Recipes: Time for Pi(e) — Chicken Potpie & Chicken/Spinach Pie
March 14, Time for Pi(e) — But You Never Really Need an Excuse to Make Today ‘Pi(e) Day’
Photos and Story By Janice Cole, Minnesota
Yes, it’s that time of the year again, time to get your nerd on and celebrate National Pi Day! This modern holiday, celebrated on March 14, has become a cultural phenomenon uniting math geeks and foodies together. Math nerds like the celebration because the date (3.14) showcases the first three numbers of their favorite mathematical constant or pi, which is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter and equals 3.14159… (the number goes on infinitely as the answer is a never-ending number). The Greek symbol used by mathematicians for a mathematical constant, or pi, is π. Foodies have joined the love of this holiday because all celebrations require food and Pi Day is one great big excuse to eat pie!
If you’re wondering why you’ve only recently started hearing about National Pi Day, the first celebration didn’t occur until 1988 and it wasn’t until 2009 that Congress actually passed a resolution recognizing March 14 as National Pi Day. Social media has picked it up and it’s become a favorite day for puns, pie promotions and mouth-watering pie photos. Still confused? Don’t worry about the mathematics, just get in the spirit and join in the festivities by serving pie.
For a stunning presentation for this year’s Pi Day, try an updated version of one of the following pot pies. Feel free to substitute any poultry or meat for the chicken called for in the recipes. Each can be made ahead of time and is perfect for entertaining or simple family meals.
As American as Chicken Pie?
As much as we all love apple pie, it turns out that chicken and other meat pies are the original American culinary pie heritage. The American Cookery book of 1796 prominently featured recipes for chicken, turkey, beef and pigeon pot pies and included no recipes for apple pie.
In early America, pies were an easy way to stretch a little bit of meat and vegetables to feed an entire family. They didn’t require lots of ingredients or an elaborate bread oven, making them available to the average cook. Savory pies have been popular in European cultures since the Roman Empire, where reports of elaborate banquet excesses were said to even include live birds baked in pies which flew out upon cutting the crust, frightening all the guests and eliminating their appetites (and giving birth to a famous nursery rhyme), I would assume.
As Easy as Pie
The following two pies use pie crusts made with phyllo or puff pastry, meaning you don’t have to worry about making a homemade pie crust. They can both be made ahead of time and baked right before serving.
Chicken Potpie in a Blanket of Puff Pastry
Tucked under a flaky golden-brown blanket of puff pastry are large chunks of chicken, potatoes and mushrooms in a rosemary-scented sauce. This meal is comfort food at its best.
• 1 sheet frozen puff pastry (from a 17.3-ounce package)
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1/2 cup chopped shallots
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
• 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
• 2 cups (5 ounces) sliced mushrooms
• 12 ounces unpeeled small red potatoes (4 to 5 potatoes), diced (2 cups)
• 1 cup halved and sliced carrots
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
• 3 cups chopped cooked chicken (3/4-inch pieces)
• 3/4 cup frozen baby peas
Thaw the puff pastry according to the package directions. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Butter an 11-by-7-inch glass baking dish or coat with nonstick cooking spray.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. SautО the shallots and garlic for 30 to 40 seconds or until they begin to soften and smell fragrant. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Whisk in the broth and bring to a boil. Stir in the mushrooms, potatoes, carrots, rosemary, salt, and pepper and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken and peas and simmer for 3 minutes. Spoon the chicken mixture into the baking dish.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry to a 13-by-9-inch rectangle. Drape over the baking dish, gently pressing the pastry where it touches the rim of the dish.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. Remove from the oven and let sit for five minutes before serving. Use a spoon to scoop out the chicken mixture, topping each serving with a piece of pastry.
By Janice Cole, Chronicle Books 2011
Chicken and Spinach Pie
This pie makes a stunning presentation. The crisp, golden-brown, layered phyllo crust surrounds a creamy chicken, spinach and feta filling. Serve it for a casual supper or as part of a brunch. It’s a versatile dish that can be made ahead.
• 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 large onion, chopped
• 3 garlic cloves, chopped
• One 9- to 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
• 1 1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken
• 3 eggs
• 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• 1 cup cottage cheese
• 5 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (1 cup)
• 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Greek
• 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
• 16 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed (from a 16-ounce box; see Notes below)
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook the onion for 3 minutes or until it begins to soften. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Stir in the spinach, and then add the chicken. Remove from the heat and cool in the pan.
Whisk the eggs in a large bowl until blended. Whisk in the flour until smooth. Stir in the spinach mixture, cottage cheese, feta cheese, oregano, salt, and pepper.
Lightly oil a 10-inch deep-dish glass pie plate. Place one sheet of phyllo in the dish, letting the phyllo hang over the edges. Lightly brush with some of the remaining oil. Place a second sheet over the first so that they are crisscross, and lightly brush with oil. Add six more sheets of phyllo, alternating the direction of each sheet around the pie plate so that they crisscross each other and cover the dish completely, brushing each sheet with oil.
Spread the filling over the phyllo. Top with the remaining eight sheets of phyllo, oiling and crisscrossing them as you did the bottom layers. Brush the top layer with oil and scrunch the overhanging phyllo onto the rim of the pie plate to create a free-form edge. Brush any remaining oil on top. Score the top of the pie into eight wedges by lightly cutting into the phyllo with a small, serrated knife.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown and a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Notes: Thaw the phyllo in the refrigerator overnight for the best results. When working with phyllo, lay the sheets on the work surface and cover with a dry towel to keep them from drying out.
The pie can be assembled up to 8 hours ahead of time. Cover and refrigerate until ready to bake.
By Janice Cole, Chronicle Books 2011
MAKING A PIE COLLAR
To avoid dark crusts, make a pie collar out of foil. Place on pies halfway through baking if edges are browning too quickly.
1. Fold one large piece of foil (a little larger than the pie plate) into quarters.
2. Round out the corner edge and cut out the center, leaving a collar of about 3-inches.
3. Unfold the foil revealing a circle of foil. Place over the edge of the crust during baking if the crust is browning too quickly.
HERE ARE A FEW TIPS TO HELP YOU AS YOU’RE ASSEMBLING THE PIES:
~ Plan ahead so that all preparation such as thawing of the puff pastry or phyllo dough can happen the day before if possible.
~ There is no need for a bottom crust; a flaky crispy top crust is sufficient (see the Chicken Pot Pie recipe).
~ Make the filling the day before if possible. This allows the flavors to mingle and blend before baking, making a more flavorful pie.
~ Dark poultry meat will add more flavor than white meat but either can be used.
~ Keep all surfaces chilled when working with butter or shortening crusts.
~ For browner crusts, brush with milk or cream before baking.
~ For shiny, deep brown crusts, brush with beaten egg before baking.
~ For shiny, lightly golden brown crusts brush with beaten egg white before baking.
~ For a super sheen, double-glaze the crust. Brush on egg glaze right before baking and again 5 minutes before the end of baking.
~ To avoid dark crusts, cover the edge of the crust halfway through baking if browning too quickly.
~ Add flavor and interest to top crusts by sprinkling with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, caraway seeds, or dried or fresh herbs.