Thursday, July 4, 2013


It's really amazing to me that in one of the first entries I wrote on this blog, I quoted the song When You Smile, an ode to coalescence written by The Flaming Lips: "all of the subatomic pieces come together and unfold themselves in a second; every single molecule is right." Because, really, when I started this food blog three years ago, my life was a goddamn mess, and I was only writing about food in order to prove to myself that I could exert control over at least some small aspect of it (are there other pretexts under which food blogs are started?).

Everything has been going really well lately. Everything actually is coalescing. Everything actually is coming together--in my career and in my apartment and in the knitting of my bones.  Of course, I've been hit by enough cars in the past three months to know that I shouldn't take anything for granted. I work at a startup that's situated on landfill, so I could theoretically wake up tomorrow and find that my employer has sunk either into bankruptcy or into the San Francisco Bay. So I just wake up early, and I work hard, and I hope that things will keep going well, and I keep emergency rations in my closet, and I watch for illegal right turns. It's impossible to tell how long I'll be able to keep this up--but, oh, it's heaven nowadays.

Cooking has also felt different lately. I actually can't remember the last time I cooked something that didn't turn out well. Even better, I'm starting to feel a new sort of fluency in the kitchen. I used to really make a plan before I started in on a new recipe. Now I just sort of go by instinct and muscle memory, relying on a sense of how ingredients work and how to put them together.  I'm not sure exactly what happened--maybe I leveled up in a few cooking techniques during my months of gainful unemployment, or maybe an absence of other distractions in my life has freed up some mental bandwidth for working in the kitchen. Regardless, I've got a new sense of freedom when I'm cooking, and it's kind of playing well into the general mood that I've got going on in my life.

I made this morel pot pie for a casual dinner party that Jeff and I hosted on the last Monday of May as an excuse to invite over a pun-loving friend for Me-morel Day (are there other pretexts under which dinner parties are hosted?). I wrote down the recipe over a month ago, and I've spent the past few weeks stuck trying to think of something else to say about it. Now it's July, it's a new great American holiday, and we're in the middle of a heat wave all across the country, so morels aren't really thriving anymore. How did it get to be summer? How am I seeing cherry tomatoes and cucumbers already? I had been looking forward to posting about spring and fava beans and rebirth, poached eggs and corpse revivers. I watched for the longest day of the year and then missed it.

So I got behind. So what? There will be more asparagus next year, more bean salads to describe in excruciating detail, more grapefruits and fresh peas in April, more artichokes to contemplate. For today, nothing says America like pot pie. And maybe nothing describes my life better than this recipe for one.


Morel pot pie
serves 4-6, with a salad

for the pie crust
2 1/2 sticks of butter (10 oz, 20 tbsp)
2 1/2 cups flour (18 oz)
1 tbsp salt
about 1 cup ice water

for the pie
5 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
3 cups milk
1 cup fresh peas, shelled (from about 2 pounds of English pea pods)
1 1/2 pounds fingerling potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/4 pound morel mushrooms, washed well
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, plus a few extra sprigs
2 tbsp dry vermouth
1 bay leaf
1 egg, beaten
peanut oil
kosher salt
black pepper

Make the pie crust. Cut the butter into small pieces (40 or so) and chill it in the freezer for 5-10 minutes while you measure out the flour and salt into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Add the butter to the food processor and pulse 5-10 times, until the mixture resembles sand with a few larger pebbles in it.  Sprinkle 10 tbsp (about 2/3 cup) ice water over the mixture and pulse 3-4 times, until the mixture starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl in small chunks. If it's not pulling away after a few pulses, drizzle a little more water in, 1 tbsp at a time, and pulse again.

If you don't have a food processor, you can accomplish these initial steps by hand. Chill everything--including the flour and the mixing bowl it's in. Then add the butter to the flour mixture, and mix by rubbing chunks of butter together with the flour between your hands, letting them fall back into the bowl, until you get the sandy-pebbly texture described above. Drizzle in the water and mix with a spatula.

When the mixture is just starting to hold together, turn it out onto a floured cutting board and gather it together into a single mass of dough. Cut the dough into 6 pieces, then gently flatten each piece on the cutting board. Stack the flattened pieces together, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes, or overnight.

Blanch the peas. Bring a medium pot of water to a rolling boil, add a few tablespoons of salt, and add the peas. Cook for 30-90 seconds, until bright green and tender. Pour through a strainer and run cold water over the peas until completely cool. Store in the refrigerator.

Boil the potatoes. Add the potatoes to a pot filled with cold water. Add a few tablespoons of salt, a few black peppercorns, the bay leaf, and the thyme sprigs. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat and then reduce the heat to low. Cook over low heat for 10-20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Strain the potatoes and run cold water over them until cool. Store in the refrigerator.

About 2 hours before you're ready to eat, remove the pie crust from the refrigerator.  

Make the bechamel. Warm 3 cups of milk over low heat on the stove. Melt 3 tbsp butter over low heat in a pot with a heavy bottom. Add 3 tbsp flour and stir gently, cooking over low heat for about a minute just until a paste forms. To this roux, add the warm milk, one cup at a time, whisking until completely incorporated after each addition.  Season with salt, black pepper and half a tablespoon of thyme.

Cook the morels. Heat 2 tbsp peanut oil in a heavy skillet over high heat until fluid but not smoking. Add the mushrooms. Let the mushrooms sit without stirring until browned on one side, about 2 minutes, then stir to dislodge the morels and cook another 2 minutes until the second side is browned. Reduce the heat to low and add 2 tbsp butter and the dry vermouth. Stir gently, until the morels are lightly glazed with butter. Season with half a tablespoon of thyme, several pinches of salt, and black pepper.

Finish the pie. Preheat the oven to 375. Divide the dough into two balls of equal size.  Roll out each ball of dough on a floured surface until it's slightly larger than your pie plate. Place one of these crusts in the bottom of the pie place. Add half of the peas, potatoes, and morels, and distribute evenly in the pie plate. Spread half of the bechamel sauce over the vegetables. Repeat with the remaining vegetables and bechamel. Add the top crust and seal the pie by pressing the crusts together, moistening the bottom crust with a little water if necessary. Trim off any excess crust. Brush beaten egg all over the top of the pie and cut a small hole in the center. Bake the pie until the crust is completely browned, about 45-60 min.

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