Savory autumn pie
I like to collect recipes that I can keep in my head, so if I am traveling or visiting, I can put a meal together without resorting even to the index-card ring sets that students carry in culinary school.
One of the easiest and most versatile dishes I make (when I cook!) is one I have made probably a hundred times. What I love about this one is the fact that, as in most great dishes, there is a basic structure of four components that can be varied to a certain degree, making each dish unique, with different flavors, while keeping the basic form constant so you can count on it every time.
Pies are my favorite item to make, whether sweet or savory. For one thing, if you make small ones, they can be hand-held and then you can have the fun of making a variety of little pies, so people can choose their favorites. Or they can be made in standard size pie plates ranging from 8 to 11 inches in diameter.
With these basic concepts, you can do either. You can get small 3 – 7″ tartlet pans and make hand pies or one large pie to be cut in wedges.
The parts of this dish are four:
- A grain crust – that means, non-pastry, which can be pasta, rice, cous cous, polenta or quinoa. I have always preferred to make mine with brown basmati rice, but you can change that using any of the above. Spaghetti works well, as do small size pastas of any kind. A great one is pastena, if you can find it, usually in Italian specialty stores; A nice variant is red or wild rice. You can mix them in with the white rice for a more decorative crust;
- A mix of seasonal vegetables – the more variety the better and preferably from a grower, as available at local Farmer’s Markets;
- A binding mixture of milk or yogurt or sour cream and eggs;
- A topping of grated cheeses and or sautéed ground nuts or bread crumbs.
I will give you one set of directions for my typical version of this dish, which I know comes out perfect every time and is always a big hit, even with meat eaters.
But, it is more important to understand how this dish is built, than the specifics of amounts, particular ingredients or sizes. Once you grasp the underlying concept, you will never need to follow a recipe to make it and can customize it with whatever is at hand.
Beth’s Favorite Savory Autumn Pie
(For this time of year we like yams, turnips, parsnips, rutabaga, carrots, purple potatoes, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, green beans, zucchini (yellow and green) and any fall vegetable you find at your best produce source; beet greens are great but if you use beets, get the golden, not the red, or everything will be tinted pink! Putting porcini mushrooms and pine nuts in it will add a great ‘meaty’ flavor. For that matter, you can cut up Field Roast vegan sausage to kick this up to another level).
- 2 cups of rice, quinoa, couscous or an equivalent amount of small size pasta or linguine
- 1/4 cup of fresh, grated genuine parmesan, romano or Asiago cheese
- 1 Tablespoon Tamari sauce
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce
- 4 to 6 large Grade A fresh eggs
- 1 1/2 cups of milk or sour cream or yogurt
- dash of ground nutmeg
- about three cups of fresh, raw, seasonal vegetables, preferably a range of colors and types, washed in a weak vinegar and water solution, and cut into fairly uniform walnut size pieces
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- one to two medium onions
- three fresh cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup of red or white wine (not cooking wine – use good wine!)
- 2 Tablespoons pure olive oil (when heating olive oil, there is no point in using virgin)
- 2 teaspoons of McCormick’s Grill Mates Spicy Montreal Steak seasoning
- 1 cup mixed shredded cheeses – preferably yellow and white cheddar
- Garnishes: sliced tomatoes, sliced black or green pitted olives, sliced fancy black mushrooms, etc.
Preheat the oven to 400F. Adjust racks in top and bottom thirds of the oven.
- Cook rice (or other grain or pasta) until al dente, using your preferred method. A rice cooker makes this a cinch.
- In a large bowl, beat by hand with a large wooden spoon, about 1.5 cups of the cooked rice with one beaten egg, grated cheese, soy sauce and hot sauce.
- Press into a pie plate that has been lightly brushed with oil on sides, bottom and rim, evening the surface with the back of a spoon and using a lightly oiled rolling pin, rolled over the surface of the pie plate, to make an even rim for the crust. It should be about 1/4 to 3/8 inch thick.
- Bake the pan with the rice for about 5 minutes in the bottom of the oven and then move it to the top rack for another 5 minutes. Watch to make sure that there is some browning on the top and bottom of the crust (a clear glass pie plate is best for this) and do not let it darken or burn.
- Remove the pie plate and crust from the oven and set aside to cool.
You can cook the vegetables one of two ways. Once they are prepped, you can drizzle the bottom of a roasting pan with the olive oil, spread a mix of vegetables in an even layer over the bottom of the pan, drizzle with a little more olive oil and sprinkle the wine over the vegetables and dust with the spice seasoning, pour in the vegetable broth, cover tightly with aluminum foil and roast in a 350F oven for about 20 minutes. Check to see if the vegetables are tender but crisp. When we do this, we put our vegetable roasting pan on the barbecue grill outside, lowering the cover and turning the heat down to lowest heat and roast for about forty minutes. Set aside.
The quicker method is as follows: Slice the onions and garlic, put olive oil in a hot skillet large enough to hold all your vegetables and the broth; saute the onions and garlic until they wilt, add in the spicy seasoning, the wine, then the vegetables, spreading them around the pan and cooking them covered over low heat, uncovering it to add in some to all of the vegetable broth and removing the cover in time to evaporate most but not all of the liquid. Set aside.
Assembly with final three components
- Adjust the oven to 375F.
- Allow the vegetables to sit, while you beat the milk with the eggs until you have a pourable but somewhat thick mixture.
- Using a large serving spoon, put the vegetables in the cooked crust/pie plate, spreading them evenly and just to the rim, not piling them too high.
- Pour the beaten egg/milk mixture all over the vegetables.
- Sprinkle the top of the vegetables with the two shredded cheeses, either mixed together, or separated with the yellow cheese forming a circle in the middle and the white cheese a circle around it.
- Put the assembled pie plate back in the oven on the upper rack and bake for about 35 to 40 minutes, until the middle is firm or set.
- Adjust the oven temperature to 450F and bake for another few minutes until the top of the pie bubbles and just starts to become lightly brown.
- Remove from the oven and place on a heat resistant surface.
- Immediately garnish with tomatoes, sautéed black mushrooms or sliced olives in a decorative pattern.
- Allow to cool to almost room temperature and then using a very sharp, smooth-edged knife, cut the pie into wedges.
- Serve at room temperature.
We serve this with a wild greens salad and mustard vinaigrette (vinegar, mustard and olive oil, beaten to a light emulsion and immediately poured over the salad greens, then tossed).