Old-Fashioned Cooking: Garlic Pie

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In this modern-day-take-it-out-of-the-freezer-and shove-it-in-the-microwave world, we often lose sight of what real food tastes like. Not too surprising, when you look at the ingredient lists on most prepared foods. Many so-called foods have more chemicals than food ingredients. I figure if you can’t even pronounce half the ingredients, you shouldn’t rely on it as a major food source. On the other hand, just think about beef stew or chili simmering slowly through the day, ready to warm the cockles of your heart – not to mention your cold hands – come dinner time. Or home-made breakfast burritos or Cornish pasties, stored in the freezer for those mornings when you can barely find the kitchen, let alone think up a menu.

Some food historians trace the origin of pies to the Neolithic period (10,000 to 4,500 BC). It was about the same time that agriculture began to play a major role in human cultures, along with raising grains. It was not until sugar became readily available that sweet pies began to appear on the table. The original pie crust may have been meant primarily to provide a container for the filling, in the same way we use a bread bowl today. Most food historians seem to think the crust was discarded, but I’m not buying that. Primitive societies rarely waste food – it’s too hard to grow, raise or hunt it. Not to mention that all it takes is one bad year and you’ll go hungry.

I think it’s more likely the “cofyns” for dishes like garlic pie were eaten by servants or pets, or fed to chickens and pigs. Small birds such as crows were often baked whole in these pies. Early pies were also made of various meats, cheese and vegetables and served as main dishes. Sweet pies typically contained fruits alone, or included a few spices. In some cases, a pie might have both sweet and savory elements, such as the garlic pie below.

Torta d’agli (Garlic Pie) Anonimo Veneziano, 15th century

  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 1 egg
  • 7/8 cup butter
  • ½ tsp salt
  • water
  • 3 cups fresh cheese
  • 1 cup peeled garlic
  • 1 cup lardons
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 3 eggs
  • Pinch saffron
  • 1tsp ginger
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp cloves
  • 1/8 tsp pepper

Make the shortcrust pastry dough. Cook the peeled garlic in boiling water for 10-15 minutes and then place in cold water to stop cooking. Mix drained garlic and add cheese and spices. Mix with lardons, then eggs and raisins. Fill a pie mold with a portion of the shortcrust dough, pour in the mixture, and cover with the remaining shortcrust dough (seal the edges). Bake in a hot oven.

Modern Version

  • 2 or 3 heads of garlic (depending on your personal tastes)
  • 1 ½ cup grated Romano cheese
  • 1 ½ cup grated Swiss cheese
  • ½ lb pancetta, diced
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 pie crusts

Cut tops off garlic heads and place on a piece of foil. Drizzle with olive oil and wrap loosely. Place in cold oven and turn oven on to 400°F. Roast garlic for 30 minutes and then remove from oven. While garlic is roasting (and oven is preheating), mix together two shredded cheeses in a bowl. Set aside. Dice the pancetta. The easiest way to do this is to get the deli to slice it 1/4″ thick. You can then easily cut it into tiny cubes. Saute the pancetta (don’t add any oil) for a few minutes. Saute until the fat has rendered a bit and the meat is starting to take on color. Drain well and allow to cool to room temperature. Mix eggs and cream well in a bowl and stir in salt and pepper. Set aside.

Remove garlic cloves from bulbs and cut any large ones in 2-3 pieces. Place one pie crust into a pie plate. Add pancetta in a layer on the bottom. Top with garlic cloves. Sprinkle cheese mixture on top. Pour egg/cream mixture carefully over the top. Wiggle the pie plate a bit to allow the cream to get down under the cheese. Top with second pie crust and flute edges. Cut a few small vent holes in the top crust. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. After removing from oven, let sit about a half hour. Serve while still warm.

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