Meat-filled pastries win our hearts and stomachs

Chicago TribuneDecember 18, 2013 

Fruit pies, cream pies, cute little tarts. Love ’em all.

But one does not live by sweets alone.

We love savory pies too. Hand pies like empanadas and pasties. Phyllo pies filled with spinach. Flaky crusted pies packed with meats or vegetables or seafood. Cornmeal-crusted chili pies and shepherd’s pies with mashed potatoes handling top-crust duties.

It’s not surprising that pies — savory or sweet — resonate with us.

“It’s often the nostalgia and comforting thoughts they conjure up that make the pies seem to taste all the more delicious,” writes Angela Boggiano in “Pie” (Mitchell Beazley, $24.99), her book celebrating an array of savory pies, from beef and ale to fish.

For Warren Brown, it’s the versatility of pies that prompted his latest book, “Pie Love: Inventive Recipes for Sweet and Savory Pies, Galettes, Pastry Cremes, Tarts, and Turnovers” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $24.95). The founder-owner of the D.C.-based CakeLove bakeries and host of Food Network’s “Sugar Rush” enjoys sweets, of course, but loves cooking savory. Which is why Brown has tucked five favorites (“recipes I make at home with my family,” he writes) among the book’s tarts and turnovers, including shepherd’s pie and Jamaican beef patties.

“You can just be very creative with a savory pie,” adds Brown during a phone chat. Especially with the color variations from different crusts, whether it’s the cheese crust he uses in a meatball pie or the paprika crust he suggests for a chicken pie.

His advice for novice crust-makers?

“Make a sandwich out of parchment paper, then use it to roll out the dough,” he says. “Think of the round as a clock. Roll out to 12 o’clock, then turn the dough five minutes, roll to 12 o’clock, turn five minutes — that really helps to do a nice round crust.

“And hold the pin itself, not the handles,” he adds. “If you hold the handles, you lose a lot of control.”

That Brown likes to dream up elaborate recipes is no surprise. His meatball pie is an audacious mashup of American favorites — pie, meatballs, a richly flavored sauce, plus oodles of melted cheese.

It’s a rich pie, which is why he suggests serving it with a simple crisp salad. And if the multiple components overwhelm you, consider preparing some elements ahead of time — the tomato sauce and meatballs one day, the crust and assembly the next — or make it a weekend project.

“There are a lot of steps to this one, so don’t worry if you need to take a shortcut or make life more simple by using jarred red sauce,” Brown coaches. “If you have the time to make all three parts from scratch, then by all means, pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy it.”

A strategy we heartily endorse with any made-from-scratch savory pie. Tackling a pie crust? Fussing with a filling? Why not? The good eating makes the work worthwhile.

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