National Pie Day. . . My Pear Pie

Just a few days ago, browsing a newspaper, I learned that today, January 23 is National Pie Day.

I don’t consider the pie as one of the most typical Italian dessert; Fruit crostata (tart) and jam tart are more common. Once, however, I read about this National Pie Day I decided to investigate a little further.

Through the American Pie Council, I learned that the first pies were made by early Romans who, also, published the first pie recipe.The early pies were mostly meat pies.

I shall always remember the first meat pies I was invited to taste on my first visit to London. I was my uncle and aunt’s guest. My aunt is English; She is a great cook, in fact , she shared with me her recipe of the best cauliflower dish I have ever had. Her roast beef is out of this world, still, the meat pie was hard to swallow. Sorry aunt Margharet!

Back to history, it  appears that fruit pies or tarts were probably first made in the 1500s. The credit for the first cherry pies goes to the English who made it for Queen Elizabeth I. Indeed, the English settlers were the first to bring the pie to America where, over the years, it has become the most traditional dessert.

How lucky am I! Being Italian and living in the USA, I celebrate Italian holidays and traditions, but I also embrace American celebrations, although always in Italian style. The National Pie Day has given me the opportunity to pay homage to yet another American tradition, and at the same time, to discover a new Italian recipe.

When I cook, my goal is always to use seasonal ingredients, so, to celebrate National Pie Day, I have baked a Charlotte di pere (Pear Pie), a traditional recipe of the Italian region of Piemonte. The name Charlotte, derives from  French. The region of Piemonte, prior to the unification of Italy, has been in the orbit of the French House of Savoy for more than 800 years; The long French domination certainly had a great influence on the regional gastronomy, which indeed, borrows many traditions and terms from the nearby Country.

The recipe I used is  from  “La Cucina, the regional cooking of Italy”, by the Italian Academy of Cuisine. I am very passionate about Italian regional cuisine and I find this cookbook a great resource.

The uniqueness of this pie is that the fruit is cooked in wine. I started my pie while my son was perplexedly observing what I was doing. He is always very concerned when I use  wine in my recipes; once, however, the aroma of the fruit and the cooking wine started to diffuse throughout the kitchen, the concerns and doubts dissipated. The final result was certainly proof that wine can do wonders!

Being this a recipe from Piemonte, it is not surprising that Barolo is the suggested wine to use. Barolo is actually one of my favorite Italian wine. It is, however, a pricey wine, especially in USA . A great alternative for this recipe is the Nebbiolo (Nebbiolo grape is used for the production of Barolo), still a hearty, high quality wine, but more affordable. Nebbiolo is what I used. Of course, you can substitute with a hearty wine of your choice and liking.

Happy Pie Day!!!

Ricetta Charlotte di Pere

Pear Pie Recipe

For the short pastry:

3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/4 cup sugar

7 oz (14 tablespoon) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

4 extralarge egg yolks

1/4 cup chilled Marsala wine(sweet)

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 pinch of salt

For the filling:

2 lbs. pears (possibly Seckel), cored but not peeled and cut in half lengthwise. If using larger pear cut into quarters.

1 and 1/4 cup pitted prunes (original recipe is 1 and 3/4 cups. I thought was too much)

1 rhubarb stalk (this is my personal addition to the recipe), washed, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces

2 cups of Nebbiolo (original recipe uses Barolo. Other hearty red wine will do)

5 tablespoon sugar

1 tsp. grated lemon zest

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 pinch ground cloves

1 pinch of salt

Directions:

Prepare the short pastry: cold ingredients are essential to making a pie crust. Sift together the flour, the sugar and the salt. Transfer into the bowl of a food processor. Add the cubed butter and process without overworking the dough.

Stir in the eggs, Marsala and lemon zest until the dough comes together.

Transfer to a surface dusted with flour and quickly knead the dough for 1 minute, form a ball and then flatten it.

Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Prepare the filling: In a large pan, combine the pears, prunes, rhubarb, wine, lemon zest, sugar, spices and salt. Cook on medium heat until the liquid has reduced to a thick syrup and the pears are tender (you don’t want the pear to fall apart).

Preheat the oven at 350 degree. Butter a deep pie dish.

Roll out 2/3 of the dough and use it to line the pie dish. Trim the dough to 1 inch over hang. The dough might break while you transfer to the pie dish. It is, however, easy to patch with extra dough (from the picture you can see that my dough broke in several pieces).

Fill the pie crust with the cooked fruit and liquid.

Roll out the remaining dough and cover the fruit. Seal the edges with your fingers. With the index finger on one hand, press the dough against the thumb and forefinger of the opposite hand; continue around the perimeter of the crust and dish. ( I am still perfecting this skill!)

Lastly cut slits in the center of the crust to vent steam.

Position your pie dish in the lower third of the oven and bake for 45 minutes. You may have to cover the edges with foil to avoid overbrowning the edges ( I cover mine during last 15 minute, a little earlier however, would have been better).

Cool the pie and serve it warm with a dollop of whipped cream!

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