Fruit pies, cream pies, cute little tarts. Love 'em all.
But one does not live by sweets alone.
We love savory pies too. Hand pies like empanadas and pasties. Phyllo pies filled with spinach. Flaky crusted pies packed with meats or vegetables or seafood. Cornmeal-crusted chili pies and shepherd's pies with mashed potatoes handling top-crust duties.
It's not surprising that pies — savory or sweet — resonate with us.
"It's often the nostalgia and comforting thoughts they conjure up that make the pies seem to taste all the more delicious," writes Angela Boggiano in Pie (Mitchell Beazley, $24.99), her book celebrating an array of savory pies, from beef and ale to fish.
For Warren Brown, it's the versatility of pies that prompted his latest book, Pie Love: Inventive Recipes for Sweet and Savory Pies, Galettes, Pastry Cremes, Tarts, and Turnovers (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $24.95). The founder-owner of the D.C.-based CakeLove bakeries and host of Food Network's Sugar Rush enjoys sweets, of course, but loves cooking savory. Which is why Brown has tucked five favorites ("recipes I make at home with my family," he writes) among the book's tarts and turnovers, including shepherd's pie and Jamaican beef patties.
"You can just be very creative with a savory pie," Brown adds during a phone chat. Especially with the color variations from different crusts, whether it's the cheese crust he uses in a meatball pie or the paprika crust he suggests for a chicken pie.
His advice for novice crust-makers?
"Make a sandwich out of parchment paper, then use it to roll out the dough," he says. "Think of the round as a clock. Roll out to 12 o'clock, then turn the dough five minutes, roll to 12 o'clock, turn five minutes — that really helps to do a nice round crust.
"And hold the pin itself, not the handles," he adds. "If you hold the handles, you lose a lot of control."
That Brown likes to dream up elaborate recipes is no surprise. His meatball pie is an audacious mashup of American favorites — pie, meatballs, a richly flavored sauce, plus oodles of melted cheese.
It's a rich pie, which is why he suggests serving it with a simple crisp salad. And if the multiple components overwhelm you, consider preparing some elements ahead of time — the tomato sauce and meatballs one day, the crust and assembly the next — or make it a weekend project.
"There are a lot of steps to this one, so don't worry if you need to take a shortcut or make life more simple by using jarred red sauce," Brown coaches. "If you have the time to make all three parts from scratch, then by all means, pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy it."
A strategy we heartily endorse with any made-from-scratch savory pie. Tackling a pie crust? Fussing with a filling? Why not? The good eating makes the work worthwhile.
This recipe is adapted from Angela Boggiano's Pie. The author suggests using a shallow metal pan "to ensure the base stays crispy." She also uses a good-quality sausage meat. Our test kitchen found a mix of ground pork (half regular grind, half coarser grind) worked well.
Sausage, apple and sage pie
1¾ cups flour
½ stick (¼ cup) butter
¼ cup lard or shortening
2 to 3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, finely sliced
1 pound good-quality sausage meat or ground pork (half standard grind, half coarse grind)
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
2 small apples, peeled, cored, chopped
2 tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
Sift flour and pinch of salt into a bowl. Cut fat into cubes; add to flour. Use your fingertips to rub fat into the flour until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add water very gradually, stirring with a knife. When dough just starts to stick together, knead lightly until it forms a ball. (Or, pulse flour and salt in a food processor. Add cold butter; pulse until crumbly. Add lard and 2 tablespoons water; pulse. Add remaining tablespoon water; pulse again. Turn onto counter; shape into a ball.)
Wrap pastry ball in plastic wrap; let rest in refrigerator, at least 15 minutes. (Store for up to 2 days in the refrigerator; or freeze until ready to use.)
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out a little less than half the pastry; use to line a shallow 9-inch pie plate. Roll out remaining pastry about ¾-inch larger than the pie plate; set aside.
Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onions; cook gently until softened, 8-10 minutes. Add meat to onions. Cook until meat is browned, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon and breaking up meat, 5 minutes. Off the heat, stir in mustard, sage, apples and crème fraîche or sour cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Mix well; allow to cool.
Pile cooled meat-apple mixture into pastry-lined pie plate. Brush edges of pastry with beaten egg. Top with remaining rolled-out pastry, sealing edges by pressing down well. Trim off excess pastry. Crimp edges with a fork or between your thumb and index finger. Brush top with remaining egg. Make a hole or several slashes in the top to release steam. Bake, 40-45 minutes. Makes one 9-inch pie, 4-6 servings.
Nutrition information per serving (for 6 servings): 508 calories, 37 g. fat, 85 mg. cholesterol, 39 g. carbohydrates, 13 g. protein, 539 mg. sodium, 3 g. fiber
This recipe is adapted from Warren Brown's Pie Love: Inventive Recipes for Sweet and Savory Pies, Galettes, Pastry Cremes, Tarts, and Turnovers. You will need a deep-dish pie pan that holds 6 to 8 cups. The sauce, meatballs and crust can be made 1 or 2 days ahead. Bring the elements to room temperature before assembling. You might have some ingredients (sauce or meatballs, for example) left over.
¾ cup (8 ounces) freshly shredded mozzarella cheese
½ cup (6 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 recipe cheese pie crust (recipe follows)
4 cups homemade tomato sauce (recipe follows)
1 recipe homemade meatballs, 10 to 12 meatballs (recipe follows)
Dried or minced herbs such as thyme, basil, rosemary, oregano or a mix, for sprinkling
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Combine cheeses in a bowl; set aside. Whisk egg; set aside. Using about two-thirds of the dough, place it between two sheets of parchment paper. Roll into an 11- or 12-inch round. Gently fit into a deep-dish pie pan.
Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of the crust, using about ¼ cup. Add a single layer of meatballs, a sprinkling of cheeses, then a sprinkling of mixed herbs, salt and pepper. Repeat layering to fill pie. You may have some ingredients left over.
Roll remaining third of dough into a round a little less than 1⁄8-inch thick and large enough to cover pie. Lay across top; cut steam vents and crimp edges. Brush top of pie with whisked egg. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon mixed herbs, salt and pepper. Bake until crust is nicely browned and the filling is hot, 40-45 minutes. (Cover edges if they begin to brown too much.) Makes 8 servings.
Nutrition information per serving: 787 calories, 45 g. fat, 23 g. saturated fat, 171 mg. cholesterol, 56 g. carbohydrates, 38 g. protein, 1,494 mg. sodium, 5 g. fiber
For the crust, Brown suggests using a hard aged cheese that can be finely grated, such as a pecorino Romano or Parmesan, to avoid a gritty crust.
Cheese pie crust
2¾ cups flour
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
½ cup hard aged cheese, finely grated, very cold
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
6 tablespoons water
Add flour, superfine sugar, cheese and salt in the bowl of a food processor; pulse 30 seconds to combine. Add butter to flour mixture all at once. Pulse until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Pulse in water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough comes together and rides on top of the blade. Turn dough onto lightly floured parchment. Shape dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate, 30 minutes. Makes enough dough for a 9- to 10-inch two-crust pie
Caramelized bacon adds a meatiness to this sauce, says Brown. It gets a slow cook to concentrate flavors.
1 slice uncured bacon, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, divided
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
½ large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
1 can (28-ounces) crushed tomatoes
¼ cup tomato paste
1 cup chicken stock
¼ cup red wine
Salt and pepper
Brown bacon over medium heat in a 6-quart saucepan, about 5 minutes. Remove bacon; set aside. Drain off bacon grease if desired. Add olive oil, butter and salt to saucepan. Add 1 tablespoon basil, thyme, rosemary, onion and garlic. Stir; cook over medium heat until onion is translucent and garlic just golden, about 8 minutes. Do not let vegetables brown.
Add diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken stock and wine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add cooked bacon. Simmer, 1 hour. Sauce should be very thick. Stir in remaining fresh basil. Season with additional salt and pepper if needed.
Makes about 1 quart
½ pound ground beef
½ pound ground turkey
½ cup finely chopped yellow onion
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup freshly shredded mozzarella
1 lightly beaten egg
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons bread crumbs
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
In a large bowl, combine beef and turkey, onion, cheeses, egg, 2 tablespoons bread crumbs, garlic, rosemary, thyme, paprika, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Use hands or a wooden spoon to mix thoroughly.
Place remaining bread crumbs in a quart-size plastic container. Lightly shape 2 tablespoons meat mixture into a ball. Drop into the crumbs and quickly rotate container to lightly coat. Repeat with remaining meat and crumbs. Place shaped meatballs on a parchment-lined baking sheet; refrigerate 30 minutes. Heat oven to 300 degrees. Place olive oil and butter in a 6-quart saucepan or other high-sided pan. When oil is hot enough to make a small tester piece of meat sizzle, transfer meatballs into the oil with tongs. Don't crowd the pan or allow them to touch one another. Fry about 4 minutes; turn and cook 5 minutes longer. Transfer fried meatballs to a baking sheet; bake 10 to 15 minutes. Makes 10-12 meatballs.