When we started this blog, I promised at least one pie a month. I was thinking along the lines of dessert at the time, and I’m turning an idea for an experimental new sweet pie over in my head, so I will try it soon and post the recipe if it turns out. This pie, though, is a savory eggy-cheesy-peppery squash pie – it was also an experiment, and I love it!
Last spring when I went to the garden store to buy geraniums, I saw some forlorn little vines in pots. I recognized the characteristic cucurbit leaves and from the size figured they must be some kind of pumpkin. Sure enough, the plants were labeled Hokkaidokürbis. What luck! The Hokkaido (AKA potimorron or uchiki kuri) is my favorite squash in the world. I love its smooth, sweet, chestnut-like flavor, and it is so full of good-for-you nutrients an alternate name for this recipe might be Beta-Carotene Pie. You probably know where this is going….the Hokkaido plants came home with me, even though the only place for them to grow in our small yard was in the holes at the top of a cinder block retaining wall. It wasn’t an overwhelmingly successful crop since monster slugs got a couple of the vines, but the two survivors produced three little cuties, each about the size of an apple (normally they are bigger).
For this recipe I started with a basic pastry dough made with shortening, and to give it a little something extra I added ground black pepper and dried marjoram, which turned out to be a great way to up the game beyond a plain shortening crust. I like a butter pastry, but I didn’t want to take time to chill the dough, and I can skip that step with shortening. Plus an advantage of shortening is that it gives you a very easy-to-work-with dough, and especially with the recipe only needing a single crust this would be a perfect first-time experience if you are wanting to move past store-bought pastry (yes you can, yes you can!!!….I’m on a mission to convince people who think they can’t make good homemade pie crust to give it a try, and here’s a pastry tutorial).
I didn’t want to pre-cook the Hokkaido since the result I had in mind was bits of squash in a quiche-type filling rather than a custard-type emulsion that might taste like I was trying to make pumpkin pie but forgot the sugar (um, well, yes, I guess I have done that). I did want the squash in small enough particles that it would end up fully cooked, so I grated it using the large holes on a box grater (use a food processor if you prefer). The one little squash yielded about a cup when grated, and next time I’ll use a bigger squash and increase the quantity to at least 1½ cups. For the filling, I took the middle path between cream and skim milk, combining whole milk with ricotta, emmentaler, eggs, and a sprinkle of spice to accent the squash flavor (if calories are of no concern, you can substitute cream or evaporated milk for an even richer taste).
- 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon each salt and black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
- ½ cup shortening (substitute butter if desired, but for best results chill dough for an hour before rolling)
- 1/3 – ½ cup water
- 3/4 cup ricotta
- 3/4 cup shredded emmentaler (substitute jarlsberg, Gruyère or other nutty-flavored cheese)
- 4 eggs
- 1¼ cups milk
- ¼ teaspoon each freshly ground black pepper and nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1½ – 2 cups grated winter squash such as Hokkaido or butternut (start with 1½ cups and after you get the filling mixture into the crust, if it looks like it will hold another ½ cup add the rest)
Heat oven to 400 F. Combine the flour, salt, pepper, and marjoram in a medium bowl. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender and use a fork to stir in the water a little at a time, adding water just until the dough starts to come together. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface, turn the dough into a 9-inch pie plate, and flute the edges to make a tall rim. Bake the crust for 8-10 minutes, or until it is no longer raw-looking, but it does not need to be browned (if you are using a butter pastry instead of shortening, line the pastry with foil and fill with dry beans to prevent shrinking; you can skip the foil and weight for a shortening crust, but keep an eye on it in the oven and if it starts to puff up, prick it with a fork to let steam escape).
While the crust is pre-baking, mix the remaining ingredients. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 F. and pour the filling into the crust; return the pie to the oven on the bottom shelf. I forgot to look at the clock when I put mine in, but most pies take 45 minutes to an hour….just bake it until it is done (no longer jiggly in the middle). This pie is best served nice and hot, and individual slices are fine reheated in the microwave.
In other harvest news, with frost threatening I picked the rest of my tomatillos and put up more salsa, and I saved seeds out of one of the purple tomatillos in hopes of another crop next year.
And we went to a harvest festival at a big farm. The popular attraction for kids was a giant corn maze, and they also seemed to enjoy climbing on and jumping off of straw bales. It was a beautiful autumn day, and we joined the crowd in the barn for pumpkin soup and steak sandwiches and then marveled at the amazing variety of cucurbits, especially the giant pumpkin (which no doubt rivaled the “absoluten Hausrekord” of 432 kilos).
We also brought home some goodies including delicata and spaghetti squash and a little gorgonzola pumpkin, an “All About Pumpkin/Squash” German recipe booklet (it’s the same word for both – kürbis, like calabaza in Spanish), several honey products, and a couple of liters of federweisser. It is very sweet, lightly effervescent, and barely fermented new wine (about 4% alcohol). I’d never heard of federweisser before I moved here, so I asked around and learned it is not well known outside of wine-producing regions because it can’t be transported long distances. That’s because the bubble production from fermentation increases every day, so if the bottles were tightly capped the bubbles would build up pressure and cause the container to explode (which really deepens my understanding of that Bible verse about not putting new wine in old wineskins). If you’ve never had federweisser before, it might be getting close to the end of production for this year. But sometime try to head to a wine region during grape harvest and give it a try (this late in the fall, the federweisser we still have available in Germany is made from the very sweetest grapes).