Monday, May 7

Fill 'Er Up
It's 10:30p and--even after playing hide and go seek with your subjectivity by sipping pear brandy and overdosing on Stargate SG-1--you're feeling a little restless and looking for something to ease your mind? Don't despair, pare. It'll give you something (else) to do with your hands.

It's time to get your apple and rhubarb pie filling together and bake yourself a little happiness. Start by pulling the two disks of pie dough you made half an hour ago and put them on the counter to warm up a bit.

Bitter Fruit
Technically, rhubarb isn't a fruit. Rather, it's a stalky spring vegetable known to some as the "pie plant". When stewed in sugar and spices, the rhubarb's natural bitterness yields a balanced, sweet-tart vegetal flavor that's unique and unexpected. Apples add texture (rhubarb tends to melt a bit when cooked), bulk, and moderates the rhubarb's intense style. The classic rhubarb pairing, of course, is strawberry. But when I went shopping, the granny smiths were looking like money in the bank.

Granny smith's firm structure and sourness survive the high heat of baking. For a single pie, you'll need about 8-9 medium apples, cored and peeled. As soon as you put the first of your apple pieces into a bowl, squeeze a little lemon over them and toss. Every few minutes as you add more, toss the bowl around to coat the new bits. Lemon juice adds a bit of flavor to the filling and prevents oxidation browning. In a pie filling, brown pieces aren't terribly bad, but the reddish rhubarb color holds up better without any competition.

Chop the rhubarb into half to three quarters inch chunks, discarding the ends. Throw them into the bowl with the apple and toss in half a cup of sugar. To thicken the filling toss in a quarter cup of flour. Next, choose your spices. If you like the fall flavors, throw in cinnamon, a tiny bit of ground clove, and some ginger, or eave them out entirely. It's your evening, after all. No matter what you decide, however, add a solid pinch of salt. It just makes everything in the filling taste more like itself.

Here's the tricky part. Take your disks and unwrap them. Spread a little flour on a clean surface and start rolling with your trusty pin from the center of the disk, rotating your approach an hour on the clock face with each strike. Your objective is to create a round, eighth-inch plane of luscious buttery dough. Once you've achieved it as best you can, dust a tiny bit of flour onto your round and roll it up, window-shade style, onto the pin. This makes the transfer to the pie plate a lot less painful.

Now do it all over again with the second disk, pour the filling into the bottom half, and gently lay your second round over the top. Trim around the edges leaving about half an inch of overhang, which you'll fold over onto the pie plate edge. Crimp the edges, cut a few vents into the top, and throw it into a preheated, 425 degree oven. Bake it on a low shelf for 10 minutes, drop the heat to 350 and set your timer for 40 minutes. Once your crust has turned a nice golden brown and the fruit is soft, you're done. Take out the pie, cool at least 45 minutes on a rack (trust me don't skip this step) and serve. Hopefully you haven't gone through that pint of ice cream in the freezer yet, because it goes perfectly with pie.

(This one's for N...hope you had a chuckle :-)