Friday, August 6, 2010

Spinach Pie, Broadway, and Fingerprints

Have I sung the praises of a humble little dish called Spinach Pie here before? I don't think I have, and I can't think why.

I would think this would be one of the first recipes I ever posted actually because I've had an intimate relationship with Spinach Pie since I was 18 or so... that's over a decade of delicious and nutritious intimacy. (Does the word "intimacy" make you uncomfortable?)

But nevertheless, this is one of those recipes that has just stuck and cycles in and out of our rotation regularly, even habitually. I can't quit Spinach Pie. (Is that allusion passe and unfunny?) My name is Beth and I'm addicted to the classic flavor combination of spinach and nutmeg (and sauteed onion and melty, mildly sweet cheese and buttery buttery pastry). I really love Spinach Pie flanked by tomato soup during the fall and winter when I can cuddle back Indian style on the couch with Carter at my side and Lu at my knee, and I can pick up my little wedge and dunk it bite by bite in a creamy and tangy soup, chips and salsa style.

(Did I ever tell you about the time Carter remixed a song on the computer of me singing about chips and salsa? It goes like this--"What do you like to eat? Ch-ch-ch-chips and salsa." And so on. I'm surprised he didn't make me choreograph an accompanying dance, too. He likes to clap his hands and command me to entertain him like a personal Broadway chorus... and yet he hates musicals. Figure that out. Where were we?)

The origins of Spinach Pie. I made it first with my Aunt Nelda at their house in Loveland the first summer I was working at the Baldpate Inn. It's so long ago, I don't know if she'd even remember, but I do. Obviously. I think she was trying to cater to my vegetarian lifestyle. It's essentially a calzone but with my well-traveled aunt's insightful addition of some French flava.

Did I mention that is easy as... you know. It is.

Spinach Pie

1. Defrost one small package of chopped frozen spinach. Squeeze out every extra drop of moisture, using your fists, sieve, paper towels, and strongest muscles.

2. Saute 1/4 an onion in olive oil (or butter! I bad.) until sweating and translucent. Throw in a cup or so of mushrooms until they start releasing juices. I don't like to stir them around too much.

4. Break apart your compressed ball of spinach and stir it in with onions and shrooms. Take it off the heat. Salt and pepper the Vegetal Triumvirate. Then grate nutmeg over the top of the whole thing.

5. Stir in Swiss or Gruyere or any mild cheese (goat, mozz, ricotta, whatev) over your warm mixture. Just taste it here. You'll love it.

6. Unroll one shell from the red-box, packaged, Pillsbury pie shell on a greased baking sheet or pizza stone. Massage a thin veil of mustard into the soft belly of the opened and vulnerable pie shell. This helps effectively seal your dough from the juices of the filling, so that the outside bakes and becomes flaky, not soggy and gross. Plus, it tastes good. Dump your slightly cooled, cheesy Vegetal Triumverate onto one half of the pastry dough. Like this.

7. Fold the other half of the shell over the mixture and crimp the edges together like the decorative edge of a pie, sealing together the dough edges and enveloping the innards.

Some like to crimp pie edges with a fork, empanada-style, but there's something very poetic and personal about imprinting the dough with your fingerprints, I think. Plus, that's how my ma taught me.

Isn't it funny to try to think back to when you first learned to crimp the edge of a pie? I can't remember learning this. My guess is that a lot of us can't. I love that it's such an old, now instinctive skill, like swimming or two-stepping or something.

I also remember watching Lois, the owner of the Baldpate, make pies late at night when her staff would wander back after nights in funny little, smoky bars down in town. I would sit with her, and sometimes she'd let me help, and she pointed out how everyone's crimping result was different even if they used basically the same method of pinching the dough. Some light pressure, some heavy, some with small fingers, some with fat. Like how everyone's laugh is different. I really like that.

8. Slice a few air holes in the top for decoration and for steam to escape. Bake on 400 for 30 minutes or so. I also think it's prudent to let the pie sit for a few minutes for the cheese and spinach to firm up a bit before slicing open.

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