastry wheel, then made a criss-cross lattice pattern on top of the pie.

I baked the pie for about 40 minutes at 350°F, until the crust was golden brown and the filling set. The recipe says to cool the pie completely before eating. I let mine cool for about 20 minutes, but we were hungry and decided to eat it while it was still warm.

It seemed like it needed something light and refreshing to go with it. I wanted to make a frisee salad, but I didn’t have any greens in the fridge. I’m not sure what made me think of it, but I decided to toss together a quick carrot salad to eat with the pie. It turned out to be the perfect accompaniment.

The pie was rich, sweet, savory, and salty all at the same time. I’m not sure how it would be with prosciutto, but the sweetness of the crust paired beautifully with the salty-sweet of the Lebanon bologna. And the carrot salad provided just the right coolness and acid to balance out the dish. We all agreed that this is a dish we would gladly eat again.

This post is part of Tuesdays with Dorie. Check out the group website to see what everyone else thought of this dish. Our hosts for this recipe were Emily and Raelynn. Surf on over to their blogs for the pizza rustica recipe.

Next up: Lemon Loaf Cake. You’ll have to check back in a few weeks to see what I thought of it, but here’s a preview:

Dinner and dessert



The Modern Baker, by Nick Malgieri {Review}

“If you have an oven, you need The Modern Baker.”  ~ Maida Heatter

First published in 2008, Nick Malgieri‘s cookbook, The Modern Baker: Time-saving Techniques for Breads, Tarts, Pies, Cakes, and Cookies, has just been reissued in paperback.

Like most home cooks, I own a lot of cookbooks. Some I turn to all the time; others I rarely touch. The Modern Baker never leaves my kitchen.

This book contains over 150 recipes, both sweet and savory, with everything from quick breads to savory tarts to cookies, cakes, and pies. I have been baking from it for about a year and a half, and even started the Modern Baker Challenge to encourage others to bake with me. In that time, I’ve made — and blogged about — almost 100 recipes. (If you want to read any of the blog posts, use the search box on this page to search for {ModBak}, the tag I use in all my Modern Baker posts.)

I have really come to appreciate the clarity with which the recipes are written, how easy they are to follow, and the consistent results I get when making them. But what really sets this book apart from other cookbooks is the way Nick takes the mystery and intimidation out of baking. Through his helpful, step-by-step instructions and photos, he shows how to make perfect pie crusts, “instant” puff pastry, bakery-quality cakes and pies, and company-worth tarts.

I originally picked up The Modern Baker in hopes that I could finally overcome my mental block when it comes to pie crusts. As comfortable as I am in the kitchen, both with cooking and baking, I had never been able to make a decent pastry crust. It wasn’t that I didn’t try; I just could never seem to get it right. My dough would be gooey or too dry, and when I baked it, it would turn out tough or dry and crumbly. So I was delighted when I made Nick’s quick pastry crust and it turned out perfect the first time. And the second. And the third. And every time since.

The puff pastry is another breakthrough in this book. It mixes up in minutes and doesn’t require rolling in butter in “turns” as in most puff pastry recipes. After mixing the ingredients in the food processor, you pat it out, fold it over itself envelope style, roll it up, and pop it in the fridge. And the resulting puff pastry surpasses anything you can buy. Since I discovered Nick’s technique, I always have homemade puff pastry in the freezer. And the book has taught me countless ways to use it.

If you fancy yourself a cook, but have always been intimidated by baking, you need to own this book. And if you are a seasoned baker and want to find some new, streamlined techniques for the recipes you love to make, you’ll find them here. Even if you’ve never tried your hand at homemade bread or layer cakes, you will feel like a real baker after trying just a few recipes.

In fact, whatever your level of baking experience, you will learn amazing tips, techniques, and tricks from Nick Malgieri and The Modern Baker.

Caramelized Onion and Gorgonzola Tart {ModBak}

This week’s Modern Baker Mondays recipe veers sharply away from the sweet puff pastry recipes we’ve been making recently to bring up something savory, tangy, and, OK, a little sweet. The combination of caramelized onions, blue cheese, and tarragon is genius. These flavors play off one another to bring out the best qualities in each of them.

As with all the recipes in this section, this tart is built on a crust made of puff pastry. The full recipe makes a 12 x 15-inch tart. I wanted to halve the recipe, so I used a 6 x 7 1/2-inch pan, right? Wrong!!! I used an 8 x 11 1/2-inch pan, which is very close to half the size of the jellyroll pan called for in the recipe.

How, you say? Let’s do the math. A 12 x 15-inch pan has a surface area of 180 inches (12 x 15 = 180), half of which is, of course, 90. And 8 x 11.5 = 92; pretty darn close to 90. So, I used half the puff pastry called for in the recipe, rolled it out to fit the pan, and stuck the crust in the fridge until I was ready for it.

Next, I prepared the caramelize onions. There are two basic methods for caramelizing onions — the real way, and the fake way. The real way involves cooking the onions over very low heat in butter or oil with a pinch of salt for a long time (upwards of an hour). The “fake” way, which really doesn’t involve caramelizing the onions at all, is to sauté the onions in butter or oil and add sugar and balsamic vinegar to mimic the color and flavor you get when you caramelize onions.

When I read the ingredients to this recipe and saw that it called for both brown sugar and balsamic vinegar, I figured we’d be faking the caramelized onions. But then I read the recipe and saw that the onions are cooked over low heat for 40 minutes, and I realized that Nick had combined the long, slow cooking and natural caramelization with sugar and vinegar for added flavor. I should know by now to trust him, shouldn’t I?

The onions looked and smelled wonderful while they cooked. And the flavor was as good as any caramelize onion I’d ever had.

With the crust and caramelized onions at the ready, all that was left to do was crumble some blue cheese and chop fresh tarragon. I used a mixture of chevre blue and buttermilk blue for the cheese. The goat blue was firm and very flavorful; and the buttermilk cheese was soft and tangy.

To assemble the tart, I poked the crust with the tines of a fork, spread the caramelized onions over the crust, added the blue cheese, and sprinkled on the tarragon. It seemed to be heavy on the toppings to me, but having tasted the onions, I was ready to trust Nick’s judgment on this one.

I baked the tart in a 400˚F oven for about 20 minutes, until the crust was baked through and the cheese had melted and begun to brown. I probably should have let it bake for a few more minutes, as the crust was quite soft when I cut it.

I let the tart cool for about 5 minutes, then cut into it. It was so good — the buttery crust, the tang and sweetness of the onions, the bite of the blue cheese, and the sweet, licorice-like flavor of the tarragon, all complemented one another perfectly.

Nick bills this tart as an appetizer or first course, but I was perfectly happy eating it for a late-night snack and breakfast the next morning. It would pair well with a crisp, fruity wine.

As much as I’ve enjoyed the sweet puff pastry recipes that we’ve made over the past month or so, I have to say that this is among my favorite recipes in this section so far.

Zucchini & Ricotta Pie {ModBak}

The final recipe I made for the Savory Tarts and Pies section of the Modern Baker Challenge was zucchini and ricotta pie.

This was a fairly straightforward recipe. I began by shredding the zucchini in the food processor, then putting it in a strainer set over a bowl. The shredded zucchini was quite wet, and I expected to see quite a bit of water draining off, so I was surprised that, after half an hour, not a single drop had collected in the bowl. I looked at the recipe and quickly realized the problem.

After mixing the zucchini with salt (duh!) and returning it to the strainer, a lot of water began dripping from the zucchini within a few minutes. I let the zucchini drain for about an hour, then rinsed it and squeezed it dry.

Meanwhile, I sautéed onion in olive oil until it became soft and translucent. Then I added the zucchini and cooked it low and slow for about 20 minutes.

While the onions and zucchini were cooking, I rolled out the dough. The recipe called for olive oil dough, but I’ve become rather fond of the rich pie dough, so that’s what I used for this recipe.

After the zucchini had softened and cooked down quite a bit, I scraped it and the onions into a bowl and seasoned it well with salt and pepper. Next, I added ricotta, eggs, chopped parsley, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, mixing well after each addition. I poured the filling into the crust and smoothed it out.

I put on the top crust, then trimmed the crusts even with the pan. I baked the pie for 30 minutes at 375°F, until the crust was golden and the filling set.

I cooled the pie in the pan on a rack, then removed it from the pan to serve.

This was a nice pie with which to finish off this section. It was creamy, cheesy, and savory, and was good not only the day it was made but also for lunch the next day.

So, that’s it for the savory tarts and pies. Stay tuned for some sweet stuff!

Rich Pie Dough for Savory Pies & Tarts {ModBak}

In the Savory Tarts and Pies section of The Modern Baker, Nick Malgieri gives three crust recipes: Olive Oil Dough, No-Roll Flaky Dough, and Rich Pie Dough. Of the three, I found the rich dough to be my favorite, both in taste and texture. And after making it a few times, I found rolling it out to be easy, too.

The dough is mixed in the food processor and consists of flour, salt, baking powder, egg, and butter. After pulsing the dough together, it is pressed out into a disk, at which point it can be rolled out or refrigerated for later.

Nick’s instructions make rolling the dough a breeze and result in a nice, round, even crust that presses beautifully into the pan.

This dough makes a wonderfully rich and flaky crust, which is perfect for the tarts and pies in this section. When I used this dough for the savory tarts and pies, I thought that with the addition of a bit of sugar this would also be a great dough for sweet pies and tarts. So I wasn’t surprised when I started the next section of the book and found that Nick’s sweet tart dough is, indeed, the same basic recipe with sugar added.

Chicken Pie with Biscuit Topping {ModBak}

The final recipe in the Savory Tarts and Pies section of The Modern Baker is not one that I normally think of as a pie, even a savory one. Growing up, we simply called this dish Chicken and Biscuits, and given its lack of crust, it just doesn’t seem like a pie to me. Semantics aside, this is a dish I grew up loving but have never really made as an adult, so I was looking forward to trying Nick’s recipe.

Although the recipe calls for boneless, skinless chicken thighs, I live in a household of white meat eaters (where did I go wrong?), so I used boneless, skinless breasts. These were poached in water with salt, parsley, bay leaf, thyme, onion, and carrots until the chicken was tender and cooked through.

I drained the chicken and vegetables, then put them in an oval gratin with some frozen peas.

Returning the broth to the pan, I brought it to a boil and reduced it before adding cream and seasoning with salt and pepper. That’s where the trouble began. Even though I continued cooking down the broth for some time, it still seemed too liquidy. However, I’ve learned to trust Nick’s methods — not to mention the fact that I usually follow new recipes pretty closely the first time I make them — so I added the sauce to the gratin.

The biscuit dough came together quickly in the food processor, and rather than cutting the biscuits with a cutter, the recipe calls for patting out the dough, cutting it into 12 pieces, and patting each one into a disk. I liked the ease and rustic look of the biscuits prepared this way.

When I put the biscuits on top of the dish, they sank down into the broth. I was afraid I might end up with a pie after all, with the biscuit “crust” baking under the filling. Nonetheless, I put the dish in the oven and baked it at 375°F for about 25 minutes, until the sauce was bubbly and the biscuits baked through.

Despite my fears, the biscuits baked up on the top of the dish and looked like what I remember as chicken and biscuits. The sauce underneath was still very soupy, so I served it with a slotted spoon.

The flavor was really good, but like Renee, I couldn’t get past how liquidy it was. I enjoyed baking and eating this chicken pie, and it made a nice weekday meal, but as far as this being “the” chicken and biscuit recipe for me, not so much.

Ligurian Savoy Cabbage Pie {ModBak}

Flush from my success with curried fish pie, it was time for the next Modern Baker Challenge recipe — cabbage pie. The Savoy cabbage for this recipe had been in the refrigerator for a few weeks, so I knew I had to make it soon. I decided to change this one up just a bit. Rather than making a typical double-crust pie, I thought I’d use my new Celtic baker from King Arthur Flour and make it more like a pot pie.

After blanching and shredding the cabbage, I sautéed onion and garlic in olive oil, then added the cabbage and cooked it down.  I scraped the vegetables into a bowl and seasoned them with salt and pepper. I stirred in ricotta, parsley, eggs, and Parmigiano-Reggiano, then poured the mixture into the casserole dish.

I topped the pie with rolled out pieces of crust, then baked it at 375°F for about 30 minutes. The filling set up nicely and the crust was lightly browned and flaky.

Although this dish would make a nice appetizer or light dinner, I served it as part of our St. Patrick’s Day meal, alongside corned beef, mashed redskin potatoes, and Irish brown bread. The cabbage pie was well-seasoned and made a nice accompaniment to the rest of the meal.

I’m not sure I’ll make this dish again, but we did enjoy it as a change from our normal steamed cabbage or Colocannon.

No-roll Flaky Pastry Dough {ModBak}

One of the reasons I decided to undertake the Modern Baker Challenge was to improve my pastry dough making skills. Before I started working my way through Nick Malgieri‘s book, I never made my own crusts. If I was baking a pie or quiche, I bought a pre-made crust. In fact, I kept several crusts in my freezer at all times.

Having baked out of Nick’s book for a year now, I no longer shy away from recipes that call for homemade pastry crust. In fact, although my pastry skills still aren’t perfect, I have a lot more successes than failures.

Because of my recent successes with rolling my own pastry dough, I’ve only used Nick’s no-roll recipe one time (unlike Andrea, who uses it every chance she gets). But I can attest that it is an easy and nearly foolproof way of making a pastry crust.

You start by mixing the dry ingredients in the food processor, then adding water and pulsing until the mixture resembles crumb topping. Then you dump the pastry into a pan and press it in place.

And that’s all there is to it. This dough isn’t quite as tender and flaky as Nick’s rich pastry dough, but it’s better than most pastry doughs I’ve had, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use it for a pie or tart.

If you’ve long feared rolling your own pastry dough, give this one a try. You’ll be surprised as how easy and delicious making your own dough can be.

Curried Fish Pie {ModBak}

I’m not sure why the idea of fish pie seems so odd to the American chef. Perhaps because we tend to think of pies as sweet rather than savory. Or maybe it’s that we just don’t cook with fish that often and when we do we make the same recipe we’ve always used for that particular kind of fish. Whatever the reason, most of the participants in the Modern Baker Challenge seemed put off by this recipe. In fact, as I write this, I think I’m the only one who has made this dish. And to be honest, but for the Challenge I doubt I’d have made it, either.

Since I’m the only one in my family who eats fish, I cut the dish down by 2/3 and made two smaller pies instead of one large one. This pie uses the rich pie dough, which I had made ahead of time and frozen in disposable pie pans.

I began by sautéing onions and garlic in olive oil until they were soft and starting to color. I added the fish, lots of spices, and some milk, and simmered gently until the fish was cooked through. Then I shredded the fish with two forks.

I added the rest of the ingredients, which consisted of sugar, vinegar, mango chutney, golden raisins, almonds, and fresh bread crumbs softened in milk.

After mixing everything together and tasting for seasoning, I stirred in the eggs then poured the filling into the prepared shells. I baked the pies at 375°F for about 30 minutes. When the crust was baked through and the filling set, I topped the pies with custard and returned them to the oven for another 10 minutes.

The recipe says to serve the pie at room temperature, but I wasn’t sure about that, so I tried it fresh from the oven.

It shouldn’t have surprised me to find that this pie was delicious. The curry and chutney flavors really came through, and it was not the least bit fishy. It was sweet, tangy, savory, and slightly acidic (in a good way) all at the same time. In fact, I think this was the most subtle and complexly flavored dish that I’ve made from this section of the book.

It’s a shame that so many of the Challenge participants shied away from this recipe. If people had been able to get past their initial reactions and try this dish, I think they would have liked it. 

I’d like to have all the Modern Bakers over and serve them this pie, as I’m sure there would be many converts.

Chicken B’stilla {FFwD}

This week’s pick for French Fridays with Dorie is actually a Moroccan dish that has been adopted — and adapted — by the French to the point that it fits perfectly in a cookbook like Around My French Table. I was excited by both the ingredients and techniques in this recipe. Savory dishes with spices like cinnamon and ginger are always a treat. And I was looking forward to working with phyllo dough, which was a new ingredient for me.

I began by marinating chicken breasts overnight in a mixture of onions, garlic, ginger, coriander, cinnamon, and saffron. I was intrigued by this part of the recipe, as I had never heard of a marinade made of aromatics and dry spices with no liquid. It worked, though, as the chicken came out nicely spiced and beautifully colored by the saffron.

I put the chicken and marinade in a pot with chicken broth and simmered the whole thing to cook the chicken.

I removed the chicken to a bowl to cool, then strained the broth, reserving the vegetables. I put the broth back in the pan, added lemon juice, and cooked it to reduce the broth to about one cup. Then I added eggs that had been whisked with honey, and boiled the whole thing down to a nice sauce.

I added the reserved onions and the chicken, which had been removed from the bone and chunked up, back to the pan, seasoned with salt, pepper, parsley, and cilantro, and stirred it together to make the filling.

Then it was time to assemble the b’stilla ( be-STEE-ah). I brushed a 9-inch cake pan with melted butter, then layered it with buttered sheets of phyllo.

I sprinkled sliced almonds on the phyllo in the pan.

Then I spooned in the filling, sprinkled on more almonds, and folded the phyllo over the top.

To top the b’stilla, I layered sheet of buttered phyllo, then cut them into an 11-inch circle.

I placed the phyllo on top of the b’stilla, tucked it around the sides, and sprinkled the top with cinnamon-sugar.

I baked the b’stilla in a reducing oven until the top was well-browned and crispy.

To serve, I inverted the b’stilla onto a baking sheet, then quickly turned it right side up onto a serving plate.

I sliced the b’stilla and served it for a satisfying winter supper.

As Dorie notes in the recipe, this dish needs no accompaniment. It’s a complete, filling, and satisfying meal on its own. We really enjoyed the complex flavors and textures of this dish: from the savory chicken to the slightly sweet spices and light-as-air phyllo crust.

My wife tried it and pronounced it her “new favorite dish.” So you can bet this offering from Dorie’s French table will be making regular appearances on mine.

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