Chow Town

Learning pie tips from a pastry professor

Roll the dough and place top crust over filling.
Roll the dough and place top crust over filling.

Nick Malgieri cringes whenever he’s introduced as a “master” pastry chef — there are rigorous certifications for such titles. Still, it’s not a stretch to rank him among the most prolific professors of pastry.

Malgieri is the director of the baking program at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City and the author of a dozen award-winning cookbooks on the subject, including his latest, “Pastry” (Kyle Books; $29.95).

Malgieri was in Kansas City recentlyto promote his book. With Chow Town chef and blogger Jasper Mirabile as his guide, Malgieri spent the day touring Farm to Market and Frevere bakeries before teaching diners at Jasper’s Ristorante how to make a “modernized version” of pizza rustica, a savory tart layered with boiled ham, ricotta and hard-cooked eggs that is featured in his new cookbook.

“In Italy, pizza is a pie of any kind,” Malgieri tells his audience.

While sitting next to Malgieri during dinner, I admit my own pie anxiety. Malgieri says he picked the pizza rustica recipe to demo for people like me. An olive oil pastry crust is more “elastic” and therefore more forgiving than butter, shortening or nut butters. “If you press too hard it’s not going to get back at you,” he says.

The dough comes together in a matter of minutes. First he gently stirs the ingredients with a fork in a stainless steel bowl and gathers the dough by hand into a clump. Next he rolls the elastic dough (no chilling necessary) on a nylon cutting board with a “rough, waffle-y” surface — one that makes it harder for the dough to stick to if you throw enough flour in as you work — and fits the circle into a deep-dish glass pie plate.

“It really helps if the dough stays round,” Malgieri says while rolling. “If it starts looking a little like the map of Florida, you’re in trouble.”

After layering the torte, he places another round of dough on top. Malgieri finally points to the “unsightly” top crust and says not to worry — when he inverts the pie, the smooth bottom will be on top.

Malgieri prefers to use standard Gold Medal unbleached all-purpose flour to King Arthur’s boutique varieties.

A bonus tip for slipping hard-cooked eggs out of the shell: Shake the eggs in the pot so the shells “crack into a thousand different pieces,” then peel them under running water.

“That was worth the price of admission,” a diner calls out.

Indeed. I made the pizza rustica and the dough worked as advertised. My family was impressed with my pretty pie.

Jill Wendholt Silva is The Star’s James Beard award-winning food editor, lead restaurant critic and Chow Town blog curator. Reach her on Facebook, Twitter at @chowtownkc and @kcstarfood or Instagram at @chowtownkc and @jillwsilva.

Pizza Rustica Alla Parmigiana

Makes 1 (9-inch) savory pie

Dough:

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (spoon into dry-measure cup and level)

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup olive oil

2 large eggs

Pizza:

1 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta

Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh leaf Italian parsley

1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan-Reggiano

2 large eggs, well beaten

6 ounces boiled ham, thinly sliced

6 ounces fresh mozzarella

4 large hard-cooked eggs, peeled and sliced

For the dough: Use a fork to stir together the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder in a medium bowl.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the oil and eggs. Use the fork to beat the eggs and oil together, then gradually draw in the dry ingredients a little at a time until the dough starts to hold together.

Scrape the contents of the bowl to a lightly floured work surface (it’s OK if there are still some dry bits) and fold the dough over on itself 4 or 5 times, gently kneading it smooth. Kneading too much might make the oil separate from the dough.

Wrap the dough in plastic and keep at a cool room temperature if you’re using within a few hours; refrigerate for longer storage.

For the pizza: Set a rack at the lowest level in the oven and preheat to 375 degrees.

On a generously floured cutting board, roll out the dough, then line a 2-inch-deep cake or pie pan, using two-thirds for the bottom crust and the remainder for the top crust.

Use rubber spatula to mash the ricotta smooth in a mixing bowl and beat in the pepper, parsley and Parmesan. Taste for seasoning and add a pinch or two of salt if necessary. Stir in the beaten eggs.

Spread a third of the filling in the pastry crust and top with a layer of half the ham, half the mozzarella and half the eggs.

Spread another third of the filling on the eggs and repeat the layering with the remaining ham, mozzarella and eggs. Spread on the last third of the filling.

Roll the top crust, put in place and seal the edges.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 and continue baking until the filling puffs slightly and the crust is baked through, another 20 to 30 minutes. Avoid overbaking, as this will cause the whey to drain from the ricotta and make the crust soggy.

Cool the pie on a rack, unmold it to a platter and serve it at room temperature. Wrap and refrigerate leftovers.

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