There are few paths that led to this recipe but the main one is that it instantly reminded me of the kind of crumb pies I remember from bakeries growing up, not the kind with a crumble topping but ones with a crust also composed of pressed crumbs. And guys, I love a buttery, flaky, ethereal pie crust woven over cherries and bronzed in the oven as much as the next person, but the idea of choosing it over a crumbly composite of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and sometimes nuts is pure madness. But the filling gave me pause — a custard? a custard that suspends fruit? How odd, right? Or delicious? I went back and forth over the odd-versus-delicious line for the better part of a decade before deciding to finally make it this week. A decade. This recipe was actually published in a 1999 Martha Stewart Living. I was living in Washington D.C., dating a terrible idea and trying to figure out how I could find a place in New York that didn’t charge more than $600/month rent. This recipe is ancient history, people.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been going nuts as it feels like every single person I know that has a food blog, has read a food blog, is a fan of food blogs or eats food itself has been gushing over Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks new book, Super Natural Everyday. But not me! Because although I pre-ordered mine in early March, it didn’t arrive for what felt like an eternity. Every morning, me and my tiny partner in crime would take the elevator (always his favorite part of the day) down to the basement, where unclaimed packages often linger by the Super’s apartment and came back empty handed. Then we would sigh,
get to work load up Twitter on my laptop and read that another two friends were gushing over a book I was being cruelly deprived of and shake our tiny fists at the Amazon Gods and cry, “Why must you make us wait?!”
My brain is currently in Paris, idling in a cafe after a bike ride along the Seine. It may not come home. It started a few weeks ago, when an obsession with getting to the bottom of a baked spinach dish mentioned in a letter by Julia Child allowed me to, once again, dive deeply into the pages of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. What I didn’t have was an exit strategy, which is especially dangerous when day to day life lately has been a bit more about
double ear infections, sleep deprivation, cookbooking in a tiny, overheated kitchen, oh, and then we paid taxes things nobody needs to hear me complain about. In short: I choose Paris, instead. So the last few weeks have brought to our table weeknight roasted chicken, tiny gold potatoes, simple green salads, skinny green beans, white wine, weepingly delicious onion soup and a spate of apple tarte tatins.
Early fall is a ridiculous time to get cooking block. Inspiration is everywhere as nearly everything that could possibly be in season currently is. The markets are flooded with great stuff; summer tomatoes, eggplant, corn and peppers fight for space on tables with apples, pears, greens and winter squash. But somehow — when I’m not playing SuperMom or Good Football Wife or gushing over tiny fall outfits — I’ve been at an impasse. The summer stuff is waning; the last tomatoes I brought home were… rough, to put it nicely. And given that the butternut squash and collards are the last bits of fresh produce we’ll see until asparagus spears pop up in May 2011, seven very long months from now, I’m sure you understand why I put off cooking with them for as long as possible.
If there can be no clearer indication that this will be the Summer of Pie at the Smitten Kitchen — as if a 6-week onslaught of galette after pie smackdowns after savory tart built on a platform of tartlets crusted bettys and free-form pretties did not already lead us to that conclusion — my pastry blender broke this week after putting in five very good years. First, one side of it became unglued from the handle and because I am both stubborn and cheap, I’d just hold it in with my thumb while I cut butter into flour. But then the other side came unglued and I ran out of thumbs. So RIP little pastry blender, and Amazon, hurry and bring that new one along, okay?*
Do you have a favorite pie? I always think of pies falling in two categories, the prom queens, the blue ribbon prize winners, the ones that the president can’t keep out of his thoughts, and the rest of them. In the latter category there are the soggy bottoms, the overly-gelled fillings, the mortarboard crusts, the treacly sweet and those flawlessly latticed, magazine-ready specimen that turn out to have [insert your least favorite pie filling here] under their pretty lids.
I know what you’re thinking, “Really, Deb? Tarts again?” And I realize that it might seem that I’m in a tart rut, what with those rustic rhubarb tarts and the distinctly tart-looking strawberry brown butter bettys and now these strawberry ricotta tarts. But you see, they’re all very different animals parading under the guise of tart-dom and really — because I am allowed to choose favorites, did you know that? — these are the best ones yet.