Scared of pie crusts? This easy biscuit crust is perfect for beginners.
August 2011 update: This is one of my most popular summer recipes, which men seem to especially love. Click here to read a sampling of rave reviews from the comments section. Thanks so much to all of you who take the time to come back and report on my recipes!
Sometimes it's good to be alone in the kitchen. That way, when you pull a pie like this out of the oven and are standing there staring at it while it cools on the counter, mouth watering, stomach rumbling, fingers twitching, you don't have to worry about losing control and getting your hand slapped because you can't resist it.
You can simply tear off a piece of that warm, golden crust and pop it into your mouth—and nobody will ever know, because pieces of crust break off pies all the time.
Of course if you end up nibbling off five or six inches around the edge, you're going to have to come up with a really good explanation as to why it is missing. Pets can be quite handy for this.
If the pie is just for you, then you'll be forced to face the fact that you just gobbled up the very best part off a large portion of your pie.
This recipe is actually a combination of four things that I love. The first is homemade pizza. The second is homemade Pecorino Romano crackers, which I don't make very often because my hunky farmguy Joe doesn't care for them so I have to eat them all, and I have no self-control when they're around. I've had entire meals that consisted of nothing but these crackers.
The third thing is a similar pie I've made with tomatoes, cheddar cheese and fresh basil using a recipe from a 1998 issue of Country Home magazine. And the fourth thing is something I invented on a whim years ago when I had my little bakery cafe in Northern California. It was basically a free form calzone made with a biscuit-type crust and filled with sliced Roma tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and pesto.
I called them pesto piezones, and each one was about the size of both of my hands put together with my fingers spread apart. I sold them for four dollars apiece, and they were usually all spoken for well before lunchtime. Until the other day I'd forgotten all about them.
Now this may look like a pie, and I may even be calling it a pie, but it's really not a pie. So those of you who are afraid of pies can keep reading.
And now I'm going to say this again in a slightly different way because people who are afraid of making pies have often been tricked into making them and then suffered traumatic experiences: This is not a pie crust.
It's made with a biscuit dough, but, for those of you who are afraid of making biscuits, it is not actually made from biscuits.
This dough is easy to work with. This pie is quick and easy to make. That—for anyone who is still suspicious—means that this is by no means a difficult culinary endeavor. You can make this pie. Yes, you. And when you do, if you decide to share it, it will most likely make whomever you feed it to immediately smile with delight and love you even more than they already do. And you certainly can't beat that.
Purchased pesto works fine in this recipe, but if you have 20 minutes to spare and can get your hands on some beautiful fresh basil, I say make your own.
Use your favorite pesto recipe or try mine below. It calls for roasted and salted almonds instead of pine nuts, less olive oil than most pesto recipes, and fresh tomatoes, which give the pesto a subtle new flavor while replacing some of the olive oil and making it thin enough to be spreadable.
You can save time by making the pesto a day or two ahead. Or you can make the entire pie ahead of time and simply reheat it in the oven. Individual leftover slices can be wrapped in foil and reheated in the oven or toaster oven, although it isn't too bad cold either. If you are very, very gentle, you can heat a slice in the microwave.
What I like most about this recipe is that although the tomatoes are cooked, they manage to maintain their fresh-from-the-garden taste. Yes, I've gone from Summer in a Bowl to summer in a crust.
I like to use the meaty plum tomatoes, sometimes called paste or Roma tomatoes (although Roma is actually a specific variety of plum tomato), as 'regular' tomatoes may be too juicy and could make your pie soggy.
August 2011 update: My pal Finny, who has been making this pie since 2006, routinely uses Better Boys and Brandywines from her garden. Here's what she says:
"Any tomato that's suitable for a sandwich would, I imagine, be good in this pie. The crust is the key thing though, because the biscuit nature of it (rather than flaky pastry) makes it sturdier for the purposes of holding in all that tomato goodness. I also tend to make my pesto a bit on the drier side. And it helps to slice the tomatoes and let them sit on paper towels for a few minutes to leech out a tiny bit of juice."
And Molly reported that, "I didn't have the plum tomatoes, but I just seeded and drained the ones that had grown last week, and it was delightful."
Finny also adds crumbled and cooked Italian sausage to her pies. How brilliant is that? If you want to try adding some, too, you'll find my easy recipe for homemade Italian sausage here (no casings required!), and there are helpful step-by-step photos of Finny's version of this pie here (warning: Finny uses bad words).
As always, I urge you to seek out local and organic ingredients; they really do make a difference.
Don't let the lengthy instructions scare you away. This really is an easy recipe and everything comes together quickly.
Farmgirl Susan's Savory Tomato and Basil Pesto Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie
**Click here to print this recipe**
For the pesto:
Makes about 1½ cups (you'll need 1 cup for this recipe)
When portioning out basil (and so many other ingredients), it works best if you weigh it rather than pack it into measuring cups. A digital kitchen scale is such a useful investment that once you have one, you may wonder how you ever lived without it. I often use my Oxo 11-pound kitchen scale several times a day. The pull-out display is awesome, and it's also great for weighing postage.
1/3 cup (about 1½ ounces) roasted & salted whole almonds
3 to 6 large cloves garlic, peeled
4 ounces fresh basil leaves (about 4 cups packed)
1 ounce (about 1/2 cup) finely grated Pecorino Romano (or other hard cheese)
10 ounces fresh tomatoes (about 3 smallish) any kind, quartered
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more if desired
In the bowl of a food processor (I love my 12-cup KitchenAid food processor), use the S-blade to whiz the almonds and garlic until finely chopped.
Add the basil, cheese, tomatoes, and salt, and process until thoroughly combined and the consistency you like.
With the motor running running, slowly drizzle the olive oil through the chute. Salt to taste and add more olive oil if desired. Store your pesto in the refrigerator for several days or freeze it. A light coating of olive oil over the top of the pesto will help keep it from discoloring.
Heat the oven to 375°.
For the crust:
2 cups organic all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder (make sure it's fresh!)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick/ 4 ounces) cold butter
1 cup (about 2-1/2 ounces) finely grated Pecorino Romano (or other hard cheese, such as parmesan)
3/4 cup milk
Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Mix in the butter using a pastry blender, fork, or your fingers until the largest pieces are pea-size. Stir in the Pecorino Romano.
Pour in the milk and use a fork to gently form a soft dough. Do not overmix. Divide the dough in two pieces, making one slightly larger than the other.
On a generously floured surface, use a rolling pin to gently roll out the larger piece of dough into a circle about 12 inches across, rolling from the center outward. Sprinkle dough with flour if sticky.
Gently fold the dough in half and transfer into a 9-inch pie pan. If the dough tears, simply press it back together with your fingers.
Roll out the remaining piece of dough into a slightly smaller circle and set aside (or wait until you have the filling in the pan and then roll it out).
Assembling the pie:
1 cup pesto, divided
2½ pounds of the best plum tomatoes you can find, sliced lengthwise into 4 or 5 slices each (I used San Marzanos & Golden Romas to add extra color as well as more flavor)
8 ounces mozzarella, grated or thinly sliced (I use slices from a fresh log)
1/2 cup (about 1¼ ounces) finely grated Pecorino Romano (or other hard cheese such as parmesan)
Optional: About 12 ounces crumbled and cooked Italian sausage (my easy recipe for homemade Italian sausage is here)
Using a spoon, spread 1/2 cup of pesto over the bottom layer of dough in the pie pan. Layer about half of the tomatoes over the pesto. (If you're adding the Italian sausage, layer half of it over the tomatoes here.) Cover the tomatoes with about 2/3 of the mozzarella.
Layer on the rest of the tomatoes (you may not need them all to fill the pan). Carefully spread the remaining 1/2 cup of pesto over the tomatoes. (Add the other half of the Italian sausage here.) Cover with the remaining mozzarella and the Pecorino Romano.
Roll out the second piece of dough if you haven't already, and carefully place it over the pie. Fold the edge of the bottom piece over the top piece and press together to seal.
Use your fingers to make a crimped design around the edge. If any dough falls apart, simply press it back together with your fingers. Don't worry if it isn't perfect. The handmade look has much more charm.
Cut four slits in the top of the pie for steam to escape. Bake at 375° in the center of the oven until the crust is golden brown, about 40 minutes. Cover the edge with foil if it starts to brown too quickly.
Let cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before serving. Crust edges may be sampled much sooner. (As with nearly any fruit pie, if you cut into it while it's still warm, some juice will seep out. If you plan to store any leftover pie right in the pan, simply drain off the juice so the bottom crust doesn't become soggy.) Or cool pie completely, cover, and refrigerate.
You can also freeze this pie. I wrapped a hunk in foil then put it in a zipper freezer bag and tossed it into the freezer. I defrosted the whole piece overnight in the refrigerator, then cut it in half and reheated the slices in my beloved toaster convection oven (that I use every day) for 15-20 minutes at 325°, each on a fresh piece of foil and covered lightly with the foil so the tops wouldn't brown too quickly.
The bottom crust was a little soggy, but I'm pretty sure that was because I let the pie sit in the fridge three days before deciding to freeze it. Otherwise it looked and tasted as if it had just come out of the oven the first time.
Hint: If you plan to freeze the entire pie and don't want to freeze it in the pan, use a disposable pie pan or line your pan with a piece of heavy duty foil so you can simply lift the whole cooled pie out of the pan.
—Use arugula pesto or spinach pesto instead of basil pesto.
—Omit the Pecorino Romano from the crust, and use cilantro pesto (thinned with salsa, if desired) and jalapeno jack cheese in place of the basil pesto and mozzarella.
Still hungry? You'll find links to all my sweet and savory Less Fuss, More Flavor recipes in the Farmgirl Fare Recipe Index.
© FarmgirlFare.com, the tomato crazy foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares recipes, stories, and photos from her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.