It had been way too long since I'd baked a pie. Luckily, though, the book club ladies were coming over last night, and since Y. had made some wistful inquiries about the famous award-winning apple pie, I bought a big bag of fresh rhubarb from the greenmarket, a half-pound of butter and a box of strawberries, and got set to make a nice big floury mess all over the kitchen table.
Lots of recipes tell you to put the rhubarb through all sorts of elaborate machinations before you put it the pie. What a bunch of, well, rhubarb--meaning hooey. Just cut it up, toss it with sugar and a little cornstarch, and you're on your way to pie queen heaven. This pie is a juicy one, but that's what makes it taste so nice and homemade. Vanilla ice cream is the perfect accompaniment.
Mama's Little Baby Loves Rhubarb Pie
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 TB sugar
2 sticks (1/2 lb) butter (no shortening! shortening is crap!)
6-8 TB ice water
Mix dry ingredients. Cut in butter until size of biggish peas, using a food processor, a pastry blender or just your fingertips. Leave it chunkier than you think you should. Add 5 TB of water all at once, stirring and tossing with your fingertips. Add just enough more water so that you can squeeze a handful together into a rough ball. Flatten into two disks, wrap in plastic and chill for at least an hour.
Then, roll out one round on a well-floured countertop and line your pie pan. Wrap it up again and put back in fridge for another hour or so.
While it's chilling, make your filling.
4 cups of rhubarb, chopped into 1-inch pieces
2/3 cup sugar
4 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp orange rind
1 box of strawberries, hulled and cut up (optional)
Mix sugar and cornstarch together, and pour over rhubarb, strawberries, and orange rind. Toss it a few times. Set aside while you roll out the top crust. Preheat oven to 400.
Because this is a very juicy pie, it's good to use a lattice crust to let the steam out. So cut your top crust into long strips for the lattice**.
Take the chilled crust out and mound the filling inside, scooping in all the sugary goo from the bottom of the bowl. If you have a lot of water in there, pour it off or leave in the bowl. Weave your lattice on top. Sprinkle with sugar and place on a big foil-lined baking sheet in the oven. (Why a baking sheet? Because some juice going to bubble over and burn, and a baking sheet is easier to clean than the bottom of the oven.) Bake for 40 minutes or so, until well browned, juicy and bubbling. You'll probably need to cover the edges with foil halfway through to keep them from burning.
*You should probably know that this crust (from David Lebovitz’s excellent book Room for Dessert) can be a pain in the ass sometimes. It loves to stick to everything—your counter, your rolling pin, your hands. When you first take it out of the fridge, it will be a hard, recalcitrant lump in the middle of the counter, and then a couple minutes later it will be a sticky, rebellious dough-child ready to smear itself on every available surface. But please, I beg you, don’t give up and use one of those crapola premade frozen pie crusts. No, no, NOOOOOOO.
Try this out. It will be so much better than every other pie crust you’ve ever had that it’s worth the swearing and scraping. It helps to be as light-handed with the dough as you can be, but this mostly means not squishing it back into a ball and re-rolling it too many times. I’ve saved my sanity many times over by finally getting a long, narrow offset spatula, which can be wiggled under the rolled-out dough to loosen it from the counter without tearing when you’re ready to drape it over the pie pan. You can also use a regular spatula, or even a long thin knife. Because of all the butter in there, it will be flaky and taste incredibly delicious and buttery even if you end up pummeling it a little. Unlike a shortening crust, which stays pallid and pale, a butter crust gets wonderfully golden-brown, and tastes even better than it looks.
**Making lattice, THE FANCY WAY: lay one strip across the middle of the pie. Then lay another strip across it to make (duh) a cross. Lay another strip down next the first. Then lay down another cross-wise strip, only weave it under the first strip and over the second one. Keep doing this, alternating vertical and horizontal strips, lifting the strips as necessary to get that cute under-and-over pattern. If your strip breaks, just jam the pieces back together or hide the broken parts under another strip. Another trick is to use a little crinkle-edged pastry wheel to cut out the strips, so they have cute pinked edges (as if you've used pinking shears) which makes the pie look really 1950s-country-fair. Put on a gingham apron when you serve this, and you might inspire an utterance along the lines of my favorite come-on line ever: "I just want you to make me a bologna sandwich, and then I want to ravish you!" (Yes, this was actually said to me by a reliably pervy friend, although the action was not suited to the words.)