There are many wonderful things about savory pies: the contrast between a sharply flavored filling and a mellow crust, the crisp edges and soft middle, their portability, and their flexibility, to name a few.
One of my favorite pies is an adaptation from a recipe in Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, the Moosewood Collective’s book about cuisines from around the world. On Sunday, it turns out, the restaurant’s menu focuses on a particular part of the world, like Armenia and the Middle East, China, or the British Isles. Although they might not be as anthropologically exciting as a recipe collected in the field by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid (Asia specialists), Diana Kennedy (Mexico) or Paula Wolfert (the Middle East), in my years of cooking from the book I have found it to produce delicious food.
To create my pies, I adapted the dough recipe for “Beurek with Parsley-Cheese Filling” and the filling recipe from the previously blogged-about torta verde: feta cheese, potato, and chard. The filling for the Beurek in the Moosewood book is certainly delicious – four kinds of cheese, basil and parsley – but I usually prefer a greener filling.
Most savory pies take a fair amount of work – making a crust, making a filling, and making the pies – but the work can be spread out over an afternoon or two days. In this recipe, the vegetables in the filling can be made ahead, with the cheese and egg added just before assembly. As I mentioned earlier, savory pies are flexible. You can replace the chard with spinach, dandelion greens, or other green; use a combination of cooked mushrooms and cheese; replace some of the potato and greens with grated winter squash that has been steamed; or try other cheeses, like a soft goat cheese.
Leftover filling can be used to make a frittata or fritter: just add a few more eggs to any extra filling, mix well, then cook in a skillet.
The pies are fabulous right out of the oven, of course. They also can be part of portable meals – on a hike or urban adventure, for example – because they are delicious when at room temperature. They also freeze well, so thoroughly wrap a few and put them in the freezer for a future meal.
Recipe: Vegetable-Cheese Pies
Adapted from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant and Saveur (May/June 1998)
3/4 cup warm water (105-110 °F)
2 T. olive oil
2 1/2 t. instant yeast*
1 t. salt
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
8-10 large Swiss chard leaves, washed
1 medium potato, boiled, peeled and cut in 1/4″ dice
2 T. minced fresh parsley or dill
1 1/4 c. crumbled feta cheese
1/2 c. grated mozzarella cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten, divided (see below)
Wash and garnish:
Part of divided egg mixture mixed with 1/2 T. water
Sesame seeds or poppy seeds
Make the dough: Place the flour, yeast and salt in a bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached**. Operate on low speed until dry ingredients are combined. Pour in the water and olive oil. Mix on medium-low speed until the dough starts coming together (you might need to mix with a spoon or the detached dough hook to get all of the flour into a mass). Process at medium speed for 4 minutes. Remove dough hook and cover the bowl. Let rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours, or until doubled.
Make the filling: Remove the chard leaves from the stem. Chop the leaves roughly and place in a large bowl. Cut the stems through the middle towards the base. Chop the stems into thin slices (a few millimeters).
Heat some olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, stir and let it cook for 30 seconds. Add chard stems and sauté for a few minutes. Add the chard leaves, stir, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook covered for a few minutes until chard is tender. Turn off heat, remove cover and let cool. When it is cool, squeeze the chard to press out excess liquid.
Combine potatoes, parsley (or dill), cheeses, and drained chard in a large bowl. Reserve about 1/4 of the beaten eggs in a small bowl (this will be used to glaze the pies before baking). Stir in the remaining 3/4 of the beaten eggs and set aside.
Make the pies: Preheat the oven to 375 °F. Get out two baking sheets. Line one with a sheet of parchment paper or a non-stick sheet (like Silpat). Lightly dust the other with flour.
Punch down the dough. Divide it into 10 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and place on the flour-dusted baking sheet. Cover them with a dry towel while you work.
Using flour as necessary (but not too much), roll each ball into a circle with an approximate diameter of 6 inches (it is also possible to stretch the dough by hand). If a piece resists your rolling, set the piece aside to rest for a few minutes and begin working on another piece (or re-rolling a piece that has been resting).
Spoon one-tenth of the filling into the lower half of a circle, leaving a border around the bottom. Fold the top half of the dough over, then seal the pie. You can use a folding technique or a crimping technique to seal. (A video from Greek Food TV shows how to roll a crust at the 4:30 time point. Proper crimping technique is shown by Alton Brown in a Good Eats episode posted on You Tube during the first minute of the video.) After each pie is finished, place on the Silpat/parchment-coated baking sheet. Gently bend into a half-moon shape if you like, or leave them as half-circles.
Just before baking, brush each pie with the egg wash, sprinkle with sesame seeds, poppy seeds (or nothing), then prick each pie with a fork in several places to allow steam to vent. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, turning the baking sheet 180 degrees once during baking. Serve hot or at room temperature.
* Instant yeast — also labeled “Bread Machine Yeast” — does not need to be dissolved in water before use and so can be combined directly with dry ingredients. If you only have regular yeast, pour it into 1/4 cup warm water (105-110 F), stir until well combined, and let rest for 5 minutes. It should be foamy and fragrant after that time. Pour into the flour along with the other 1/2 cup warm water and olive oil.
** To make the dough by hand, pour the water and oil into the dry ingredients. Stir until it becomes somewhat of a shaggy mass, then turn out onto a surface for kneading. Knead for 5 minutes, adding flour when necessary (but as little as possible).