Oh, where has the Pie Queen been? Spirited back to the South? Whisked up to a wood-stove cabin on the Canadian border? Or, more prosaically, trapped in Brooklyn under a mountain of deadlines? Well, the last 2 are true, at least, although I will be heading back across the Mason-Dixon Line come December, on the Civil War Isn't Over Yet tour of Virginia, South Carolina, and Florida come December, followed by a quickie breeze through San Francisco (o bliss! o Tartine!) in early January.
But right now I'm in Tazza, the month-and-a-week new cafe/bakery/enoteca at the corner of Henry and Atlantic (just north of Atlantic, on the B'klyn Heights side). Such a lovely place, spacious and pleasant, with coffee served in real cups on little round orange trays, with your own beaker of milk on the side, and a tasty selection of cakes and sandwiches, even a wine bar for lingering once the typing's done. Open at 7am, closes at 10pm. It's like being at home, only much tidier--they even play all my CDs, from Satie and Kiri Te Kanawa to Paris Combo. These days, it's all about staying local--last night, my downstairs neighbor Amy and I ran through the rain to get to the cozy, David-Bowie-soundtracked environs of Chip Shop--a lady's half-pint of Old Speckled Hen for me, a Guinness, a plate of baked beans on toast and a pair of deep-fried Reese's PB cups for her.
[Long silence. Chirp. Chirp.]
So, Thanksgiving. Did anyone find Kim S's long turkey-roasting piece in the Times to be well, kinda pointless? At last, after all those dopey, fussy articles (put an ice pack on the breast! brine, brine, brine!) the Times is now paying their writers to talk to their moms and make turkey the way everyone actually does it: just put on some salt and pepper, maybe a little butter, a few veg inside, tent it with foil and stick in the oven til it's done. Honestly, there's no great mystery. Just roast the damn thing and stop talking about it.
Pie, now, I could talk to you all day about pie. And if you're making pumpkin pie this year--which you should, otherwise you'll end up with something like that scene in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, where Peppermint Patty, confronted with Snoopy's turkeyless offerings of popcorn and toast, flips out and demands, "Where's the cranberry sauce, Chuck? Where's the PUMPKIN PIE???" Trust me, I made ginger-pumpkin mousse one year, for a group of about 30, and it's not a mistake I'll make again.
So, pumpkin pie. Two things you want to do: pre-bake your pie crust, and use roasted fresh butternut squash. Pre-baking (aka blind-baking) the crust until it is lightly golden solves the whole soggy-bottom-crust thing that bedevils most custard pies. To blind-bake, make your crust, tuck it into your pie pan, and refrigerate the whole thing for an hour or so. Then line the pan with foil or parchment paper, and fill with a handful of pie weights (those little silvery drops sold in fancy cooking shops) or old dried beans (note that once a pie weight, always a pie weight--you can't eat those beans once they're baked, but you can use them as pie weights again and again). Let crust bake at 400-425F (depending on your oven) until pale golden. Then take out the foil etc. and let bake a few minutes more, until golden brown.
And as for the filling,butternut squash has vast flavor reserves that pumpkin can't even dream of. Using fresh squash will give your filling a lovely, fluffy texture that's very different from the usual heavy, stodgy wedge. Just slice your butternut--no mean feat, so be careful and don't slice your hand up--in half lengthwise, put it face down on a baking sheet and roast until squishy. Flip it over, scrape out the seeds and goo, and scoop flesh into a colander. Mash throughly--I like to pass it through a food mill to get really smooth, but you can buzz it in the processor, beat it with a spoon, or be totally insane and push it through a fine-mesh strainer with a wooden spoon, which is probably the fastest route to just scrapping the whole deal and opening a can of Libby's. But you do need to do something to get rid of the stringiness. I just cranked a bunch of stringy chunks through the fine disk of my cheapie plastic food mill, and was amazed at the lovely velvety puree that resulted. Heave the puree into a strainer and let drain for a hour or so.
Then just find a nice recipe--most people I know have bailed on the old evaporated-milk deal and use heavy cream now instead, but I stick by my little can, mixed with eggs, brown sugar, and spices. Shuna over at Eggbeater likes to add slivered sage; the lovely Bakerina swears by Rose Levy Bernbaum's double-cooking technique, in which one sautes the pumpkin, sugar, and spices for a few minutes before mixing in the eggs and milk--a technique I think I'll try, because why NOT make life a little more complicated?
Remember that the pie will continue to cook a bit as it cools, so leave the center a little jiggly, to avoid giant fault-like cracks cratering through the custard.
Pie Queen's Pumpkin Pie
Essentially the exact same recipe as published in the 1939 Yankee Cookbook, just with more squash and with the addition of a quick pre-cooking of the filling.
15 ounces roasted, mashed butternut squash or pumpkin (approx. 1 1/2 cups)
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups evaporated milk, or a combo of milk, half and half, or heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
single-crust pie shell, baked blind to a pale golden
Preheat oven to 350F. Mix squash, sugar, spices, and salt in a heavy pot. Bring to a sputtering simmer and cook, stirring, for 3 or 4 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes, then add milk, stirring until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla. Pour into pie shell and bake until slightly puffed and set, with the center still a little jiggly. Let cool on a rack. Serve with whipped cream.
Now, the Harry Potter movie, opening tomorrow! I can't wait!