Even though Angelenos enjoy cookouts year-round, tradition (and marketing) tells us that Memorial Day weekend kicks off the official outdoor cooking season. What better way to celebrate the beginning of summer, end a barbecue, and to mark a holiday originated to commemorate fallen civil war soldiers, than with pie?
The perfect late spring/early summer, old-fashioned pie is definitely filled with strawberries and rhubarb. Rhubarb is one of those weird vegetable-cum-fruit plants that, despite being delightful, can't help but come off as a little archaic -- it has toxic leaves, after all. But pair the long pink stalks with strawberries and you've got a sublime combo. Rhubarb gives body, texture and earthy tartness to strawberries. Strawberries lend color, juice and sweet floral fruity-ness to rhubarb.
Rhubarb and strawberries are available now at local farmers markets. Strawberry season is at its height and half flats of the sweetest, ripe-and-ready-to-go berries are being sold for $11 to $15 (a half flat is six baskets, by the way). If you don't find rhubarb at your favorite fruit or vegetable stand, check with the herb seller. When you do find rhubarb, select long, narrow, dark stalks for the prettiest color after baking.
The following recipe uses a pie dough made from half butter and half lard or shortening to achieve a flaky texture. You can use all butter if you prefer -- you'll have good butter flavor but a slightly firmer texture. The best thing about this pie is that if it's properly baked (read: cooked on the bottom; clear glass pie dishes work wonders here as you can check the underside of the pie for appetizing, golden-brown doneness) the Strawberry Rhubarb pie can hold up to being toted to a barbecue at the beach or lake or any other locale this long holiday weekend.
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
From: Jeanne Kelley
Makes: one 9-inch pie, about 12 servings
2 1/3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 ounces (1/2 cup) frozen lard or vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 to 5 tablespoons ice water
4 cups sliced rhubarb
4 cups hulled, sliced strawberries
1 scant cup sugar
¼ cup unbleached all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
1 generous pinch kosher salt
Additional sugar for sprinkling
Fresh nutmeg for grating
Prepare the crust:
1. Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and lard or shortening and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal with a few pea-sized clumps.
2. Drizzle 4 tablespoons of the ice water over the dough. Stir with a fork just until moist clumps form, adding the remaining tablespoon water if necessary to moisten. Gather the dough into two even balls; flatten the balls into disks.
3. Wrap the disks in plastic and chill 30 minutes. (Pie crust dough can be made ahead. Keep dough in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or freeze up to 2 weeks. Let frozen dough thaw in the refrigerator overnight and let refrigerated dough soften slightly at room temperature before rolling.)
Prepare the filling:
1. Position the rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat to 400º F.
2. Combine ingredients for filling in a large bowl and toss to combine. Let filling stand until juicy, about 15 minutes.
3. Roll one pie crust disk out on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch round. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch diameter glass pie dish. Spoon the filling into the crust. Roll the second disk out on lightly floured surface to a 12-inch round. Drape the crust over the filling. Press the overhanging top and bottom crusts together, then fold the edge under to be even with edge of the pie dish. Crimp the edges decoratively. Sprinkle pie with sugar and top with a light grating of fresh nutmeg.
4. Cut a few slits in the center of the top crust to allow steam to escape. Bake the pie on a rimmed cookie sheet until the crust is golden and the filling bubbles thickly in the center, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Cool pie until warm before serving. (Pie can be made up to 2 days ahead. Store loosely covered at cool room temperature.)
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Jeanne Kelley is a Los Angeles cook and cookbook author, who also writes at Jeanne Kelley Kitchen. Follow her on Twitter @jeannek232. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.