I love the trend of returning to our culinary roots. That’s not to say that I don’t respect the innovative chefs creating modern and exciting new adaptations of our old favourites, but the slow living movement, the trend to cook like our grandmothers once did is where my heart lies when I’m in the kitchen. Cooking real food with natural, wholesome ingredients that have names even our grandmothers would recognize. Tried and true recipe that have stood the test of time. However, there is one thing that I absolutely will not cook the way my grandmother did. Pie crust. My grandmother came from the generation of cooks who, in the 40s and 50s, embraced shortening as a better alternative to butter and used it for just about everything from hand cream to pastry dough.
I remember baking with my grandmother one summer. We were making a fruit pie, probably peach because it was late in the season, and she told me, very matter-of-factly, that it was impossible to make a good, flakey and tender pie crust with just butter. “You simply must add a dollop of shortening to it,” she insisted.
“But, how did they make pie crust before there was shortening?” I asked.
“They didn’t.” She replied, plopping in a cupful of Crisco into the bowl of flour.
Of course, I knew this wasn’t true, and I’ve been making all-butter shortcrust pastry dough that is light and flaky ever since. The secret is something we all have in our kitchens. Vinegar.
I love to make all sorts of savory pies and tarts. In the summer I fill them with fresh, seasonal vegetables like zucchini and tomatoes from the garden. In the winter they are heavier, with cream sauce, lots of cheese, root vegetables and maybe some chicken.
This summer we have loads and loads of Swiss chard in the garden. It was unintentional, but here’s what happened. When Swiss chard first starts to sprout it looks just like a wispy little weed. I planted a few rows of it this spring and, as I am quite an impatient gardener, when I saw nothing but weeds after a few days, I planted it again only this time spreading the seeds more densely along the same few rows. By the time those seeds had sprouted I realized that the first batch, what I thought were weeds, were in fact baby Swiss chard, so now I had twice as many plants growing in the garden. It’s a good thing that we absolutely love these dark greens! For this galette, I fill a classic, free-form shortcrust pasty shell with sautéed chard and onions, then layer in some cheese and top with a thin layer of potatoes, some more cheese and, you guessed it, a tiny bit of butter. The potatoes caramelize in the butter and become tender with golden, crispy edges in the oven. For these old rich, fashioned recipes butter is the only way to go.
Classic All-Butter Shortcrust Pastry
This recipe makes enough dough for a double layer pie (one with both a top and bottom crust) or for two tarts or two galettes like the one above. The amount of sugar can be increased or decreased to your liking, however, I find that two tablespoons of sugar is just the right amount for both a sweet tart and one that is savory. Any leftover dough can be stored in the freezer for up to a month.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 TBSP sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (two sticks) cold butter, cut into cubes
1/3 cup ice water
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter cubes and “cut” them into the flour mixture using a pastry blender or two knives, until the mixture looks like coarse bread crumbs.
Stir the apple cider vinegar into the water and, using the pastry blender, mix it into the flour a few tablespoons at a time, until the dough starts to come together. Depending on several factors, including the weather, the humidity and the age of the flour, you might not need to use all the water, or you may need a little more. When the dough starts to come together, knead it a few times being careful not to warm the dough too much with your hands. If it feels sticky, knead in a little more flour; if it doesn’t hold together add another splash of water.
Divide the dough in half and form each half into a flat disk. Wrap each disk in cling film and place in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
After the dough has rested, roll it out on a floured surface and either fit it into a tart or pie pan, or use it to make the free-form galette below.
Swiss Chard & Potato Galette
A galette is a free-form pie. The dough is rolled out into a rough circle and the filling is simply place in the middle, then the egdes of the dough are folded up around the filling and it is baked on a flat sheet pan. I love to make galettes in the summertime when the heat makes me feel too lazy to fit the dough into a proper tart pan.
1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 large leaves of Swiss Chard (approx. 160g or 5.5 oz.), washed and chopped
1/4 cup water
A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
5 – 6 small red potatoes, sliced very thinly
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
2 tsp butter, cut into small cubes
1 egg, beaten
Salt and pepper (to taste)
1 disk of shortcrust pastry (recipe above)
Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook a minute longer. Add the Swiss chard and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add a few crushed red pepper flakes, to taste. Sauté for a minute, then add the water, cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Cook the chard for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the pan becomes too dry, add a splash of water. After 15 minutes, uncover the pan and cook until all the water has evaporated. Stir in the nutmeg. Set aside to cool slightly.
Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper and pre-heat the oven to 375 F (190 C).
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a 13-inch (33 cm) circle. Carefully transfer the dough to the parchment-lined pan. Brush the inside of the dough with the beaten egg, leaving a 1.5 inch border. Spread the chard filling in the middle of the dough, on top of the egg, making sure to keep that border. Sprinkle half the cheese over the chard. Arrange the potatoes on top of the cheese, in slightly overlapping rows. Season the potatoes well with salt and pepper. Top with the remaining cheese and dot the top with the butter.
Fold the edges of the dough up and over the filling to create a free-form pie. Brush the edges with the beaten egg and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.
Bake for 45 – 55 minutes, until golden and brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.