Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Eggs Florentine Slab Pie with a Hash Brown Crust

Of course, I’ve always liked pie. It’s so versatile. With the various fillings and crust options, sweet and savory directions to take, and the endless ways to top a pie, I don’t think it’s possible to not like pie. But, suddenly, I’m an even bigger fan of pie than I already was. I recently read a review copy of Cathy Barrow’s Pie Squared: Irresistibly Easy Sweet & Savory Slab Pies, and now I find myself wanting pie for every meal. The book is devoted to rectangular pies which are bigger and a little easier to cut and serve than round pies. All the recipes are written to fit a quarter sheet pan. Regardless of the size and shape of the pies though, the recipes themselves kept me turning the pages. I really do want to make all of these pies. After a thorough introduction to working with dough and ideas for lattice or cut-out tops, there are recipes for all the different crust options ranging from an All-Butter Crust to Cookie Crumb Crusts and a Hash Brown Crust to name a few. That last one got my attention. There are also sweet and savory toppings like Cacio e Pepe Savory Streusel and Baby Biscuits. Then, the pie recipes themselves begin with a savory chapter. The Nacho Slab Pie with a Cornbread Crust is sure to be in my near future as is the Pan-Roasted Mushroom and Kale Slab Pie with an All-Butter Crust. I won’t let the summer pass without trying the Southern-Style Tomato Slab Pie with a Cheddar Cheese Crust. There’s a classic Chicken Pot Slab Pie and a Curried Chicken Slab Pie. I can’t decide which to try first. And, the chapter full of sweet pies is just as fun. The Frosted Strawberry Slab Pie with a Cream Cheese Crust looks like a giant pop-tart complete with sprinkles. Every fruit is shown in a pie, and there are cream pies as well. I know I’ll soon be baking the Sugar-Free Fig Slab Pie with a Cream Cheese Crust because it looks delicious with the pureed fig and orange filling and zero sugar in the recipe. But, let’s back up to that Hash Brown Crust. At the end of each of the pie recipes, there is a list of swaps. For this Eggs Florentine Slab Pie, one suggestion is to use half sweet potatoes and half russets in the crust. As if I wasn’t already convinced to try this pie, that sealed the deal. 

I should mention that bacon is an ingredient in the recipe in the book, and I skipped right over it. I started by grating onion on the small holes of a box grater. I used a mix of local sweet potatoes, new potatoes, and a russet. They were grated and squeezed to remove as much liquid as possible before being added to a bowl with the onion. The liquid was squeezed into a bowl and left to sit. The liquid was poured off, and the potato starch collected in the bottom of the bowl was added to the grated potatoes and onion. Eggs and salt were added and mixed to combine. I brushed olive oil on the baking sheet, and pressed the potato mixture into the pan. The surface of the potato mixture was brushed with more oil before baking. For the filling, I used some fresh, local spinach that I washed and sauteed with minced local leeks. I added some creme fraiche that I had on hand and then layered it over the baked potato crust. I created open spaces for the eggs and cracked jumbo eggs on top. The pie went back into the oven until the eggs were set. It was sprinkled with grated parmesan before serving. 

This was a hearty brunch dish with the potato crust and its crispy edges. I wished that my spinach layer had been a bit thicker to hold the eggs in place a little better, and that’s because I might have had a bit less spinach that called for in the recipe. I’ll use more next time. Or, I might try a different filling for the potato crust. Or, I might try several other pies from the book first. One thing is for sure, I’ll be making more pies. 

Eggs Florentine Slab Pie with a Hash Brown Crust 
Excerpted from the book Pie Squared: Irresistibly Easy Sweet & Savory Slab Pies by Cathy Barrow. Copyright © 2018 by Cathy Barrow. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.  

Sometime in the 1980s, I developed a deep and abiding love for eggs Florentine: It’s the creamy spinach stirred together with a runny egg yolk. That sumptuous mixture was precisely the inspiration for this breakfast pie. It’s what you want on a snowy morning—slightly wobbly coddled eggs basted with cream in a delicious roasted potato crust whose scent means carrying the pie from oven to table is a moment worthy of everyone’s attention. Because nearly everyone likes bacon, scatter crispy bits across the top. All that, and it’s gluten-free, too. Do not use a convection oven as a breeze wafting over the eggs results in a weird, rubbery texture. 

1/2 pound (225 g) smoked bacon, chopped, optional 

1 medium onion (142 g), peeled 
1-1/2 pounds (680 g) russet potatoes (about 4), scrubbed but not peeled 
1 large egg plus 1 egg white, beaten 
1 teaspoon kosher salt 
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper 
2 tablespoons neutral oil like canola or grapeseed (if not using bacon fat) 

1 (16-ounce) bag frozen chopped spinach (453 g), defrosted and the liquid squeezed out 
4 tablespoons (56 g) unsalted butter 
1 medium yellow onion (140 g), chopped into 1/2-inch dice (about 1 cup) 
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 
1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream 
1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
8 large eggs (or see swaps) 
1/2  cup (120 ml) heavy cream 

4 tablespoons grated Pecorino cheese 
2 tablespoons chopped chives 

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Scatter the bacon across the slab pie pan, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until crispy. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel–lined plate and drain. Do not dispose of the bacon fat, but pour some into a small bowl and leave the rest in the pan. Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees F; if you have one, place a baking stone, Baking Steel, or inverted baking sheet on the center rack to heat. 

For the crust: Grate the onion on the medium holes of a box grater or a food processor’s grating disk (my preference). Place the onions in a medium mixing bowl. Grate the potatoes on the large holes side of the box grater, and, taking a handful at a time, squeeze the shreds over a small bowl. As each handful is squeezed, place in the bowl with the onions. Continue until all the potatoes have been grated and their liquid squeezed out. Work quickly to keep the potatoes from turning brown. You should have about 4 cups of dry-ish potatoes in the end. 

Let the potato liquid sit for about 5 minutes, until the starch and liquid separate. Pour off the liquid, keeping the starchy white paste at the bottom. That’s potato starch and we love it. Add the starch to the grated onions and potatoes, then add the egg and egg white, salt, and pepper and stir with your hands. If bacon fat is not present on the baking sheet, brush the neutral oil into the corners and across the bottom of the pan. Firmly press the potato mixture into the pan using the sides of your hand and your knuckles. Brush the surface of the potatoes with bacon fat. Bake (on top of the steel, stone, or baking sheet if using) until the potatoes have started to turn brown, 35 to 45 minutes 

For the filling: Use your hands (or a colander and a firm wooden spoon) to squeeze the liquid out of the spinach. The drier the spinach, the less time is required to cook it, which keeps the flavor fresh and green and not metallic. 

In a large, wide sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat until frothy. Add the diced onions and cook until translucent, about 7 minutes. Turn up the heat, add the spinach, and cook until the mixture is nearly dry, another 5 to 7 minutes. Grate nutmeg over the spinach and add the cream, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring over medium heat, until slightly thickened, 5 to 7 minutes more. 

When the potato crust is baked and all crispy and browned, spread the spinach filling thickly over the top. Use the bottom of a ladle to form 8 wells in the spinach mixture and crack an egg into each divot. Spoon a tablespoon of cream over each egg. 

Scatter the crispy bacon bits all across the pie. Slip the pan back in the oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the eggs’ whites are cooked through. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle with the Pecorino and chives. Serve right away.

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Monday, January 14, 2019

Meyer Lemon-Almond Meringue Tartlets and Holiday Roundup

Happy New Year! I hope your holiday season was delightful. I have a few sweet treats from my holidays to share today. For a Christmas dessert, I wanted to make use of my homegrown Meyer lemons but of course couldn’t decide what to make. I mulled it over for days and flipped through several books while considering various cakes, tarts, and frozen desserts. Then, I pulled Baked: New Frontiers in Baking off the shelf, found the little lemon-almond meringue tartlets, and wondered how I’d ever forgotten this recipe from this book. It was just what I wanted to make. They’re cute, individual-sized tartlets with a tangy lemon filling, and the pastry for the tartlet shells was made with an interesting twist. Amaretti cookies were ground and added to the flour in the dough. Amaretto liqueur is also suggested, but I used almond extract instead. Some years are better than others for my lemon trees, but I had plenty of lemons for the curd. I was amazed by the dark yellow color the Meyer lemons gave it, and the flavor was divine. For the fluffy meringue topping, I remembered from recently reading BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts a recipe guaranteed to not weep or collapse over time. I planned to make several tartlets and serve them over the course of a few days. So, I followed the instructions for that magical Marshmallow Meringue which involves heating the egg whites and sugar to 175 degrees F before whipping. Some almond extract was added to the meringue as well. I piled the meringue high on each tartlet and toasted it with a kitchen torch. I can report the meringue performed perfectly and did not weep at all even after leftover tartlets had been refrigerated for three days. The combined result was everything I hoped it would be. 

As usual, I baked possibly as many cookies as Mrs. Claus this year. I returned to a couple of favorite recipes and also tried two new ones. I made my favorite sugar cookie dough for rolled and cut cookies. I decorated them with royal icing and crushed candy canes. I used half of the sugar cookie dough to revisit the Hawaiian Snowballs recipe. This is a favorite cookie of mine with the chopped, dried pineapple and macadamia nuts in the dough. I also made white chocolate-covered Chocolate Peppermint Cookies again. As a big fan of white chocolate and mint, I think these are even better than thin mints. One of the new recipes I tried this year was Chai Snowballs from Martha Stewart Living, and they will definitely be making a repeat appearance. The other new recipe was Cranberry-Oat-Almond Shortbread topped with white chocolate from Sweet: Desserts from London's Ottolenghi. Rather than rolling out the dough and cutting these as suggested in the book, I made two logs of dough and sliced and baked. This recipe was also a keeper. I try to give away as many cookies as possible, but I do have to taste to make sure everything turns out ok, right? After all of that delicious sugar, I’ll be skipping dessert for a bit, but I don’t regret one bite.

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